We are now under seven days from the kickoff of Week 1. It is officially draft season and most of you will be drafting this weekend. The time for procrastination is over. Let us help you get prepared to dominate your upcoming drafts.
To do so, we will take a look at the most up to date information and ADP possible with a focus on interpreting the latest news and notes and how to apply that knowledge to gain an edge in your drafts.
The goal here is to provide:
1. A quick overview of how 2020 drafts are stacking up so even those who have not been following along closely all summer can draft with confidence;
2. A summary of all of the biggest pieces of news from recent days that everyone, no matter the amount of previous prep work, needs to be aware of before drafting tonight.
Earlier this week, we went round-by-round through the early parts of the draft with the latest information we had at that time. We will take a slightly different approach this weekend and instead go through position by position. Things have been pretty stable at quarterback, wide receiver, and tight end with the news only having minor impacts on ADP. Recent news has made a major impact on the running back rankings and overall strategy, however. It is also the position is most likely to make or break your draft. Thus, the focus of this article will be on really drilling down on everything you need to know about the running back position if you are drafting this weekend. We will also briefly touch on some players at the other positions who you should either target or avoid at current ADP based upon late-breaking news.
Running Back: Need to Know
We are going to try to pack everything you absolutely need to know about the running back position in 2020 into the following section in as brief a format as possible. We will focus on:
1. The 17 running backs in the circle of trust who you should be targeting in the early rounds.
2. The five early-round running backs you should avoid drafting this weekend unless they fall much further than expected.
3. The rookie running backs with elite upside who need to be on your radar just outside of the early rounds.
4. The mid-to-late round targets worth taking a shot on.
Running Backs Inside the Circle of Trust
The Footballguys Wisdom of the Crowds tool is a fantastic resource. Our subscribers are dialed in and the updated rankings from the thousands of votes are a great guide when it comes to a sharp take on the conventional wisdom.
1. Christian McCaffrey There is not much analysis needed here. Not much has changed since McCaffrey put up the incredible total of 469.2 fantasy points (PPR) last season. He is the easy choice at 1.01.
2. Saquon Barkley An elite young talent who is going to play almost every single snap, run it 20 times per game, and catch a lot of passes.
3. Ezekiel Elliott Elliott has been a consistently elite fantasy producer for four straight seasons. 2020 may be the Cowboys' best offense yet.
4. Alvin Kamara Reports of the Saints being open to trading Kamara felt like a potential bombshell while Kamara was missing from practice for almost a week. But cooler heads seem to have prevailed on both sides. The current collective bargaining agreement leaves Kamara with few options other than to show up and play out the final year of his rookie deal.
With a couple days for both sides to cool off, this all feels like it was a little bit overblown earlier in this week. The contractual uncertainty adds a very small amount of risk but not enough to knock him from 1.04.
5. Derrick Henry Henry has not generated a lot of discussion this offseason, aside form some speculation over whether he could see a few more targets in 2020. Matt Harmon makes a good case for why Henry can catch 40 passes this season, which would almost certainly lead to a high-end RB1 finish.
Henry is one of the safest selections in the first round and has plenty of upside as well.
6. Dalvin Cook As with Kamara, Cook is unpleased with his contract. Adam Schefter said recently the lack of a deal would give him pause when it comes to drafting Cook in the first round. It is hard to see how he could pull off a holdout but there is some risk here. If you are comfortable enough with either of the next two running backs, it makes sense to hedge your bets a little bit and pass on Cook. If you are not fully sold on Edwards-Helaire or Sanders, Cook’s contractual risk does not seem overly high and he is also a good bet in the mid-first round.
7. Clyde Edwards-Helaire Arguably the most discussed fantasy player this offseason, we will not beat the Edwards-Helaire debate into the ground. Here are the CliffsNotes:
-Edwards-Helaire has been getting rave reviews in training camp. ESPN’s Chiefs beat writer Adam Teicher was the latest to add to the buzz, saying Wednesday that Edwards-Helaire is “worth the hype.”
-There has been a lot of back and forth about how much the Chiefs' other backs will play. There has been no reporting to indicate Edwards-Helaire is going to see any less than 60% of the snaps.
-It is worth noting that in his first three NFL season Alvin Kamara has averaged over 20 fantasy PPG (PPR) while playing just over 60% of the snaps in those games. It makes sense to view Edwards-Helaire through the same prism. Like Kamara, he is going to catch a bunch of passes. He is also in an offense that makes it easy for the running back to rack up a ton of fantasy points without a massive number of touches.
8. Miles Sanders Sanders has been sidelined with a minor injury but seems to be in line to return in time for Week 1. This week, Sheil Kapadia of The Athletic (formerly the Eagles beat writer, now a national reporter) predicted that Miles Sanders will produce 2,000+ yards from scrimmage:
He was at 1,327 yards from scrimmage as a rookie, and that was with playing just 53 percent of the offensive snaps. It took until about midseason for Sanders to understand his reads and the Eagles’ run scheme. Once things clicked, he put the offense on his back for stretches at a time. Sanders has no competition in the backfield, and he looked like a special pass-catcher as a rookie, averaging 10.2 yards per reception. If he can stay healthy, he’s going to be a huge part of the Eagles’ offense.
Sanders looks like the top running back to target in the later part of the first round.
9. Josh Jacobs Whether Jacobs catches 30 passes or 60 passes will likely determine whether he is a high-end RB2 or strong RB1. Either way, he is a safe bet with solid upside near the 1/2 turn.
10. Joe Mixon Mixon signed his long-term deal with the Bengals, taking away any uncertainty and locking in his status as a first-round worthy running back. Your level of confidence in Joe Burrow and the Bengals offense should go a long way in whether you like Mixon as high as 8th or 9th overall or whether you view him as more of an early-second round back.
12. Kenyan Drake Drake has had some problems staying healthy but he is going to be the lead back in an exciting and explosive Arizona offense.
13. Austin Ekeler Even without Philip Rivers in town and with impressive rookie Joshua Kelley pushing for a committee role, it is impossible to ignore Ekeler’s well-rounded skill set and PPR upside in the second round.
14. Aaron Jones Jones was a monster in 2019 and should again lead the Packers backfield. There will be added competition for touches (including near the goal line) from rookie A.J. Dillon but Jones is still worthy of a second-round pick.
15. James Conner Conner has been a steady riser over the past month and is a prime RB2 target late in the second round for teams that already landed an elite RB1.
16. Chris Carson Carson is a top round-three target. He has shown no ill effects from his 2019 injury and should dominate the touches in a very good Seattle offense.
17. David Johnson Johnson is the most recent addition to the circle of trust and the only guy on this list who is regularly available in the fourth-round of drafts. He is 100% healthy and hasn’t missed any time at all in Houston camp. Given the positive reviews and large expected role in the passing game, Johnson looks like the last safe RB2 option available.
Running Backs to Avoid
The following backs are all being drafted highly but are more likely to disappoint than prove worthy of their high ADP.
1. Todd Gurley He is going in the third round in part due to name recognition and also due to the quality of the Atlanta offense. It is just so hard to trust Gurley's knee health given how high a pick it takes to acquire him. There were some reports he looked more explosive in a recent scrimmage but other reviews have been less positive. The old Todd Gurley is probably never going to return.
2. Melvin Gordon III He has not fully separated from Phillip Lindsay in Broncos camp, which increases the chances of a committee in what is likely to be just an average offense. Gordon does have a solid floor but it is hard to pass on some of the tremendous wide receiver options in the same range of the draft to roll the dice on Gordon in a new offense.
3. Le'Veon Bell There is already a lot of drama between Bell and Adam Gase. The Jets offense looks like a mess. Frank Gore is lurking and could again garner just enough touches to play fantasy spoiler for another year. Hard pass in the fourth round.
4. Leonard Fournette There is so much to sort through after Fournette was a surprise last-minute cut. He landed on Tampa Bay after signing a one-year “prove it” contract to compete with Ronald Jones II for the starting job.
It’ll be interesting to see how the #Buccaneers split the work in a crowded backfield now that Leonard Fournette has joined. Indications are LeSean McCoy will still play an integral part, particularly in the passing game and on third downs.— Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo) September 3, 2020
It is not hard to imagine a scenario where Fournette works his way into a true lead role in what could be one of the league’s top offenses. There is upside here. However, the more likely scenario is Tampa Bay employs a committee approach like the one used last season when neither Ronald Jones II nor Peyton Barber made much of a fantasy impact.
5. Mark Ingram II There is a risk inherent in drafting 30-year old running backs. That risk only increases when an Uber-talented 21-year old back is breathing down their neck for playing time. John Harbaugh said this week J.K. Dobbins will “probably have a significant role” as a rookie, which greatly limits Ingram’s upside and makes him a hard sell at his current ADP.
Rookies worth targeting
The 17 running backs that top our Wisdom of the Crowds Rankings and who all sit inside my personal circle of trust are each being drafted early. The best way to get similar upside at a reduced price is to target one of the top backs from an exciting rookie class.
1. Jonathan Taylor If there was an 18th member of the circle of trust, it would be Taylor, who currently ranks 19th in the Wisdom of the Crowds rankings. Taylor is too talented not to overtake Marlon Mack for the lead role with relative quickness. The thornier problem is Nyheim Hines’ role as the passing-down back. If Hines takes most of the backfield targets and Mack mixes in with Taylor on running downs, are there enough touches for Taylor to put up anything more than middling RB2 numbers as a rookie? It may be worth rolling the dice in the third or fourth round to find out.
2. D’Andre Swift A minor injury has slowed Swift’s momentum but also kept his ADP from rising. In the fifth-round, he has significant PPR upside. If the board falls in a way that you are chasing running back depth in that part of the draft (or if Swift falls into the sixth round or late), you could do a lot worse.
3. Cam Akers Everything is pointing towards Akers being the man in the Rams backfield. Steady veteran Malcolm Brown could steal some goal-line looks and the Rams offensive line is not what it once was but Akers is worth a sixth-round pick based upon his talent and situation.
4. J.K. Dobbins It felt for much of the summer that Dobbins was going to be locked into a relatively small role behind Mark Ingram II. Dobbins has been such a dynamic performer in training camp, that is no longer the case and he looks like a potential steal in the 7th round.
"Confidence ➕ Coachability ➕ Talent: That's a pretty good combination. And he's got all that."@Jkdobbins22 has made a quick name for himself at @Ravens camp 👀#DevelopedHere #ToteNation #GoBuckeyes pic.twitter.com/7HCinQqG7K— Ohio State Football (@OhioStateFB) September 2, 2020
At this time last year, Miles Sanders was going in the 7th round of drafts. He went on to finish as the RB15 overall. Perhaps even more importantly, he was the RB5 during the fantasy playoffs. Dobbins could be that guy this year.
Mid-to-Late Round Running Back Targets
In addition to the typical handcuffs and backups, we have a couple of new running back options we should strongly consider in the double-digit rounds.
Chris Thompson Over the last six seasons, Thompson has averaged 3.4 receptions and 28 receiving yards per game. If he hits his career averages and plays all 16 games, he would catch 54 passes for 450 yards. In the PPR format, that equates to 99 fantasy points, which is a very solid starting point before even considering rushing yards and total touchdowns.
There is also an argument to be made that Thompson could exceed his career numbers by a decent amount. He has six years of experience in Jacksonville offensive coordinator Jay Gruden offense. His competition for touches, Ryquell Armstead and Devine Ozigbo, have each had less than one month of on fieldwork in the offense. Thompson comes in with a huge edge and could get off to a fast start.
Ryquell Armstead Armstead would be an easier pick if he had not missed most of camp. He was out nearly three weeks on the COVID-Exempt list and then missed most of the past week with an unrelated injury. Still, he seems to be the back who is most likely to eventually assume the lead role in Leonard Fournette’s absence. He is at least worth a dart throw sometime after the 10th round.
1. Adam Thielen While Thielen may not be the most exciting target at first glance, his combination of high floor and underrated ceiling make him a top player to target in the third or fourth round of your drafts this weekend. When healthy, Thielen has been an elite fantasy performer for the last three seasons.
He also has surprisingly little competition for targets in Minnesota this season. The Vikings traded away Stefon Diggs to the Bills and then drafted Justin Jefferson in the first round of the NFL Draft to be his long-term replacement. Jefferson should be a good NFL player. However, he missed a good portion of camp due to landing on the COVID list and has mostly been running with the backups.
While Jefferson has been better over the past week, he does not look like he is going to command nearly as many targets as Diggs did. Few players are as locked into a huge share of their team’s targets as Thielen.
2. Tyler Boyd A.J. Green might have a little bit more upside due to his big-play ability but Boyd is a much safer draft target and has a high ceiling in his own right. While Green has been sidelined with a minor hamstring injury, Joe Burrow and Boyd have been forging a strong connection. The pair hooked up for a pair of touchdowns early in the team's final scrimmage and seem to be totally in sync.
Burrow’s accuracy and quick release should be a big boon to his slot receiver. We saw Justin Jefferson and others put up massive numbers when lined up in the slot for LSU last season and Boyd could follow in their footsteps. In the sixth or seventh-round, it is easy to love Boyd at his current ADP.
3. Deebo Samuel Samuel put up an impressive 961 total yards as a rookie in 2019 and really came on strong down the stretch. He was going to be a popular fantasy pick in the fifth or sixth rounds of drafts this year but a foot injury knocked him out of camp and left his status for the start of the season up in the air. The injury caused Samuel to fall all the way down to the 9th or 10th round of drafts. Now, it is looking like Samuel will be cleared for Week 1. The public has not fully caught up to the implications of this news, which means Samuel will still be going a couple of rounds lower than he should be in drafts this weekend.
4. CeeDee Lamb This rookie wide receiver class is going to be fun to watch. We made a case for many of the pass catchers in this loaded group earlier this week and we’ve had plenty of love for Jerry Jeudy. Lamb deserves his time in the spotlight as well, however.
Like A.J. Brown last year, Lamb may end up simply being too talented not to make a major impact as a rookie. There is a real chance Lamb has a 1,000-yard receiving season right out of the gates.
Players to Avoid
1. Amari Cooper We already highlighted how good CeeDee Lamb has looked in camp. Michael Gallup and Blake Jarwin have been shining as well. With the possible exception of the Chiefs, no team is as loaded with pass-catching talent as are the Cowboys. Competition for targets will be fierce. Cooper is going to have a hard time earning enough targets to make good on his early-third round ADP.
Cowboys have downplayed situation involving WR Amari Cooper. And indeed, perhaps he will be full go in next Sunday’s opener vs. Rams. But it is notable he’s been a limited to non-participant the past four practices (since Aug. 28). Worked today on resistance cords with trainer.— Michael Gehlken (@GehlkenNFL) September 3, 2020
Add to that the fact Cooper is not fully healthy and has struggled in the past when playing through injuries and there are some real red flags for Cooper that are not present for the other wide receivers being drafted in the same part of the draft.
Quarterback and Tight End
1. Cam Newton Minor uncertainty as to whether Newton would even be the starter in New England has kept his ADP depressed all offseason. He has easily won the starting job in camp and was named a team captain.
"Cam Newton right now is fitting in seamlessly with the New England Patriots' system and Bill Belichick."@TylerSully says Belichick is excited about a new QB and a new challenge in New England. pic.twitter.com/PhiEDsSkOs— CBS Sports HQ (@CBSSportsHQ) September 2, 2020
Fully healthy, Newton has earned gushing reviews from Bill Belichick this week. Newton has had four elite fantasy seasons (finishing as the QB4 or better) and we know his rushing ability (58 career rushing touchdowns) gives him a massive weekly fantasy ceiling. In the middle rounds of drafts, Newton makes for an enticing upside pick. Due to the incredible depth at quarterback, swinging for the fences comes with little risk because there are plenty of high floor options to pair him with.
2. Joe Burrow Burrow is going in the later rounds of drafts, which makes him a low-cost way to add a lot of fantasy upside to your roster. Burrow is an underrated athlete who put up surprisingly big rushing numbers in big games for LSU last season. He has been able to escape the pocket and scramble for big gains with some regularity in Bengals training camp. We can always expect teammates to have positive things to say but the comments coming from Bengals players in camp go well above and beyond the typical platitudes.
Players to avoid
1. Carson Wentz Wentz looked like he was positioned for a big fantasy season but camp has been a disaster for the Eagles offense. Jalen Reagor was tabbed to be the top outside playmaker for the offense. He was lost to a shoulder injury that will keep him sidelined for at least four weeks. Alshon Jeffery is likely to start on the PUP list, as well.
Even more concerning is that the Eagles have lost arguably their top two offensive linemen. Starting left tackle Andre Dillard tore his biceps in practice and landed on the injured reserve. Elite guard Brandon Brooks tore his Achilles. Quarterbacks need all of the surrounding pieces to fall into place to have a special season. The opposite is happening for Wentz.
2. Rob Gronkowski Gronkowski has some upside but many other tight ends going a couple of rounds later than him have a similar upside with higher floors. While some will point to Gronkowski’s rapport with Brady, it is worth remembering that both are learning a new offense. It is an offense that the Buccaneers' talented receivers and other tight ends already know well. We also do not know how much Gronkowski will be able to play at 31-years old and after sitting out a season. We do not even know whether Gronkowski will be a full-time player. As Bruce Arians said this week, “if that means he plays 50 plays or 30 plays, we’ll see.”