Early Undervalued Running Backs (2020 Fantasy Football)
2019 fantasy football has come to a close. For those that never let their foot off the fantasy gas pedal like me, 2020 preparation has just begun. Over the course of the month, I’ll be walking through all early renditions of potential over and undervalued running backs and wide receivers for the upcoming season. Third in this series is undervalued running backs.
Leonard Fournette (JAC)
2020 ECR: RB10
Fournette finished as the RB9 in half-PPR last year. He’s also one of the few backs to perennially showcase a bell-cow role. Throughout his young career, he has continually been top-10 in fantasy on a per-game status. The trouble he has was completing a full season, and only missed one game in 2019.
The Jaguars have mixed things up on the offensive side of the ball, hiring former Washington Redskins head coach Jay Gruden to be the offensive coordinator. Gruden led an underwhelming personnel group with the Redskins to respectable yardage production; particularly, his use of the running backs despite injuries plaguing the group and a sub-par offensive line. The Jaguars line is no picnic, however, so we would like to see some much-needed additions in free agency and the draft.
Fournette hit a career-high in targets with 100 which shows just how much he can contribute in the passing game. He also only scored three touchdowns on the year. For his touches and yard production, the league average rate for running backs would have been 13 touchdowns instead of three. That’s a 60 point sway for fantasy. If his red-zone conversion comes anywhere close to typical rates, he should see a significant boost.
Austin Ekeler (LAC)
2020 ECR: RB12
Ekeler is my undisputed upside pick of the 2020 running back group. His massive work in the receiving game – 92 receptions, 993 yards, and 8 touchdowns – rivals the numbers of many top wide receivers. For reference, DeAndre Hopkins had a similar receiving line of 104-1,165-7. Let that sink in…
CMC-lite has the potential to see even more touches coming into the year as Melvin Gordon is unlikely to receive his wish of a massive contract. Gordon’s departure would subsequently open up 204 total touches in the backfield. Ekeler is a restricted free agent so it is very likely he returns to the Chargers in 2020 given the value he provided.
Ekeler is only 24 years old, was the RB6 in 2019 despite splitting most games with Gordon, has significant vacated touches coming his way, and is a proven asset in the receiving game. What more could you want?
Miles Sanders (PHI)
2020 ECR: RB14
The 2019 rookie class wasn’t hyped up as much in years past, but by golly did Sanders deliver. Ending the season with 1,327 all-purpose yards was first among all rookie running backs, even edging out Josh Jacobs. What’s more important is his additional work in the receiving game when compared to the others, as he brought 50 receptions on the year.
Jordan Howard getting injured late in the season gave Sanders a chance to show how he could handle a larger workload. After a slow start to the year, the second-year back improved on every aspect of his game in the second half of the season. Howard is now gone as are his 129 touches and seven touchdowns. Eagles might add another early-down back this offseason, but unless that back has proven merit, this will be Sander’s backfield until further notice.
Kerryon Johnson (DET)
2020 ECR: RB22
Not sure many know this, but Johnson has a career half-PPR fantasy output of 11.5 points per game. While that’s not overly spectacular, it is plenty good when considering the number of injuries he has fought through and the multitude of only partial games he played. This injury risk is baked into his current ECR so he has some considerable risk and reward factors at his current value.
Detroit Lions head coach Matt Patricia was famously downplaying the need to have a lead running back throughout all of last offseason, stating that a running back by committee is the best approach. The numbers show a different story.
Things started out in true timeshare fashion with Johnson leading the pack with around 50% snap share for the first two weeks. Then the C.J. Anderson left the picture and Johnson’s snap share continually sat at 75% all the way until his injury. That’s impressive usage for a running back in today’s league no matter how we slice it. If he can finally stay healthy, he should also then resume a “healthy” workload for fantasy purposes.
Thanks for reading and stay golden! If you like what you learned, follow me @DavidZach16 for more interesting stats and tidbits throughout the year.