Ranking The NFL’s Best RBs (2020 Fantasy Football)
We’re now under 75 days from the start of the NFL season, which means that football is right around the corner.
In celebration of how close football is to returning, I’m continuing a four-part series highlighting the best players at each major skill position in the NFL heading into the 2020 season. After revealing the top-35 QBs in the NFL, it’s time to highlight the top-40 running backs!
I compiled and formatted this list based on several different traits and characteristics that culminates in a Madden-style rating. These traits include:
- Change of Direction
- Contact Balance
- Pass Catching
- Pass Protection
After assigning a numeric grade for each individual player in every category, I sort them all to result in the list below; keep in mind that these are based on these players’ NFL ability and not specifically fantasy football, though I do provide fantasy outlooks for each player. Will you agree with my list? Probably not – but that’s all part of the fun.
And so here, for your reading pleasure, is my list of the top 40 running backs in the NFL:
(Honorable Mentions: David Johnson, Damien Williams, Matt Breida, Tevin Coleman)
Michel had a lot of fans coming into the NFL, but he’s looked like an entirely different player through his first couple of seasons in the NFL. He needs to figure things out fast before he’s out of a starting job…
2020 Fantasy Forecast: With Cam Newton behind center, this offense is going to be much more potent than it would have been with Jarrett Stidham. This benefits Michel with more scoring opportunities and trips into the red zone. However, the downside is that Newton has the size and power to take away some of those goal line touches. Michel’s nothing more than a RB3 this season, in my opinion.
Peterson claims that he wants to play four more years in the NFL and, at this point, I’m not going to doubt him. AP still produces and he’s going to receive plenty of carries again in 2020.
2020 Fantasy Forecast: While AP could still be a factor for fantasy football if he got the touches, it’s unlikely to happen in this backfield this season. Peterson will still be heavily involved, but Derrius Guice is still on the roster and Washington invested draft capital in the electric playmaker, Antonio Gibson. Peterson’s nothing more than a RB3/RB4 in 2020.
It’s hard to find running backs in the NFL who are as electric as Pollard with the ball in their hands. I need to see more from Pollard before I move him up my list here, but if he can carve out a significant role for himself in this offense, I wouldn’t be surprised to find Pollard in the top-30 RBs by this time next year.
2020 Fantasy Forecast: Unfortunately, Pollard’s only a top-tier handcuff for fantasy this season. However, if something were to happen to Ezekiel Elliott, Pollard could be a league winner.
Tony Pollard is objectively a studpic.twitter.com/XJ5zlojl8o
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) June 24, 2020
Singletary burst onto the scene last year and created several highlight reel plays with his explosiveness and elusiveness. He needs to stay healthy, but the Bills are building an exciting offense there in Buffalo.
2020 Fantasy Forecast: Singletary will remain in his change-of-pace role with Zack Moss now in town. Singletary should hover around the RB2/RB3 border all season long.
White’s been as steady as they come at the RB position in his role for the Patriots over the past few seasons. He’s an excellent pass-catcher and has been a steady and reliable target out of the backfield for years.
2020 Fantasy Forecast: Cam Newton’s now at QB for the New England Patriots and he’s shown a propensity for targeting pass-catching RBs. White’s not going to suddenly turn into Christian McCaffrey, but he’s a solid value right now in redraft ADP.
Johnson has been cast as a third-down back, or pass catching specialist, for the majority of his career, but he’s an excellent runner in-between the tackles. While he may lack the size to be the predominant ball-carrier in a NFL backfield, I believe he can be utilized more than what he’s been up to this point in his career.
2020 Fantasy Forecast: With the addition of David Johnson, there are a lot of unknowns here in Houston and this backfield. Duke should remain the pass-catching specialist, while David carries the ball primarily in-between the tackles. If we see David struggle again with injury though, Duke could be in line for a huge workload.
There weren’t a ton of people that had Mattison on their radar screen going into the 2019 NFL Draft, but the Vikings brought in the former Boise State RB in the third round and he played very well for them last season. He’s a powerful runner with great explosiveness and elusiveness in the open field.
2020 Fantasy Forecast: With Dalvin Cook potentially holding out this season, Mattison should be on everyone’s radar in the mid-rounds. He’s in the right offense, and he has the talent, to be a RB1 each week that Cook misses.
CEH was one of the most exciting players to watch for me this pre-draft process. His ability to make people miss in the open field is among the best in the NFL right now and he has excellent hands to go along with it. He’s going to be fun to watch this season.
2020 Fantasy Forecast: Clyde Edwards-Helaire is going to be very hard to stop in this Chiefs offense. He should become the starter immediately over Damien Williams and has RB1 potential in 2020.
Clyde Edwards-Helaire forced 85 missed tackles in 2019😳pic.twitter.com/uNBB2emdmz
— PFF College (@PFF_College) June 20, 2020
Dobbins is a perfect blend of power and elusiveness at the RB position. He’s incredibly talented and he’s going to be very hard to stop in this Ravens rushing attack.
2020 Fantasy Forecast: Dobbins may see enough work this season to have standalone value, but he has unspeakable upside if something happens to Mark Ingram. If that happens, we could see Dobbins finish within the top-5 RBs for fantasy football.
Mack has quietly been a very good running back up to this point, but injuries have caused him to be a bit unreliable from the team’s perspective. When he’s healthy though, he’s a great runner in-between the tackles and has excellent vision to pair with underrated speed.
2020 Fantasy Forecast: With Jonathan Taylor now in town, Mack’s upside is completely gone. He’s still going to be involved in this offense, but it might not be enough to be a factor for fantasy football. With that being said, if something were to happen to Taylor, Mack’s value would skyrocket.
Mostert is an easy player to root for with his story and he’s a perfect fit for this Kyle Shanahan scheme with his speed and acceleration.
2020 Fantasy Forecast: Mostert should be the lead back in this offense, but it might not lead to top-tier fantasy production. The 49ers like to deploy multiple running backs and Tevin Coleman is still going to be heavily involved. Mostert should be viewed as a RB2 this upcoming season.
When he’s healthy, we know that Conner can hold his own against the best running backs in the NFL. However, Conner just simply hasn’t been able to stay healthy up to this point in his career and his play has suffered because of it. If he can stay healthy for all 16 games this season, he’d skyrocket back up this list.
2020 Fantasy Forecast: Conner’s a dicey pick, but that seems to be built into his ADP right now. If everything goes his way this season, Conner will drastically outperform where he’s being drafted right now. However, we just simply don’t know at this point whether or not he’s going to remain healthy for all 16 games. In fact, I might bet against that happening.
Johnson has shown that he has the talent to compete in the NFL, but very similarly to Conner, he’s struggled to stay healthy. He’s an efficient runner with great hands in the receiving game, but his inability to stay healthy causes him to fall down the list here a bit.
2020 Fantasy Forecast: With D’Andre Swift now in town, it’s hard to see Johnson having any sort of top-tier fantasy impact. Johnson will have upside if Swift gets injured, but these two might cancel out each other’s true potential this upcoming season.
Triple WOOP by Kerryon Johnson pic.twitter.com/DlhIL7AFKa
— Isaac (@WorldofIsaac) September 15, 2019
It’s been a rocky start for Fournette up to this point of his career and he’s entering into the conversation of a bust when you factor in his draft spot. However, he’s still a good runner between the tackles, engages with power, and has improved drastically as a pass-catcher. He needs to produce this season though or he may be out of a starting job by next season.
2020 Fantasy Forecast: Fournette is the unquestioned lead back for a NFL team, which is always going to equate to fantasy impact. With that being said, he has a limited ceiling and it’s hard to see a path where Fournette finishes as a top-15 RB this season.
Carson runs like every carry might be his last, which is why he’s such an exciting player to watch. Unfortunately, that mentality has its side effects and Carson’s body has struggled to maintain its health after repeated collisions. When Carson’s on the field, he’s a highly productive back, but he’s simply struggled to stay healthy. That drops him down my board a little bit here in this countdown.
2020 Fantasy Forecast: Carson is a bit of a question mark for 2020 at this point due to his recovery from a hip injury. While all signs point to him being ready to start week one, we need to be prepared to shift as new news comes out. Right now, drafting Carson at his current ADP is certainly risky.
Taylor is coming off of one of the most impressive careers ever for a CFB RB. In three seasons at Wisconsin, he put up over 6500 total yards and 55 total touchdowns. Now, he is going to be running behind arguably the best offensive line in football, which simply isn’t fair for opposing defenses. He’s a perfect blend of power and speed and he’s going to be very good in the NFL for a very long time.
2020 Fantasy Forecast: Taylor seeing 250 carries in 2020 isn’t out of the realm of possibilities. If that happens, behind this offensive line, Taylor could easily finish as a top-15 RB this season.
Swift was arguably the most complete running back in the entire 2020 draft and Lions fans should be extremely excited about his addition to the team. He has excellent vision to go along with incredible elusiveness in the open field and he’s a natural pass-catcher out of the backfield.
2020 Fantasy Forecast: Swift is going to be splitting the workload with Kerryon Johnson this season, but he’s still going to make an impact for fantasy. I’m projecting that Swift can be rolled out as a RB2/FLEX play consistently every week.
Howard was a fantastic find by the Chicago Bears in the 5th round of the 2016 NFL Draft. He quickly established himself as one of the most productive backs in the NFL, but recently it seems as though people have forgotten how good he actually is…Howard has fantastic vision, he runs with power, and he has great contact balance. These are three very important traits and they combine to result in Howard’s place here inside the top-24.
2020 Fantasy Forecast: Howard will get the opportunity to be a starting RB again in 2020 in Miami. He’s the clear option for goal line carries and this offensive line is drastically improved from 2019. Howard should be a solid RB2 option all season long in this offense.
— NFL (@NFL) March 24, 2020
If you’re looking for one of the most underrated RBs in the NFL, it’s hard to look elsewhere other than Murray. Murray’s been incredibly productive in New Orleans when he’s been given the workload and he runs with great vision and power. He doesn’t get enough credit for his pass-catching abilities either.
2020 Fantasy Forecast: Murray’s going to have some standalone fantasy value in 2020, but we’ve seen what he can do if Alvin Kamara misses time. Murray’s a fantastic pick in the later rounds.
If you want production, look no further than Lindsay. After going undrafted in 2018, Lindsay has put up back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons on the ground and has averaged 4.95 yards per carry over that time. He’s agile, shifty, and has fantastic speed on the football field.
2020 Fantasy Forecast: While Lindsay is one of the more talented running backs in the NFL, Melvin Gordon‘s presence in Denver puts a bit of a damper on Lindsay’s fantasy outlook in 2020. Lindsay will still be involved in this offense, but he’ll be moved to more of a change-of-pace option.
Everything that could’ve gone wrong for Montgomery in his rookie season happened and his reputation has suffered because of it. Montgomery is still one of the more talented running backs in the NFL and he is on a mission to prove the doubters wrong this year. He is a fantastic blend of power and contact balance and is an underrated pass-catcher out of the backfield too.
2020 Fantasy Forecast: From a fantasy perspective, very few backs in the NFL are going to see the type of workload that Montgomery will in 2020. This offense should be much improved from its 2019 version and Montgomery’s a screaming value at his current ADP.
There are very few players in the NFL that have the type of acceleration and burst that Cohen has in the open field. Cohen’s a fantastic pass-catcher and is a threat to score every time he touches the ball.
2020 Fantasy Forecast: Cohen struggled last season with the rest of the offense. If Nick Foles is the starting QB, this offense is going to stay on schedule and Cohen should see a dramatic increase in efficiency. There’s a very real chance that Cohen bounces back into the RB2 conversation this season.
Ingram has steadily produced every single season throughout his NFL career. He’s an incredibly efficient runner, has excellent vision, great pass-catching ability, and he’s not afraid to engage with power. While he is nearing the end of his career, he’s still got a couple more years of solid production left in him.
2020 Fantasy Forecast: Ingram is going to be splitting this backfield with JK Dobbins this season, but he should still be the lead back. There are plenty of fantasy points for the running backs to go around in this offense though and Ingram is a fantastic selection at his current ADP.
MARK INGRAM HIT THE BRAKES🚗#HOUvsBAL
— PFF (@PFF) November 17, 2019
Sanders was someone who had all the tools in the toolkit coming into the NFL out of Penn State, but he needed to improve in the more nuanced aspects of the position. We saw dramatic improvement from him throughout his rookie season and he seems poised to take the NFL by storm this upcoming season.
2020 Fantasy Forecast: Sanders seems locked in to be the “main guy” in this backfield at this point of the offseason. While I still believe these other RBs will take away some work, Sanders should see over 270 touches in 2020. He’s a high-end RB2 with top-10 upside right now.
I was a big fan of Jacobs in the 2018 pre-draft process and he landed in a great offense to feed him carries. He’s tough, has great contact balance, and is one of the better pass-catchers in the NFL. If the Raiders would feature him in this role, I believe they’d have more success as an offense.
2020 Fantasy Forecast: Jacobs is a fantastic selection in Standard formats due to the fact that he’s likely going to see 270 carries in 2020. Unfortunately, he does lose a little bit of value in PPR formats with the lack of targets going his direction, but he’s still likely to finish in the top-12 due to the sheer volume of carries.
Gordon saw his efficiency drop dramatically in 2019 after coming back from his holdout. He simply wasn’t in game shape and it took him a while to get back to his old self. In the middle of the season, he was back to averaging 4.9 yards per carry and putting up decent numbers. He’s a powerful and smooth runner and absolutely deserves to be considered in the top-15 RBs in the NFL.
2020 Fantasy Forecast: Gordon’s going to be splitting time with Phillip Lindsay this season, but Gordon should be the lead back in this offense. The Broncos are going to want to run the ball and Gordon should easily see over 210 carries this year. He’s a solid RB2 option for your fantasy rosters.
Drake was essentially forgotten about by the entire NFL in Miami, but he reminded everyone what he’s truly capable of when he was traded to Arizona. Drake’s a fantastic RB and he’s finally settling in as the featured option in a dynamic offense.
2020 Fantasy Forecast: Drake should put up insane numbers this season in this offense. There are a lot of great options in the top-10 RBs right now, but Drake truly has the potential to explode this season. A top-5 finish is not out of the question.
— NFL (@NFL) December 15, 2019
Unfortunately, Bell is a great running back tied to a terrible offense. While he isn’t the caliber of running back that he was several years ago in Pittsburgh, he’s still an excellent runner between the tackles and one of the better pass-catchers in the entire NFL.
2020 Fantasy Forecast: Adam Gase seems intent on taking the ball out of Bell’s hands and splitting the work among his other running backs. Frank Gore and Lamical Perine are both going to eat into Bell’s touches and it’s going to limit his production. Bell is nothing more than a low-end RB2 in this Jets offense, despite being one of the more talented running backs in the NFL.
If Gurley is healthy, he’s in the conversation for the best running back in football. However, we know that Gurley is not healthy and that’s why he experiences a significant slide here.
2020 Fantasy Forecast: Gurley is going to be given all the touches he can handle in this Falcons offense, if he can stay healthy. If he proves that he can handle a significant workload, he’ll easily outperform his ADP this season. However, there are legitimate reasons to doubt that he’ll be able to withstand a heavy workload ever again, which makes him an incredibly risky pick.
We’ve seen what Hunt can do if he’s the featured back in an offense before with Kansas City. While he’s now more of a compliment to Nick Chubb, Hunt’s still one of the most talented RBs in the NFL with his vision, balance, burst, and pas-catching ability.
2020 Fantasy Forecast: Hunt should have some standalone value in 2020, but his true value comes if something were to happen to Nick Chubb. With where he’s being drafted right now, Hunt would be an absolute league winner in that scenario.
Ekeler was a player that was electric when he was given the opportunity in previous seasons, but he broke out in a big way last year. Ekeler has incredible acceleration and top-end speed and has great receiving ability out of the backfield. He has great vision in between the tackles, as well, and can carve up a defense in multiple ways.
2020 Fantasy Forecast: Ekeler should see a drop-off in overall targets with Tyrod Taylor now at QB, but it won’t be as much as some people are projecting. Ekeler’s chances of repeating as the RB6 simply aren’t there again this season, but he’s going to be a fantastic RB2 option for your roster.
— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) September 8, 2019
This is the part of the list where things start to get interesting. Mixon is one of the most talented, well-rounded running backs in the NFL, but he doesn’t have the track record of production that some of the other guys above him here do. With how dangerous this offense could be this season though, there’s a possibility that he climbs into the top-5 next year.
2020 Fantasy Forecast: Mixon has the talent to receive the type of targets that CMC or Saquon Barkley do, but this offense has never utilized him in that way. This has limited his potential in years past, but this season, Mixon’s going to see a lot more scoring opportunities than he’s ever had before. Mixon’s an extremely safe pick in the first round that comes with incredible upside.
If Cook could stay healthy and play in all 16 games, he’d be in the top-5 of this countdown. However, we have yet to see Cook play a full season and that has to factor into the rankings process. Otherwise, he possesses every tool and trait that you look for in a top-tier NFL running back.
2020 Fantasy Forecast: Dalvin Cook is the centerpiece of his offense, which is something that very few players in the NFL get to claim. At the time of writing, we’re seeing him threaten to holdout if he doesn’t get the contract extension he’s looking for from the Minnesota Vikings. While Cook has the leverage in terms of his involvement in the offense, he still has yet to play a full 16-game season. This holdout may extend into the regular season and that’s worrisome for fantasy owners. We’ll have to take a wait-and-see approach right now, but he’s a solid first-round pick if he does end his holdout.
Everyone who watches football seems to know Jones’ true value, except for the team that he plays for. If Jones received the type of workload that some of the other backs on this list do, we’d absolutely be talking about him in the same breath as the top two guys on this list. However, he’s still one of the most talented running backs in the NFL and the gap between him and the top players on this list isn’t very big.
2020 Fantasy Forecast: Unfortunately, the Packers went out and drafted a RB in the second round that profiles as a prolific goal line back in the NFL. Jones finished as the RB2 last season on the back of 16 touchdowns and that’s unlikely to repeat in 2020. Jones has more competition for touches and may lose goal line work to AJ Dillon, but he’s still one of the most talented RBs in the league and is a solid option as a RB2 for your roster.
Aaron Jones scored 49.2 PPR points in Week 5, the highest single-game total by a RB
182 total yards
— PFF Fantasy Football (@PFF_Fantasy) May 13, 2020
Chubb succeeded last year, despite so many things going against him. The coaching was terrible, the team was a wreck, and the offensive line play was horrendous. Somehow, Chubb still found a way to finish second in overall rushing yards last season and he seems poised to compete for that title again in 2020.
2020 Fantasy Forecast:With Kevin Stefanski now in town, there’s a legitimate chance that Nick Chubb may reach 300 carries on the season behind a vastly improved offensive line. With that being said, Chubb does have Kareem Hunt to worry about behind him on this depth chart. Chubb’s unlikely to see much work in the passing game this season, but he’s still going to be heavily utilized on the ground. If there’s anything worth betting on at the RB position for fantasy football, it’s volume. Chubb certainly has the talent to make those carries count.
There are no other players in the NFL like Henry. Players who are his size should not be able to move as well as he does, but it happens and he’s a nightmare to bring down in the open field. We need to appreciate what we’re watching each Sunday when Henry steps onto the field and single-handedly wears down a defense.
2020 Fantasy Forecast: Henry was a fantasy football superstar last year and finished the season with 16 rushing touchdowns! While that’s unlikely to repeat, he still belongs in the top-tier RB conversation and is a solid pick towards the back end of the first round in your draft.
The impact Kamara can have when he’s on the field is outstanding. He’s a smooth route-runner out of the backfield, but yet has the speed, acceleration, and elusiveness to make defenders miss on the ground. He’s an excellent pass-catcher and, after dealing with injuries last season, is going to remind people why he’s a top-5 RB in the NFL.
2020 Fantasy Forecast: Alvin Kamara saw his total touchdowns drop from 18 in 2018 to 5 in 2019. This was, in large part, due to nagging injuries that he dealt with all season long. Assuming that Kamara’s fully healthy again, he’s an amazing bounce-back candidate and could even go off the board in the first three picks of your draft.
Alvin Kamara running option routes is a thing of beauty. pic.twitter.com/mNJjgS5DIs
— Chris Rosvoglou (@RosvoglouReport) June 28, 2020
Zeke has consistently been one of the best RBs ever since he entered the NFL and it does not appear as though that will be changing any time soon. He’s a nightmare for opposing defenses and is absolutely one of the best running backs in football.
2020 Fantasy Forecast: Ezekiel Elliott has finished in the top-5 each of the past two seasons and may be one of the safest RBs to draft. As long as he’s healthy, he’ll see over 300 touches and that’s exactly what you want from a top-5 redraft pick. You can draft Zeke with confidence yet again this season.
We need to remember just how good Saquon is after an injury-riddled sophomore season. He simply wasn’t able to cut on his ankle the way that he normally would and I believe we’re going to be reminded just how good he is very quickly in 2020.
2020 Fantasy Forecast: Last season, we saw Barkley struggle due to an ankle injury. However, once he got fully healthy, we saw what he can do again in the fantasy playoffs. Barkley’s arguably the best RB in the NFL and this offense flows through him. If you miss out on CMC, don’t worry…you’ll be just fine with Barkley.
Good luck stopping @saquon this year 😤
(via gibson_pt/IG) pic.twitter.com/SiT0YW3CTL
— B/R Gridiron (@brgridiron) June 25, 2020
Right now, CMC is the best RB in all of football. He’s able to carry the load between the tackles, but then is able to be deployed all over the formation as a pass-catcher. If McCaffrey keeps up these types of numbers for a few more years, we may begin discussing him as one of the best RBs of all time.
2020 Fantasy Forecast: While it might sound absurd to say, there’s a legitimate path for CMC to finish with more receptions this year than what he had in 2019. The Panthers are entering a rebuild and their defense saw a lot of key pieces leave for various reasons. They’re going to be relying heavily on rookies and this may lead to the offense needing to keep them in games with more passing volume. If that’s the case, McCaffrey’s likely going to be second in line behind DJ Moore. With all that said, CMC’s as easy of a pick as they come at the 1.01.