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Top Running Backs Most Likely to Bust in 2020 (Fantasy Football)

Apr 23, 2020

Even without Melvin Gordon, Austin Ekeler may not live up to the hype in 2020.

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While it’s hard to win your fantasy football draft with your first pick, you can certainly go a long way toward losing your league with a busted early selection. We’re here to help you avoid this disaster. Last week, we asked our writers for WR1s that could fail to return value this fantasy football season. Next up, we’re looking into top running backs to avoid as potential busts in 2020.

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Q: Which current RB1 (top-12 in rankings) do you think has the biggest bust potential?

Austin Ekeler (LAC)
Regression comes for every over-performing player, and Austin Ekeler is no exception. Ekeler finished as the RB6 in 0.5 PPR and was able to do so mainly off of his receiving prowess and volume in the passing game. Seventy-three percent of Ekeler’s 2019 fantasy points derived from his receiving output, as he caught 92 balls for 993 yards and eight touchdowns. If we take away his rushing yards, he would have finished as the WR15 on the season, ahead of Stefon Diggs, D.J. Moore, and Davante Adams. Yet, despite Melvin Gordon‘s departure, can we expect a similar level of volume for Ekeler in the passing game? He saw 108 targets last season, as Philip Rivers‘ diminished arm strength and lack of mobility necessitated the need for check-downs and screen passes. That tendency will change with Tyrod Taylor entering the fold as the likely starter. During Taylor’s three years starting with the Buffalo Bills, his lead running back (LeSean McCoy) averaged 61 targets per year. His highest total came in 2017, where he saw 77 targets, but only 59 catches and 448 yards. With a mobile quarterback in the fold, Ekeler will likely see less work in the passing game. His touchdown total should also decrease, as Taylor’s career-high in passing touchdowns was 20 in 2015. With Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, and Hunter Henry all vying for targets, I find it hard to see how Ekeler could possibly come close to his 2019 touchdown total barring a career resurgence from Taylor. Ekeler is a great player who surprised a lot of people last year, but he’s unlikely to repeat the previous season’s incredible performance. Given his ECR of RB11, I would fade Ekeler for someone in a stabler situation who will have less competition for touches.
– Dan Ambrosino (@AmbrosinoNFL)

I’ll make this short and sweet. Austin Ekeler is a great football player who has proven to be both versatile and explosive throughout his career. However, there is no escaping the fact that he is only 5’9″ and 199 pounds. He will continue to be an efficient and dynamic force in the Chargers’ passing game, but it will surprise many if they don’t draft another Melvin Gordon prototype to be the thunder to Ekeler’s lightning. Ekeler’s ceiling is fringe top-12, but his most likely outcome will be a top-24 back that is no longer a discounted option.
– Marc Mathyk (@Masterjune70)

Austin Ekeler was a “league winner” for many fantasy football players last season. A late-round pick in summer drafts, Ekeler went on to catch 92 passes for 993 receiving yards. He also rushed for 557 yards and scored 11 total touchdowns. Now the 24-year-old has a new contract with the Chargers, and Melvin Gordon is out of the picture. So how can we consider Ekeler a potential bust? Unfortunately for him, the Los Angeles moved on from Philip Rivers, who was the king of checking down to his running back. So much of Ekeler’s 2019 value came in the form of receptions. Only Christian McCaffrey caught more passes at his position. The issue facing Ekeler is that Rivers’ replacement (at the moment) is Tyrod Taylor. Unlike Rivers, Taylor can take off scrambling when the offensive line collapses instead of checking down. Then there’s Justin Jackson, who will surely take on some of the work Gordon is leaving behind. Daniel Popper of The Athletic reported the Chargers “like that one-two punch” of Ekeler and Jackson. Ekeler is still going to be a very useful fantasy asset in 2020, particularly in PPR leagues, but fantasy players should temper expectations.
– Brendan Tuma (@toomuchtuma)

Ekeler recently signed a four-year, $24.5 million contract this offseason. With Melvin Gordon off to the Denver Broncos, Ekeler will be the Chargers’ top backfield option. He logged 132 carries for 557 yards to go along with 92 receptions for 993 yards and 11 total touchdowns (three rushing, eight receiving) across 16 games in 2019. Tyrod Taylor is the team’s starting QB for 2020 and will not dump off to the RB nearly as much as predecessor Phillip Rivers. LeSean McCoy averaged 47 receptions and 365 receiving yards across 43 games when paired with Taylor during his three years as a starter in Buffalo from 2015-2017. I just don’t see Ekeler getting the targets he has in the past, making him more of an RB2 than a borderline RB1. The 24-year-old will have a key role in the Chargers’ offense, but a change at QB and a mediocre offensive line make Ekeler more likely to bust than produce like a top-10 RB.
– Brad Camara (@beerad30)

Aaron Jones (GB)
There are always musings that the Packers are going to add running backs, and they have been notoriously unwilling to commit to Jones as their featured back. Even this offseason, GM Brian Gutekunst continues to make comments about how Jamaal Williams is a necessary component of the offense whose pass blocking is the best of the team’s backfield members. With Jones unlikely to receive workhorse touches, and the possibility of sharing touches with two other backs instead of one, the downside of Jones is obvious and very possible to happen. Jones made his fantasy line last year with an exorbitant 19 touchdowns. That amount would naturally regress anyway, but it could fall even more if his touches are throttled this year. Had he only scored 10 touchdowns last season, he would have been RB12 in points per game instead of RB4 (between Leonard Fournette and Chris Carson). If he falls below 10 touchdowns, which is still a strong number, watch out.
– Mark Leipold (@LeipoldNFL)

In a previous article compiled by FantasyPros Staff, I picked Aaron Jones as one of seven running backs to avoid in 2020. Three weeks (months? Years?) after that article was posted, not much has changed. As Mark Leipold has already pointed out in this compilation, the Packers seem likely to add an additional running back before the season kicks off, assuming (fingers crossed) that it does in fact kick off. With the waters presumed to be muddied in the Green Bay backfield — don’t forget about the sneaky good Jamaal Williams — is there any guarantee that Jones gets the lion’s share of the touches or targets? No. Of the top-12 fantasy backs listed in the FantasyPros consensus rankings, Jones, as talented as he is, seems to have the most question marks entering the 2020 season. In redraft leagues, I’ll pass over Jones for other ball-carriers like Joe Mixon, Nick Chubb, and Josh Jacobs, or for wide receivers like Davante Adams, DeAndre Hopkins, and Tyreek Hill. And if I’m a Jones owner in dynasty leagues, I’m trying to wheel him ASAP, as I don’t see his value appreciating anytime soon. It would take a big-time NFL trade out of Green Bay to an RB-needy team to boost his value, and you just can’t bank on that happening.
– Jim Colombo (@WideRightNBlue)

Derrick Henry (TEN)
Derrick Henry’s ridiculous run with Ryan Tannehill under center was remarkable, but unsustainable. Henry gained 1,124 of his 1,540 rushing yards and scored 12 of his 16 touchdowns in nine games with Tannehill. But I’m skeptical that Henry will have similar success in 2020. I disagreed with Tennessee’s decision to extend Tannehill and don’t consider him a legit NFL starting quarterback. My sense is that opposing defenses will feel the same and develop schemes that dare Tannehill to beat them. And while Henry is an exceptional athlete for his massive stature, he’s at his worst when forced to cut back and run laterally. I suspect opponents will stack the box and put an increased emphasis on clogging gaps quickly in an effort to prevent Henry from gaining momentum at the line of scrimmage. Unlike the other running backs drafted around him, Henry is also highly dependent on game script. If Tennessee gets down early, his fantasy owners could be in trouble. And I still don’t buy that he is more talented than Aaron Jones, Joe Mixon, Nick Chubb and perhaps Josh Jacobs. Ultimately, I predict Henry’s 2020 production will be closer to his 2018 season, during which he finished as the No. 13 running back in standard formats. At the top half of the first round, Henry is a risk I’d rather not take.
– Matt Barbato (@RealMattBarbato)

After Henry earned the rushing title in monster 2019, he received the franchise tag while teammate Ryan Tannehill signed a four-year deal. The Titans could be in for a holdout, and no player or fan would blame Henry. Whether or not he does, he’s in line for a regressed season. Henry toted the rock a league-high 303 times (20.2 per game) in 15 games and 83 times (27.6 per game) over three postseason games. Last season was the first time since 2014 that two running backs carried the ball over 300 times. It’s unlikely he reaches that total again; only Ezekiel Elliot and Le’Veon Bell have gone back-to-back seasons with over 20 rushing attempts per game since 2015. In addition to the odds Henry has to beat in the rushing game, he’s also one of the most non-impactful backs in the league when it comes to receiving. He had a career-high 18 receptions for 206 yards and two touchdowns last season. Henry will be drafted a little too high based off last season. If teams figure out Tannehill, it’ll be a long year for Henry.
– Vaughn Dalzell (@VaughnDalzell)

Kenyan Drake (ARI)
Last year, if you were lucky enough to grab Kenyan Drake before he landed in Arizona, you probably rode him through the playoffs. In Week 15, he put up a whopping four rushing TDs and 41.35 PPR points. In Week 16, he scored 34.4 PPR points — a fantasy playoff MVP performance without a doubt. David Johnson is gone, and we’re now looking at just Drake and Chase Edmonds in the Cardinals’ backfield. Drake signed a nice one-year transition deal, which doesn’t show that they’re 100% invested in him. He is in line to have a productive 2020 fantasy season, but I also see scenarios where Edmonds establishes a decent role or the Cardinals grab a running back late in the NFL Draft. They have some glaring needs, including an offensive line that rated towards the bottom of the league last year. Kyler Murray appears to be the real deal, and Drake is definitely set up to succeed this year, but he may not get 20-plus touches per game in a bell-cow role like many fantasy drafters expect. I wouldn’t be too shocked if Drake ends up being the running back inside the top 12 to bust.
– Aaron Schill (@aaron_schill)

Joe Mixon (CIN)
In four of his first eight games, Mixon averaged 1.7 yards per carry or less last year. He was basically unplayable until the second half of the year, which is not a great thing to say about an RB1. Assuming he just picks up where he left off at the end of the season and ignoring the beginning is risky. There are a number of things to like about the Bengals’ offense heading into the 2020 season. They are likely to add QB Joe Burrow with the top pick in the NFL Draft. They will also likely have A.J. Green and Jonah Williams back in the fold after both missed 2019 with injuries. They signed Xavier Su’a-Filo in free agency. Those additions could help Mixon have a more consistent season and avoid the slow start that killed fantasy investors last year. The downside is that the Bengals had the 30th-ranked offensive line by Pro Football Focus last year. If they take Burrow with the first pick, they will not improve that line with an elite prospect. There is also concern that Mixon could hold out for a new contract, which could spill into the regular season and could cause him to miss games. Even with all the good things that have happened this offseason, the Bengals are still likely to have a below-average offensive line with a rookie quarterback learning the ropes in 2020. Throw in the uncertainty of a contract holdout, and Mixon may not come close to living up to his RB1 offseason projection.
– Derek Lofland (@DerekLofland)

Josh Jacobs (LV)
Josh Jacobs had an impressive rookie season, finishing as the RB13 in half-PPR fantasy points per game. However, he did that almost all on the back of his rushing ability. Among the top-25 running backs in points per game, his 20 receptions were the third-fewest, further highlighting his dependency on running the ball. While DeAndre Washington’s absence will open up 41 targets in the Raiders’ offense, they are still bringing back Jalen Richard on a two-year contract. Richard has played the third-down back role since entering the league in 2016, and this contract indicates that will remain the same. The Raiders have hinted at getting Jacobs more involved in the passing game, but I want to see it before I believe it. Additionally, one of the primary concerns with Jacobs entering the NFL was his ability to hold up to a higher workload. In his three years at Alabama, he never carried the ball more than 120 times in a single season. Jacobs did handle 242 carries as a rookie, which is an encouraging sign. But he also missed three games due to a shoulder injury that plagued him for most of the second half. According to Sports Injury Predictor, he currently has a 60.5 percent chance of injury and missing at least two-quarters this season, which is the fifth-highest mark among running backs. I’ll look elsewhere for my RB1 this season.
– Sam Hoppen (@SamHoppen)

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