Mock Drafts: Targeting Former Elite Running Backs (2020 Fantasy Football)
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It may seem like ages ago when David Johnson, Todd Gurley, and Le’Veon Bell were among the first players off the draft board. It made absolute sense to snatch up these players as soon as possible considering Johnson dominated fantasy football in 2016, finishing as the RB1 with Bell not far behind at RB3. Although Johnson would later be out for the season in 2017, Bell again finished among the top-five at RB2 and Gurley charged his way to the top of the leader board. Even in 2018, Gurley continued his reign as the supreme running back and Johnson bounced back from his injury year to finish as the RB10.
2019 was a disappointing and uncompromising year for all three elite backs. Bell struggled on the New York’s Jets with a poor offensive line and rotating quarterbacks. Johnson again struggled with injury and lost his job to the explosive Kenyan Drake, and Gurley had to wade through the speculation over his degenerative knee and the lack of use on the Rams’ offense. All three running backs went from hero to zero in just one year.
Just because these players had a bad year (or missing a year for Johnson and Bell) doesn’t necessarily mean they have fallen completely out of fantasy relevance despite plummeting down draft boards. Johnson now has the opportunity to exorcise the chip on his shoulder in his new home in Houston, Gurley can prove to the masses that his knee is just fine in Atlanta, and Bell finally has a decent offensive line, healthy quarterback in Sam Darnold, and the most vacated targets in the NFL.
Would it be worth taking a risk on these former elite running backs and target their tremendous upside in 2020? Let’s take a look at what your team could possibly look like if you feel that their potential is worth the volatility these players have shown they carry.
It’s Time to Mock Draft
The best way to experiment with different draft strategies is to mock draft. The FantasyPros Mock Draft Simulator and the Draft Wizard app are both comprehensive tools to use. In just a few minutes, you can customize the Draft Simulator to fit your league’s scoring. Of course, human beings aren’t automated robots, so you should also try a live draft. You know there’s “that guy” in your league bent on ruining at least one person’s draft. First, don’t be that guy (or gal). Second, head over to the Mock Draft Lobby and browse the different live mock drafts. You will inevitably run into someone who either reaches too far or passes on a stud, giving you some practice in avoiding the dreaded draft tilt.
For this experiment, I will be doing an automated draft from three different draft positions – early, middle, and late. The format will be QB/3WR/2RB/TE/Flex/DEF/6 Bench, half-PPR scoring, snake draft, in a 12-team league. Remember, the purpose of these mock drafts is to see what our team would look like if we targeted former elite running backs like Johnson, Gurley, or Bell, and whether or not the upside and surrounding weapons are worth the risk of drafting these players.
Mock A: Second Pick
If you are interested in targeting these running backs, but you are concerned about their production, picking early may be the best bet. With the second pick, you have the option of taking a consistent, stud back to counteract any ups or downs throughout the season. Christian McCaffrey was obviously first off the board, so I took Saquon Barkley. Knowing that I am targeting one of the three RBs in question, this gave me the option of choosing a WR or an elite TE once the choice came back around. I went with TE and snagged George Kittle.
Remember, we are close to the turn, but then have 20 picks before we can go again. In this example, I rounded out the corp of my team with RB, TE, RB. Austin Ekeler was available in the early third round, so it was an excellent opportunity to solidify my RBs and use Johnson, Gurley, or Bell in the flex. Taking two consistent RBs as auto-starts gives me the opportunity to focus on matchup based starts and the upside of Le’Veon Bell, who I took right after Courtland Sutton.
The amount of potential at the WR position is also juicy this year. Since my RBs, WR1, and TE were filled, I focused on loading up on WR2 upside potential and waiting on QB until the early ninth round.
FantasyPros Mock Draft Grade: A
Mock B: 6th Pick
Much like the first mock draft, I went with a consistent RB first in Alvin Kamara then elite TE with Travis Kelce at the 2.06. If you feel like you would rather have a higher-ranked WR1 at this position, you can certainly wait and target a TE later in the draft. I usually prefer to snag the tier-1 TE whenever possible since the position is notoriously weighted in favor of the top-four players.
Round 3 was slimmer pickings when it came to options at WR1, something to keep in mind when taking a TE early. Both Johnson and Bell were available in the middle of the fourth round, so for sake of experimentation, I drafted Johnson at the 4.07. Bell was still available in the middle of the fifth round, and I will admit that I was tempted to draft him. However, names like Courtland Sutton, Robert Woods, and Calvin Ridley are going in this round and I didn’t want to pass up on the opportunity to add to my weaker WR corps.
FantasyPros Mock Draft Grade: A-
Mock C: 11th Pick
Drafting in the later spots of a 12-team league proved difficult in terms of targeting Johnson, Gurley, or Bell. To mix things up a bit, I went with WR first then immediately with RB. Again, it’s a way to have a more reliable RB as your starter if you are concerned about production. I drafted Todd Gurley at the 4.02 after picking up Adam Thielen to complement my Round 1 pick, Tyreek Hill.
Rounds 5 and 6 were interesting. Kelce, Kittle, and Andrews were all taken, but Zach Ertz was available at the end of the fifth round. Since I was near the turn, I decided to hold out and draft Deebo Samuel as my WR3. Ertz was still there at the beginning of the sixth round where I drafted him at 6.02. I used the remaining picks to add to my WRs and RBs, waiting all the way until the 11th round to draft Matthew Stafford as my starting QB.
FantasyPros Mock Draft Grade: B-
Whether you’re a die-hard believer in these running backs or not, it’s hard to deny their upside for the 2020 season. For a potential top-10 RB to be available in the fourth round or later makes me giddy with all the ways to construct my fantasy roster. These mock drafts played out more on the safe side with at least one consistent running back to counteract the bust potential. If targeting one of Johnson, Gurley, or Bell is something you’re looking into, drafting a top running back in the early rounds will give you the best opportunity to surround them with more reliable players.
If you’re feeling adventurous, check out the Mock Draft Simulator and try a few drafts taking only wide receivers in Rounds 1 through 3 and experiment with your own league settings. Also, familiarize yourself with running backs available even later. For example, Kerryon Johnson is going around the 9.01 and Phillip Lindsay is being drafted around 9.11. Both have upside with solid RB2 potential for 2020 and would be excellent additions to your rosters late in the draft.