Breaking down the top 100 RB's into 15 tiers to help you win your fantasy football draft! The following tiers below are based off PPR (point per reception) scoring formats. Remember, it's not so much about the specific rankings within each tier, but the rankings of the tiers themselves as a whole. Just because Damien Harris is in tier six with David Johnson doesn't mean you have to draft Harris around the same time Johnson goes off the board. Understanding tiers and how you form your own will allow you to see value in your drafts and capitalize on it when your opponents lets key players slip through the cracks. Disagree with my takes on any of the tiers below? Too high or low on your guy? Hit me up on Twitter @maddjournalist.
ORIGINAL RUNNING BACK TIERS BELOW WITH FULL NOTES:
The Run-CMC Tier
Fantasy's record-setting back from 2019 is our modern day fantasy equivalent to LaDainian Tomlinson. Carolina's complete lack of defense means garbage point galore, especially in PPR formats, for Christian McCaffrey. He is the unanimous #1 pick for a reason. Don't overthink it.
The Dalvin Cook Is Extremely Underrated Tier
I get it, I get it. But do you? While 99% of the industry has Barkley as the #2 overall player/running back off fantasy draft boards, many of those same people continue to sleep on Dalvin Cook.
Ezekiel Elliott looked slow and non-explosive last season while Dallas continues to go up tempo and can only hold back Tony Pollard for so long. Alvin Kamara also looked slower in 2019 than the year before, albeit due to injury, and has to compete with Michael Thomas for targets and Tayson Hill for TD's which caps his ceiling. Insert Cook. The Viking's loss of Stefon Diggs and Zimmer's propensity for a run-first offense both feed directly into Cook's increased 2020 value. He will be Cousin's de-facto #2 in the passing game behind Adam Thielen, who battle injury seemingly all of last season. The Vikings will either be running through Cook or dumping off short passes to him while rookie Justin Jefferson acclimates to the NFL level. Cook could easily be this year's #2 RB.
Cook has way less competition for targets than Saquon Barkley, who when facing negative game scripts will be losing opportunities to a crowded pass-catcher corps. Assuming Cook's contract negotiations aren't an issue come draft time, I would take him at #3 overall without hesitation and would strongly consider drafting him #2 overall, ahead of Barkley, in PPR scoring fantasy formats.
The "RB1 is Deep AF This Year" Tier
We already touched on Kamara's limited ceiling in our Tier 2 writeup, losing targets to Thomas, as well as the newly-acquired Emmanuel Sanders. Latavius Murray was fantasy's #1 overall RB when Kamara missed time last season, proving he is not only a capable backup but a rock solid 1B to Kamara's 1A. Add all of this to "Taysom The Touchdown Vulture," and I am very wary of everyone assuming Kamara is due to for so much positive regression in the TD department. He is a safe pick with a high floor to be your RB1. I don't think the upside is truly there like for Barkley/Cook.
Zeke looked slower and less explosive in 2019, so why would the Cowboys continue to give him 20+ touches when Tony Pollard waits in the wings? Mike McCarthy had no problem splitting time between Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams in Green Bay, and CeeDee Lamb/Blake Jarwin are young talents who deserve their fair share of targets as well. I'd rather have my RB1 have a guaranteed target floor and come into 2020 with a chance to be more explosive, stronger and faster.
Kenyan Drake, Miles Sanders and Austin Ekeler all dominated touches and performed at a high level when given lead back duties last year and all have relatively low mileage on their tires. Ekeler faded into RB2 territory once Melvin Gordon re-entered the fold in 2019, but Gordon is gone and Ekeler reclaims lead back duties and will be Tyrod Taylor's primary check-down option in a run-first Anthony Lynn-led offense. The Chargers want to play defense and run the ball. Ekeler is their guy.
Questions will seemingly remain about the passing-game usage for Derrick Henry and Joe Mixon, but they are cemented into workhorse roles on their teams. Could Clyde Edwards-Helaire (pronounced "Eelaire"/the H is silent) really become the next Brian Westbrook? Andy Reid seems to believe so, and he hasn't been a coach to heap so much high praise on rookie's in the past. If you wanted to take CEH #2 overall I wouldn't blame you. He is now the 1.01 target in dynasty drafts.
The "Low-End RB1 with Top-5 Upside" Tier
Let's not forget Aaron Jones finished 2019 as fantasy's clear-cut #2 overall fantasy RB. While we don't expect him to repeat his TD numbers from last season, would be surprised if he gets close? Jones is playing in a contract year and the Packers could elect to run him into the ground and just go with rookie AJ Dillon as the guy in 2021. Jones is a top-5 talent at the position in this league and is the rare type of player who could be fantasy's #2 overall RB with barely over 50% of his team's touches. If only the Packers threw to him more consistently, his fantasy value would skyrocket.
Josh Jacobs' terribly low passing-game usage seems to be the only thing holding him back from true three-down workhorses status, especially when the Raiders enter 2020 with one of the toughest schedules in the league. There's nothing more frustrating than owning Jacobs in PPR and watching Gruden take him off the field every other third down play for Jalen Richard.
Melvin Gordon seems like he's been around forever, but the fact remains he is a "mature" 27 years old and probably still a year or two away from slowing down. The fact he missed a large portion of 2019 only bodes well for keeping fresh legs for Denver in 2020. Vic Fangio's bunch wants to play defense and run the ball early and often to take pressure off the young Drew Lock. Gordon will get his chance to shine as the Bronco's three-down workhorse and faces no true competition for targets like he did with Ekeler last season. Gordon has a very high floor and high ceiling this year.
The "RB1 with Red Flags" Tier
Why does Nick Chubb come in all the way at RB17 in our rankings when ECR ("Expert Consensus Rankings") has him at RB12? Two words: Kareem Hunt. Cleveland's go-to passing down back actually outscored Chubb last season in PPR once he took the field after his suspension ended. If you're playing 1/2 point PPR or standard by all means move Chubb up a few spots, but the fact remains that Hunt remains on the roster. Until that changes, Chubb, one of the NFL's most explosive and most talented players, will have his fantasy football ceiling extremely capped.
Chris Carson and James Conner don't have the same PPR red flags as Chubb, but they do carry the red flag of injury risk. Both guys seemed to be incapable of escaping the injury report week in and week out in 2019, but they are both coming into this season seemingly healthy. If they stay healthy they remain RB1 workhorses on two of the most run-centric offenses in the league. Seattle's addition of Jamal Adams will only make Peter Carroll & Co want to run the ball even more this year.
The Final-Shot-At-Glory Tier
At one point or another over the past five years, each of these three guys were considered elite running backs and locked-in first round picks, if not 1.01 locked-in picks. Boy do things change quickly at running back. Leonard Fournette and Le'Veon Bell could be involved in trade rumors all year, or even benched. Same goes for Todd Gurley, who enters a great situation in Atlanta but will face questions about his knees week in and week out. These are high-risk, high-upside RB2's in 2020 but if they fall far enough in your drafts could present some decent mid-round value.
The "High-End RB2" Tier
Some lack passing-game upside (Mark Ingram, Raheem Mostert) while others lack TD/scoring-opportunity upside (Devin Singletary, David Montgomery). Others seem to have shaky-at-best holds on the starting RB jobs for their respective teams (Ronald Jones, De'Andre Swift, Jonathan Taylor). All in all though, each of these guys in Tier 7 could present tons of value if they fall into the middle rounds of your fantasy draft. I personally prefer the high floors of Mostert and Ingram on the two best rushing offenses in the NFL, but the raw upside of Taylor and Swift - and RoJo, for that matter - are enough for me take them first depending on how my roster construction sets up.
The "Potential Mid-Round League WInner" Tier
Antonio Gibson skyrockets into Tier 8 with the news of Derrius Guice's arrest and release from Washington. Gibson averaged less than three (3!) carries per game at Memphis in 2019, but his unique combination of size, speed and explosiveness make him a gamble with major upside worth taking in the middle rounds of your fantasy drafts. Gibson could operate out of the slot, catch passes out of the backfield and move all around the field while Washington faces a lot of negative gamescripts in 2020. While he isn't nearly as close to a potential hefty workload a la David Johnson in Houston, at this point in the draft I want at least half of my picks to be swinging for the fences. If you don't buy the hype, then just watch this video. He could be the NFL's next #humancheatcode.
Kareem Hunt, as we stated in our Tier 5 writeup, literally outscored Nick Chubb in PPR after returning to the field in 2019. While he is unlikely to do that in 2020, his upside only increases with Kevin Stefanski bringing his creativity and proclivity for 2RB/2TE sets to Cleveland's offense. Hunt, just like Latavius Murray in our next tier, could easily become fantasy's #1 overall RB if the guy ahead of him goes down, but even with a healthy Chubb in Cleveland he has plenty of standalone value and could provide consistent RB2 production week to week with his targets/catches alone.
The aforementioned Johnson just didn't look right in 2019 and I struggle to believe just because Bill O'Brien essentially traded Nuke Hopkins for Johnson and some picks that Johnson is still a viable starting RB in this league. Back issues can be the worst of all, and Duke Johnson's presence could limit David Johnson's true upside in the passing game that he once had with the Arizona Cardinals.
James White and Tarik Cohen stand to benefit from the increased likelihood of negative gamescripts in 2020, while Cam Newton's suspect shoulder and the Patriots' slew of key players opting out will lead to more check downs for White as New England could be trailing more often than not this season. Cam Akers and Darrell Henderson enter this tier as Sean McVay continues to stress an open competition for RB1 duties in Los Angeles. Each of these two flashed major potential in college and whoever wins this job could shine in 2020 for the Rams as well.
The "Steady Eddy" Tier
Veteran guys at the top (Marlon Mack, Tevin Coleman, Kerryon Johnson) who offer continuity for their respective coaching staffs in a COVID-19 short-staffed season. These guys could be worth grabbing as early handcuffs if you take Mostert, Swift or Taylor, but they also offer standalone value as potential starters in solid offenses. Zack Moss and Ke'Shawn Vaughn could compete for their teams' starting RB jobs sooner rather than later, while Damien Harris, who seemingly didn't touch the field as a rookie in 2019, could be given an extended tryout if the Patriots start to lose games early after losing so many key players to COVID-19 opt outs and Cam Newton's suspect health. Last but not least is De'Andre Washington, a player rising up draft boards quickly in the wake of Damien Williams opting out for the 2020 season. Washington played with Mahomes at Texas Tech for two seasons (2014-2015) and flashed as a fill-in starter late last season for Josh Jacobs in Oakland. He provides a veteran role and safety net if CEH struggles out of the gate this season.
The "RB2 Upside If All Goes Right Tier"
Guys who are either locked into RB committees or second-string roles on their respective teams but have shown the ability in the past to be starting real-life and fantasy-life starting backs.
The "Premier Handcuff Tier"
Guys who could be first-round targets in future fantasy football drafts but need injuries ahead of them to make much of an impact in 2020. Keep an eye on the Chargers' second-string competition between Joshua Kelley and Justin Jackson, though. The winner of that battle, if there is one, will move up at least one or two tiers and offer standalone value next to Ekeler in Los Angeles.
The "Don't Forget About Me Yet" Tier
Would it shock you if Darrell Williams became Kansas City's starting back after flashing briefly in 2020? Same goes for Chris Thompson reuniting with Jay Gruden in Jacksonville and Nyheim Hines getting the Checkdown King Phillip Rivers as his new QB. Rashaad Penny could return later in the year and become Seattle's lead back if Carson continues to battle though injuries. And it's crazy to think that Jerick McKinnon was a consensus 1st/2nd round pick in fantasy drafts less than two years ago. These guys are all worth late-round fliers in your draft with massive upside for 2020.
The "Super Deep Roster Depth" Tier
Guys who could lock down third-down roles on their respective football teams but also aren't guaranteed a starting job even if the guy ahead of them on the depth chart ever goes down.
The "Backups Who Could Become Waiver Wire Stars" Tier
All it takes is one injury and a waiver claim to envision young guys like Reggie Bonnafon and Bryce Love becoming lead backs for their teams in 2020, but most of the guys on this list are competing with multiple players for touches and will have difficult paths to navigate toward fantasy relevancy.
The "Don't Believe The Hype (Yet)" Tier
Beat reporters have raved about Eno Benjamin and Devine Ozigbo possibly having fast-tracks to the second-string roles in Arizona and Jacksonville, respectively. In a COVID-19 shortened offseason, however, the chances of either one ascending appears less than likely to happen.