PFFC: SIX UPSIDE RUNNING BACKS FOR 2020

Photo+Courtesy+of+Wikimedia+Commons

Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Jacob Siciliano, Executive Producer

Everyone has heard the expression if you’re not first you’re last, and that couldn’t be more true for fantasy football. It doesn’t matter if you finished in last or second place, you’re not the league champion. Do you ever hear people brag about finishing in second or third place in fantasy football? Starting on draft day, you need to have the mindset that your team needs to be a championship caliber team. The best way to reach that goal is to mix high upside players with players that have a very high floor. It’s those upside picks that are going to win your league. Last year Dalvin Cook was taken in the early second round and was seen as a risky pick, but 74% of players that owned him made the playoffs. That is second only to Christian McCaffrey’s 76%. So, today we are covering six running backs that could potentially win you your league in 2020.

#1- Joe Mixon

Joe Mixon was a tough player to put on this list because he should be a top ten pick, but I’ve seen him fall as far as mid-way into the second round before being drafted. Mixon is a special enough player for New England Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick to believe that he is the best running back in the league, and he has the stats to back that up. Since 2018 Mixon is the only player in the NFL to have over 500 carries and zero fumbles. He tied for third in rushing attempts inside the 5-yard line, and since 2018 he leads the league in runs over 15 yards (37). 

The issue with Mixon has never been talent but how terrible the rest of the Bengals offense has been. Over the offseason the Bengals drafted Joe Burrow, and they have wide receiver A.J. Green and offensive lineman Jonah Williams returning from injury. This Bengals offense isn’t going to be elite, but could turn out to be a solid fantasy option. What really intrigues me is offensive coordinator Brian Callahan’s comments on Joe Mixon. He basically says that the Bengals offense is going to run through Joe Mixon. “The more Joe touches the ball the better it is for our offense, without a doubt,” Callahan said. Mixon started to see an increase in touches after week nine and the results were incredible. From weeks 10 to 17 Joe Mixon had the fourth most fantasy points in the NFL for a running back, was PFF’s highest rated running back during that stretch and led the league in avoided tackles (38). If the Bengals coaching staff stays true to their word we could see a special season for the third-year back. 

#2 Kenyan Drake

After being traded to the Cardinals in week eight, Drake finished as the seventh best fantasy running back weeks 10 through 17. He’s playing for one of the fastest paced offenses in the league and that should have a positive running game script. Last year with the Cardinals, every game that Drake saw more than 15 rushing attempts he had over 110 rushing yards and a touchdown. One of those games even came against San Francisco. We don’t exactly know what Drake’s true floor with the Cardinals is yet but we do know he has tremendous upside and is worth a look as an early second round pick.  

#3 Todd Gurley II

In both 2017 and 2018 Gurley finished as the best fantasy running back. So what’s stopping him from being inside the top 10 running backs? I’ll tell you, absolutely nothing. The Rams babied Gurley in 2019 due to arthritis in his knee which he’s played with his entire career. When they realized later in the season that Gurley could still handle a full workload he was fantastic, finishing as a top ten back weeks 10 through 17.  Atlanta signed Gurley to a one year deal and didn’t bring in anyone else. They are going to run him into the ground this year.  Gurley has something to prove and if he can stay healthy he could easily finish as a top 10 running back.

#4 James Conner

Ever since James Conner became the lead back for the Steelers in 2018 he’s been fantastic when he’s on the field. He finished as the sixth best fantasy running back in 2018 even though he missed weeks 13-16 and was tied with Saquon Barkley for the most broken tackles, 57, from weeks 1-13. In 2019 Conner suffered from injuries to himself and a season ending injury to Ben Roethlisberger, however, when he was on the field in 2019 he was a solid fantasy option. He finished as an RB1 43.5% of the time. Now that might not seem eye popping, but Nick Chubb finished as an RB1 only 31.3 percent of the time. Josh Jacobs finished as an RB1 30.8% of the time, and Joe Mixon finished as an RB1 37.5% of the games he played. All of those players are going two rounds earlier than Conner. If Conner can stay healthy he’s going to be a tremendous value at his current ADP.

#5 Miles Sanders

Miles Sanders was a highly hyped player as a rookie last year but failed to produce until Jordan Howard went down with an injury. Prior to Howard’s injury Sanders was the 29th ranked running back, but after he took the lead role he finished as the seventh best running back in weeks 11-17. Entering 2020 Sanders is the uncontested running back for the Eagles, and according to the coaching staff will be “the guy” this season. If the coaching staff stays true to their word this season and Sanders is utilized as a workhorse we could easily see a monster season out of the second year back. 

#6 Jonathan Taylor

Jonathan Taylor was one of my favorite running backs coming into the NFL draft this season and he couldn’t have landed with a better team. You combine one of the best running backs in the 2020 draft class with the best offensive line in the NFL, something big is going to happen. Yes, Marlon Mack is still part of the offense and Head Coach Frank Reich says there is going to be a timeshare, but I think that it’s going to be impossible to take Taylor off the field. I believe that by week five Taylor could be the center of the Colts offense and a monster value in the fifth round. There obviously is risk with Taylor just because nobody truly knows what will happen in this Indianapolis backfield, but if you can get Taylor as your RB3, you should be ecstatic.