Before we move forward now that the 2020 NFL season is over, we should look back one more time to capture whatever wisdom we can glean from the ride through this "season like no other" before the distance in the rearview mirror gets farther and the particulars get blurred. Let's look at where every fantasy-relevant running back was drafted (Based on an aggregate of sources), where they finished (approximate because of variation in scoring systems), what happened, and what we learned.
Most Important Running Back Takeaways
- Be patient with rookies. Players like Jonathan Taylor, J.K. Dobbins, Cam Akers, Antonio Gibson, and D'Andre Swift paid off (some more than others) for fantasy teams that rode out the rough patches
- No one is immune to injuries - the consensus #1 and #2 picks both missed most of the season
- Hitting on your first-round pick can be a huge difference - especially if it was Alvin Kamara - but this was one of the best years ever to punt running back for the first three rounds
- Success stories outside of the first five rounds are very likely to be players on the upslope side of their career arc
- Avoid backs on the downslope side of their career arc. Todd Gurley, Le'Veon Bell, Mark Ingram II, and David Johnson were the highest-drafted backs in this category and the (lack of) results speak for themselves.
- There were a few exceptions (Alexander Mattison, Chase Edmonds), but generally, when clear backups replaced productive starters due to injury, they provided better than expected results, most notably Mike Davis, but also Tony Pollard for a game, Wayne Gallman after Devonta Freeman went down, and Giovani Bernard for a stretch. Kareem Hunt was the enigma, actually scoring better when Nick Chubb played.
Players drafted as RB1s in 2020
Christian McCaffrey, CAR
- ADP: #1 overall
- Approximate Finish: #1 on points per game basis, but only three games played
- What Happened: McCaffrey suffered an ankle injury that cost him six weeks, and then when he returned, he suffered a shoulder injury that ended his season, but not after lingering hope that he would return before the end of the year.
- What We Learned: No running back is immune from injuries. McCaffrey should still be the #1 pick in 2021.
Saquon Barkley, NYG
- ADP: #2 overall
- Approximate Finish: RB53 in one full game and part of a quarter
- What Happened: Barkley was smothered by the Steelers in Week 1 and left in the first quarter with a torn ACL in Week 2.
- What We Learned: We already saw that Barkley wasn’t invincible in 2019 when he missed time and then took time to ramp up from an ankle injury. One wonders how much of an underachiever he would have been in this underachieving offense, or perhaps if the offense wouldn’t have underachieved so much if he was out there. You’ll still have to spend a top-five pick to get him in 2021.
Ezekiel Elliott, DAL
- ADP: #3 overall
- Approximate Finish: RB13, but RB4 in games started by Dak Prescott
- What Happened: Elliott was off to a rousing start along with the rest of the Cowboys offense and then Prescott went down. He was a low ceiling RB2 the rest of the way and missed Week 15 with a thigh injury.
- What We Learned: Quarterback injuries can doom an offense and its fantasy prospects. Tony Pollard didn’t look quite as dynamic as he did in his rookie year, so Elliott could be a value if he falls to the back half of 2021 drafts.
Dalvin Cook, MIN
- ADP: #4 Overall
- Approximate Finish: RB3
- What Happened: Cook got his deal done before the season and played at his typical elite level. There was one game missed with a groin injury and the typical sporadic injury scare, but Cook was consistent, productive, and dominant at times.
- What We Learned: The Vikings value Cook as the engine of their offense, and he showed that they are right. There won’t be any temporary holdout discounts this year, as Cook will cost a top 5 pick.
Alvin Kamara, NO
- ADP: #5 Overall
- Approximate Finish: RB1 among backs that played more than 3 games, RB2 otherwise
- What Happened: Kamara had some contract drama that caused some fantasy players to blink in the first round after the Saints blinked in the negotiations and gave him a new deal. Kamara ended up setting career highs in rushing yards, yards from scrimmage, rushing touchdowns, total touchdowns, and receptions. Kamara was also a golden ticket to a fantasy title with a six-touchdown performance on Christmas that delivered fantasy championships like Santa coming down the chimney. He did have a hiccup in receiving production when Taysom Hill was in at quarterback that needs to be reckoned with if Drew Brees doesn’t return in 2021.
- What We Learned: Kamara is still among the best of the best, but we have to be concerned about his PPR value if Brees is replaced by Hill in 2021.
Derrick Henry, TEN
- ADP: #6 Overall
- Approximate Finish: RB4
- What Happened: No one that took Henry should be disappointed, but he was a feast or famine option with his typical December rampage interrupted by Week 13 and 16 duds. His per-game production didn’t have a significant dropoff from the level he was at with Ryan Tannehill in 2019, but he did fail to make the occasional big play in the passing game.
- What We Learned: Henry is one of the most predictable fantasy commodities out there and that should be true in 2021 whether Arthur Smith takes a head coaching job or not.
- ADP: #8 Overall (RB7)
- Approximate Finish: RB23
- What Happened: After Damien Williams opted out, the rookie became an instant first-round fantasy pick. He ran all over Houston in Week 1 but accounted for only four touchdowns and two games over 100 yards for the rest of the season. He was active but didn’t play in Week 13 with an illness and he missed Weeks 16-17 with a groin injury.
- What We Learned: Maybe Damien Williams is actually good? Edwards-Helaire didn’t pop in the passing game as he did at LSU (or like Williams did at times in Kansas City), and he wasn’t successful or even a big factor in red zone playcalling. He was a fantasy bust this year.
Josh Jacobs, LV
- ADP: #9 Overall (RB8)
- Approximate Finish: RB15 on a points per game basis with one missed game due to an ankle injury
- What Happened: After a huge game to start the season, Jacobs was a low ceiling RB2 with only a few ceiling games. He regressed in rushing efficiency but scored more often. More importantly, his passing game production only ticked up incrementally instead of the promised spike that pushed him into the first round despite notching only third-round production in 2019.
- What We Learned: The Raiders not getting the most out of Jacobs isn’t going to just be a rookie year issue and the Raiders offense is going to be too inconsistent to support a first-round fantasy running back. He’ll be at least a round cheaper this year.
Nick Chubb, CLE
- ADP: #10 Overall (RB9)
- Approximate Finish: RB7 on a point-per-game basis with four missed games due to a knee injury,
- What Happened: Chubb’s total touchdowns and yards per carry got a bump in the Kevin Stefanski offense, pushing his 2020 points per game above his 2019 rate even though he had to share with Kareem Hunt for the whole season instead of just half of the season.
- What We Learned: Chubb is a badass and basically Derrick Henry without the heavy workload. He’ll be a fine pick at the end of the first round.
Miles Sanders, PHI
- ADP: #12 Overall (RB10)
- Approximate Finish: RB19 on a points per game basis with three games missed due to ankle and knee injuries
- What Happened: Sanders had a huge last month of 2019 and the Eagles offense rode him to a playoff berth. Fantasy teams looking to do the same with a late first-round pick were disappointed as the Eagles offense collapsed around him and his best game of the year came right after his two worst. Sanders showed the ability to take it to the house from anywhere on the field, but his performance and usage in the passing game was inconsistent.
- What We Learned: Like the rest of the Eagles offense, it’s hard to know how much of the failure was based on the unit being ineffective as a whole, and how much the individual contributed to that failure. Sanders still showed his physical ability is special and it’s certainly too early to conclude that he won’t eventually hit his considerably high ceiling. He’ll be worth considering if he falls to the third round.
Joe Mixon, CIN
- ADP: Late first/Early second (RB11)
- Approximate Finish: RB9 through six games, but mostly due to a huge Week 4
- What Happened: After much anticipation of Mixon in a Joe Burrow led offense kept expectations high, Mixon was mostly a dud or very mild success through six games, with one 181 total yard/3 touchdown game against the Jacksonville Jaguars to buoy his season-long average. He left Week 6 with a foot injury (and returned) and then didn’t play again in 2020 despite not going on injured reserve.
- What We Learned: It’s hard to say. Mixon’s foot gave way, but he had played at least 14 games in each of his first three seasons. Burrow didn’t help his overall production, but Mixon was on pace for a career-high in catches. Like Sanders, he should come at (at least) a two-round discount from 2020 prices and will be worth the investment.
Aaron Jones, GB
- ADP: Second round (RB12)
- Approximate Finish: RB5 on a point-per-game basis with two missed games due to a calf injury
- What Happened: Jones was still a success and worth his draft cost, but his passing game efficiency and touchdown rate dropped off and Jamaal Williams still got about â…“ of the work.
- What We Learned: Jones proved his 2019 was not a fluke, but that won’t be much help in figuring out where to draft him in 2021 if he’s on a new team. Even if the Packers keep Jones, you have to wonder how much 2020 second-round pick A.J. Dillon’s workload will increase. His ADP should drop and he’ll come with some risk despite his stellar track record.
Kenyan Drake, ARI
- ADP: Second round (RB13)
- Approximate Finish: RB24
- What Happened: Drake was paid like a lead back and he got a lead back workload on the ground. The problem was inefficiency in the Cardinals running game and Chase Edmonds making a big dent in Drake’s passing game involvement. Drake didn’t break down during his first full season in a lead role, but he didn’t exactly make a case for staying in that big of a role in 2021.
- What We Learned: Drake isn’t a special back, or at least special enough to overcome the Cardinals running game woes except against weak competition. His dynasty and redraft values are going into freefall as we wait to see if he’ll be regarded higher than players like Leonard Fournette and James Conner in free agency.
Austin Ekeler, LAC
- ADP: Second Round (RB14)
- Approximate Finish: RB11 on a points per game basis with six games missed due to a hamstring injury
- What Happened: We were worried about Ekeler coming into the season because he was going to play in a Tyrod Taylor offense, but by Week 2, he was in a Justin Herbert offense. He was just beginning to take off before a hamstring injury in Week 4 struck him down. When he returned the Chargers offense was slowing down and he fluctuated between 12-17 touch RB2 games and 20+ touch RB1 games for the rest of the season, with his usual heavy passing game involvement, but only three touches all year inside the five-yard line.
- What We Learned: Not much that will help us for 2021. The limiting factor on the offense, Anthony Lynn, is gone, and the Chargers should focus their head coach hire on someone who will help Herbert’s development. Ekeler should be set up for more big plays and maybe more touchdowns under a new regime, and he should be drafted as high or higher as he was in 2020 with no lingering worries about Taylor and Lynn.
Players Drafted as RB2s in 2020
Chris Carson, SEA
- ADP: Third Round (RB15)
- Approximate Finish: RB12 on a points per game basis with four missed games due to a foot injury
- What Happened: Carson played up to his normal high level of play and was the clear lead back. A more pass-heavy offense early and an inept offense later in the season meant he never got more than 20 touches or 17 carries in a game, but his touchdown output and increased involvement in the passing game still made him a strong RB2.
- What We Learned: Carson is good at football and can remain central in any type of offense. We’ll see if the Seahawks bring him back in free agency or if he signs to start elsewhere.
Todd Gurley, ATL
- ADP: Third Round (RB16)
- Approximate Finish: RB30 with one game missed due to a knee injury
- What Happened: Gurley scored seven times in the first seven games and was actually a viable RB2 with upside, but fell off of a cliff in the second half of the season due in part to knee issues. Eventually, the team acknowledged that Ito Smith was outplaying him.
- What We Learned: Gurley is only 26, but he’s in a similar decline phase to backs that are 30 or older. He can still contribute to an NFL team, but his fantasy-relevant days are probably behind him.
James Conner, PIT
- ADP: Third Round (RB17)
- Approximate Finish: RB26 on a points per game basis with three games missed due to coronavirus and a quad injury
- What Happened: Conner got dinged in the first game of the season and Benny Snell had a strong game against the Giants in his stead. He bounced back for a strong first half of the season before he and the Steelers running game collapsed.
- What We Learned: Conner is a solid all-around back, but he won’t elevate his offense or transcend a poor running game. He’s likely to be a committee back at best next season after he likely tests his value in free agency. The Steelers just don’t have the cap room to sign him to what he would ask for before testing the market.
Leonard Fournette, JAX/TB
- ADP: Third Round (RB18) - lower after his release before the season
- Approximate Finish: RB36 on a points per game basis with two missed games due to a hamstring injury and one healthy scratch.
- What Happened: Fournette was released by Jacksonville before the season, who understood what they had in James Robinson, and then added by Tampa on a one-year, two million dollar deal. He never completely took over the backfield from Ronald Jones II but had a big game finishing a win over Carolina in Week 2, and produced well in place of Jones when he missed Week 15 and 16 with covid and a broken finger.
- What We Learned: Fournette isn’t special in NFL running back talent terms, and will likely be a committee back at best wherever he signs next year.
David Johnson, HOU
- ADP: Third/Fourth Round (RB19)
- Approximate Finish: RB18 on a points per game basis, missing three games with a concussion and one with covid
- What Happened: Johnson flashed his old burst in the first game of the season but was a mediocre fantasy back as the Texans didn’t use his considerable talent as a receiver often until Week 15.
- What We Learned: Johnson still has game going into the season that will see him turn 30, but will the Texans keep him at an 8+ million dollar price tag? The free-agent market probably wouldn’t give him a warm reception.
Le'Veon Bell, NYJ/KC
- ADP: Third/Fourth Round (RB20)
- Approximate Finish: RB59 on a points per game basis with three missed games due to a hamstring injury and one due to covid protocol after signing with a new team.
- What Happened: Bell hurt his hamstring in Week 1 and then after he returned, got his walking papers after Week 5. Landing with Kansas City seemed exciting, but Bell couldn’t even overcome Darrel Williams on the depth chart.
- What We Learned: The Steelers were right, Bell is toast. He might get a ring, but he’ll only play next season if he’s willing to be at the bottom of the depth chart.
Melvin Gordon III, DEN
- ADP: Third/Fourth Round (RB21)
- Approximate Finish: RB25 on a points per game basis with one missed game due to illness/arrest
- What Happened: Gordon found himself in a full-blown RBBC with Phillip Lindsay, but Lindsay got hurt early and Gordon had two nice games during Lindsay’s three-game absence. Gordon dominated rushing touchdowns and was running well at the end of the year.
- What We Learned: Phillip Lindsay won’t go away and the Broncos offense isn’t going to create a fantasy stud in this incarnation. Gordon will face a multi-game suspension to open the season, but is probably safe since his dead cap number is higher than his salary.
Jonathan Taylor, IND
- ADP: Third/Fourth Round (RB22)
- Approximate Finish: RB14 on a points per game basis with one missed game due to covid
- What Happened: Taylor started the season firmly behind Marlon Mack, who tore an Achilles in Week 1. Fantasy players thought they got a league winner in Taylor, but he struggled until a massive finish after missing Week 12 with covid.
- What We Learned: Be patient with rookie running backs. Taylor will likely get into the first round of some 2021 fantasy drafts unless the Colts bring back Mack on a cheap deal.
Mark Ingram II, BAL
- ADP: Fourth Round (RB23)
- Approximate Finish: RB77
- What Happened: Ingram’s role shrunk with the addition of J.K. Dobbins and he was phased out by the end of the season.
- What We Learned: As with so many of the disappointments on this list, don’t draft backs on the downslope of their career arc.
Raheem Mostert, SF
- ADP: Fourth/Fifth Round (RB24)
- Approximate Finish: RB27 with seven missed games, mostly due to an ankle injury
- What Happened: Mostert had a quasi-holdout but got the 49ers to give him more financial consideration in light of his contributions. He came out of the game red hot, but hurt his ankle in Week 2 and was never the same, although he still led the team in carries in every game he finished.
- What We Learned: Mostert is good and can break a touchdown from anywhere on the field, but maybe the 49ers knew what they were doing when they didn’t install him as a clear lead back. He’ll be under contract next season and a good pick if he’s available in the back half of drafts.
Antonio Gibson, WAS
- ADP: Tenth Round (RB42)
- Approximate Finish: RB16 on a points per game basis with two games missed due to a toe injury
- What Happened: The Football Team eased the raw Gibson in, but he came on to feast on the bottom-dwelling Dallas, Cincinnati, and Detroit defenses to surge to strong RB1 status before hurting his toe in Week 13 against the Steelers
- What We Learned: Experience in college is overrated when a player is a David Johnson-esque prospect physically. Rookie running backs are almost always the best bench pick gambles.
James Robinson, JAX
- ADP: Undrafted
- Approximate Finish: RB6 with one missed game due to an ankle injury
- What Happened: The Jaguars decided to release Leonard Fournette right before the season in large part because of what they saw in Robinson, and they were right. He rose above a 1-15 to be a strong game script proof RB1 and gave anyone who drafted him or added him after Week 1 a gift RB1.
- What We Learned: Rookie running backs are the best bench picks, lack of pedigree shouldn’t disqualify a back with ample opportunity, James Robinson is really good.
David Montgomery, CHI
- ADP: Fifth/Sixth Round (RB27)
- Approximate Finish: RB8 with one missed game due to a concussion
- What Happened: Montgomery came out of the gate strong and looked especially good against the Giants in Week 2, but languished with the rest of the Bears offense through Week 9, despite added opportunity after Tarik Cohen suffered a torn ACL. After missing Week 10 with a concussion, Montgomery came roaring out of the Week 11 bye and he was the #1 fantasy running back from Weeks 12-16.
- What We Learned: Patience paid off with Montgomery, along with added opportunity in the passing game. With the coaching staff returning for the 2021 season, Montgomery could be a value pick as he’s likely to be available outside of the top 10 running backs drafted.
Mike Davis, CAR
- ADP: Undrafted
- Approximate Finish: RB16 from Weeks 2-16, RB6 from Weeks 2-6
- What Happened: Christian McCaffrey went down in Week 2, and was only able to return for one start in Week 9 before his season was over, giving Davis the starting job. He was an RB1 out of the gate after McCaffrey got hurt and useful depth in the second half of the season as the Panthers' hopes faded.
- What We Learned: Mike Davis is actually a good running back and every backup should be on your radar.
Myles Gaskin, MIA
- ADP: Undrafted
- Approximate Finish: RB10 on a points per game basis with four games missed due to a knee injury and two due to covid
- What Happened: The Dolphins signed Jordan Howard and traded for Matt Breida in the offseason, but it ended up that their best running back was already on the roster. Gaskin wasn’t a force on the ground, but he was competent. His pass-catching skills gave him a high weekly floor with little competition for touches, and he was a league winner for anyone who plugged him when he returned to the lineup in Week 16.
- What We Learned: Touches by default can create a reliable fantasy PPR running back when he is involved in the passing game. Unfortunately for Gaskin, the Dolphins are likely to draft or sign a running back this offseason (or both), and they’ll be better than Howard and more durable than Breida.
Notable Bench Picks
Devin Singletary, BUF
- ADP: Fifth Round (RB25)
- Approximate Finish: RB38
- What Happened: After a strong finish to 2019, Singletary was going to share with third-round pick Zack Moss in 2020, touching off a Moss or Singletary debate. The right answer was "neither" as the Bills morphed to a pass-first Josh Allen-centric offense. Singletary was a solid play in two out of three games that Moss missed and had a garbage-time touchdown in Week 15, but otherwise, Singletary was a non-factor and a fantasy bust.
- What We Learned: Singletary is best-suited as a complement after giving some promise of becoming a lead back in 2019 and sometimes offenses can change dramatically in one offseason even though they have the same coordinator.
Cam Akers, LAR
- ADP: Fifth Round (RB26)
- Approximate Finish: RB55 with two missed games because of a rib injury and one game missed because of an ankle injury. He also had two games where he was active, but didn’t touch the ball. He was RB12 from Weeks 12-14.
- What Happened: Akers was the #2 back behind Malcolm Brown in Week 1 but suffered a rib injury early in Week 2 and when he came back in Week 5 he was third in snaps. He finally took over the backfield in Week 13, but suffered an ankle injury in Week 15 during the upset loss to the Jets and missed Week 16.
- What We Learned: Sean McVay meant it when he said he was going to emulate Kyle Shanahan’s approach to backfield management, but the cream rose to the top eventually as Akers was the lead back (when healthy) from Week 12 on and he looked deserving of the part. He’ll be available in the third round or later next year and should be a value pick.
Ronald Jones II, TB
- ADP: Sixth Round (RB28)
- Approximate Finish: RB22 on a points per game basis with two missed games due to finger injury/covid.
- What Happened: After Week 2, it looked like we were doomed to another frustrating committee in the Tampa backfield, but Leonard Fournette hurt his hamstring in Week 3 and Jones took over, posting consistent startable RB2 numbers with weekly RB1 upside before missing Weeks 15 and 16.
- What We Learned: Jones has become less than a liability in the passing game, and his addition of weight and tackle-breaking ability hasn’t taken away his wheels. If the Bucs don’t bring back Fournette or add someone like James White in free agency, Jones will be set up for an even better season.
Kareem Hunt, CLE
- ADP: Sixth Round (RB29)
- Approximate Finish: RB20
- What Happened: Hunt was slightly behind Nick Chubb in snaps and touches, but his quality and the quality of the opportunities he got still made him a solid RB2, especially in PPR leagues. He was actually more valuable while Chubb was in than he was in the four games Chubb missed with a knee injury.
- What We Learned: Just a reinforcement that the Browns offense can support two every week starting fantasy running backs, which was apparent in the second half of 2019. Hunt’s ADP should inch up this year.
D'Andre Swift, DET
- ADP: Sixth Round (RB30)
- Approximate Finish: RB17 on a points per game basis, with three missed games due to a concussion
- What Happened: Swift had a crushing game-losing drop in Week 1 and wasn’t fully phased into the starting lineup until Week 9, but he established himself as a solid RB2 with weekly RB1 upside once the team trusted him.
- What We Learned: Swift is a good all-around back who will translate on Sundays. The new regime in Detroit should give Swift all of the work he can handle in 2021. Balancing the value of that likely volume vs. playing on a likely losing team with a one-dimensional offense will be a tough call when we’re drafting a running back around Swift’s ADP.
J.K. Dobbins, BAL
- ADP: Seventh Round (RB31)
- Approximate Finish: RB37 on a points per game basis with one game missed due to covid. RB16 from Weeks 11-16
- What Happened: Dobbins was eased in a la Ray Rice under John Harbaugh, but became the lead back in a committee in Week 11 and provided solid RB2 scoring with a low ceiling from there on out.
- What We Learned: Be patient with rookie running backs. The structure of the Ravens backfield may keep it from yielding a true RB1. Dobbins is as good as we hoped.
Injury Upside Backups
Latavius Murray, NO
- ADP: Ninth Round (RB40)
- What Happened: Murray finished as RB42 but got no starts. His year-end stats were similar to 2019, but instead of two massive starts to help fantasy teams, his two two-score games came somewhat randomly. He’ll be a top handcuff again in 2021 unless the Saints decide 3.3 million is too much for his services (they shouldn’t).
Alexander Mattison, MIN
- ADP: Tenth Round (RB44)
- What Happened: Mattison got one start but was overwhelmed by the Falcons defense. He also had a 100-yard game in the contest Dalvin Cook left the week before his start, and he looked most promising when Cook sat in Week 17. He also missed two games with an illness and one with a concussion. He’ll remain a top handcuff as Cook will assuredly go in the top five of every draft.
Tony Pollard, DAL
- ADP: Twelfth Round (RB47)
- What Happened: Pollard was massive in the one game Ezekiel Elliott missed, which happened to be in Week 15, but the Cowboys offense held him down in the big play category over the course of the season and the buzz he generated in his rookie year died down a bit.
Boston Scott, PHI
- ADP: 13th-15th Round (RB52)
- What Happened: Scott had some momentum going into the season because Miles Sanders' ankle injury was bad enough for him to miss Week 1. Scott got two more starts when Sanders suffered a knee injury in Week 6, but only a last-second touchdown catch to beat the Giants made him a decent play in any of the opportunities. He should be back with the Eagles, but he might not be the clear backup going into the 2021 season.
Carlos Hyde, SEA
- ADP: 15th+ Round (RB57)
- What Happened: Hyde still looked like a viable NFL running back in 2020, but he missed three of the four games that Chris Carson missed. He was good in relief of Carson and in the one start he replaced Carson, but he won’t be a top depth priority in this stacked free-agent market. If the Seahawks bring him back, but not Carson, we should pay closer attention.
Jamaal Williams, GB
- ADP: 15th+ Round (RB64)
- What Happened: Williams was a solid RB1 in the two games Aaron Jones missed with a calf injury and that probably makes him the most valuable handcuff in 2020 - which seems to bring up the question of whether handcuffs make sense outside of deep leagues with thin waiver wires. He’ll be a free agent next year along with Jones as AJ Dillon likely takes over in 2021.
Darrell Henderson, LAR
- ADP: Eleventh Round (RB45)
- What Happened: Henderson was the lead back for most of the first half of the season and was certainly worth the pick used to add him to fantasy teams, but he eventually gave way to rookie Cam Akers and should be Akers' backup in 2021.
Adrian Peterson, DET
- ADP: Eleventh Round (RB46)
- What Happened: Peterson was actually a viable play in two of the three games that D'Andre Swift missed and showed that he doesn’t look out of place on an NFL field at age 35. We’ll see if his Hall of Fame eligibility clock starts ticking in 2021.
Chase Edmonds, ARI
- ADP: Twelfth Round (RB48)
- What Happened: Edmonds was a good depth back in PPR leagues, finishing as RB33, but his one start in place of Kenyan Drake, coming off of his best fantasy game of the year, was a bit of a letdown and indictment of the Cardinals inability to establish the run. He still has a chance to go into the 2021 season as the most valuable fantasy back on the Cardinals roster if they don’t bring back Drake or add anyone of consequence to the backfield.
Damien Harris, NE
- ADP: Twelfth Round (RB49)
- What Happened: Harris missed three games to begin the season (finger surgery) and three at the end (ankle) but was the lead back the rest of the way. He took over Sony Michel’s role, contributing little in the passing game and posting only modest ceiling games, but he was obviously held back by a limited offense and a quarterback who was the top goal-line run option. He could have more value in 2021, but not a lot more.
Duke Johnson Jr, HOU
- ADP: Twelfth Round (RB51)
- What Happened: Johnson missed five games, but also got three starts while David Johnson was on injured reserve with a concussion. He was only useful for fantasy in the Thanksgiving romp over the Lions, but could still be on our radar next year if the Texans keep him at five million over David Johnson at 8+ million.
Nyheim Hines, IND
- ADP: 13th-15th Round (RB55)
- What Happened: Hines finished as RB29 in PPR leagues but was a best-ball hero with three multi-touchdown games. He was a very useful target for Philip Rivers, but it is hard to know how valuable he will be with the Colts' new quarterback, whoever he is.
Justin Jackson, LAC
- ADP: 13th-15th Round (RB54)
- What Happened: Jackson was relevant in fantasy leagues for the first three games that Austin Ekeler missed, then he got hurt. When he returned, Kalen Ballage had moved ahead of him on the depth chart. He’ll battle to re-establish himself as the #2 back this offseason.
Jerick McKinnon, SF
- ADP: 15th+ Round (RB56)
- What Happened: McKinnon was actually RB14 in PPR leagues through four weeks thanks to a combination of touchdown frequency and Raheem Mostert injury opportunity. He wore down after a heavy Week 4 workload but did resurface for a couple of weeks of relevance when both Mostert and Jeff Wilson were out. He’ll be a role-playing back in free agency and could return to the 49ers on a cheap deal.
Joshua Kelley, LAC
- ADP: 15th+ Round (RB59)
- What Happened: The fourth-round pick scored in Week 1 and had 25 touches in Week 2, but saw his fantasy value diminish despite an Austin Ekeler injury. He was a healthy scratch by the end of the season but will have a chance to redeem himself under a new staff this year.
Wayne Gallman, NYG
- ADP: Undrafted
- What Happened: Gallman took a back seat to new addition Devonta Freeman when Saquon Barkley went down, but he outplayed and eventually overtook an injured Freeman, putting together a five-game scoring streak and 135-yard command performance in an upset win at Seattle. He’s a free agent and will be looking for a backup role at best.
Devonta Freeman, NYG
- ADP: Undrafted
- What Happened: Freeman waited on the free-agent street for a good opportunity and got one quickly when Saquon Barkley tore an ACL in Week 2. He looked like a back whose best days are definitely behind him and only contributed a good fantasy game when he faced the reeling Cowboys offense.
Malcolm Brown, LAR
- ADP: Undrafted
- What Happened: For the second straight season, Brown had a big Week 1 as part of an unsettled backfield and then was basically a fantasy non-factor for the rest of the season. He’ll be looking for a job in free agency.
J.D. McKissic, WAS
- ADP: Undrafted
- What Happened: McKissic became a frequent checkdown target for four different quarterbacks in a limited Washington pass offense and showed surprising ability as a runner when Antonio Gibson was out. He finished as RB28 in PPR leagues, but he was RB14 from Weeks 9-16.
Gus Edwards, BAL
- ADP: Undrafted
- What Happened: Edwards moved ahead of Mark Ingram II by the end of the year and scored six times, but was never better than a desperation play because Robert Griffin III III started the only game that JK Dobbins missed. Edwards should be back on a healthy restricted free agent tender in 2021.
Kalen Ballage, LAC
- ADP: Undrafted
- What Happened: Ballage started the season reunited with Adam Gase on the Jets and ended it looking more patient and in his element on an NFL field as the Chargers #2 back. The Chargers can keep him if they decide to give him a restricted free agent tender.
Giovani Bernard, CIN
- ADP: Undrafted
- What Happened: Bernard was technically a handcuff, but he wasn’t regarded highly enough to be drafted in most leagues. When Joe Mixon went down, Bernard had two RB1 games with Joe Burrow, but his performance dropped off and bottomed out when Brandon Allen entered the lineup. A Monday night upset win over the Steelers started by Ryan Finley was a high point for Bernard and he also put up a strong RB1 game in Week 16 against the Texans, a game that cost the Bengals the #3 pick. He’s still under contract for about four million dollars in 2021.
Rex Burkhead, NE
- ADP: Undrafted
- What Happened: Burkhead was an afterthought coming into the season, but he posted two multi-touchdown games and showed he still had game before his season was ended in Week 11 by a knee injury. We’ll see if Bill Belichick wants to bring him back for one more ride in 2021.
Salvon Ahmed, MIA
- ADP: Undrafted
- What Happened: The Dolphins added Ahmed to their ragtag running back room after he failed to stick on the 49ers roster as an undrafted free agent. His performance allowed them to move on from Jordan Howard and gave fantasy teams two good games out of his three starts, which included an interruption of a three-game absence due to a shoulder injury. He’ll be the team’s #3 back at best next year and might not make the final roster.
Jeff Wilson, SF
- ADP: Undrafted
- What Happened: Wilson stuck at the end of the roster but did nothing of note until he got a surprise start in Week 7. All he did was post 112 yards and three scores, but he also left the game with a high ankle sprain. He split the backfield with Raheem Mostert when he returned and was a strong RB1 in Weeks 16-17 when Mostert was out again. Wilson is a restricted free agent but should be back and share the backfield with Mostert again in 2021.
Wasted Bench Picks
Jordan Howard, MIA/PHI
- ADP: Seventh/Eighth Round (RB32)
- What Happened: Howard was the short-yardage back, which meant touchdowns… and not much else. The 26-year-old had less juice than the mid-30s Frank Gore and Adrian Peterson. He was phased out of the offense in the second half of the year and he’s lucky he got one more decent contract before he prematurely went over the cliff.
Phillip Lindsay, DEN
- ADP: Eighth Round (RB33)
- What Happened: Lindsay was set up to be in close to a 50-50 committee with Melvin Gordon III, defying the ADP gap between the two, but a bout with turf toe that began in Week 1 ruined his season. He had a short renaissance when he initially returned from the injury with a 100-yard game while Gordon sat vs. New England and a couple of big runs in following weeks, but Lindsay wore down as the season went on, likely reinforcing the Broncos sense that he isn’t cut out to be a lead back as he heads to restricted free agency.
Marlon Mack, IND
- ADP: Eighth Round (RB34)
- What Happened: Mack was probably set up to be a hit at ADP. He had a very productive quarter and a half of football before tearing his Achilles in Week 1. Jonathan Taylor was not going to overtake him the way he was playing in the first half of the year, so Mack’s injury took away a very valuable "what could have been". We’ll see how the free-agent market treats him with an abundance of backs available.
Kerryon Johnson, DET
- ADP: Eighth Round (RB35)
- What Happened: Reports of Johnson wearing a knee brace during camp were ominous and if they scared you away from him, you were right. He joins Sony Michel and Todd Gurley on the list of backs who have apparently had their careers shortened or greatly diminished because of knee deterioration.
James White, NE
- ADP: Ninth Round (RB36)
- What Happened: Despite helping Christian McCaffrey have his first 100+ catch season in 2018, Cam Newton never came to rely on White in the passing game.
Tarik Cohen, CHI
- ADP: Ninth Round (RB37)
- What Happened: Cohen suffered a torn ACL in Week 3, but he wasn’t much of a fantasy factor before that.
Matt Breida, MIA
- ADP: Ninth Round (RB38)
- What Happened: Breida was overtaken quickly by Myles Gaskin and then couldn’t stay healthy enough to have a sustained opportunity when Gaskin missed time.
Zack Moss, BUF
- ADP: Ninth Round (RB39)
- What Happened: Josh Allen was the goal line back more often than not and the Bills never committed to the run. Moss also had a toe injury early in the season that cost him three games. He didn’t look out of place on an NFL field, but he didn’t present a long-term answer for the team at running back.
Tevin Coleman, SF
- ADP: Ninth/Tenth Round (RB41)
- What Happened: Coleman hurt his knee in Week 2 and was a nonfactor after that.
Sony Michel, NE
- ADP: Tenth Round (RB43)
- What Happened: Michel went on injured reserve with a quad injury in Week 3 and by the time he returned, he had taken a back seat to Damien Harris. Michel did have a big Week 17 and looked good in the place of Harris from Week 15 on.
Ke'Shawn Vaughn, TB
- ADP: 13th-15th Round (RB50)
- What Happened: The Bucs signed LeSean McCoy during camp and Vaughn barely played outside of garbage time. He didn’t look ready for extended action when he did play during the competitive section of a game.
A.J. Dillon, GB
- ADP: 13th-15th Round (RB53)
- What Happened: Dillon got only a cursory amount of backup work behind Jamaal Williams when Aaron Jones missed two games, but he popped in Week 16 when Williams was out and looked like the kind of back the Packers hoped they were getting when they took him in the second round - someone you can yoke your run game to that can finish out wins and break the back of a tired defense.