Players Expected to Increase Carries in 2020 (Fantasy Football)
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Volume is king in fantasy football. You can’t score points if you don’t get the ball.
At the running back position, workload is the most important factor. Unlike at wide receiver, talent is a much smaller piece of the puzzle. Don’t take that to mean it doesn’t matter at all. Skilled players can better take advantage of an opportunity than untalented players, but we’d rather have an above-average player seeing 300 touches than an elite talent with 200 touches.
Targets are more valuable than carries, but carries are still important. We still want to target running backs who are given the ball in the backfield.
Circumstances can change quickly and drastically in the NFL. We can expect a number of players to see more or fewer carries due to the addition or departure of competition, a coaching change, a scheme change, etc. Today, the focus is on those running backs who should receive a higher carry count in 2020 than in 2019.
Kenyan Drake (ARI)
In 2019, Kenyan Drake spent the first six games with the Dolphins. For his entire career, they refused to feature him despite him always being the team’s most talented running back. Following a midseason trade, Drake made his Cardinals debut in Week 9 and immediately played 95.7% of the snaps.
Drake averaged 12.1 carries per game over the entire season, but that number increased to 15.3 when looking exclusively at his time in Arizona. In Weeks 15 and 16, Drake saw carry totals of 22 and 24, respectively.
This offseason, the Cardinals traded David Johnson to the Texans, and the only backfield competition they added was seventh-round pick Eno Benjamin. While both Chase Edmonds and Benjamin are capable of producing if given volume, this is going to be Drake’s backfield. If he stays healthy, he will smash his 170-carry total from 2019 and may even improve upon his carry rate with the Cardinals.
It’s also worth noting that Drake saw at least four targets in six out of his eight games with the Cardinals. Only an injury can stop Drake from being an RB1 this season.
David Johnson (HOU)
The second name on this list is the man Drake replaced. David Johnson will turn 29 years old this season and hasn’t really succeeded since his historic 2016 campaign. With that said, I don’t think he is done.
I’m willing to chalk up DJ’s lackluster 2019 to a medley of debilitating injuries. Arizona should have placed Johnson on the IR, but for some reason, he remained active every week despite seldom seeing the field.
Johnson played in 12 games last season and averaged 7.8 carries per game. However, even that doesn’t tell the full story. Excluding his exit after one carry in Week 7, Johnson carried the ball 17 times over the rest of the season after returning from injury in Week 10.
The Texans did not trade DeAndre Hopkins away to not give Johnson the ball. The only way he doesn’t significantly improve upon last season’s carry rate is if he is actually finished.
With his only backfield competition being the incredibly overrated Duke Johnson (I know you or someone you know thinks this is the year, but can we stop pretending that a guy entering his sixth NFL season is anything other than who he’s been for five years?), David Johnson is going to carry the ball at least 10-15 times per game and should be heavily involved in the passing offense. He obviously comes with serious risk because the floor is bottomless, but there’s serious upside here as well. The 2016 version of Johnson is never coming back, but even the one from the first few weeks of 2019 would be a value in the fourth round.
Austin Ekeler (LAC)
One of the most polarizing players entering 2020 is Austin Ekeler. Melvin Gordon is now in Denver, but the Chargers spent a fourth-round pick on Joshua Kelley and still roster the underrated Justin Jackson.
Ekeler certainly has a wide range of outcomes this season, but it’s hard to paint a picture where he doesn’t improve upon last season’s 8.2 carries per game. Even if we assume Kelley is a one-for-one replacement for Gordon, Kelley is not as good as Gordon – not right now anyway. Those carries per game look like Ekeler’s floor, even if Kelley and Jackson are more involved than we think.
Ultimately, whether you pull the trigger on Ekeler in the second round comes down to how much you think he touches the ball. We can confidently say his carry rate will increase, but Ekeler’s target count may decrease with Tyrod Taylor replacing check-down specialist Philip Rivers. Will the rise in carries offset a decline in targets? The answer to that question will determine how valuable Ekeler is.
Damien Harris (NE)
This will be an easy win if the barometer is purely any increase in carries. Damien Harris carried the ball four times last season. No, not four times per game. Four times total. The Patriots drafted Harris, but decided not to use him at all.
The 2020 Patriots are completely new. Most of us can’t even remember a time when Tom Brady wasn’t their quarterback (excluding Matt Cassel filling in as an injury replacement in 2008). We know the Patriots have three running backs of consequence: Sony Michel, James White, and Harris. We also know that Michel is one of the least talented running backs in recent history.
It’s hard to envision Bill Belichick continuing to give the ball to a player who ranked 40th in juke rate and 43rd in breakaway run rate in 2019. Add in the fact that Michel is recovering from offseason foot surgery and there’s a very real chance Harris can take the job sometime in 2020.
Regardless, it’s easy to see Harris opening the season with at least a change-of-pace role. Although a complete nothing as a rookie, he should at least be an RB4 with RB2 upside this season.