Monster Year Coming! – Running Backs – 2020
Derrick Henry – Tennessee Titans
Henry was one of two running backs with 300+ carries last season and he made the most of every one. He posted career highs in rushing yards (1,540), yards per carry (5.1) and rushing TD’s (16). Although the Titans don’t use the running back in the passing game very often, I still remember the 75-yard screen pass Henry took to the house, out running everyone the field. It was a sight to see for a very nimble 250 pound back. To put a cap on Henry’s incredible 2019 fantasy season, he’s the goal line back on first, second and third down.
The number of carries would be a concern if he were on his third or fourth season of high-volume work. Since it’s the first season carrying a heavy load there should be no hesitation to take Henry at any position in the first round. The stability of Tannehill revived a sputtering passing game that helps prevent 8- and 9-man boxes. The offensive line will continue to create holes that Henry can rip through. If not, well, he’ll just run them over. The Titans added Darrynton Evans as a third down back in the 2020 draft, but it won’t have any effect on Henry’s top end fantasy value this season.
Don’t forget to check out our other Monster Year Predictions!
Josh Jacobs – Las Vegas Raiders
Jacobs rolled into Las Vegas (actually Oakland) and became the starter day one as the 24th overall pick. It’s not often a rookie has the impact that Josh Jacobs had but the running back position does allow for early success (pass blocking excluded). He is a workhorse back at 5’10” and a solid 220 pounds. Jacobs has got the quick feet required to explode through the hole and attack the defense.
He’s not a dancer but a mad dog looking to take a pound of flesh from would be tacklers. He missed three games so just for fun, averaged over a 16 games season, Jacobs could have had 298 carries (3rd in the league), 1,415 rushing yards (3rd in the league) and 8 TD’s (9th in the league).
The 2020 outlook is top five running back. He will be the running back everyone wished they would have snagged at the end of the first or early second round. Jacobs has young legs and will have a huge workload in 2020. He is also the sole goal line back. He was consistent as a rookie as well, topping 100-yards five times and several others in the 80-99-yard range. If there is any area of concern, it’s the lack of involvement in the passing game.
DeAndre Washington hauled in 36 catches out of the back field last season and now that he’s out of the picture, that leaves Jalen Richard as the leading receiving back, who also had 36 receptions. Jacobs had 20 receptions from 27 targets for 166 yards (basically a Christian McCaffery afternoon) but I’m willing to chalk that up to a rookie learning curve. This season his output in the receiving game should double at minimum.
Austin Ekeler – Los Angeles Chargers
Ekeler was having a career year until Melvin Gordon returned from a 4-game hold-out and ruined his top ten fantasy season. Ekeler was averaging almost 21 fantasy points a week for the first four Gordon-less games, with solid numbers in the rushing and receiving categories. He also scored six times. He has great breakaway speed and can turn a 2-yard screen into a 52-yard TD at any time.
Chargers backs had plenty of defensive line company in the backfield with a porous offensive line that ranked near the bottom of the league. Ekeler had the quickness to escape right after the hand-off and rip off a 12-yard run. Conversely Gordon got stuffed behind the line of scrimmage time and time again. The Chargers finally cut ties with Gordon and decided it was the end of the road for Philip Rivers. Ekeler has a new 4-year deal that cements him as the feature back in the running and receiving game. Volume of touches will lead Austin Ekeler to elite fantasy status this season. Just look at the first four games of last season to get of a taste of what a full 16-game season could look like.
Ezekiel Elliott – Dallas Cowboys
Elliott spent the 2019 off-season in contract negotiations but when it came time to ball, he was a good as ever. He finished his first full 16-game season with 301 carries (second only to Derrick Henry’s 303), 1,357 rushing yards (4th in the league) and 14 total TD’s. His combination of size and speed makes him a top three elite back in the league along with Henry and Christian McCaffery. He scored in 10 of 16 games and reached the 100-yard mark seven times. Consistency helps you win week to week.
Elliott benefits from a well-rounded offense with stars across the board, including one of the best offensive lines in football. Instead of first contact 3 yards in the backfield like many unfortunate souls at the RB position, Elliot has first contact three yards down field. He works up a head of steam and arms tacklers get shuffled aside. Elliott is the trifecta for elite fantasy RB, heavy carries, high receptions and goal line carries. He’s a top five fantasy pick.
Dalvin Cook – Minnesota Vikings
Cook has a great argument for the second pick in this year’s fantasy draft. Christian McCaffrey is the clear number one selection, but you must ask yourself will McCaffrey meet or exceed last year’s ridiculous year? Will Cook meet or exceed last years above average numbers? I’m not sure McCaffrey can exceed last year but Cook certainly can. Cook has a great combination of size, speed and power and takes care of his body by hitting the sidelines when appropriate.
You can argue that fighting for the last inch is important and yes, when a first down is involved then I get it, but a running back trying to reduce big hits and maintain health is also important. Cook has a tremendous ability to bounce it outside and is the exclusive 1st and 2nd down option on the goal line. He might be the most dangerous running back in football in open space. Let’s just hope he doesn’t ultimately hold out!
Aaron Jones – Green Bay Packers
The other Aaron (running back) on the Green Bay Packers had 100 more carries than his previous season and made the most of them. He finished the season with 1,084 rushing yards and 16 rushing TD’s. What is most impressive was being considerably more involved in the passing game. 48 receptions on 68 targets yielded 474 receiving yards and 3 more scores. Jones doesn’t dance, he plows through wide open gaps seeking out a defender to run over and often does.
Though there is no way Jones continues exponential growth in major statistical categories, it’s more than reasonable to believe a repeat season is in order. There is an argument to be made that the effectiveness of Jones on the goal line is stealing TD’s from Aaron Rodgers rather than fellow running backs. Instead of one and done rushing attempts on the goal line, the Packers pound the ball two and three times in a row. The selection of AJ Dillion would be a concern if Jones wasn’t so effective already. Dillion may steal one or two TD’s as the season rolls on, but Jones is locked in as the primary running back.
Christian McCaffrey – Carolina Panthers
McCaffrey was a machine last season and if you were savvy enough to draft him early, a league championship was well within your sights. He finished the season 3rd in rushing yards with 1,387 and 3rd in rushing TD’s with 15. If you thought that wasn’t enough, he also topped 1,000 yards receiving with another 4 TDs. He could be the quickest cutter in the league and his acceleration from stop to start is spectacular. He breaks tackles on occasion because of mighty mouse power, but more times than not defenders just can’t get their hands on him.
Volume is always a concern at the running back position. When players have three or four years of massive production, rushes and receptions begin to wear a body down. McCaffrey will be 24 years old going into next season and 2019 was his first extremely large volume season. He is the single focus of this offense and that won’t change with Teddy Bridgewater under center. McCaffrey will be the focus of the offense and there should be no reduction in touches. He’s the goal line back, inside the 20 back, third down back and run out the clock back. The 2nd and 3rd players on Carolina in rushing attempts were a quarterback and wide receiver. That’s pretty much all you have to say about how they feel about the backup running backs.