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Stacking Potential 4,000-Yard Passers with Their Running Back (2020 Fantasy Football)

by Joshua Lefkowitz | @JLefkoNFL | Featured Writer
May 25, 2020

Much of Dak Prescott’s success is due in part to defenses having to game-plan in stopping Ezekiel Elliott.

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Having a particular strategy is beneficial when it comes to constructing a winning fantasy football team. There will be times when you deviate from your pre-draft plan, having to make live adjustments if a player drops to you or if your “your guy” gets snipped a pick in front of you.

I try to avoid position players on the same team. I do not want two players on my team competing against each other in reality for touches. There are situations in which this rule can be bent or adjusted, but for the most part, I like to stay away from position players from the same team.

However, a good strategy I have outlined for fantasy football drafting is stacking potential 4k-yard passers with their skilled running back. The RB whose QB throws for 4k and above usually sees their fantasy value increase significantly, as was the case for several QB-RB duos from 2019. I believe many of these QBs and RBs that threw for over 4k last season, including a few that did not, will repeat the same mark, resulting in fantasy significance once again for their RBs.

Stats from PPR Scoring, position rankings from our 2019 Fantasy Leaders.

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Dak Prescott (QB – DAL) and Ezekiel Elliott (RB – DAL)
In 2019, Dak Prescott elevated his game to the next level, throwing for 4,902 yards and finishing the season as the QB2. Dak showcased an elite level of passing and decision making on his way to his 1st-career 4k passing season that pushed the Cowboys to the top of the league in total yards and yards per game. Much of Prescott’s success is due in part to defenses having to game-plan in stopping Ezekiel Elliott as best as they can.

Last season, Elliott proved again to be a top-tier rusher, finishing 3rd in the NFL in rushing yards and as the RB3 in fantasy. Elliott was also impactful in the passing game. His 54 receptions were 9th most among RBs. Elliott’s passing numbers dipped slightly compared to recent years, and the emergence of 2020 1st-rounder, CeeDee Lamb, could take away from Elliott’s touches in the passing game. However, whenever his number is called on in the passing game, Elliott will turn those opportunities into positive production, continuing his tear as one of the NFL’s top RBs.

Jared Goff (QB – LAR) and Cam Akers (RB – LAR) or Darrell Henderson (RB – LAR)
Despite an overall disappointing season for the L.A. Rams, Jared Goff managed his 2nd-straight season of passing for more than 4,600 yards and ended 2019 as QB13. Goff’s 4,638 passing yards was 3rd highest in the league, a number that should remain in the same ballpark for 2020. Despite the impressive numbers, Goff did not utilize former Rams RB Todd Gurley as much in the passing game as the previous season. Gurley had back-to-back seasons of over 80 receptions from 2017-18 but his numbers dropped below 50 receptions in 2019.

The Rams moved on from Gurley and replaced him with 2020 2nd-round pick, Cam Akers. Akers was the Rams’ first pick of the draft, which means he could very easily surpass Darrell Henderson and Malcolm Brown as the Rams’ RB1. If, and when, Akers takes over the backfield, McVay and Goff should utilize Aker’s dynamic skillset and return to their old ways of utilizing their running backs in the passing game. Akers could be one of the top-scoring rookie RBs in fantasy if he can take control of the Rams’ backfield and produce at a high-level in the passing game.

Philip Rivers (QB – IND) and  Jonathan Taylor (RB – IND) or Marlon Mack (RB – IND)
Philip Rivers 4,615 passing yards equated to his 7th-straight 4k season and 11th total in his career. Rivers will have a fresh start with the Indianapolis Colts after he and the Chargers agreed to move on after 16 years. Rivers is one of the most reliable QBs of all time, not missing a single game since taking over the Chargers starting QB job in 2006. Protected by one of the best offensive lines in the league, Rivers could easily mirror his yardage total from 2019 as he enters his year-39 season.

The Colts traded up in the 2nd-round of the 2020 draft to select stud RB, Jonathan Taylor. Although Marlon Mack is still under contract for this year, adding an RB with the potential like Taylor will benefit the entire team, especially Rivers. Rivers utilized his RBs a lot in his passing attack in 2019. Rivers leaned heavily on Austin Ekeler last season, who finished 1st in receiving touchdowns and  2nd in targets, receptions, and receiving yards among RBs.

Mack was practically useless in the Colts’ passing game in 2019, catching 14 of 17 targets. Nyheim Hynes is the pass-catching scatback, catching 44 passes last season. This number could slightly increase with Rivers, but Taylor should eventually take over the backfield and eat up much of the touches. Taylor increased his receiving game skillset throughout college and will look to build on that behind a powerful Colts’ offensive line. Although the passing game targets will presumably go to Hines at first, Taylor can thrive in that role when counted upon. If Taylor beats out his competition, which all signs are pointing that he will, he very easily can be an RB2/3 with high fantasy upside.

Matt Ryan (QB – ATL) and Todd Gurley (RB – ATL)
Matt Ryan is no stranger in passing for 4,000 yards, coming off his 9th-straight season doing so, throwing for 4,466 yards. The Falcons signed Todd Gurley this offseason, which could bode well for both he and Ryan. Although Gurley wasn’t Ryan’s RB in 2019, former Falcons RB Devonta Freeman proved to be efficient in the pass-catching role. Freeman was 10th in targets, 8th in receptions, and tied-4th in receiving touchdowns among RBs.

Although Gurley’s receiving numbers dropped off considerably in 2019, he is no stranger to being dynamic in the passing game. In 2018, he was 7th in targets and receiving yards, tied-6th in receiving TDs, and tied-10th in receptions. During his RB1 season in 2017, Gurley finished 6th in targets, 5th in receptions, 2nd in receiving yards, and 1st in receiving touchdowns. The workload for Gurley in Atlanta is still up-in-the-air, but it appears he will be their 3-down bell-cow, so look for him to become involved in their passing game and see a spike in his receiving production compared to 2019.

Russell Wilson (QB – SEA) and Chris Carson (RB – SEA)
Russell Wilson continues to illustrate his unique skill set and value to his franchise and fantasy football. Wilson finished as the QB3 in 2019, throwing for 4,110 yards, his 3rd time doing so in his career. A lot of Wilson’s success comes from the Seahawks’ ability to control the game with their run attack. This area of their game is led by Chris Carson, who finished 5th in the NFL in rushing yards in 2019.

Carson has improved as a pass-catching RB, his targets and receptions have increased each season. Wilson likes to spread the ball around and counts on Carson to pound the football downfield. Carson sets up play-action and helps take away from defenders spying on Wilson due to Wilson’s rushing proficiencies. Wilson has plenty of weapons to eclipse 4k again in 2020, but a lot of Wilson’s success will fall on Carson’s ability to push the ball through the defense, racking up yardage and establishing play-action as Wilson’s deadly weapon.

Tom Brady (QB – TB) and Ronald Jones (RB – TB) or Ke’Shawn Vaughn (RB – TB)
After Tom Brady and the New England Patriots’ historic run came to an end following Brady’s decision to leave New England in free agency for Tampa Bay, the fantasy implications began to flood. Although post-40, Brady has proven to be productive, throwing for over 4k for the 3rd-straight year, his 11th of his career. Brady joins a unit with elite pass catchers Chris Godwin and Mike Evans, and Brady’s former Patriots teammate, Rob Gronkowski, unretired to join Brady in Tampa Bay.

Brady loves to utilize his RBs in his passing game, a facet of his game he will look replicate in Tampa. Brady relied on RB James White in the passing game, which had great results. White finished 3rd in receiving yards, tied-4th in receiving TDs, and  6th in targets and receptions among RBs, propelling him to an RB18 rank at the end of 2019. Brady will look to Ronald Jones and Vaughn in the passing game. Vaughn appears to be the more proficient pass-catcher, but both RBs fantasy value could skyrocket if they can cement themselves in the passing-game and thrive in that role when counted on by Brady.

Derek Carr (QB – LVR) and Josh Jacobs (RB – LVR)
Derek Carr is coming off his 2nd-straight season of eclipsing 4k-yards passing. Carr has been asked to sling the ball a lot in recent years in part due to the Raiders’ overall struggles as a unit. The Raiders used several picks in the 2020 draft on offensive weapons, which could help Carr 3-peat as a 4,000-yard passer. The Raiders want to get 2019 1st-round pick, RB Josh Jacobs, more involved in the passing game. Jacobs, who finished as the RB21 in 13 games as a rookie, is capable of a larger role, but if that materializes in real-game situations remains a mystery.

The Raiders will most likely be in tight games during the entire 2020 season, which means Carr will be throwing the football a lot once again. Jacobs numbers overall should increase especially if he manages a full 16-game season, the biggest question surrounding Jacobs’ production is whether he’ll be more involved in the passing game or not.

Carson Wentz (QB – PHI) and Miles Sanders (RB – PHI)
Carson Wentz is coming off his first 4k season, throwing for 4,039 yards, despite playing with a subpar WR group for most of the season. Wentz leaned on his TEs but also Miles Sanders, who proved to be an extremely impactful pass-catching RB despite being handcuffed to Jordan Howard. Sanders was 7th in receiving yards (509) and tied-8th in receiving TDs (3) among RBs. Sanders is one of the top pass-catching RBs in the league and could get the chance of 3-down back duties now that Howard signed with the Miami Dolphins in free agency.

Even if Philadelphia adds a vet RB to relieve a portion of the rushing workload from Sanders, Sanders is the clear-cut RB1 for the Eagles and their top pass-catching option out of the backfield. Sanders thrives in that role and could see an even bigger uptick in fantasy production as Philadelphia’s featured RB. Eagles added WR weapons in the draft and free agency, which could positively propel Wentz’s numbers for 2020.

Patrick Mahomes (QB – KC) and Clyde Edwards-Helaire (RB – KC) or Damien Williams (RB – KC)
The 2018 NFL MVP and reigning Super Bowl MVP, Patrick Mahomes, saw his numbers drop last season compared to 2018, mostly due to a knee injury early in the season. Despite the initial setback, Mahomes bounced back and returned to his elite form. Mahomes has been posting insane numbers since entering the league. He’s thrown for 9,412 yards in 31 career starts, a truly remarkable number. Mahomes is a true gunslinger in the perfect offensive scheme to unleash his full skillset. He also brings out the best in each of his weapons, adding fantasy relevance to most of his teammates. Mahomes is poised for another monster fantasy campaign.

The Chiefs used their 1st-round pick on multi-dimensional RB, Clyde Edwards-Helaire. Despite Damien Williams remaining in the picture, it is only a matter of time until Edwards-Helaire takes over the Chiefs backfield. When this changing of the guards does happen, his fantasy value is going to skyrocket even more. For now, Williams will remain involved in the offense. Williams was fairly reliable as a pass-catcher, bringing in 30 of 37 targets. Williams truly thrived in KC’s offense when healthy. However, adding an RB with the potential of Edwards-Helaire was too enticing for the Chiefs. Edwards-Helaire has the potential to be a fantasy football rock-star in the Chiefs offense with Mahomes at the helm.

Aaron Rodgers (QB – GB) and Aaron Jones (RB – GB)
Aaron Rodgers narrowly cracked 4k passing yards for the 2nd-straight season, his 8th total. A large criticism surrounding Green Bay that began in 2019 and has carried over into 2020 is the Packers’ inefficiencies to add more weapons for Rodgers. The result of this in 2019 was Rodgers using Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams in the passing game. Jones was 8th in receiving yards and receiving touchdowns, and Williams finished 2nd in receiving touchdowns. Jones is primed for a natural touchdown regression, but the Packers did not add a young WR in the draft, which means Rodgers could count on Jones and Williams in the passing attack once again.

Jones might not mirror his 2019 RB2 performance exactly in 2020, but he is still a high-end RB2 with RB1 upside. Jones’ receiving numbers will always coexist with Jamaal Williams, but Jones has separated himself as the featured RB. Jones was utilized in the end zone very frequently, a factor he might have to split with 2020 2nd-round pick A.J. Dillion. Despite the crowded backfield, Jones is the most talented of the three and should continue to produce at a high level for fantasy.

QBs That Should Throw for 4k in 2020 and Their Running Backs

Kyler Murray (QB – ARI) and Kenyan Drake (RB – ARI)
Kyler Murray showcased why he was selected 1st-overall in the 2019 NFL Draft. Murray is a rare combination of an accurate deep-ball passer and an athletic playmaker, the perfect combination for real-life and fantasy football stardom. The addition of All-Pro WR DeAndre Hopkins should equate to even more passing yards for Murray. Even if Murray’s rushing numbers dip a bit, he has a chance to make that back up with his passing game. Receiving a top-tier, elite WR like Hopkins is a gift for a skilled 2nd-year QB like Murray.

The Cardinals traded for Kenyan Drake mid-season in 2019 and the trade has paid off exceedingly. Drake is impactful in the passing game, almost landing inside the top-10 across the board in RB receiving stats. Drake has 50 receptions in back to back seasons, an indication of his reliability in the passing game. Murray should surpass 4K passing slinging the football to Hopkins, Christian Kirk, Larry Fitzgerald, and Drake out of the backfield.

Drew Brees (QB – NO) and Alvin Kamara (RB – NO)
The NFL’s All-Time leading passer failed to reach 4k passing yards in 2019 due to a hand injury that caused him to miss five games. Over his career, Brees has 12 total seasons of throwing for over 4k-yards, including three-straight seasons of over 5k passing yards. Brees has two of the best weapons in the league that should help him get back to form in 2019, including the NFL’s number-one WR, Michael Thomas. However, Alvin Kamara has proven to be highly impactful out of the backfield for the Saints passing game. Despite missing time due to injury as well, Kamara finished 3rd in receptions, 4th in yards, and 5th in targets in 2019. Kamara is also coming off 3-straight seasons of 81 receptions, highlighting his frequent usage in the passing game.

Kamara might never rush over 200 times in a season, but his ability as a receiver has made him one of the most valuable RBs in the league. If Kamara remains healthy, he should climb his way back inside the top-5 RBs for fantasy. He is a PPR giant on a great offense. Thomas will remain Brees’ number 1 passing option, but Kamara is right there behind Thomas, adept in turning a small reception into a massive gain.

Conclusion

Potential 4k passer and their running back could be league winners in fantasy football. It is important in understanding which RBs in the league are strictly two-down runners, usually taken off the field for passing situations, or true three-down backs, who never come off the field and thrive in rushing the ball, pass-catching, and pass-protection. Identifying these players can be the difference in winning a fantasy football championship or falling just short of your goal.

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Joshua Lefkowitz is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Joshua, check out his archive and follow him on Twitter @JLefkoNFL.

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