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Erickson: 2020 fantasy football running back rankings tiers

Utilizing tiers during fantasy football drafts is a great way to get the most value out of each position. This year, tiers are particularly helpful when it comes to running backs — outside of the elite options, RBs are bunched into groups with similar characteristics, both good and bad. 

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Because of how scarce the position is, it's a good idea to favor running backs over other positions when all sides are equal, especially early. Exhaust the top running back tiers before going to the wide receivers. The early RB runs are pushing receivers of similar value into the next round — but the Tier 1 RBs will not fall outside the first. For this reason, my advice is to select all Tier 1 running backs before the consensus top wide receiver, Michael Thomas.

This article is the third in a series on skill position tiers following my 2020 fantasy football quarterback rankings tiers and wide receiver rankings tiers.

Tier 1 – The Big Four

Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers

Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys

Saquon Barkley, New York Giants

Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints

Christian McCaffrey is the locked-and-loaded 1.01 selection in fantasy football. Even if he's not able to duplicate his efforts from last season, the 150 points between him and the second-highest-scoring running back year is just too hard to ignore. His appeal as a pass-catcher makes him a strong candidate for an RB1 overall repeat.

New Panthers quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was no stranger to finding his running back in the passing game during his six-week stint as a starter last season. From Weeks 2-7, Bridgewater ranked top-five in passing attempts and completions to the running back position. Alvin Kamara’s best fantasy week came in Week 3 with Bridgewater under center.

Ezekiel Elliott’s consistency might be the best of the tier — he didn't finish a single week worse than RB26 during the entire 2019 season, a feat that even RB1 McCaffrey couldn't accomplish. Elliott also showed zero signs of slowing down toward the end of the season. From Week 11 onward, Elliott finished as a top-10 fantasy running back six times.

Saquon Barkley’s injuries during the 2019 season slighted fantasy owners who selected him with the No. 1 overall pick in 2019. But, even so, Barkley returned quickly after missing three games and performed well, finishing his first two weeks back as a top-10 RB.

He struggled over the next five weeks with finishes outside the top 15, then outscored all fantasy RBs over the final three weeks. Elliott's Week 16 overall RB1 finish coincided with Daniel Jones finishing as the QB1 on the week. There's an exceptional floor/ceiling situation here, despite the up and down 2019. 

Alvin Kamara also dealt with his fair share of injuries in 2019, eventually admitting on Twitter that he was far from 100%. From an efficiency standpoint, it was hard to tell because Kamara still was effective on the field, ranking in the top 10 in missed tackles forced per attempt (0.25) and top 15 in yards per route run (1.54) among running backs with at least 25 targets and rushing attempts.

Kamara's problem for fantasy was his lack of touchdowns. He only scored six TDs in 2019 after scoring 32 over the previous two seasons. With his red-zone touches likely to regress positively, closer to his 2017-2018 totals, Kamara should easily top his six scores from 2019.

Alvin Kamara Career Red Zone Touches
Carries Targets Touches
2017 25 14 39
2018 51 25 76
2019 27 11 38

It's also important to note that during the first six weeks of the season — before his injury — Kamara was averaging just under 20 touches per game, which was the sixth-most among all running backs.

Tier 2 – Second Half of the First Round

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