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Fantasy football draft strategy: How RB heavy failed many in 2020

Rachel Wold
fantasy football: Saquon Barkley
Sep 20, 2020; Chicago, Illinois, USA; New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley (26) is helped off of the field after suffering an injury during the second quarter against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Raise your hand if you were one of those people who used the fantasy football draft strategy of going running back heavy, only to get burned with injuries or poor fantasy output in 2020?

If your hand is up in the air, you are not alone. Depending on your fantasy football draft order, many who went all in on after studying fantasy draft cheat sheets like crazy, are most likely scouring the waiver wire on a weekly basis looking for replacements.

Let’s take a look at what has gone wrong so far in the running back heavy draft strategy in 2020. (Note: RB rankings within are using a 1/2 point PPR scoring system).

Related: NFL Week 11 injury report

Fantasy football draft strategy: First-tier fantasy football running backs injured or performing subpar

Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers

Fantasy football, Christian McCaffrey
Sep 20, 2020; Tampa, Florida, USA; Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey runs the ball against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the third quarter at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Based on his stellar 2019 season, McCaffrey went flying off of draft boards faster than free food at an all-you-can-eat buffet just a few months back.

Soon after, and to no fault of his own, McCaffrey suffered a lingering ankle injury and is now dealing with a shoulder issue. Not what fantasy owners had hoped for at all, McCaffrey has started in only three games in 2020 and has delivered a total of 374 yards and six touchdowns.

Update: McCaffrey has been ruled out for his Week 11 matchup against Detroit Lions. Fantasy owners can hope he returns as playoffs creep closer.

Related: NFL Week 11 injury report

Saquon Barkley, New York Giants

Barkley was likely snagged right after McCaffrey, or in some cases at 1.01.

Unfortunately, the injury bug was cruel and Barkley sadly tore his ACL in Week 2. His 2020 season ended after Barkley recorded 94 combined yards and one touchdown.

We wish him our very best as he rehabilitates to return in 2021.

Related: If you’re a fan of the Giants, check out #TogetherBlue rumors, rankings, and news here.

Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Kansas City Chiefs

I kid you not, there are people out there who drafted this rookie standout within the top three-five picks in Round 1, and are now reeling in frustration.

Edwards-Helaire started off hot in Week 1, but after nine games, he ranks RB13. This is not horrible, but CEH is falling pretty flat for guy picked anywhere within the first-half round of drafting.

Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys

Ezekiel Elliott, Fantasy Football
Dec 22, 2019; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott (21) reacts as he walks to his huddle during the second quarter against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Elliott is one of the biggest high-end draft picks frustrating the heck out of his owners. While he does rank 10th in fantasy points, Elliott is not performing up to his end of the bargain.

Even prior to Dak Prescott’s season-ending injury, Elliott’s numbers weren’t the same as in past seasons.

To date, Elliott is averaging just 90 total yards per game and has scored only six times.

Joe Mixon, Cincinnati Bengals

Mixon has been out since Week 7 nursing a foot injury. But, even when he was on the field, Mixon wasn’t providing fantasy owners with the points they were expecting from their later first-round pick.

Related: If you’re a fan of the Bengals, check out #SeizeTheDEY rumors, rankings, and news here.

Outside of his 151-yard performance in Week 4, Mixon has rushed for no more than 69 yards and that was in Week 1. This comes along with Mixon managing just four touchdowns in six games. Disappointing.

Second-tier fantasy football running backs: Injured or performing subpar

The following running backs drafted in rounds 2-4 have either missed multiple games or have simply not lived up to their average draft position (ADP).

Austin Ekeler, Los Angeles Chargers

He’s been out since getting injured in Week 4. And when Ekeler returns, he will be back to sharing what is already a confusing Chargers backfield.

Nick Chubb, Cleveland Browns

Chubb has fortunately performed up to expectations when on the field. Unfortunately he’s played only four complete games due to an ankle injury. But Chubb is back and hopefully remains healthy to take his owners to the playoffs.

Kenyan Drake, Arizona Cardinals

Drake was quite overhyped heading into 2020 when some took a first-round flier on him. Since, he has missed one game while averaging 76.5 rushing yards per week and scoring just four times.

Miles Sanders, Philadelphia Eagles

Sanders was a solid second-tier running back pick. Skip forward to now, and he has played in only six games due to various injuries and currently ranks RB24. His owners need him to stay healthy from here on out.

Chris Carson, Seattle Seahawks

Likely drafted as a RB2-3, Carson has now missed his last four games (foot). He’s also averaging nearly a career-low 53.8 yards per game. Luckily, his six touchdowns help some to pad his numbers.

Third-tier fantasy football running backs: Injured or performing subpar:

  • Jonathan Taylor, Indianapolis Colts: RB18 and declining
  • David Montgomery, Chicago Bears: RB22 and injured
  • David Johnson, Houston Texans: RB25 and injured
  • Melvin Gordon, Denver Broncos: RB27 previously injured and performing subpar
  • Devin Singletary, Buffalo Bills: RB34 and declining
  • Raheem Mostert, San Francisco 49ers: RB 38 and injured

Fantasy draft cheat sheet: Running back fail

You had the second overall pick and you selected Saquon Barkley. Then, you watched multiple picks slip by and you landed PPR stud Austin Ekeler late second-round. Then on the quick swing pick, you locked up a nice running back trio by taking David Montgomery. How is that working out for you right now?

Not to be ignored, let’s give credit to the very small list of top, second and third-tier running backs who actually have performed up to or beyond their ADP.

Fantasy football tiers: Top-end RB’s performing well

Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings

Dalvin Cook, Fantasy Football
Chuck Cook -USA TODAY Sports

Cook has been incredible and is currently RB1 across fantasy rankings. He sports league-highs in 119.3 rushing yards per game and 12 rushing touchdowns.

Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints

Kamara’s had his owners’ backs since Week 1. He’s RB2 and averaging a total of 126 yards per game and has scored 11 times.

Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans

Henry ranks No. 3 and while inconsistent some games, he has still managed a stout average of 105.1 rushing yards per contest with eight rushing scores to boot.

Second and third-tier running backs: Performing to or beyond ADP

Josh Jacobs, Las Vegas Raiders

Jacobs has been a gem and has well out-surpassed his early second-round ADP. He’s currently ranked RB5 and has scored 11 times in nine games.

Related: If you’re a fan of the Raiders, check out #RaiderNation rumors, rankings, and news here.

Todd Gurley, Atlanta Falcons

Lots were hesitant to kick the tires on old Gurley re-starting as a Falcon in 2020. The bottom line is, he ranks RB6 and he is still in one piece.

James Conner, Pittsburgh Steelers

Conner is hanging in at RB12 right about where people drafted him. He’s played all nine games and that’s a plus.

Ronald Jones, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Jones is another guy who caused hesitancy when it looked like rookie Ke’shawn Vaughn might crowd his space. This is not the case. Jones has his ups and downs, but at the end of the day, he is ranked RB9.

In conclusion: Existing in realtime fantasy

There are many scenarios that likely left fantasy owners holding one, two, three, or more of the aforementioned running backs who have failed them.

For those who have scathed by and drafted RB heavy and have Kamara paired up with a back such as Jacobs, you scored!

Related: 2022 NFL Power Rankings – New York Jets climb, Patriots and Bears fall after NFL Draft

Future fantasy football tips: Draft cheat sheet

As always, fantasy football is unpredictable, and many were torched pouring multiple early-round picks into the fantasy running back basket. And as things stand, there are many late-round, undrafted and waiver wire players currently taking some teams to the next level. Go figure.

Ahead of 2021, practicing mock drafting trends, continuing to study fantasy draft cheat sheets and doing your own research will be an absolute must.

Until then, best of luck to you all as fantasy playoffs sit right around the corner. Cheers!

Related: Need a fantasy football fix? The Fantasy Football Chick has all the answers. Click here.