Running back is still the most important position in fantasy football. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. There are so few high-quality, workhorse running backs that if you don’t land at least one or two of the top-20 players at the position, you end up behind the 8-ball early in the season. That’s why it’s important to have a draft strategy that emphasizes taking running backs early and often. And it’s also why breaking running backs into tiers on your cheat sheet can be helpful.
We’ve all been at a point in fantasy football drafts where we’re deciding between two players — one that’s rated higher and one that’s lower but we may like more. How do you make the decision about which one to take? Tiers are a good way to help out with that, as it allows you to see exactly how big the difference may be between two players and whether you can wait another round or two to take them.
DOMINATE YOUR DRAFT: Ultimate 2020 cheat sheet
In some cases, the difference between the 15th-best player and the 16th-best player at a position may not be big. Other times, it may be huge. Tiers help sort through the questions about comparing players and establish a few key groups of running backs to target.
Our RB tiers this year are broken up into seven tiers. Some tiers include sleepers and handcuffs; others are mostly studs. This should help separate the RB1s from the fringe RB1s, the RB2s from the FLEX plays, and the fringe draftable players from the undraftable players. Without further ado, here are our RB tiers, starting with the best of the best.
2020 STANDARD FANTASY RANKINGS:
Quarterback | Running back | Wide receiver | Tight end | D/ST | Kicker | Superflex | Top 200
2020 RB Rankings Tiers: Who are the best fantasy running backs?
1. Christian McCaffrey, Panthers
2. Saquon Barkley, Giants
3. Derrick Henry, Titans
4. Dalvin Cook, Vikings
5. Nick Chubb, Browns
6. Ezekiel Elliott, Cowboys
7. Josh Jacobs, Raiders
8. Alvin Kamara, Saints
9. Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Chiefs
Our list of top-tier running backs is pretty long this year. Of course, it’s worth noting that Christian McCaffrey and Saquon Barkley very easily could’ve ended up in their own tier, but we were feeling generous and decided to give more backs the nod here.
McCaffrey and Barkley are as close to sure things as running backs get. Both produced despite playing on bad teams last year, and as the teams rebuild and the casts around them gets stronger, so should the performances of each back. They should go back-to-back with the top two picks in any non-Superflex league.
Beyond the top two, most of the backs in this tier are dominant workhorses. Henry, Chubb, and Elliott all finished in the top five in touches last year, and Cook, who finished ninth, would’ve certainly joined them if he hadn’t missed two games.
In PPR leagues, Kamara and Edwards-Helaire would move up the board (which is why we kept them in Tier 1 here). Kamara was third in the NFL among running backs with 81 catches last season. Remarkably, it was the third consecutive year in which he caught exactly 81 passes. As for Edwards-Helaire, he is a smaller, shifty back who caught 55 passes during his final season at LSU. He should be the unquestioned lead back in Kansas City, so he will rack up a good amount of touches.
You can’t go wrong with any of these players as your RB1. For standard leagues, you need to do your best to land one of these guys in the first round or grab two second-tier guys if you’re drafting later and all these players are off the board.
2020 PPR RANKINGS:
Running back | Wide receiver | Tight end | Superflex | Top 200
Fantasy RB Tiers: Second-round RB targets
10. Aaron Jones, Packers
11. Kenyan Drake, Cardinals
12. Joe Mixon, Bengals
13. Austin Ekeler, Chargers
14. Chris Carson, Seahawks
15. Miles Sanders, Eagles
This group has quite a bit of high-volume talent, as well. All of the backs here project to be the unquestioned leaders of their backfield units, and some could eventually climb into the top tier. Had the Packers not drafted A.J. Dillon, you could’ve made the case for Aaron Jones being in the first tier. He led the league in total touchdowns last year with 19 and should continue to see a lot of touches in Green Bay.
Some players in this tier may have irked owners with their lack of consistency in 2019. Notably, Mixon, and Drake all had their share of struggles playing for losing teams. But late in the year, Mixon and Drake were able to build some momentum heading into the ’20 season. Drake, in particular, was great, logging 413 yards and seven TDs in his final three games, so he still can be trusted as a potential RB1.
If you’re looking for a safer pick, Chris Carson stands out as a player that will be productive again in Seattle. He has back-to-back seasons with at least 247 carries, 1,151 rushing yards, and seven touchdowns, and he plays for a ground-dominant team. That’s a recipe for success as a low-end RB1 or high-end RB2.
Elsewhere, you can feel confident trusting Ekeler and his 92 catches as a top-15 back in standard formats. In PPR, he’s arguably a top-tier back. Sanders is young and unproven, but he’s also an unquestioned starter in the backfield of a potential playoff team. He should be poised for success, though Philadelphia often rotates its backs more liberally than fantasy owners like.
These backs all will be strong RB2s at the very least, and there’s a good chance that a few of them become RB1s. There’s a nice mix of options here for the bold who want upside (Sanders) or for those that want consistent touches (Carson or Fournette). Grabbing one of these guys in the late-first/early-second round of fantasy drafts will be well worth it.
2020 FANTASY SLEEPERS:
6 QBs | 16 RBs | 14 WRs | 10 TEs | 5 D/STs | One from each team
2020 Fantasy Rankings: Third-tier RBs
16. Leonard Fournette, Buccaneers
17. Le’Veon Bell, Jets
18. Mark Ingram, Ravens
19. James Conner, Steelers
20. Todd Gurley, Falcons
21. David Johnson, Texans
22. Devin Singletary, Bills
23. Cam Akers, Rams
24. David Montgomery, Bears
25. JK Dobbins, Ravens
26. Raheem Mostert, 49ers
27. Jonathan Taylor, Colts
28. Phillip Lindsay, Broncos
29. D’Andre Swift, Lions
30. Antonio Gibson, Washington
Here’s where things start to get a bit dicier for running backs. Our third tier has some players who are undeniably talented or positioned to carry the load for their teams, but there are enough issues with the players to make them riskier picks.
One prominent issue: Injuries. Plenty of the players here have talent but haven’t been able to stay healthy in recent years. Cases in point: Todd Gurley and David Johnson. The duo were once sure-fire first-round picks and each has spent a season as the presumptive No. 1 overall pick in fantasy formats. But injuries have sapped them of some of their athleticism and explosiveness, so while they’re expected to carry the loads for the Falcons and Texans, respectively, there’s no guarantee that they’ll be able to.
Another problem is competition. There are a lot of potential committees this season, and it’s hard to know who might lead a backfield. Right now, veterans Mark Ingram and James Conner figure to top the depth charts of their respective teams, but how long will that last? They both have to stave off competition from rookies, and if they struggle to start the season, they could lose touches — and value — rapidly.
Speaking of rookies, there are plenty in this tier. Akers, Dobbins, Taylor, and Swift all were second-round draft picks, and all should have a chance to emerge as contributors. But to do that, they’ll have to beat out veterans Malcolm Brown/Darrell Henderson, Ingram, Marlon Mack, and Kerryon Johnson in a shortened offseason to earn the starting jobs. That certainly could happen, but it may take a bit longer for them to become true workhorses, and that could limit their overall value.
The only players with minimal competition on this list are Montgomery and Bell. They top this tier because of their volume, but they have low ceilings because of their lack of explosiveness. Montgomery averaged a dismal 3.7 yards per carry last year, while Bell’s mark of 3.2 was even worse. Perhaps they’ll improve in that area with better blocking. Bell has more value in PPR leagues, at least.
Fournette has dropped to this tier following his release by Jacksonville and signing by Tampa Bay – if he gets up to speed and gets a heavy snap load, he’s got as much upside as anyone in this tier.
Some players in this tier will undoubtedly pan out, but compared to their ADPs, these players are risks. You’ll either have to choose upside or volume here, and it’s unclear which answer will be right. You really don’t want to draft your RB1 from this tier, but if you can get one as your RB2 or flex in the fifth or sixth round or later, there’s value here.
DRAFT STRATEGY AND RANKINGS TIERS:
Quarterback | Wide Receiver | Tight End | D/ST
2020 Fantasy RB Tiers: Mostly boring veterans
31. Marlon Mack, Colts
32. Tevin Coleman, 49ers
33. Kareem Hunt, Browns
34. Melvin Gordon, Broncos
35. Sony Michel, Patriots
36. Latavius Murray, Saints
Our fourth tier represents some of the top competition to the backs that have a tenuous grip on their starting jobs. Mack is the top challenger for Taylor, and he could hold off the rookie in competition to start the season; Coleman was everyone’s favorite 49ers running back last year before the emergence of Mostert later in the season; Gordon was a big signing by Denver and should have every opportunity to beat Lindsay for the starting job. The list goes on.
The other key component of this group is lead running backs for teams that are likely to operate with a committee approach. Sony Michel will be fending off Damien Harris, Rex Burkhead, James White, Lamar Miller, and a knee injury, so he may have trouble maintaining the 35th spot during the preseason.
Hunt doesn’t quite fall into either of the buckets established here as he’s stuck behind a workhorse in Nick Chubb. That said, he’s a great back in his own right and should work well as a pass-catcher out of the backfield. He probably climbs up a whole tier in PPR formats, so don’t be afraid to pull the trigger on him earlier than some might. The same can be said about Gordon.
Either way, it’s tough to be excited about drafting any of these guys, so you actually might be able to get them at a value in the middle rounds … if you want them.
MORE FANTASY FOOTBALL:
Auction values | IDP Rankings | Projections | Mock draft simulator | Team names
2020 Fantasy RB sleepers
37. Zack Moss, Bills
38. Darrel Williams, Chiefs
39. Kerryon Johnson, Lions
40. Jordan Howard, Dolphins
41. Matt Breida, Dolphins
42. Darrell Henderson, Rams
43. Alexander Mattison, Vikings
44. James White, Patriots
45. Tarik Cohen, Bears
46. Duke Johnson, Texans
47. Chris Thompson, Jaguars
48. Boston Scott, Eagles
49. Chase Edmonds, Cardinals
50. Ryquell Armstead, Jaguars
51. Ito Smith, Falcons
If you like sleepers, handcuffs, and rookies with unproven roles, you’ve come to the right place. Our fifth tier is chock full of potential, but questions about how backfield rotations will shake out and how the rookies will look without a preseason may drive the value of some down a bit.
The sleepers in this tier are rock solid and well worth taking in the middle/late rounds of fantasy drafts. Plenty of the “handcuffs” are playing behind injury-prone starters, so Alexander Mattison, James White (PPR), Duke Johnson, and Ito Smith could all end up being lead backs if Dalvin Cook, Sony Michael, David Johnson, and Todd Gurley can’t stay healthy.
The Dolphins backs listed here, Breida and Howard, will bear watching, as well. At this point, it’s unclear which one will emerge as a starter, but both have had some success in the past. They may end up being a solid committee with minimal fantasy value but as mid-round options, they each have upside.
Notable PPR-pluses in this tier include White, Tarik Cohen, Johnson, Chris Thompson, and Boston Scott.
FANTASY DRAFT STRATEGIES:
Snake draft | Auction | Best ball | Dynasty | IDP
Fantasy RB Rankings Tiers: Late-round values
52. Justin Jackson, Chargers
53. Bryce Love, Washington
54. Ronald Jones II, Buccaneers
55. Devine Ozigbo, Jaguars
56. Damien Harris, Patriots
57. Joshua Kelley, Chargers
58. Tony Pollard, Cowboys
59. James Robinson, Jaguars
60. Malcolm Brown, Rams
61. Carlos Hyde, Seahawks
62. Jamaal Williams, Packers
63. Giovani Bernard, Bengals
64. Nyheim Hines, Colts
65. Jerick McKinnon, 49ers
66. AJ Dillon, Packers
67. Darrynton Evans, Titans
68. Adrian Peterson, Free Agent
69. Darwin Thompson, Chiefs
70. La’Mical Perine, Jets
Once you get to our sixth tier, most of the running back talent has dried up. but there are still some potential contributors that could make an impact in ’20.
Most upside, at this point, comes from first or second-year players. La’Mical Perine, Damien Harris, and Joshua Kelley all have obstacles preventing them from getting to the top role, but they’re great handcuffs that could emerge if given time on the field.
Other good handcuffs include Justin Jackson, who will battle Kelley for the between-the-tackles role behind Austin Ekeler, and Carlos Hyde, who will benefit from a season-opening injury to Rashaad Penny.
There is an abundance of pass-catching backs in this tier as well. Jamaal Williams, Gio Bernard, and Nyheim Hines would all go higher in PPR formats than in standard, but they don’t carry the ball enough to make a huge impact. Still, they’re worth picking up in as handcuffs with receiving value.
Some of these players will be drafted earlier than they should be by paranoid owners of their lead backs (e.g. Derrick Henry or Joe Mixon owners), but most should go in the late rounds, if at all.
Fantasy Football Tiers: Deep RB Sleepers
71. Lynn Bowden Jr., Raiders
72. Benny Snell Jr., Steelers
73. Dion Lewis, Giants
74. Justice Hill, Ravens
75. Devontae Booker, Raiders
76. Frank Gore, Jets
77. Royce Freeman, Broncos
78. Rashaad Penny, Seahawks
79. Jalen Richard, Raiders
80. Peyton Barber, Washington
81. DeAndre Washington, Chiefs
82. Gus Edwards, Ravens
83. Anthony McFarland Jr., Steelers
84. Ke’Shawn Vaughn, Buccaneers
85. Reggie Bonnafon, Panthers
86. Ryan Nall, Bears
Last but not least — well, maybe least — we have our seventh tier. These backs are typically buried on the bench and only represent super deep handcuff options. Most of the players here would need an injury to become fantasy relevant, but not all.
Gus Edwards was third in the league at yards per carry with 5.3. He could end up scooped off the waiver wire midseason. And in PPR leagues, the Jalen Richard belongs higher and could be a late-round draft pick.
If your league has an IR spot or two that you aren’t using, you can also target Rashaad Penny. He averaged 5.3 yards per carry last year, but he’ll miss at least the first six weeks of the season after being placed on the Active/PUP list.