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McFarland: 2020 fantasy football running back rankings tiers

Ranking players by position is an important part of fantasy football preparation, but grouping them into tiers is crucial to identifying the value you might be leaving in the draft room. If you're on the clock and looking at several quarterbacks in the same tier, it could make sense to wait a round — someone equally as good will probably be available with your next pick.

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Tiers can also help group players with similar expectations, whether that means grouping the reliable veterans or risky young players with upside. Either way, we don't want to pay more than the next drafter for a similar player.

TIER 1 – RB1: PROVEN TALENT AND ELITE UTILIZATION

Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers

Saquon Barkley, New York Giants

Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys

Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints

Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings

These five backs rank in the consensus top five in PFF rankings and should be among the first six picks off the board in fantasy drafts.

Each is young, talented and in a premium utilization situation. Barring injury, expect all except Alvin Kamara to approach 65% of their respective team's rushing attempts and 65% of carries inside the 5-yard line. All will also likely run a route on more than 65% of their team's pass attempts and garner a target share of 10% or more.

This group hardly leaves the field — insulating their weekly floors against bad game scripts.

Kamara makes up for a discrepancy in carries with his integral role in the Saints' passing game. Last year, he averaged 19% target share in games played and saw a career-high 53% of attempts inside the 5-yard line despite missing two weeks.

Dec 22, 2019; Nashville, Tennessee, USA; New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara (41) runs for a short gain during the second half against the Tennessee Titans at Nissan Stadium. Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Saquon Barkley draws the toughest schedule for running backs over the first 12 games based on PFF's Strength of Schedule metric. Christian McCaffrey, Ezekiel Elliott and Kamara don't fare as poorly, but their schedules project as worse than average.

Dalvin Cook has the eighth-most manageable schedule but is in a potential hold-out situation and has a tricky injury history. If you are risk-averse, Cook is the guy to pass on for Michael Thomas if the opportunity presents itself.

TIER 2 – RB1: PATH TO ELITE UTILIZATION BUT UNPROVEN

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