Fantasy Football Sleepers – Running Backs – 2020
Joe Mixon – Cincinnati Bengals
The best friend of a rookie quarterback is a strong running game. Mixon is a workhorse in the true sense of the word and what’s shocking about the Bengals 2019 season, is that only two running backs even got carries. Mixon had 278 and Giovanni Bernard had 58. The rest of the 378 total carries were from the quarterback or wide receiver position. Mixon ended the season with 1,178 rushing yards and 5 rushing TD’s. He also continued to be involved in the passing game with 287 receiving yards and another 3 scores.
Mixon is dangerous in the open field but must fight for every inch. He has good speed for a bigger back and shows the quickness of a guy 20 pounds lighter. He has exclusive rights to goal line carries if the offense can get close enough. The Bengals were a come from behind team last year and didn’t do a very good job of it. They passed the ball 62% of the time but this season I expect them to help their rookie quarterback by establishing a running game. Mixon could be one of the few backs with 300 plus carries.
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Ronald Jones II – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Jones II will emerge as the lead back in Tampa Bay this season and will benefit greatly from the stability and consistency that Tom Brady brings. The Bucs offense last year was the wild west and Jameis Winston was chucking from the hip on every play. It was exciting and equally frustrating to watch. Jones II split carries evenly with Peyton Barber even though the difference between the two was stark. Jones II is faster with excellent lateral movement and an aggressive burst.
He runs with reckless abandon and a veteran like Brady should appreciate something that was missing in New England last season. Barber is no longer on the roster and even though Ke’Shawn Vaughn was drafted in the 3rd round in the 2020 draft, Jones II is still the clear-cut number one and will get the majority of carries this season. With the amount of passing that is expected, there is only room for one fantasy running back in Tampa Bay.
Raheem Mostert – San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers running back situation became clearer when they traded Matt Breida to the Miami Dolphins for a 5th round pick. Jerick McKinnon has battled serious knee injuries for two years running. I truly wish him the best, but at 28 years old and largely used in a reserve or receiving back role throughout his career, his impact healthy or not will be minimal.
That leaves the two headed monster of Raheem Mostert and Tevin Coleman. The duo shared duties throughout the 2019 season with Coleman dominating touches early and Mostert finishing strong, including in the playoffs as the primary back.
The split carries situation is always challenging but Mostert and Coleman distribution was consistent (approximately 2/3 to 1/3) depending who got the bulk. Both averaged over 4 yards per carry, both are capable in the passing game and both can get into the end zone (Mostert 10 TD’s total and Coleman 7 TD’s total in 2019).
The 49ers run the ball more than they pass and there is no reason to believe that will change. After you fill your #1 and #2 running back position, drafting both Mostert and Coleman could be a good strategy. If I had to pick one, then Mostert has a slight advantage based on how last season ended.
Todd Gurley II – Atlanta Falcons
Gurley II entered 2019 season with so many question marks about his health that he dropped like a rock in the fantasy drafts. Additionally, owners feared putting him in the lineup early in the season. Those willing to take a chance reaped a nice benefit as a number #2 running back. Gurley didn’t hit 1,000 yards rushing but dominated the goal line with 12 rushing TD’s. The biggest concern was his 3.8 yards per attempt, down more than a 1 yard from the previous season. To be fair though, backups Malcom Brown and Darrell Henderson had about the same yards per carry, so maybe the L.A. Rams running game had more problems than just Gurley’s knee.
His involvement in the passing game also dwindled though he was the exclusive pass catching running back. Goff spreads the ball around so much that it can be challenging to pick the fantasy player of the week. Coming into 2020 Gurley finds himself in an offense that passes the ball almost twice as much as they run it (684 pass attempts vs 362 rush attempts last season). Frankly, this fits into Gurley’s skill set perfectly and 70-80 targets out of the backfield is not unreasonable. A player like Gurley II is evaluated on total yards, so don’t be surprised when he remains in the top 12 of fantasy backs this season with a combination of 10-14 rushes per game and 4-8 receptions per game.
Adrian Peterson – Washington Redskins
At 35 years old, Adrian Peterson still turns the legs. He’s as rough and tough a runner as he’s ever been. Peterson is entering his 14th season and at the running back position that’s virtually unheard of. But fantasy football isn’t about a storied hall of fame career, it’s about what can you do for me this fantasy season and this fantasy week.
Last season Peterson played 15 games with 211 carries for 898 yards. His 4.3 yards per attempt was down from his career average of 4.7 per attempt. For some perspective though, Le’Veon Bell was top 20 pick last year and put up 3.2 yards per carry. Peterson will be available as your draft winds down and now that Derrius Guice has been released, you’ve got yourself a starting running back with goal line carries as a good flex position starter.
Phillip Lindsay – Denver Broncos
The signing of Melvin Gordon sure puts a monkey wrench in the fantasy plans for Lindsay fans. Phillip Lindsay has run for 1,000 yards in both of his NFL seasons and averaged 8 TD’s, which begs the question about signing Gordon in the first place. Over that time, he averaged 4.9 yards per carry and contributed in the passing game. Lindsay is a talented runner who finds the slot in sweeping run plays and then bam!, he cuts against the grain and slides between defenders. He’s got enough speed to hit the outside and can shift on a dime, making it challenging to get tacklers arms wrapped around him. He’s is also tough enough to put his shoulder down and handle goal line carries.
2020 in Denver is a fantasy running back nightmare. Two guys, if being the primary back, could be solid #2 running backs with occasional #1 performances. Looking closer at Melvin Gordon numbers however is worrisome in some respects. Over five seasons, Gordon has topped 1,000 yards just once and averaged over 4 yards a carry just once. After returning from his holdout last season, there was a stark difference between Austin Ekeler and Melvin Gordon. Ekeler outplayed Gordon repeatedly. Gordon looked slow and indecisive and I suspect this season will be similar. Once Lindsay and Gordon are the same field it’ll become obvious that Lindsay deserves more carries. The question is whether he’ll get them.
Kenyan Drake – Arizona Cardinals
It was a long prison sentence in Miami for Kenyan Drake, but by the grace of the NFL gods, he was given his freedom halfway through the 2019 season. Eight games were all it took for Arizona to be sold on their running back of the future and sell their running back of the past. A surprising off-season swap of DeAndre Hopkins for David Johnson, cemented Drake’s spot on top of the depth chart.
Drake is a hard-nosed runner with a good burst, often used to take on tacklers and return a little punishment. Three of his eight games with Arizona could be classified as fantasy jackpots with another still in the double-digit category. Drake is in line for a great fantasy season. Is he in the category of Dalvin Cook, well no, let me pump the brakes a little, but as a number #2 running back, he will make your opponent’s cringe week to week.
Devin Singletary – Buffalo Bills
It took a couple months of Singletary’s rookie campaign to get rolling but by early November he became the lead back for an emerging Bills offense. At 5’ 7”, Singletary is shorter than the average running back, but the compact 200-pound man finds plenty of room to run. His great burst after sneaking though the hole, quickness to shift on a dime to the outside and patience demonstrated by a young back led to a 5.1 yards per attempt average. That was good enough for a tie for fourth with running backs with a reasonable amount of carries.
After watching some 2019 film, Singletary flashes some characteristics of the Le’Veon Bell days in Pittsburgh. He’ll hide behind the giant offensive line and take off before the defense can find him. I’m not saying Singletary is the next Bell but moving into his second season he is the uncontested lead back who is will get double digit carries and 4-6 targets minimum in the passing game. First contact often came at or behind the line of scrimmage so an improved push up front will help. His quickness should assist in minimizing deficiencies in the trenches, a unit that ranked middle of the pack in 2019.
The outlook for 2020 is good but at the same time let’s keep expectations in check. This offense is Josh Allen focused and why not. Allen rushed over 100 times himself and lead the team in rushing TD’s. Singletary’s size doesn’t warrant goal line attempts so TD’s could be few and far between. He scored only one rushing and one receiving TD in the last eight games of last season.
2nd round pick Zack Moss may also find a roll near the goal line with a stout 5’9” 223-pound frame who is tough to bring down after first contact. Moss has handcuff qualities as the clear number two back. The addition of Stefan Diggs could generate coverages down field and open-up a little more space for Singletary, but it doesn’t change the fact he’ll have to break 20+ yarders to get in the endzone. Singletary is a solid volume based #2 running back in the yardage category with a touchdown in every third game.