RB3s With RB1 Potential (2020 Fantasy Football)
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Over the last few weeks, we’ve looked into running backs and wide receivers that you should avoid at their current draft-day cost, along with wide receivers outside the top 30 of our current Expert Consensus Rankings (ECR) that have a shot at finishing as a WR1 in 2020.
Next up, we’ll ask the same question about 2020 running backs. Which player currently outside the top 30 at the position has the best shot at finishing as an RB1 this fantasy football season?
Q: Which current RB3 based on ECR has the best chance to finish as a RB1 for the 2020 season?
Darrell Henderson (LAR)
Darrell Henderson has quickly found his way into a potential starting role in the Rams’ offense. With Todd Gurley in Atlanta, the Rams will roll with Henderson and Malcolm Brown. Unless they draft a running back, the only other notable name is John Kelly. There’s a chance this turns into a committee, but there’s also a chance that Henderson takes this lead role and runs with it. I liked Henderson a lot as a prospect out of Memphis, and he’s got the tools to succeed. He is a very explosive player, has solid contact balance, and catches the ball well out of the backfield. This backfield could turn ugly quick, but if the Rams lean of Henderson, he could be in for a nice 2020 season. The former third-round pick has the most potential to finish as an RB1.
– Aaron Schill (@aaron_schill)
Darrell Henderson is the clear answer for me, and a lot of it has to do with the opportunity he’ll have this season. With Todd Gurley out of the equation, 223 carries and 49 targets are up for grabs in the Rams’ offense. Henderson wasn’t given many opportunities in 2019, as Malcolm Brown played the primary backup role (out-touching him nearly 2:1), but there are several other reasons to think Henderson could be the guy in 2020. Remember that in last year’s draft, the Rams traded up to select Henderson in the third round when the still had Gurley under contract — a clear sign the coaching staff liked what they saw. Without a first-round pick in this month’s draft, it seems unlikely that the Rams would use a lot of draft capital on a running back after doing so the previous year.
Henderson only got 39 total carries last year, but he was one of the most elusive backs last year by many metrics. His 5.6 attempts per broken tackle and 95.1 elusiveness rating, per Pro Football Focus, were both inside the top-six running backs with at least 35 carries. Finally, though he didn’t have as much success as a rookie, Henderson still averaged nearly nine yards per carry in his final two years in college. He has experience as a three-down workhorse from his days at Memphis and could find his way to more work this season.
– Sam Hoppen (@SamHoppen)
Let’s just pretend for a second that Darrell Henderson wasn’t the third running back picked in the 2019 NFL Draft. Let’s imagine he didn’t have a monster performance in his last two college games. It was only five touchdowns, right? If you take all of that away, what are we left with? Just a generic talent backing up an elite running back last year. This does wonders for value, as it’s time to buy Henderson’s stock low before it explodes. Henderson will be the top dog of an explosive offense with winning coaches and a pathway to the playoffs paved in yellow bricks. They can’t get to the Super Bowl without a proper run game, so if any of these 2020 team win/loss predictions from experts are correct, the Rams have already given the rock to someone enough to propel themselves to a winning season. One thing is for sure, it sure as heck isn’t Malcolm Brown wielding the pigskin, unless you think his five seasons of mediocrity were a fluke. It’s time to add a Henderson hedge to your re-draft strategy.
– Spencer Weston (westonpicks)
Raheem Mostert (SF)
Raheem Mostert had a special 2019 postseason highlighted by an NFC Championship Game performance that saw him run for 220 yards and four rushing touchdowns against the Green Bay Packers. It would be dangerous to use that game to project his 2020 value, because any player can have one outlier game. Yet people that were paying attention to Mostert were not shocked by that performance. From Week 11 to Week 17, he was the ninth-ranked running back in fantasy football. He tallied more fantasy points than Alvin Kamara, Mark Ingram II, and Aaron Jones in that stretch of games.
Mostert was part of a crowded backfield last year, and that will not change this year. Tevin Coleman, Matt Breida, and Jerick McKinnon could all see touches. That is what should keep the undrafted free agent, who was on six teams prior to the 49ers, hungry to improve this offseason. He knows that he cannot just coast on last year’s end to the season because there are three running backs waiting to take his place. He has seen that an NFL roster spot cannot be taken for granted by hopping from team to team early in his career. Mostert had a fantastic close to the season, not just one great postseason game. While I do not envision him getting 30 touches per game, 15 to 18 touches in that offensive scheme, behind that offensive line may be enough to propel him to the RB1 spot. He is definitely undervalued as the RB33 in the ECR. He’ll be a steal if that ranking remains that low until fantasy drafts commence in August.
– Derek Lofland (@DerekLofland)
Raheem Mostert was an unsung hero for fantasy teams down the stretch in 2019. The 27-year-old outlasted Jerick McKinnon, Matt Breida, and Tevin Coleman to become the 49ers’ go-to running back as the playoffs approached. Mostert wound up scoring in each of the team’s final six regular-season games before erupting in the NFC Championship Game for 220 rushing yards and four touchdowns. That type of performance on a national stage could have skyrocketed his ADP to preposterous heights this offseason. So far, however, that hasn’t happened. Mostert faces some uphill challenges to even be fantasy-relevant in 2020. McKinnon, Coleman, and Breida are all still around. It would be ignorant to expect Mostert to dominate touches in such a crowded backfield. Meanwhile, Kyle Shanahan’s scheme seems to turn any running back with a pulse into a star. Lastly, the 49ers are bound to face some offensive regression after a historically efficient season. Despite all that, Mostert is still a screaming value with an ADP outside of the top-30 running backs. His postseason performance should give him a leg up on his competition entering training camp, and San Francisco is still expected to carry out an efficient, run-first offense.
– Brendan Tuma (@toomuchtuma)
If Mostert is available this late in a draft, I’m sprinting to the virtual platform to get him. Despite facing eight or more defenders in the box at the ninth-highest rate in 2019, Mostert led the league in yards per carry (5.7) and ranked first among running backs in DVOA. By the same metric, his backfield challengers Matt Breida and Tevin Coleman ranked 24th and 43rd, respectively, out of 45 qualified running backs. As others have pointed out, Mostert will start the 2020 campaign in a bit of a committee, but I’m confident he will secure a lead-back role much like he did late last season. If the 49ers elect to trade from their running back stable and Mostert finds himself in a one-two punch throughout the season, I still think he’ll finish as a high-end RB2. Only the Ravens ran the ball more than Kyle Shanahan’s offense in 2019, and I expect more of the same from San Francisco in 2020.
– Daniel Comer (@DanComer404)
Ronald Jones (TB)
With Tom Brady now in Tampa Bay, things could quickly go south for Jones in 2020. Bruce Arians already showed a willingness to play a lesser running back in Peyton Barber due to Jones having issues picking up blitzes. If Jones were to miss a blocking assignment for Brady, he might never see the field again. Tampa Bay could also expend draft capital on a running back such as D’Andre Swift, J.K. Dobbins, or Clyde Edwards-Helaire, which would immediately destroy any value Jones has. With that large caveat out of the way, Jones didn’t play badly last year from an efficiency standpoint. If given the volume, he could easily move into RB2 territory. Per Fantasydata.com he ranked 33rd at the running back position in points per opportunity, and his 5.1 yards per touch ranked 22nd. Although not considered a receiving threat, Jones had 31 receptions despite playing on just 38% of Tampa Bay’s offensive snaps. Among the 44 running backs with at least 20 receptions last season, Jones’ 10 yards per reception ranked sixth. We’ve seen that Brady loves to use his running backs as receiving weapons with James White averaging 68.5 receptions over the last four seasons. If Jones can even approach that total, he should easily be a top-20 running back.
– Shane Manila (ShaneIsTheWorst)
Although I believe a case can be made for Raheem Mostert, Darrell Henderson, or Sony Michel, Ronald Jones tops my list if Tampa Bay does not spend an early pick on a running back. A lot can happen between now and the end of April, when the 2020 NFL Draft takes place. However, at the moment I feel confident that Jones is poised to destroy his current RB31 ADP. Tampa Bay let plodder Peyton Barber walk, leaving Jones in the driver’s seat as the starting running back. Jones was by far the most impressive player in the Tampa Bay backfield as both a runner and pass-catcher. In 2019, he averaged a respectable 4.2 yards per carry behind an abysmal offensive line. Barber averaged 3.1. Although YPC is not the best metric to normally base an argument around, Jones showed that he was the better back, averaging 1.8 more yards per carry than Barber versus stacked fronts, according to Player Profiler. He also had 31 receptions and averaged almost two yards more per reception than scat-back Dare Ogunbowale. Jones seems to have escaped any significant free-agent signing, so if the Buccaneers don’t pick a running back with significant draft stock, I like Jones more and more. The best two things for Jones going forward are having Tom Brady as his quarterback and Bruce Arians as his coach.
– Marc Mathyk (Masterjune70)
Rashaad Penny (SEA)
With an RB ECR of 53, Rashaad Penny is one of the most undervalued running backs who has the potential to finish as an RB1. Although his past two years in Seattle have not been productive, he has shown flashes when taking over the lead role and when even splitting time with Chris Carson. Whenever Penny received double-digit carries in a game, he finished as a top-18 running back on the week. We also saw him earn more commitment toward the end of the season, averaging 16.5 touches for 118 total yards and 1.5 touchdowns over his last two healthy contests. Unfortunately, he went down with an ACL injury the next week before we were able to get a larger sample size.
Nonetheless, Penny’s last two outings demonstrated his ability to succeed by even splitting the workload, as he finished as the RB8 and RB3, respectively. While his injury history may cause concern, Carson doesn’t have a stranglehold on the starting gig anymore. He has also missed multiple games due to injury and has been benched several times for fumbling the football. On a team that produced the third-most rushing yards and fourth-most rushing attempts, Penny is in an ideal situation to break out if he gets any semblance of opportunity. If looking for a longshot outside of the top-30 running backs to give me an RB1 season, Penny is my favorite candidate to do so in his third season.
– Dan Ambrosino (@AmbrosinoNFL)
Jordan Howard (MIA)
Anyone want to guess how old Jordan Howard is? Nope, guess again. Yeah, Jordan Howard is only 25 years old. The NFL moves fast, especially for running backs, which is probably why it already seems like he is an old, plodding journeyman. Howard will play for his third NFL team in 2020, but it’s only going to be his fifth year in the NFL. That’s just too soon to write off a running back who’s rushed for 3,370 yards since entering the league in 2016. By the way, that’s good enough for the third-most rushing yards behind only Ezekiel Elliott and Todd Gurley.
With a fully healthy shoulder and fresh threads in Miami, Howard should take over the lead running back role almost immediately. What about Kalen Ballage, you’re asking? Good question. While he’ll probably float around the Phins’ backfield this year, I don’t view him as a major threat to Howard’s playing time. As for other Miami rushers, Patrick Laird and Myles Gaskin, I’m not getting too hyped. Mix in a star rookie quarterback and a stud offensive tackle from this year’s draft, and look out for Howard in Miami. In fantasy football, a true RB1 is hard to come by. To get one, you’ve got to load up on players who have the most potential opportunities. In 2020, that under-the-radar running back is Howard. An especially viable asset for those who deploy zero-RB strategies in their re-draft leagues, he is currently getting picked in the 11th and 12th rounds of 12-team, half-PPR mock drafts.
– Jim Colombo (@WideRightNBlue)
Damien Harris (NE)
I almost went with Alexander Mattison or Tony Pollard here, but each requires a lengthy injury to the starter ahead of him to be a viable candidate. If this was for PPR leagues only, I would lean Boston Scott, whom I believe could be deployed in a similar fashion as peak Darren Sproles and siphon more touches from Miles Sanders than people think. Instead, I’m going to go with a name you can probably pick up on waivers after your draft. Damien Harris never saw the field in 2019 after New England drafted him with a third-round pick. However, rookie running backs rarely touch the ball in the Bill Belichick era unless they were first-round picks. Harris ran a 4.57 40 and posted the fourth-best vertical jump among all running backs in the 2019 class. He’s an explosive athlete built to handle a full carry load in the NFL.
Harris drew a lot of Mark Ingram comps during the draft process, and he split carries with Josh Jacobs at Alabama. Once promoted to the starter, Harris averaged 6.76 YPC and rushed for over 1,000 yards in the SEC twice before getting drafted. Sony Michel hasn’t looked the same since injuring his knee, finishing at the bottom of the pack in yards after contact in 2019. It’s pretty clear to see that the team drafted Harris as insurance in case Michel broke down at the next level. At worst, I could see Harris splitting time with Michel the way he did with Jacobs in college. With the team likely to go with young Jarrett Stidham at quarterback in 2020, expect the Patriots to lean heavily on the run game. Harris very well might become the primary ball-carrier in New England sooner rather than later.
– Paul Ghiglieri (FantasyGhigs)
Devonta Freeman (FA)
My colleagues have aptly identified Jones and Henderson as the two obvious answers, and justifiably so since both have easy-to-imagine paths to a smattering of fantasy points in 2020. However, at RB39 currently, Devonta Freeman also intrigues me. He is, of course, not the same player he was when he finished as the RB1 overall, but we know he has that upside in his skill set. Even though he’s now a senior citizen in RB years, he could finish in the RB1 range. Freeman is a capable pass-catcher out of the backfield and a strong between-the-tackles runner as well. His 59 receptions (4.2 per game) in 2019 ranked eighth at the position, and his opportunity share ranked 12th. While Freeman was not particularly efficient, nor able to create on his own, volume plus receiving work could still land him as an RB1 candidate if touchdowns break his way. In order for Freeman to reach this ceiling, he’d need to land with a friendly offense (e.g., Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay) that bypasses running backs in the NFL Draft and gives him the starter role.
– Mark Leipold (@LeipoldNFL)