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How to navigate the most important part of fantasy football drafts

This group of players being selected between Rd. 3 to 5 will make or break your fantasy football team in 2020.
Leonard Fournette of the Jacksonville Jaguars is being selected at the most crucial part of fantasy football drafts for running backs. (Twitter // @AroundTheNFL)

In fantasy football drafts entering the 2020 NFL season, there’s one portion of the draft that will have the greatest impact on the outcome of your fantasy football season.

It isn’t Rd. 1 or 2. Although vital, the majority of players being selected in this section of the draft are high-end talents that offer stability. The most integral segment of fantasy football drafts occurs from Rd. 3 to 5, and it focuses on a specific position: Running back.

By this point of the draft, there are zero flawless running backs. Even running backs with blemishes are being chosen ahead of this part of the draft. Every running back selected in this range will have a league-altering impact.

If history offers any indication, a large percentage of players from this grouping will perform below expectations and investment cost. Here’s how running backs selected in this portion of the draft in 2019 finished last season.

2019 NFFC RB12/ADP: 25.40, Leonard Fournette (Finished season as PPR RB6)

RB13/ADP: 29.13, Kerryon Johnson (RB58)

RB14/ADP: 29.35, Damien Williams (RB42)

RB15/ADP: 30.86, Aaron Jones (RB2)

RB16/ADP: 32.27, Devonta Freeman (RB21)

RB17/ADP: 35.77, Melvin Gordon (RB23)

RB18/ADP: 37.20, Josh Jacobs (RB19)

RB19/ADP: 38.68, Derrick Henry (RB7)

RB20/ADP: 38.69, Marlon Mack (RB22)

RB21/ADP: 42.84, Chris Carson (RB10)

RB22/ADP: 44.85, Mark Ingram (RB9)

RB23/ADP: 47.14, David Montgomery (RB25)

RB24/ADP: 48.78, Sony Michel (RB36)

RB25/ADP: 53.71, James White (RB20)

RB26/ADP: 53.84, Phillip Lindsay (RB18)

Eight of the 15 tailbacks being selected in Rd. 3 to 5 a year ago finished below expectations. In this mix, however, were some bright-spots. Jones, Fournette, Henry, Ingram and Carson formed half of the top-10 running backs in 2019.

The volatility this portion of the draft provides is enormous, but the end result could be monumental.

Here’s how you should navigate the running backs being selected in Rd. 3 to 5 in drafts for 2020.

Leonard Fournette, RB14/ADP: 26.03

Despite finishing ahead of expectations in 2020, Fournette finds himself being selected in a identical spot to where he was a year ago. That has to do with the fact that Chris Thompson was added to this backfield, a sign that Fournette will likely finish below his mark of 76 receptions from last season.

Fournette is due to find the end zone way more in 2020, however. Although he received more than 300 touches last season, he finished the year with only three touchdowns. I could easily see both trends nullifying each other, meaning the 25-year old could once again outpace his current ADP.

It also helps that he seems extremely motivated as he enters a contract season.

Melvin Gordon, RB15/ADP: 29.05

Gordon had himself a 2019 to forget after his holdout didn’t quite work as planned. He averaged below 4.0 yards per carry and was clearly second fiddle to Austin Ekeler in the Los Angeles Chargers’ backfield.

A fresh start with the Denver Broncos should help Gordon, but he’s still going to have competition in the backfield. Phillip Lindsay, who averaged 4.5 yards per carry on over 200 carries in 2019, has earned a role in this offense. Gordon will be the lead running back, but Lindsay should still remain involved.

If you’re looking for a safe pick in this range, Gordon should return top-20 value at the position. There are some other players going between Rd. 3 to 5 that I’d prefer over him, so I likely won’t have Gordon on many of my rosters.

Todd Gurley, RB16/ADP: 29.01

Departing to the Atlanta Falcons this offseason on a one-year deal, Gurley will be fed the football. Will his body, specifically his arthritic knee, withstand the massive workload? I have my doubts.

Gurley clearly wasn’t operating anywhere near 100% last season. The 223 carries he received in 2019 was the lowest mark of his career. His 254 touches last year were the fewest since his rookie season. Additionally, he wasn’t nearly as effective as he’s been in the past, finishing with a yards per carry below 4.0 and the worst yards per reception number (6.7) of his career.

The upside in a well-run Falcons offense is tantalizing, but the injury risk is too large to assume in Rd. 3.

Jonathan Taylor, RB17/ADP: 32.72

Taylor was the most talented running back entering the 2020 NFL Draft. His landing spot, however, left much to be desired for re-draft fantasy football.

Going to the Indianapolis Colts, a team which already has Marlon Mack and Nyheim Hines in its backfield, is not an optimal fantasy setting. Taylor should immediately emerge as the top back, but the other two should remain involved.

In a contract year, there’s always a possibility that Mack could be traded, but fantasy owners can’t be banking on that to occur. Being selected in the middle of Rd. 3, Taylor’s being properly valued considering the very high ceiling.

Clyde Edwards-Helaire, RB18/ADP: 35.67

Unlike fellow rookie Taylor, Edwards-Helaire landed in the absolute best spot for a running back with the Kansas City Chiefs.

Similarly to Taylor, Edwards-Helaire is entering a previously established backfield. Damien Williams was the lead back last season during the Chiefs’ title run, but he doesn’t bode a very strong resume. He’s never rushed for more than 500 yards and has never started more than six games in a season.

Edwards-Helaire, who has already drawn rave reviews from head coach Andy Reid, should vault to the top spot on the depth chart. The first-round pick should step in and receive the majority of touches in this backfield. He’s someone who I’ll have on plenty of my rosters.

Le’Veon Bell, RB19/ADP: 35.97

Last season was a total disappointment for Bell. After sitting out the season before due to a contract dispute with the Pittsburgh Steelers, he signed with the New York Jets only to struggle mightily.

He finished the year with the lowest yards per carry (3.2) and the second-lowest yards per target number (5.9) of his career. Even with such a flat effort, Bell ended the season as RB15 in PPR leagues.

That’s why I think Bell is a solid selection in fantasy drafts for 2020. I’m not overly concerned about the Frank Gore addition, and last year seemingly was his absolute floor. Going as the RB19 in fantasy drafts, you’re selecting him at a point where the risk of another poor year is already baked in.

Devin Singletary, RB20/ADP: 36.75

Singletary finished fourth among rookie running backs for fantasy points in 2019, even though he split carries with Gore. Singletary should receive a slightly larger role in 2020, but he’ll still likely split carries with rookie Zack Moss.

Singletary was extremely effective on the ground last season, recording 5.1 yards per carry. The Buffalo Bills will remain a run-heavy offense, as the team averaged the sixth-most rushing attempts per game last season.

Finishing as RB29 in PPR last season (while missing three games), his current ADP assumes that he will get both an expanded role and be as efficient. Both are significant leaps of faith to be making in the end of the third and start of the fourth round. I’d refrain from selecting Singletary this early in drafts.

Chris Carson, RB21/ADP: 39.08

I’m not sure what the Seattle Seahawks are trying to do at running back. Carson rumbled for 1,230 yards last season, but the team felt the need to add Carlos Hyde, who also totalled more than 1,000 yards on the ground. On top of bringing in Hyde, Seattle also spent a fourth-round pick on Deejay Dallas in the draft, and at some point, Rashaad Penny will likely return from injury. Travis Homer, who was drafted by the team last season in the sixth-round is also still on the roster.

That’s a lot of names. Carson, however, remains the best of the backfield and the guy head coach Pete Carroll and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer will lean on once again. His seven fumbles from 2019 and his late-season hip injury are minor concerns, but the bruising back has been efficient rushing the ball and serviceable in the passing game. He’s clearly the most talented player from the bunch and the leader of this backfield, something Hyde even admitted.

Carson was RB10 in PPR last season, so coming off the board at RB21 in drafts this year, there’s some clear weariness from fantasy football players. In a run-heavy offense, the risk is completely baked into his ADP, which makes Carson a good value in fantasy football drafts.

James Conner, RB22/ADP: 40.68

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ offense was a fantasy football nightmare in 2019. After breakout seasons, both JuJu Smith-Schuster and Conner took major steps back. If only there was a glaringly obvious reason to pin these shortcomings on… (Hint: look below)

Ben Roethlisberger (Twitter // @AroundTheNFL)

Even if Ben Roethlisberger is 70% of his former self, it’s an upgrade over both Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges. The offense was a total mess with both under center, a situation that will likely be averted this year. Conner will hugely benefit with Roethlisberger back, but he remains a risky proposition in fantasy football due to injuries.

Injuries are hard to predict, but nobody can ignore the the bumps and bruises Conner absorbed last year. The upside, however, is quite large. Conner finished 2018 as the RB6 in PPR fantasy football, and head coach Mike Tomlin has already stated he wants Conner to be used in a featured role.

If you’re willing to really risk it for a championship, Conner is the running back you should take at this point of the draft. Naturally, for more conservative fantasy players, there are much safer picks at this point of the draft.

D’Andre Swift, RB23/ADP: 45.10

A lot of people are soured by Swift going to the Detroit Lions, but I don’t think it’s that bad of a landing spot.

The main complication is the presence of Kerryon Johnson. If Johnson had performed well last season, however, the Lions wouldn’t have used an early second-round pick to acquire Swift. In the five games where Johnson received 12 carries or more carries, he topped 4.0 yards per carry just once. Considering Swift was never a heavy-usage player at Georgia, Johnson should be used more as someone to spell Swift to keep him fresh, rather than someone who will split the workload.

Detroit may not be in a lot of favourable game-scripts for its running backs, but Swift is proficient in the passing game, which will help keep him involved. He’s someone that I don’t mind drafting and will have on some of my fantasy football rosters.

David Johnson, RB24/ADP: 46.44

Being the centre piece in head coach and general manager Bill O’Brien’s return for De’Andre Hopkins, the Houston Texans are heavily invested in Johnson. That means the Texans, specifically O’Brien, is extremely incentivized to use the former Arizona Cardinals running back.

After a couple of underwhelming seasons, it seems everyone has been burnt at least once by Johnson. It’s easy to forget, however, that in 2018, Johnson was a top-10 running back in PPR. He’s also entering a Houston offense which truly lacks big-bodied wide receivers, so I could see Johnson being heavily involved in the passing game.

Although everyone is aware of the disappointments which may arise with selecting Johnson, an RB1 finish given projected usage could certainly be possible. I’ve been drafting Johnson on a lot of my teams thus far.

Raheem Mostert, RB25/ADP: 49.78

Contrarily to Johnson, Mostert has never burned a fantasy football owner, ever! He was an unheralded success that entered 2019 with minimal expectations. Entering 2020, however, Mostert is being selected within the top-50 in fantasy drafts.

The biggest worry with Mostert is San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan’s affinity for a running back by committee. The team also likes to roll out the hot hand, meaning Mostert’s best outings may be difficult to predict with Tevin Coleman still looming. Additionally, Mostert’s never proven to be a lead back over the course of an entire season.

Sure, Mostert was one of the best waiver pickups in 2019, but he’s a late fourth, early fifth-round pick now. That’s a little too rich for my liking.

Mark Ingram, RB26/ADP: 52.04

I am genuinely concerned about Ingram’s role in the Baltimore Ravens’ offense since the team added J.K. Dobbins in the 2020 NFL Draft. The 30-year-old received more than 20 touches in a a game just once last season. If he and Dobbins split the workload, Ingram could be working with single-digit touches.

The issue lies with the fact that the Ravens’ carries will be split between three players this season: Ingram, Dobbins and Lamar Jackson. Dobbins profiles as a better pass-catcher than Ingram also, so if the volume on the ground isn’t there, Ingram could struggle mightily.

It’s obviously tempting to get a piece of Baltimore’s prolific rushing game, but it’s a really crowded backfield. In Rd. 5, I’m passing on Ingram and looking at the other options on the board.

David Montgomery, RB27/ADP: 52.21

After disappointing during his rookie season, Montgomery will get another chance at being the starting running back for the Chicago Bears. The team didn’t add anyone who would threaten him for the top spot on the depth chart, which means he’ll receive the majority of the carries.

Montgomery seemed more comfortable as the season progressed. Through his first 11 games, the rookie exceeded 4.0 yards per carry just twice. In his final five games, he eclipsed that mark four times. His upside in the passing game will be limited by the presence of Tarik Cohen, although he did manage 25 receptions last year.

After finishing last season as RB25 in PPR, Montgomery is being very appropriately valued. There’s a high floor and a decently-sized ceiling if he can be more efficient in his sophomore year.

Rally Towel’s Rankings of the Rd. 3 to 5 Running Backs

  1. Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Kansas City Chiefs
  2. Leonard Fournette, Jacksonville Jaguars
  3. Jonathan Taylor, Indianapolis Colts
  4. Chris Carson, Seattle Seahawks
  5. David Johnson, Houston Texans
  6. Melvin Gordon, Denver Broncos
  7. James Conner, Pittsburgh Steelers
  8. Le’Veon Bell, New York Jets
  9. D’Andre Swift, Detroit Lions
  10. Todd Gurley, Atlanta Falcons
  11. David Montgomery, Chicago Bears
  12. Devin Singletary, Buffalo Bills
  13. Raheem Mostert, San Francisco 49ers
  14. Mark Ingram, Baltimore Ravens

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