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7 Running Backs to Avoid (2020 Fantasy Football)

Mar 28, 2020

Last week we examined wide receivers to avoid at their current cost. This week, our writers are here to provide an early look a the running backs they are currently passing on based on their Expert Consensus Ranking.

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Q: Which running back are you least likely to draft at their current Expert Consensus Ranking (ECR)?

Chris Carson (SEA): ECR 32 Overall, RB16
Chris Carson as the RB16 off the board right now is a little ridiculous. At this point, I would be shocked if Carson is ready for week one of the NFL season. His fractured hip injury should take a while to recover from, but even if he is somehow ready to begin the season, I’m avoiding him at this price tag. Carson’s injury history is lengthy and there’s just no guarantee that he’s going to be healthy for an entire season. The Seahawks could very well, and should, add another RB in this backfield as insurance if Carson and Rashaad Penny aren’t ready to go. Carson’s just simply too risky of a pick and I think I can get value elsewhere.
– Kyle Yates (@KyleYNFL)

At RB16, Chris Carson has a lot that he has to contend with to live up to this ranking. First of all, he’s coming off of a hip injury that took him out of the Seahawks’ last couple of games (including their two playoff games). While he’s expected to be ready for Week 1, I am not a fan of buying a player’s dip in ranking because of an injury.

Additionally, towards the end of the season, he started ceding more opportunities to Rashaad Penny – Carson had only eight carries in two of his final five games. Though Penny will likely be unavailable for the start of the season, I wouldn’t be shocked if the Seahawks add more competition through the draft.

Carson also isn’t that involved in the Seahawks’ passing game. Among the top 12 running backs in fantasy football last year, Carson had the third-fewest receptions with 37, which was nearly double his previous career high.

Finally, the Seahawks faced a fairly easy schedule – according to FantasyPros’ Strength of Schedule too, Seahawks running backs faced the 11th-easiest strength of schedule. As you can see, there’s a lot preventing Carson from repeating his 2019 success, and I won’t be taking him as anything more than an RB3.
– Sam Hoppen (@SamHoppen)

Austin Ekeler (LAC): ECR 21 Overall, RB12
It’s odd that no one has seemingly caught onto the fact that the Chargers are no longer going to be with Philip Rivers’ services. While he may not have been great in 2019, not many realize what he does for a running back’s production. Did no one learn their lesson last year when Ben Roethlisberger went down with an injury? Did James Conner play like an RB1 even when he was on the field? Ekeler’s contract not only screams timeshare, but he’s going to be alongside a rookie quarterback (or Tyrod Taylor) in 2020. This is your reminder that not many quarterbacks utilized their running backs/tight ends more than Rivers over the last 10 years. Ekeler should be a usable fantasy asset, but at RB12, he’s a hard pass.
– Mike Tagliere (@MikeTagliereNFL)

There’s a lot to like about Austin Ekeler. He has always been a great compliment to Melvin Gordon and is one of the most dynamic pass-catching backs in the league. MGIII has moved on, and with no new free agent signings to replace him coupled with Ekeler signing a new deal all arrows point up. But hold on. What are the chances that Justin Jackson does not factor in or the Chargers don’t draft someone in late April? I think rather slim. Ekeler is a smaller back at around 200 pounds and has been that “lightning in a bottle” whenever he’s been on the field. However, he’s always been paired with Gordon, who’s been the thunder. Yes, he carried the team when Gordon held out, but that was just for a handful of games. In the end, Gordon had 30 more rushing attempts in four fewer games. Ekeler has never played an entire season as the main back, so unless he is the reincarnation of Brian Westbrook, I don’t see him delivering on his current ADP promise as RB12.
– Marc Mathyk (@Masterjune70)

Kerryon Johnson (DET): ECR 51 Overall, RB22
It pains me to say this, as I was a huge Kerryon Johnson proponent since his days at Auburn, but I cannot draft him at his current RB ECR of 22 and overall ECR of 51. Entering his third season, Johnson has failed to show he can stay healthy. The Lions’ 2018 second round pick has missed 14 total games over the past two years and played under 70% of the snaps in 13 of his 18 healthy contests.

Despite his talent, Johnson has been poorly utilized and failed to seize a workhorse role. When he finally started to garner more commitment towards the beginning of 2019, he failed to produce. Johnson managed under 3.5 yards per carry in four of the six games before his injury and only rushed for over 55 yards once. He also did not receive much volume in the receiving game, averaging approximately two targets per game.

While he is still young and has the opportunity to grow into a viable asset, I cannot justify spending a 5th round pick on Johnson in the hopes he can finally stay on the field and obtain a sizable workload.
– Dan Ambrosino (@AmbrosinoNFL)

Melvin Gordon (DEN): ECR 37 Overall, RB17
Melvin Gordon heads to Denver where he joins forces with Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman to form the dreaded three-headed running back committee. Volume is the most important factor driving fantasy value at the running back position and Gordon will be hard-pressed to consistently generate more than 15 touches in any given week.

Efficiency is also a major question mark for Melvin Gordon after averaging a paltry 3.8 yards per carry last season. Gordon is likely to be a touchdown dependent running back on an offense led by Drew Lock. Not exactly the definition of an explosive offense. Gordon’s price tag isn’t terrible at RB17, but I can’t see myself drafting him over any of the other running backs in his tier. Give me the upside of Devin Singletary, Marlon Mack, Kerryon Johnson, Damien Williams, and James Conner to name a few.
– Jarad Evans (@Jarad_Evans)

Todd Gurley (ATL): ECR 27 Overall, RB13
An NFL contract will tell you a lot about how a team and the league feels about a player. There are reports that the Rams spent weeks attempting to find a team willing to take on Gurley’s contract. When they could not find anyone willing to take on that contract, they released him with a post-June 1 designation. The move gave them only $5.5 million in salary cap relief this year, but cost them over $20 million in dead cap money spread out over the next two seasons. It was more important for an owner worth an estimated $10 billion to save $10.5 million on a roster bonus than any benefit his team received in terms of cap relief. All this cap grief was for a player that turns 26-years-old in August and over the last five years was second in the NFL in yards from scrimmage (7,494) and first in total touchdowns (70).

This is not a player like Kareem Hunt that was a very productive player plagued with personal conduct issues, Gurley has no such issues plaguing his market value. Gurley should be in the prime of his NFL career and the Rams were willing to take on all the negative cap repercussions of releasing him now and Gurley was also willing to settle for a one-year “prove it” deal worth $5 million only one day after he hit the free agent market.

How the Rams and Falcons approached this situation and how quickly Gurley signed that contract should tell you everything you need to know about the arthritic condidtion in his knee and I would not be surprised if the Falcons still add a running back on Day 2 or Day 3 of the NFL Draft.

This is not a situation where I feel good about Gurley’s RB ECR of 13 and overall ECR of 27. This is a situation where Gurley is no better than an RB3 and he is only likely to go down in my rankings between now and the start of the season, not up. I would not draft him at that current ADP under any circumstances, his knee has to have major concerns given how the Rams, Falcons, and Gurley handled this situation from a financial standpoint. There is no way he will live up to a third round grade in fantasy football.
– Derek Lofland (@DerekLofland)

Aaron Jones (GB): ECR 11 Overall, RB8
Aaron Jones is dialed in as the RB8 in consensus rankings, which would make him an RB1 on just about any fantasy roster. Sure, you could pair him with another stud rusher at the back end of a snake draft-and that would look pretty good on paper, but I’m not so sure Jones is going to get an opportunity to replicate last year’s breakout season.

For starters, Jones’ backup, Jamaal Williams (who always seemed to be playing hurt last year), is actually pretty productive when given the touches. If you doubled Williams’ carries from last year from 107 to 214, he could’ve rushed for 920 yards and 2 TDs. Admittedly, this is an ambitious conclusion, but my point is this: a healthier Jamal Williams is going to mean more of timeshare situation for Green Bay ball carriers in 2020.

Not only that, Packer’s head coach Matt LaFleur is on the record to say he could add a third rusher to the backfield. That said, spending a first-round or early second-round draft pick on Aaron Jones seems like a risky proposition at best. Instead, I’ll be targeting higher-volume running backs in this range, such as Josh Jacobs, Nick Chubb, and Kenyan Drake.
– Jim Colombo (@WideRightNBlue)

Leonard Fournette (JAC)
Leonard Fournette had already broken fantasy owners’ hearts before 2019. His current ADP, according to FantasyPros, places him as a top-10 running back, but I can already think of at least three rookie rushers coming out of college this year that I would rather own than Fournette if they land in prime spots. Many of the names behind him according to ADP also hold arguably as much, if not more upside. Heading into 2019, Fournette was largely a volume back that offered little in the passing game. His first two years in the league, he averaged 29 receptions. Under OC John DeFilippo, with very little in the way of proven pass-catching depth behind him, Fournette produced a career-high 76 reception on 100 targets last year. Well, DeFillippo is gone, replaced by former Washington HC Jay Gruden — the same Gruden who relegated similar smashmouth backs like Fournette to first- and second-down grinders while Chris Thompson took over on third downs and two-minute drills. With an impending draft loaded with receiving talent and a deep pool of rookie rushers, plus many options remaining in free agency and via trade, it seems far-fetched that Fournette will come anywhere close to the 100 targets he saw last year. It also bears worth mentioning that Fournette’s career YPC (4.0) is hardly an elite number, and despite all the targets he received last year, he only scored three total touchdowns on the season. Will Fournette be a productive fantasy rusher next year? Most likely. Is he a certifiable, top-10 RB1, worthy of a top-20 pick? I don’t recommend paying the price to find out.
– Paul Ghiglieri (@FantasyGhigs)

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