Which Rookie Running Backs Will Have the Greatest 2020 Fantasy Football Veteran Impacts? - Roto Street Journal
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Which Rookie Running Backs Will Have the Greatest 2020 Fantasy Football Veteran Impacts?

Running back is the offensive skill position that requires the least amount of adjustment into the NFL. By season’s end, many rookie backs, particularly highly drafted ones, are who we thought they were. It’s imperative to dig deeper into the incoming rookie class and figure out what we think they are, and the situation they’re headed into, to decipher whether or not they can disrupt their team’s fantasy football depth chart. 

Below is a list of seven veterans who could lose their fantasy starting status to 2020 draftees, in order of how early these rookies were drafted:

Kerryon Johnson vs. D’Andre Swift

Donning the “injury-prone” label on players can often be unwise, and so many people attached that label to Dalvin Cook last season that he greatly outproduced his ADP. Still, many are wary of Kerryon Johnson, like Cook, after injuries marred their first two NFL seasons, and their respective teams drafted a running back the following seasons. However, when the Vikings drafted Alexander Mattison in 2019, Cook was never really considered in danger of losing his starting gig. Such isn’t the case for Kerryon.

The Lions drafted D’Andre Swift in April, who sports a better profile than Mattison, and Kerryon, as both a pass-catcher and runner. Even if Johnson can provide a healthy 16 games in 2020, it’s basically set in stone already that he’ll be splitting touches with Swift, who is expected to obtain the lead role sooner, rather than later, by the consensus of pro football experts.

FANTASY ADVICE: Factor in a projected below-average offensive line and Swift’s ADP has been hovering in the fifth/sixth round range, which is three-to-four rounds ahead of Johnson’s ADP. Even if the plan is for the workload to be an even split, Kerryon’s injuries in both of his NFL seasons have been knee injuries, which can be running back kryptonite, further justifying the difference in ADP.

The Wolf’s 2020 Big Board expresses some optimism for Swift (RB24, +3 vs ECR), but zero optimism for Johnson (RB56, -18 vs ECR).

Marlon Mack vs. Jonathan Taylor

The Colts traded up from pick No. 44 to make sure they got their guy. Trading up is a move that would seem to imply that a franchise is particularly high on a player and that that would equal higher usage.

While Taylor is justifiably being taken top-3 in dynasty rookie drafts, he enters a situation where the path to a starting role in 2020 isn’t so clear. The Colts organization has been talking about Taylor and Mack as if they’re on similar levels, and as Fox59’s Mike Chappell out of Indy points out, two backs can produce on the ground at a high level. However, bringing up the special nature of the ’06 Colts’ rushing game indirectly highlights how it’s somewhat of a rarity.

The 2020 Colts backfield has to consider Nyheim Hines as well, the team’s back with the most receiving prowess. With a potential three-back committee, Taylor projects to split time with Mack, with Hines keeping his role on passing downs. In 2019, the entire backfield pie, sans Hines, was 21.8 rushes and 2.1 targets per game.

With that in mind, it’s not surprising to see Taylor and Mack land on the Expert Consensus Rankings as the RB22 and RB39, respectively. These backs will run behind one of the best offensive lines in the league and a new QB in Philip Rivers who historically peppers his RB’s with targets. But proceed with caution with this committee, and pray you don’t hear five words born out of fantasy owners’ nightmares…”We’ll ride the hot hand.” Woop, too late…

FANTASY ADVICE: If you’re eyeing Jonathan Taylor in drafts, keep in mind that drafters are generally jumping on the exciting new rookie prospect a little earlier than the Expert Consensus would have you, including The Wolf (RB15, +7 vs ECR).

In my opinion, as a “one-one” punch, Mack and Taylor’s usage could be quite volatile, and taking either one as more than a FLEX could lose you games. Hines figures to see more consistency, even if it’s Cole Beasley-esque production in PPR formats.

Malcolm Brown/Darrell Henderson Jr. vs Cam Akers

Darrell Henderson was the hyped rookie for the L.A. Rams last season, and the organization was so high on him after 2019 that they drafted a running back with their first pick in April. Coincidentally, Cam Akers had as notoriously bad an offensive line at the collegiate level at Florida State that he’ll get at the pro level in Los Angeles, a point that GM Les Snead is very likely aware of but won’t admit, in noting how successful Akers was in spite of his O-line support at FSU.

Coach- and GM-speak would seem to indicate that Akers will get the opportunity to secure a lead-type role, on early downs and in between the 20’s, while Malcolm Brown seems slated for short-yardage and goal-line work, with Henderson playing the “home run hitter”, for what that’s worth. Once a symbol of coveted bell-cow security, the Rams’ backfield has now entered the realm of a full-fledged, raging committee. Time will tell if what Akers brings to the table will garner primary touches.

FANTASY ADVICE: The Rams had backfield success in 2019 in spite of their offensive line, and they can do it again. With Akers sharing that same narrative while at Florida State, he should be able to adjust the speed of the pro game more than most rookies would. A three-back committee makes him a risky RB2, but he is still on an offense that was sneakily productive last year.

The Wolf is high on Akers, ranking him his RB22 (+7 vs ECR), while Henderson is down at his RB44 (-1 vs ECR).

CAMP UPDATE: Henderson is dealing with a soft tissue injury and should return for Week 1. As a result, Akers has been exclusively working with the first team.

Mark Ingram Jr. vs JK Dobbins

Receiving skills, success in a zone-blocking scheme, surpassing everyone but Archie Griffin in Ohio State’s all-time rushing ranks, and having had a “first-round grade” by Ravens GM Eric DeCosta…it sounds like J.K. Dobbins’ stock is so high that incumbent starter Mark Ingram might be just a leg cramp away from losing his gig.

Ingram stopped being “fresh” once Alvin Kamara entered the league in 2017, at a time when Ingram was 28 years old, largely considered the over-the-hill age for backs. Another sign of decline came when the Saints decided they no longer needed his services after having him his entire 8-year career.

So how did Baltimore handle this feeble old man when he arrived in 2019? Was his walker the latest and greatest that NFL retirement can provide? Were there enough opportunities to play BINGO? Was his orange drink not watered down too much? Alas, all the Ravens did was feed him 200+ rushes for just the fourth total time in his career, which Mark turned into his second-highest YPC average and a third Pro Bowl bid.

The Ravens express the desire to play J.K., but they’ve also said they could incorporate up to four backs. Dobbins reportedly needs to work on his pass protection, and with Ingram not showing any signs of slowing down, J.K.’s path to becoming a starter may be delayed a year or two.

FANTASY ADVICE: Such a short offseason stunts Dobbins’ growth as a pass blocker, cementing Ingram as pack leader once again, even if it does contain four (ew, gross) running backs, which caps Ingram’s potential as he shouldn’t be expected to finish higher than an RB2.

As with most rookies, The Wolf is higher on Dobbins than most experts, ranking the former Buckeye his RB29 (+4 vs ECR). However, Wolf gives the slight nod to Ingram, who checks in at his RB28.

Ronald Jones II vs Ke’Shawn Vaughn

Despite Jones’ subpar production to this point, the Bucs’ front office seems to think his best days are ahead of him. Jones has been working to up his receiving and pass-blocking chops ahead of playing alongside the GOAT, so the potential for improvement could be there.

Drafting of Ke’Shawn Vaughn was met with approvals but didn’t exactly blow away draft experts. Couple that with Bruce Arians’ history of not being one to just toss rookies into the fire from the jump (man, I forgot how much I like the name Frostee Rucker), and this is a tough backfield to project going into 2020. It also has yet to be seen how Dare Ogunbowale will be affected. It seems like a safe bet to say that the earlier any of these guys can earn Tom Brady’s trust, the earlier they can separate themselves from the other backs.

FANTASY ADVICE: Jones is in a beautiful position to succeed here, and make us all forget about his dreaded 2018 debut. And, it seems like he’s aware of that, not taking for granted the opportunity and putting in the work that can make him greatly outdo his current draft price as a low-end RB3.

The Wolf is finally buying Ronald Jones, listing him as his RB26 (+4 vs ECR).

THE LESEAN MCCOY FACTOR: At 32 years old, Shady is somewhere between the savviest veteran to earn Tom Brady’s trust and too washed up to be active for the Super Bowl. Uncertainty is common when the ink on the contract is still fresh, so as always, vigilance is required to decipher where on the spectrum he’ll land in 2020.

Derrick Henry vs Darrynton Evans

I’m…sorry, that joke was in bad taste. A-a-anyway…

James Conner vs Anthony McFarland Jr.

The “injury-prone” label has plummeted James Conner’s current ADP from a no-brainer first-round pick in 2019 to now an early fourth-rounder. Along with missing 6 games, he was often being brought out during games for injury concerns, en route to only 464 rushing yards.

Mike Tomlin has revealed how he believes a team’s success has to do in part with the presence of a featured back. Benny Snell filled that role when Conner was down last year but didn’t do enough to shut the door on the possibility that newcomer Anthony McFarland could take the role in the case of a Conner injury. However, even if Conner remains healthy, McFarland brings speed that Conner and Snell don’t. If he gets an opportunity to showcase that speed, he could become Tomlin’s new workhorse.

FANTASY ADVICE: Though not guaranteed, the fantasy community’s consensus is that McFarland is the handcuff to own, and is being swept up in the late rounds of drafts, with Benny Snell going largely undrafted. So, if you draft Conner, you may be living in regret if you didn’t get McFarland because you let him get past about the 10th/11th round.

The Wolf is right on the mark with Conner, agreeing with the ECR as his RB18. The same can be said for his McFarland outlook, ranking him as his RB62.

Leonard Fournette vs James Robinson

Whoever drafted Royce Freeman in 2018 please raise your hand (author raises hand). If you raised yours also, you learned an inconvenient truth… if you are serious about saving your FAAB dollars, you have to prepare for everything you can. That means that one thing you must do is tediously keep track of undrafted free agents. If you had to spend a pretty penny to scoop up Phillip Lindsay two seasons ago, you likely already know this.

For 2020, the leading UDFA back to keep an eye on is James Robinson, number one on NFL.com Senior Analyst Gil Brandt’s list of undrafted backs, with FanSided’s Dan Schmelzer highlighting his accomplishments at Illinois State.

Guys like Robinson are also a reminder to keep a keen eye on during the preseason, for warning signs of potential, like there was for Lindsay. It could give good enough reason to take a last-round flier on him, a strategy which could’ve landed you the RB3 in Peyton Hillis in 2010 (the author also raises hand).

Leonard Fournette and the Jaguars are like a couple who’ve broken up but still share a lease on their apartment for a few more months. Ryquell Armstead looks like the next man up to get the lead role after Fournette, but new OC Jay Gruden felt compelled to bring Chris Thompson with him from Washington, and the organization was compelled to bring in Robinson, who is a big, bruising style of back. If Ryquell is a Penny Stock, then James is up for a Yen Stock, and even if he turns out to be just another guy taking up a spot on the depth chart, don’t discount that being such a UDFA watchdog could have landed you PPR’s RB13 in Phillip Lindsay just two seasons ago.

FANTASY ADVICE: With now no preseason, Robinson could very well not play a single down this season. There are a couple of paths to playtime though. One option is that the organization just hates Leonard so much that they’ll make him watch while his replacements see action. The other option is…

PROJECTION: …the Jaguars trade Fournette and a bag of deflated footballs to the Patriots after Week 3. Ryquell Armstead gets thrust into a lead role. Robinson leapfrogs Devine Ozigbo on the depth chart to give Ryquell the occasional breather and even takes a couple of slices out of Thompson’s aerial pie.

Check out The Wolf’s 2020 Big Board and Rankings for more notes and insight on how to navigate these and other backfield situations this season


  • Driven by profit, has the lobes for business. Prioritizes anchors as part of a diversified portfolio. Seeks to be the first hue-mon to become the Grand Nagus. On Twitter @ChaseM_G

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