2020 Running Back Sleepers

2020 Running Back Sleepers

The running back position is easily the hardest to find sleepers for. This is what makes it the most important position in fantasy football. The guys at the top of the draft are typically really, really good, and the guys at the bottom of the draft typically worthless.

That being said, we think we have five RB’s that are flying under the radar right now and offer significant upside where they are currently ranked. Let us know which sleeper RB of this group offers the most value at their current ranking.

Which RB offers the most value at their current ranking?

damien harris rb sleeper for 2020

The running back position is the most important position in fantasy football. The problem is it is also the shallowest position. There tend to be 20-25 running backs with roles large enough to be relevant, depending on your league’s scoring.

The names at the top of this position in 2019 were who we thought they were (see below). That being said, the group of RB’s that finished 10-20 at the position included players like Kenyan Drake, Miles Sanders, and Devin Singletary… all guys that made this article at this time last season.

What we like to do with our sleeper articles is to not only highlight true sleepers but to identify players we call tier jumpers. Our pick last season was Derrick Henry, who was being drafted as RB16 but we thought had top 5 upside.

Our favorite tier jumpers for 2020 could be better defined as comeback picks. We love the upside of the move to Houston for David Johnson and think James Conner will finish 2020 as a top 10 fantasy RB.

It is absolutely important to understand which of these running backs are going to outperform expectations, as it will have a massive impact on how you build lineups for the massive DraftKings promo contests that will run early on in the 2020 season. Here are the five running backs we think hold the most value at their current ADP.

Let us know who you like in the poll above and comment section below!

PlayerPos.TeamCons. RankOur Rank
Austin EkelerRBChargers128
David JohnsonRBTexans2512
James ConnerRBSteelers2414
Matt BreidaRBDolphins3930
Damien HarrisRBPatriots6441
Antonio GibsonRBRedskins5042

Austin Ekeler

RB | Los Angeles Chargers | Current Pos. Rank: 12
It is hard to believe Ekeler finished 2020 at RB7 in standard leagues and RB4 in PPR leagues, but is currently ranked at RB 12 despite Melvin Gordon leaving for Denver. Ekeler will be a top 8 back again in 2020, and will likely be even more consistent given his snap count should jump back up to 60%+.

While the offensive line is far from the league’s best, the addition of Bulaga makes this arguably the best Chargers line we have seen in a decade. Bulaga, Pouncey, and Trai Turner are all pro-bowlers, while the team now has depth with Scott Quesenberry, Trent Scott, and Forrest Lamp all moving to reserve roles.

Shane Steichen returns as OC, despite a poor rating form Pro Football Focus the offensive line will be improved, and Taylor is not a massive downgrade for Ekeler. It’s worth noting that three of LeSean McCoy’s best seasons came with Taylor at QB. The key is the snap count… if he gets the snaps he will produce. Ekeler was RB2 in the NFL in games where he played at least 65% of the Chargers snaps, averaging 26+ fantasy PPG.

David Johnson

RB | Arizona Cardinals | Current Pos. Rank: 25
After seeing what Carlos Hyde and Duke Johnson did in Houston’s system last season, it is hard not to get excited about the potential a healthy David Johnson has here.

Since putting up one of the greatest fantasy seasons we have ever seen in 2016 (2,100 yards and 20 touchdowns), Johnson has struggled through injury and anemic offenses. A wrist cost him almost the entire 2017 season, the brutal combination of Josh Rosen, Sam Bradford, and Mike Glennon made 2018 miserable, and he never recovered from an early ankle injury last year.

Finally healthy, in an explosive offense, Johnson will undoubtedly outplay his current RB 25 ranking, and we would not be surprised to see him finish as a top 12 back in 2020.

James Conner

RB | Pittsburgh Steelers | Current Pos. Rank: 24
Of the guys listed in this group of sleepers, I think Conner has the best chance at dramatically outproducing his current ADP. The Steelers are a rare organization that prefers a bellcow back, and have made it 100% clear they view Conner as that back.

We were fans of both Jaylen Samuels and Benny Snell heading into 2019, but the dropoff from Conner to those to was significant and clearly evident in the 6 games he missed. In total, Conner only gave us 7 full games during the 2020 season, but did put up solid numbers in those games:

james conner 2020 sleeper rb

In fact, if we look at the 7 games Conner was healthy for last season, he averaged 13.7 fantasy PPG over that stretch, which would have put him at RB8 for the year.

The Steelers did have some turnover on the offensive line this past offseason, but this is still one of the better run-blocking groups in football. In the end, Big Ben returning is going to fix most of the woes this offense experienced last season.

matt breida 2020 sleeper pick at running back

Matt Breida

RB | Miami Dolphins | Current Pos. Rank: 39
A year removed from having arguably the worst rushing offense in football, the Dolphins have clearly made improving the run game the focus of their offseason. They started by signing Jordan Howard, reworking their interior offensive line with Ereck Flowers and Ted Karras, then traded a fifth-round pick for Matt Breida.

Howard and Breida could not be more different. Howard is a career 4 YPC RB, with one run of 40+ yards in his last 300 attempts. Breida averaged over 5 YPC, is a big play machine and has been the fastest ball carrier in the NFL each of the last two seasons.

It isn’t all roses with Breida, however. His 3s behind the line of scrimmage per run show the sort of indecisiveness that could clash with “new” OC Chan Gailey.

So, who wins out here? We are willing to bet the Dolphins learned that everyone else was right and they were wrong when it came to Kenyon Drake, and are not going to let that happen again with Matt Breida in 2020.

We typically don’t pick players from teams as bad as the Dolphins will be again in 2020, but one of our QB sleepers will be the starter for a team we have projected to win even fewer games than Miami!

Look for Breida’s total touches to jump from roughly 10/game during his time with the 49ers to 15/game in 2020. We think that increased role, an improved offensive line in Miami, and the league’s third easiest schedule, will allow Breida to finish considerably higher than his current RB39 ranking.

Damien Harris

RB | New England Patriots | Current Pos. Rank: 64
Go win a job Damien Harris. It is no secret that the Patriots plan on running the ball a lot in 2020. Whether it’s Jarret Stidham, Brian Hoyer, Andy Dalton, or some other QB taking over for Brady, this offense will run through the RB position.

Given Belichick’s history with running backs, nobody should be surprised if Harris comes out of nowhere to be the guy here in 2020. Keep in mind that the leading rusher on this team was Stevan Ridley in 2014, Jonas Grey in 2015, LeGarrette Blount in 2016, Dion Lewis in 2017, and Sony Michel in 2018. We are due for a change.

Patriots beat writers are already hinting that Michel and Harris will split early-down work at the very least. If Harris ends up stealing this job he could be the steal of the draft given he is currently ranked at RB 64.

Antonio Gibson

RB | Washington Football Team | Current Pos. Rank: 50
The Washington release of Derrius Guice was clearly the shock of the offseason and leaves a massive hole at RB in an offensive system that made Christian McCaffrey the unanimous number 1 fantasy pick this season.

Let me start by saying that I would not be shocked to see a combination of veterans Adrian Peterson, Peyton Barber, and JD McKissic handle the load here in 2020. I think we also need to state that this offensive line is hot garbage… somehow even worse than last season. So how, given those two factors, does Antonio Gibson make this article?

As someone that covered the Memphis Tigers every week last season, I’m still not convinced Gibson is even a running back. He was a big play machine, averaging over 11 carries per game, but was still just the fifth leading rusher on the Tigers team.

Do we really think Scott Turner’s offense can revolve around a guy that touched the ball just 77 times in his entire college career? Obviously nobody knows, and that is what makes Gibson such an intriguing late-round grab.

Current List of Running Backs to Opt-Out of 2020 Season

While the RB position has not been hit nearly as hard as the WR position, we did have one big name player opt-out of the 2020 season. Damien Williams sitting clearly is not only a response to the pandemic but is likely also a business decision after the Chiefs drafted Clyde Edwards-Helaire. We will continue to add names to this list as they are announced.

Damien WilliamsRBKC
Brandon BoldenRBNE

RB Depth Chart for Every NFL Team

Current 4-Deep Running Back Depth Chart for All 32 NFL Teams

There is little more important than the actual depth chart when analyzing potential sleepers. Even the most talented backs in the NFL are limited by the players that they share the RB-room with.

Unlike our WR sleeper picks, that features Anthony Miller who will clearly share targets with Allen Robinson in 2020, two is a crowd at running back and barring injury, you really don’t want to have to rely on a guy playing behind an entrenched starter.

Below is the current RB depth chart for every team in the NFL. Some teams are absolutely stacked at the position: Ravens, Broncos, Packers, 49ers… While other teams clearly present an opportunity for a new player to win the lead role: Dolphins, Patriots, Chiefs, Bucs, Rams… Where will you turn for your late-round RB sleeper?

TeamPosRB 1RB 2RB 3RB 4
AFC East
Buffalo BillsRBDevin SingletaryTJ YeldonZack MossTaiwan Jones
Miami DolphinsRBJordan HowardMatt BreidaKalen BallageMyles Gaskin
New York JetsRBLe’Veon BellFrank GoreTrenton CannonLamical Perine
New England PatriotsRBSony MichelJames WhiteRex BurkheadDamien Harris
AFC North
Baltimore RavensRBMark IngramJK DobbinsJustice HillGus Edwards
Cincinatti BengalsRBJoe MixonGiovanni BernardTrayveon WilliamsRodney Anderson
Cleveland BrownsRBNick ChubbKareem HuntDontrelle HilliardD’Ernest Johnson
Pittsburgh SteelersRBJames ConnerJaylen SamuelsBenny SnellAnthony McFarland
AFC South
Houston TexansRBDavid JohnsonDuke JohnsonBuddy HowellKaran Higdon
Indianapolis ColtsRBMarlon MackJonathan TaylorNyheim HynesJordan Wilkins
Jacksonville JaguarsRBLeonard FournetteChris ThompsonRyquell ArmsteadDevine Ozigbo
Tennessee TitansRBDerrick HenryDarrynton EvansDalyn DawkinsKhari Blasingame
AFC West
Denver BroncosRBMelvin GordonPhillip LindsayRoyce FreemanKalfani Muhammad
Kansas City ChiefsRBClyde Edwards-HelaireDamien WilliamsDarwin ThompsonElijah McGuire
Las Vegas RaidersRBJosh JacobsDevontae BookerLynn Bowden JrJalen Richard
Los Angeles ChargersRBAustin EkelerJustin JacksonJoshua KelleyDarius Bradwell
NFC East
Dallas CowboysRBEzekiel ElliottTony PollardJordan ChunnRico Dowdle
New York GiantsRBSaquon BarkleyDion LewisWayne GallmanJonathan Hillman
Philadelphia EaglesRBMiles SandersBoston ScottCorey ClementElijah Holyfield
Washington RedskinsRBDerrius GuiceAdrian PetersonAntonio GibsonBryce Love
NFC North
Chicago BearsRBDavid MontgomeryTarik CohenRyan NallArtavis Pierce
Detroit LionsRBKerryon JohnsonD’Andre SwiftBo ScarbroughTy Johnson
Green Bay PackersRBAaron JonesJamaal WilliamsAJ DillonPatrick Taylor
Minnesota VikingsRBDalvin CookAlexander MattisonMichael BooneAmeer Abdullah
NFC South
Atlanta FalconsRBTodd GurleyBrian HillQadree OllisonIto Smith
Carolina PanthersRBChristian McCaffreyReggie BonafonJordan ScarlettMike Davis
New Orleans SaintsRBAlvin KamaraLatavius MurrayTy MontgomeryDwayne Washington
Tampa Bay BuccaneersRBRonald JonesKe’Shawn VaughnDare OgunbowaleRaymond Calais
NFC West
Arizona CardinalsRBKenyon DrakeChase EdmondsEno BenjaminDJ Foster
Los Angeles RamsRBMalcolm BrownDarrell HendersonCam AkersJohn Kelly
San Francisco 49ersRBRaheem MostertTevin ColemanJeff WilsonJerrick McKinnon
Seattle SeahawksRBChris CarsonCarlos HydeRashaad PennyDeeJay Dallas

10 Replies to “2020 Running Back Sleepers”

    1. Given the Lions used the 35th pick of the draft on him, it is hard to imagine Swift not earning at least 50% of the snaps this season, and given Johnson’s injury history that number could jump even higher. Swift is more explosive but both guys can play on all three downs. I think this one will be a true timeshare, the bigger concern to me would be the fact that Detroit brought in Darrell Bevell and still couldn’t run the ball last season. I don’t mind either RB’s ADP, but I would flip them and take Swift in the late 6th round and Kerryon in the late 8th round.

  1. Last year you guys gave out Alexander Mattison as the most important handcuff. Do you think he will be again this year or someone else?

    1. We will likely do an article dedicated to this later this month, but yes at the moment I would rank the most important handcuffs in fantasy as 1. Alexander Mattison 2. Darrynton Evans 3. Tony Pollard.

  2. Kind of surprised Jonathan Taylor didn’t make it. Underrated runner, great offensive line, better QB in the system this year. Could put up 1200/10.

    1. I love JT and that offensive line, but think Nyheim Hynes may be the big winner from the Rivers signing. Couple that with Marlon Mack (over 2,000 yards and 18 touchdowns in two seasons with Reich) and I think Taylor, who will never be on the field on passing downs, may be a little overvalued at his current ADP. That being said, if Mack were not in the picture I think he’d be a lock for 1,100 yards and 10 TD’s.

  3. Can Conner be a sleeper when he was a consensus first round pick last season? I feel like we know who he is and just aren’t buying it anymore. Nice list though.

    1. I think so.. in part, you made my point there. He was a first-round pick last season, played like a first-round pick when healthy, but for whatever reason is the 24th back off the board this year. He’s undoubtedly a top 10 back if he stays healthy and you can get him in the third round. We are sleeping on him right now.

  4. That Green Bay depth chart is scary! Thoughts on Carlos Hyde? I think he ends up taking the job from Carson, and thought looked great in Houston last season.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *