Our preseason coverage continues with the 2020 fantasy football running back sleepers.
Every year, there are a handful of players that surprise. 2020 will be no different. What is important to note is information is readily available on every player, especially running back. More teams are trending away from a workhorse setup to a “hot hand” or committee approach. The idea of depending on committee backs is troublesome but is necessary.
2020’s sleepers may not be the sexiest names or in the best situations, but past performance and opportunity will always reign supreme.
2020 Fantasy Football Running Back Sleepers
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Matt Breida, Miami Dolphins
— Good Morning Football (@gmfb) June 26, 2020
Breida’s competition comes in the form of Jordan Howard and Kalen Ballage. Both are plodders that stand to fight for goal line and short distance carries, but in fantasy, touchdowns are king. 18.7% of Breida’s 2019 carries resulted in first downs, while 23.5% and 7% of Howard and Ballage’s carries moved the chains. Howard led the trio with six touchdowns in 2019, followed by Ballage with three, and Breida with one.
What sets Breida apart is his speed. He is in the 89th percentile of SPARQ-x scoring, and his burst is elite. A couple of long runs early in the season could not only lead to more work, but more time spent in the endzone.
Chris Carson, Seattle Seahawks
My top running backs based on #NextGenStats. Chris Carson grading out as a top 10 RB surprised me but the numbers show he was terrific at creating yards for himself and fairly consistent everywhere else. #Seahawks #12s pic.twitter.com/dXrl98cx8H
— James D Koh (@JamesDKoh) June 29, 2020
Carson has rushed for the fifth-most yards over the past two seasons. He also plays in a run-heavy offense, and he is in a bell-cow role. The icing on the cake? Carson’s receiving targets doubled in 2019, and he caught 17 more passes than in 2018. Imagine getting elite production in the fourth round.
His biggest fault is his fumbles. Averaging one every 50-plus carries is bad, but the number of players who will see his workload is few and far between.
Rashaad Penny is expected to start the season on the PUP list. That means he would be out for at least six weeks to start the season. Seattle’s replacement options are Carlos Hyde and Travis Homer. Hyde should see complimentary work, but at no point should he be an option to replace Carson. Pete Carroll allowed Carson to figure out his fumbling issues while plugging other players into the lineup for two-plus seasons.
Short of Carson being injured or becoming ineffective, he is a player that will outpace his ADP and is being drafted as an RB2 that has shown he is an RB1.
Darrynton Evans, Tennessee Titans
Is Darrynton Evans the Titans' biggest X-factor? https://t.co/03grXUci7t
— The Titans Wire (@TheTitansWire) June 15, 2020
Opportunity, opportunity, opportunity.
Derrick Henry is coming off a 400-plus touch season and deserves to get as many carries as he can handle. What happens to backs that handle a large workload over a longer period? They tend to get injured. Enter Darrynton Evans, the rookie out of Vanderbilt drafted to replace Dion Lewis as the primary back-up.
Evans is an exceptional athlete, ranking no less than in the 82nd percentile in Burst Score, Speed Score, and 40-yard dash. The third-round pick saw his carries and targets improve each season at Appalachian State University, and found the endzone 18 times in 2019.
Evans will also spend time returning kickoffs and punts. Another running back who performed well at that role before taking over starting duties was David Johnson. Evans may not have prime David Johnson upside in 2020, but Evans is a Henry injury away from an elite workload.
Phillip Lindsay, Denver Broncos
Most yards before contact per attempt since 2017 (min. 300 attempts)
1. Lamar Jackson - 3.1
2. Matt Breida - 2.4
3. Phillip Lindsay - 2.4
4. Christian McCaffrey - 2.1
5. Aaron Jones - 2.0https://t.co/nlhcEh8qsr
— PFF Fantasy Football (@PFF_Fantasy) June 23, 2020
Phillip Lindsay is coming off back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons. Great, right? Melvin Gordon is now his running mate and will more than likely lead the Broncos is rushing attempts. Lindsay has lost some of the luster he carried into the off-season, but a reduced workload does not necessarily mean he should not be on your roster.
Lindsay will still be involved because he is a consistent runner and pass catcher. He averaged 5.4 yards per carry his rookie season on less than 200 carries. That YPC dropped to 4.5 in 2019 when he had more than 200 carries. Lindsay also saw his yard per catch drop in 2019 despite the same amount of catches in 2018. Maybe a small drop in touches maximizes Lindsay’s value. At his current ADP, the upset is present.
Looking at the 10 running backs ahead of Lindsay in ADP, only Tarik Cohen, Alexander Mattison, and Marlon Mack offer a similar upside because of their known role in their team’s system. Ronald Jones III and Ke’Shawn Vaughn are an unknown tandem, Tevin Coleman needs to stay healthy while supplanting Raheen Mostert, Jordan Howard was discussed earlier, and Sony Michel and James White are on a team that has little offensive firepower (even with Cam Newton joining New England).
Justin Jackson, Los Angeles Chargers
Players with multiple nullified TDs in 2019:
George Kittle (3)
Cameron Brate (2)
Raheem Mostert (2)
Justin Jackson (2)
Robert Woods (2)
Randall Cobb (2)
Derrick Henry (2)
Latavius Murray (2)
Aaron Jones (2)
5: Cowboys, Chargers
4: Chiefs, Rams, Titans
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) June 17, 2020
Justin Jackson is an established back with the opportunity to steal touchdowns from starter Austin Ekeler and carry the workload if Ekeler misses time. There is no guarantee Ekeler stays healthy as an alpha dog for an entire season. He started one game in 2018 and logged 19 touches. Jackson also saw a minimum of seven touches between Weeks 8-13 in the same season.
Injuries remain an issue for Jackson, but he is liked and trusted in LA. Tyrod Taylor has not played meaningful snaps in a couple of years, so Jackson could be used as a safety value in a similar breath as Ekeler.
Visit the F6P Fantasy Football page for more advice to get you prepared for the 2020 season.