Fantasy Football 2020: Running Backs You Can’t Forget About

by Bradley Stalder @FFStalder


In the classic 2004 romantic comedy 50 First Dates, the protagonist Lucy (played by a prime Drew Barrymore) suffers from Goldfield’s Syndrome — a brain illness that affects, among other things, one’s short-term memory. Her love interest Henry (played by a regressing Adam Sandler) faces conflict when Lucy cannot remember any information regarding their romantic encounters from the previous few days. In fact, she flat out rejects his attempts to remind her of his love. His failure to help her remember only more fuels his desire to renew a lasting love with her. I won’t spoil the ending, but I will say, it is an Adam Sandler film (but not like Funny People or Uncut Gems, more like Happy Gilmore). 


Sometimes, we as fantasy managers experience a form of non-clinical Goldfield’s Syndrome — forgetting or dismissing the “love” our players have shown us in the past. We are too quick to reject our fantasy players’ future because of what we see in the present. Let me remind you, as Henry reminded Lucy, of the love of past players and what love they could show us managers in 2020. 

For this article, we will review running backs who were top 15 PPR-scoring players from 2018 or earlier, who did not pass that threshold in 2019, and yet may be fantasy relevant for the 2020 season. While these players won’t lead your team to a championship, they could be integral to your roster.


Duke Johnson (RB11, 2017)– Age 26


  • Situation Review:  Even though Carlos Hyde rushed for over 1,000 yards in 2019, with Duke still finishing as RB29. With David Johnson now in the mix, and sponsorship from GM/Coach/Overzealous Trader Bill O’Brien, the other D. Johnson will be relegated to a similar role as a complement. However, there are no other depth options behind both D. Johnsons– which guarantees that each player should have some utility in the Texans offense. With the additions of Brandin Cooks and Randall Cobb to a receiving core that already featured Will Fuller, Keke Coutee, and Kenny Stills, the Texans offense is stocked full of talented playmakers. And no, Darren Fells probably will not repeat his TE17 performance, which consisted mostly of three-yard touchdown receptions anyway. 


  • Chance at RB15 Status: 30%. Johnson makes his living off pass catching. With serious questions at TE depth (although Kahale Warring looks promising) and historically injury riddled WRs (Cooks – Concussions; Fuller – Hamstring, ACL; Stills – Knee, Groin & Leg Strains; Cobb- Hamstring, Concussion, miscellaneous injuries over the past decade; Coutee – Hamstring pulls, Ankle issues), along with David Johnson’s recent injury (ankle sprains, back injuries last season), Duke — who hasn’t been on an injury report in 5 years — has legitimate top-15 RB potential this season. If you’re betting against the health of the Texans receivers, then you definitely should consider betting on Duke Johnson for 2020.


Tarik Cohen (RB11, 2018)– Age 24


  • Situation Review: As a whole, the Chicago Bears offense took a step back in 2019. Mitchell Trubisky flopped hard due to injuries and inconsistency, factors which now have him pitted in competition with the newly acquired Nick Foles. David Montgomery failed to live up to the offseason hype, looking like an indecisive version of Jordan Howard (the man he was drafted to replace) for most of the season. Anthony Miller flashed but struggled to produce regularly. HC Matt Nagy’s seat will continue to get hotter in 2020 if the offensive struggles continue. Cohen’s outlook for 2020 depends on whether the Bears offense can recover from its deep regression last season. 


  • Chance at RB15 Status: 30%. Cohen’s role is secure. The receiving back played over 50% of snaps in 9 of 16 games in 2019– with only 7 such games in 2018– even with David Montgomery present.  As the Bears offense will positively regress, so too will Cohen. At where Cohen is being drafted, he is a perfect target for those drafters executing a zero-RB strategy.


James White (RB7, 2018) — Age 28

james white

  • Situation Review: White’s situation seems similar to one Tarik Cohen finds himself in — impending QB change from 2019 to 2020; pass-catching role secure; no significant change to the backfield during the offseason. 


  • Chance at RB15 Status: 50%. Only Rex Burkhead poses a pass-catching threat to James White’s target share. If Jarrett Stidham finds himself in negative game scripts, White will prove valuable to the young signal caller. Even with Tom Brady’s difficulty moving the ball in 2019, White finished as RB18 in 15 games. Feel confident drafting White as a safe-floor PPR play.


Phillip Lindsay (RB13, 2018) — Age 25


  • Situation Review: With Gordon added in free agency, and Royce Freeman not yet traded, Lindsay seems to be stuck as the #2 in the John Elway architected  “1-2 Punch” at RB. So much for being rewarded after two straight 1,000 yard rushing seasons. 


  • Chance at RB15 Status: 15%. Ultimately, it would take an injury or another holdout (jokes… too soon?) from Gordon to get Lindsay the volume of rushing and receiving necessary to vault into the top-15 for RBs. Even if Gordon gets injured, Lindsay had only 7 receptions for 17 yards total in the 5 starts with Drew Lock under center during 2019. Unfortunately, the former Pro Bowler has no leverage to get out of Denver to a team who would better utilize his skills.


Latavius Murray (RB10, 2015; RB13, 2016) — Age 30


  • Situation Review: Just like last year, Murray is the backup to Alvin Kamara. Murray is entering his age-30 season, averaged 9 carries per game last season, and finished as RB28. During weeks 7 (Teddy Bridgewater as QB) and 8 (Drew Brees as QB) in 2019, while Kamara was out, Murray combined for 48 carries, 221 rushing yards (4.6 ypc), 3 rushing touchdowns, 14 receptions for 86 yards, and 1 receiving touchdown. In short, he was a fantasy monster. 


  • Chance at RB15 Status: 15%. If Kamara gets injured again, no matter the QB (even Jameis Winston), Murray will get the volume in both carries and receptions to be a solid top 15 option weekly. Otherwise, he may be a desperation flex play. 


Kareem Hunt (RB4, 2017; RB12, 2018– even being suspended 6 games) — Age 24

Cleveland Browns vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers preseason, August 23, 2019

  • Situation Review: The Browns brought Hunt back to the team for 2020 and plan to utilize his skills to elevate the offense. Obviously Nick Chubb will get his share of the rushes and goal line work, but Hunt will continue to get the majority of receive work out of the backfield.


  • Chance at RB15 Status: 40%. Hunt could very well co-exist with Chubb in the backfield. Even if there’s not an injury to Chubb, Hunt has a realistic range of outcomes which includes a top-15 PPR finish. He’s a dynamic player who is a buy-low in dynasty leagues as he will be a free agent after 2020 and be looking for a lead role. 


Handcuff Role Expected:


Adrian Peterson (RB4, 2009; RB6, 2010; RB13, 2011; RB1, 2012; RB11, 2013; RB2, 2015; *Standard RB16 in 2018*) — Age 35


  • Situation Review: Who isn’t a Redskins running back these days? With oft-injured Derrius Guice, just-another-guy Peyton Barber, raw but dynamic Antonio Gibson, yet-to-play sophomore Bryce Love, and pass-catching specialist J.D McKissic all rostered, Peterson will yet again face competition for a lead role. There are many questions facing this backfield: Will Guice stay healthy? Will Love earn a role? How much will Barber eat away at Peterson’s role? Will Antonio Gibson pop off?


  • Chance at RB15 Status: 2%. Despite a week 1 benching–which contributed to tension in the Washington locker room– and three other games under 30% snap share, Peterson still finished RB33 in PPR in 2019. In short- he was useful.  If you draft Peterson, you know what you are getting.


Carlos Hyde (RB8, 2017) — Age 30


  • Situation Review: Hyde was signed as the backup to Chris Carson in Seattle. Hyde rushed for over 1,000 yards in his renaissance with the Texans in 2019, but now provides veteran depth in a run-first offense. With Carson’s injury history and fumbling issues, Penny’s expectation to start the season on PUP, and the unimpressive Travis Homer rostered, Hyde does not need much to happen for fantasy significance. 


  • Chance at RB15 Status: 5%. Hyde finished as RB30 even though he played all 16 games and rushed for over 1,000 yards in 2019. In a standard scoring league, Hyde provides more upside than PPR


Frank Gore (RB5, 2009; RB15, 2010; RB15, 2011; RB10, 2012; RB14, 2015; RB12, 2016) — Age 37

  • Situation Review: Gore is the backup to Le’Veon Bell on the Jets. He rejoins Adam Gase and provides a consistent yet mediocre 3.6 ypc. 


  • Chance at RB15 Status: 2%. This would be 1% but anything is possible for Adam Gase. Gore provides leadership– which unfortunately does not score points in fantasy football. Everything needs to go wrong for the Jets if Gore is going to have a significant role this season.


Giovanni Bernard (RB13, 2013) — Age 28


  • Situation Review: Bernard is once again depth behind Joe Mixon. Over the last three years, Bernard’s role has been in decay. With Rodney Anderson and Trayveon Williams added as young players in the Bengals backfield last spring, and talks Bernard as a cap casualty during the offseason, there is not much optimism surrounding Bernard’s future role and production.


  • Chance at RB15 Status: 1%. It’s been 6 seasons since Bernard hit the top 15 mark, and with only one top-30 finish since 2016, Bernard may be finding himself on a new team (or out of the league) sooner rather than later. 


Dion Lewis (RB15, 2017) — Age 29


  • Situation Review: Lewis was signed by the New York Giants this offseason to be Saquon Barkley’s handcuff. He’s an upgrade over Wayne Gallman and Jon Hilliman (yes, Hilliman, who averaged 10 carries, 30 rushing yards, and scored 0 touchdowns in 3 games of Barkley’s absence). 


  • Chance at RB15 Status: 2%. Lewis struggled with rushing behind the Titans offensive line in Tennessee. He won’t have a role other than give Barkley the occasional breather. He does not need to be drafted– even as a last-round handcuff. 


Free Agents:


Lamar Miller — (RB9, 2014; RB5, 2015) Age 29 — Out 2019 with torn ACL


LeSean McCoy — (RB2, 2010; RB2, 2011; RB3, 2013; RB12, 2014; RB4, 2016; RB7, 2017) — Age 31


Devonta Freeman — (RB1, 2015; RB6, 2016; RB13, 2017) — Age 28


  • Situation Review: Given that Miller, McCoy, and Freeman are all in their age-28 season or older, they may be signed closer to the start of the 2020 NFL season in case a team loses RB depth. Freeman seems to have the most gas left in the tank, but after an outlandish ask at this point in the offseason (turning down a reported $4 million from the Seahawks and publicly sparring with the Buccaneers organization) he will have to wait.


  • Chance at RB15 Status: Of the 3 free agent RBs, Freeman has the only chance to realistically achieve this threshold if he takes over for an injured workhorse running back– it would take the likes of Todd Gurley (ironically), David Johnson, or Derrick Henry to go down and need replacing.

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