As usual, running backs are going off the board super early to start almost every standard fantasy draft, and that makes perfect sense. True every down or workhorse players at this position are rare, and in fantasy, this is without question the scarcest position. In 2020, the top fantasy running backs – especially the top four – often have the same names no matter where you look in the fantasy community, but determining the order of where each should go is a little trickier. And pinpointing that fifth running back this year also isn’t clear cut.
The top fantasy running backs heading into 2020
1) Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers
Christian McCaffrey is coming off an all-time great fantasy season. He combines rushing yards, receiving yards, and the ability to get into the end zone like few others in recent memory. Even better? McCaffrey is in the prime of his career.
There have been a lot of changes with the Panthers organization. However, the money they dedicated to McCaffrey ensures that he will again be the straw that stirs the drink for Carolina’s revamped, and quite possibly improved, offense going forward.
McCaffrey has two straight 100-catch seasons and could easily make it a third straight in 2020 with Teddy Bridgewater dumping it off to him. He is a RB1 and WR1 rolled into one, and is a no-brainer in both standard and PPR formats.
One slight concern is that Carolina’s new coaching staff might look to lighten their star player’s load, especially if games are out of hand. He did play 1,039 snaps last year, a massive number for a running back in today’s NFL. But that isn’t enough to derail McCaffrey from being the first pick overall in all standard fantasy drafts, which is why he is still the top fantasy running back on the majority of lists throughout the fantsay community.
2.) Saquon Barkley, New York Giants
Saquon Barkley is the most talented player on this top fantasy running backs list. In fact, he is the most talented running back in the game. A high ankle sprain curtailed some of that immense ability last year, but Barkley rebounded late in the year (539 yards in his final three games) to put up massive numbers to finish the season.
We know that new offensive coordinator Jason Garrett can coax big numbers out of the running back position, and the Giants and Daniel Jones would be wise to realize that Barkley is the second-year quarterback’s best friend.
The start of New York’s schedule is brutal and Barkley’s offensive line isn’t great. The line is going through a lot of changes, as is the entire franchise during difficult times. However, this guy is just an exceptional football player and a no-brainer as the second pick off the board behind McCaffrey.
3.) Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys
On a per-play basis last year, Dallas had the NFL’s very best offense. It might be even better in 2020. Elliott has shown remarkable production and consistency during his first four seasons in the league and could be ready to explode for his best year to date.
That will absolutely be the case if new head coach Mike McCarthy can better utilize Elliott’s abilities in the passing game. Elliott has been catching more passes the past two seasons, but there is even more potential in that crucial area.
He is an elite carrier of the football and runs behind a very good Dallas offensive line. Elliott led the league in rushing yards per game in each of his first three seasons in the NFL. There are a lot of touchdowns in store for Elliott in 2020.
The Cowboys might look to get Tony Pollard and his dynamic skill set more involved, and that could come in clear passing situations. But other than that, is there really any worry about taking Elliott with the third pick in the draft?
4) Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints
Having Kamara fourth on this top fantasy running backs list is by no means a slight to New Orleans’ superstar running back. He could easily outscore anyone at the position this year for fantasy, but he doesn’t quite get the workload of the top three backs on this list. But wow, does he make the most of his touches.
2019 wasn’t his best showing as it was clear that Kamara was not 100% healthy. But watch him during the first five weeks of the year, and you will quickly understand why Kamara is the fourth-best fantasy asset this year.
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Strangely, Kamara has caught 81 passes in each of his three NFL seasons. We should expect more of the same this year, but with more explosive gains than we saw last year. Kamara isn’t a high-volume rusher, but the Saints leverage his carries very well, and he runs behind the league’s best offensive line that looks to be improved this year.
Kamara only scored six touchdowns last year, but after getting into the endzone 18 times the year before (and 32 over his first two seasons), expect double-digit scores once again in 2020.
5) Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans
As mentioned above, finding the fifth running back when looking at the top fantasy running backs of 2020 is where it gets a little tricky. Most will have Minnesota Vikings RB Dalvin Cook entrenched in the fifth spot, and yes, he certainly catches the football better and more frequently than Henry.
But even with Henry’s immense workload over the past few years, he seems like a safer bet to stay on the field more so than Cook, who not only has a lengthy injury history but is also unhappy with his contract. Cook is set to become a free agent after this season (which could open the door for Alexander Mattison) and wants to get paid, but the Vikings seem to be balking. Cook seems a little too volatile right now, and the Vikings have more questions around them this year than last.
Meanwhile, the Titans have given Henry great peace of mind by already extending his deal, and Tennessee’s offense will once again go through their massive ball carrier. Offensive Coordinator Arthur Smith is exceptional, and there is also is a great chance that Henry becomes much more involved with the screen game, an area that Henry has done a lot of damage in the past once getting past the line of scrimmage with the ball in his hands.
No one in the league had more runs of 10 or more yards than Henry last year, and he consistently breaks long runs after first contact. The Titans are also slated to play one of the easiest schedules in the league this year, and we know that Henry’s output spikes for his fantasy owners when Tennessee is playing with a lead. If you had to bet on just one running back to get to 300 carries, wouldn’t it be Henry?
Matt Williamson is a Senior NFL Analyst for Pro Football Network. You can follow him on Twitter: @WilliamsonNFL.