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2020 Early Sleepers and Draft Targets: Running Back


It is going to be almost impossible to win your fantasy football league in 2020 without a strong set of running backs, even in today’s pass-happy NFL.

While quarterbacks and wide receivers have gained importance in fantasy football in recent years, building your fantasy roster around your running back corps is still one of the most tried-and-true ways to achieve success. There are now fewer workhorse backs than there used to be in the NFL, so being able to acquire a couple of top tailbacks to serve as the core of your fantasy team will always make your squad a title contender in whatever type of league you are in.

We all know that Carolina’s Christian McCaffrey rules the roost at running back and will be the top tailback taken in fantasy drafts next season. Here are my early sleepers and draft targets at the running back position for the 2020 fantasy football season!

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Kareem Hunt, Free Agent

2019 Stats: 179 rushing yards, 37 receptions, 285 receiving yards, 3 TD

Hunt was hampered because he was suspended for the first half of the season and then had to be the backup behind 1,494-yard rusher Nick Chubb, so his stats were less than scintillating. Hunt hopefully reminded many fantasy owners why he was a top-five running back during the first two years of his short career with what he contributed in the passing game, however. Only fantasy players with the shortest or foggiest memories would have forgotten that during his first 27 NFL games Hunt racked up 2,151 rushing yards, 833 receiving yards and 25 total touchdowns.

Hunt now heads into the offseason with the chance to be a No. 1 running back again for an NFL team. Even though he enters the free-agent fray as a humongous risk due to his numerous off-the-field issues, some organization will probably pony up millions to have him lead their backfield. At Hunt’s peak, he averaged over 100 combined yards and a touchdown per game. If he slots in as the top tailback in Miami, Washington, Tampa Bay, or wherever, AND he stays on the field AND out of trouble, Hunt will be a fantasy force once again in 2020.

 

Melvin Gordon, Free Agent

2019 Stats:  612 rushing yards, 42 receptions, 296 receiving yards, 9 TD

Gordon was behind the eight ball thanks to a contract holdout that cost him all of training camp and the first four games of the 2019 season. His fantasy value was up and down all year long as a result, although he still finished with 908 total yards and nine touchdowns in the dozen games he suited up for. Gordon was a disappointment for those who drafted him in early rounds, though, since he did not break the 50-yard mark in any of the first four games he played in when he returned from his holdout.

We have no idea what the makeup of the Chargers are going to be in 2020. Philip Rivers might not be the quarterback, and Gordon will likely not return as their primary ball carrier thanks to his asking price and the emergence of Austin Ekeler. Gordon will be fine fantasy-wise no matter where he signs, though. This is a guy who accounted for over 1,300 combined yards and double-digit touchdowns for three straight seasons between 2016 and 2018. He can score, run and catch, the Holy Trinity in fantasy football for running backs. Gordon will undoubtedly be a No. 1 RB for an NFL offense and should be a top-10 RB in fantasy football in 2020.

 

Darrell Henderson, Los Angeles Rams

2019 Stats: 147 rushing yards, four receptions, 37 receiving yards, 0 TD

Henderson’s rookie campaign was a total loss as he was buried behind Todd Gurley and Malcolm Brown on the depth chart and then suffered a season-ending ankle injury during the final month. His limited playing time made him a total fantasy non-factor. But while many might ignore L.A.’s 2019 third-round draft choice, astute fantasy players should keep an eye on the Rams running back situation throughout the offseason and training camp.

Henderson was not drafted in the third round last April to play special teams and serve Gurley lunch. Henderson had the same YPC as Gurley had (3.8) and was a tad better than Brown in the department (3.7). Brown did not distinguish himself as the heir to Gurley’s throne in 2019, so the Rams might trade or release him in the offseason and make Henderson the No. 2 RB entering the 2020 campaign. Considering how explosive Los Angeles’ offense can be and the continuing question marks surrounding Gurley’s arthritic knee, Henderson should be a top handcuff and/or late-round sleeper in fantasy leagues for the upcoming season.    

 

Ryquell Armstead, Jacksonville Jaguars

2019 Stats:  108 rushing yards, 14 receptions, 144 receiving yards, 2 TD

Armstead was drafted in the fifth round this past April as Leonard Fournette insurance, but surprisingly the injury-prone Fournette was injury-free for the first 15 games of the season until bowing out before Jacksonville’s final contest. Thus, Armstead was not able to produce many fantasy points for people as he rode the pine 99 percent of the time as Fournette was the workhorse in Jacksonville’s inconsistent offense.

Armstead showed flashes of what he can do when given opportunities during Jacksonville’s last game of the season, however. He had five catches for 52 yards and a touchdown while adding 33 yards on the ground. While Fournette stayed on the straight and narrow after a few internal dustups with the Jaguars and a DUI arrest and stayed healthy for the bulk of a season, fantasy players know he is a still a risk because he has missed a dozen games over his three NFL seasons due to his various issues. Armstead should become a bigger part of the offense next year as he has a skill set that can keep him on the field on all downs, and if Fournette misses more time due to injury or incompetence, Armstead would be the next man up in the running back pecking order.

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