As we continue to put together our base of operations in preparation for the 2020 season, we’re getting out rankings and tiers for dynasty formats. We’ve already covered the quarterbacks and tight ends so far. If looking to go back and find our 2020 early season ranks and rookie class ranks prior to the NFL draft, you can find those in the main rankings hub. You can also find a look at long-running production and fantasy trends for the running back position here.

Those early season ranks already have initial thoughts and nuggets on players regarding their 2020 outlooks, so I’m not going to double down on the same approach here. I encourage you to go check those out if you want to see my thoughts on a player heading into this upcoming season. 

Just for housekeeping purposes, some real quick methodology here that I am rolling over from the opening set of tiers and ranks. If you’re new to how I do tiers, they are not like most. I make my dynasty tiers based on a blend of age, fantasy performance, career arc, team situation, and fantasy archetype. There is a large overlap to actual player rankings, but there can be some discord where the tiers don’t specifically follow the rankings.

The purpose of tiers not being a carbon copy of player rankings is to spot a potential arbitrage situation and shop in different buckets based on how I want to build my team. Sometimes I may want a veteran starter based on where my current roster is, other times I may want to chase more youth and upside. 

*Player Age = Age on 9/1/2020

Tier One

RB1. Christian McCaffrey (Age: 24.2)
2. Saquon Barkley (23.6)
3. Ezekiel Elliott (25.1)
5. Dalvin Cook (25.1)
6. Joe Mixon (24.1)
13. Leonard Fournette (25.6)

The opening tier of running backs contains your bell-cow backs in the middle of the age apex at the position. These are the backs handling 60-plus percent of their backfield touches and contributing in all phases of scoring (rushing, receiving and touchdown equity).

Christian McCaffery has become this era’s version of Marshall Faulk. He’s ranked as the RB14, RB3, and RB1 in points per game while improving his rushing points per game from 3.5 to 9.5 to 14.3 to start his career… Dalvin Cook missed multiple games for the third straight season, but made the jump to RB2 in points per game in 2019… For whatever it’s worth, Ezekiel Elliott is the only back here on his second contract. Elliott has ranked no lower than third in touches per game in each of his first four seasons… Joe Mixon’s touches have climbed in each season and has 1,400 yards from scrimmage in each of the past two seasons. Mixon handled 79% of the Bengals’ backfield touches in year one under Zac Taylor, which ranked third in the league… Leonard Fournette made the jump to this usage tier a year ago with 84.8% of the team backfield touches, but it is fair to question how sticky that usage will be 2020 with a new offensive coordinator and the potential addition of a receiving back. But Fournette proved he could stay healthy, handle a massive amount of touches and is due for at least some touchdown regression.

Tier Two

4. Alvin Kamara (25.1)
8. Aaron Jones (25.7)
11. Miles Sanders (23.3)
14. J.K. Dobbins (21.7)
15. D’Andre Swift (21.6)
18. Cam Akers (21.6)
20. Kenyan Drake (26.6)

Tier Two are the backs also contributing in all components of their offense, but doing so on fewer overall touches and volume. A lot of the backs here are hyper-efficient, which has some volatility, but also a lot of the backs here are better overall pass catchers than the first group sans McCaffrey. They are just tweeners in terms of overall size and in systems that have shown reluctancy in pushing these players past the 300-touch mark.

We saw some of that volatility (paired with injury) take hold for Alvin Kamara a year ago in the scoring department and what kind of impact it can have on a player’s bottom line. After scoring 31 times through two seasons, Kamara found the end zone just six times in 2019. But he was still 13th at the position with 18.0 touches per game…That may happen to Aaron Jones this season after he scored 19 touches last season on 285 touches, but Jones has taken a major step forward as a pass catcher in each of his first three seasons…Kenyan Drake has shown Tier Two fantasy ability anytime he’s been given the actual opportunity, but we have yet to get a full season in which a team gives him that opportunity. The departure of David Johnson keeps that door open.

I’m taking some liberties with the inclusion of the rookie RBs 2-4 here. Any or all of these backs could find themselves as Tier 1 candidates over their rookie season or careers if they landed in the right opportunity. They can each contribute significantly in any way an offense asks to use them. But all also profile similar to this archetype with all three coming in under 220 pounds.

Tier Three

7. Nick Chubb (24.7)
9. Josh Jacobs (22.6)
10. Derrick Henry (26.7)
12. Jonathan Taylor (21.6)
22. Marlon Mack (24.5)

The third tier of backs has your young, heavy-lifting runners that haven’t had significant pass-catching roles yet in the NFL. I say “yet” because as Leonard Fournette showed last season, all you need is the right opportunity to make that leap rather than necessarily being a back that adds something dynamic to the passing game on your own merit. All of these players here are capable of producing as Tier 1 backs if that were to happen.

Nick Chubb would be the favorite from that group to make that jump immediately if Kareem Hunt isn’t retained. Chubb handled 84% of the backfield touches and 60.4% of the backfield targets in eight games before Hunt took the field. In the eight games afterward, Chubb handled 65.4% of the touches and 28.1% of the targets among Cleveland backs… Derrick Henry hasn’t had more than 18 catches in a season, but his usage has risen each year and has scored 28 touchdowns over his past 23 games played… Marlon Mack has ranked sixth and eighth in rushing points per game over the past two years, but also 59th and 79th in receiving points per game with a combined 31-185-1 receiving line…I have Jonathan Taylor as the highest-rate rookie back, but this is the usage tier I’m anticipating him being in out of the box as he continues to work towards improving his receiving pass blocking.

Tier Four

19. Melvin Gordon (27.4)
21. Todd Gurley (26.1)
24. Le’Veon Bell (28.5)
29. David Johnson (28.7)

The tier of all-purpose backs that haven’t hit their thirties yet, but have some current warts. They have all shown signs of immediate decline for various reasons, but all still are capable of producing RB1 scoring output in their current and projected roles. Melvin Gordon joining the Broncos opens the door to share more work than he has in the past, but has a major edge over Phillip Lindsay in goal line opportunities and in the passing game. Gordon has averaged fewer than 5.0 yards per touch in four of his five seasons, but his 47 touchdowns over the past four years is third at the position. …. Le’Veon Bell set career-lows in nearly every major category in his first season with the Jets, but also had 20.7 touches per game. His running style and state of the Jets offensive line are not currently a strong marriage… Todd Gurley went from 22.5 touches per game (second) to 16.9 (17th) last season after concerns about his knee injury arose to end the previous season. He still managed 1,064 yards from scrimmage and 14 touchdowns. Gurley can live at 250 touches, but needs his receiving work to rebound…David Johnson was the RB5 in overall fantasy points through six weeks in 2019 prior to back issues and the addition of Kenyan Drake a year ago. He gets to lead a Houston backfield that has the most vacated rushing attempts in the league. 

Tier Five

16. Austin Ekeler (25.3)
17. Devin Singletary (23.0)
26. Clyde Edwards-Helaire (21.4)
28. Darrell Henderson (23.0)
32. Philip Lindsay (26.1)

Tier Five is the lead-back, but tweener-sized group. They are just a hair off of finding themselves in Tier Two, but are capable of getting there. All of these backs project to share their respective backfields in some capacity while having an overall grip on the volume of that backfield. The most common thread between them is lack of rushing touchdown production, but there are a few guys here that also have yet to take off as receivers as well.  

Austin Ekeler just got a brand-new contract extension. You can make a very valid case that he will be a Tier Two back this upcoming season. The only questions remaining with him are if the Chargers add another bigger back to keep his rushing volume suppressed and what impact the loss of Philip Rivers will have on the number of targets distributed to the running back position. But Ekeler is in the prime of career and has ranked first, third, and fourth over the past three seasons in yards per touch on the strength of being the only the back to average 10.0 yards per catch in each of those seasons on double-digit receptions… Devin Singletary averaged 18.9 touches per game over his final nine games in 2019, but had just 2-of-19 team carries inside of the 5-yard linePhillip Lindsay has 1,200 yards in each of his first two seasons in the league, but has still yet to lock down a tangible receiving role in either season and now has to play with and behind Melvin Gordon.

Tier Six

23. David Montgomery (23.2)
25. Kerryon Johnson (23.2)
26. Chris Carson (26.0)
30. James Conner (25.3)
31. Kareem Hunt (25.1)
34. Derrius Guice (23.2)
35. Sony Michel (25.5)

Tier Six is almost entirely backs on their first NFL contract that can flirt with Tier 1-3 usage and output, but all carry risk between injuries and committee potential while they are still on those cheaper deals.

The one back here not on his rookie deal is Kareem Hunt, who is a restricted free agent this offseason. Given the job availability and strong rookie running back class, it’s hard to see a team giving away draft capital to take Hunt from the Browns this season, but it only takes one team… David Montgomery had 1,074 yards and seven scores as a rookie, but niche-back Tarik Cohen still caps his receiving upside…Kerryon Johnson has missed six and eight games over his first two seasons, while the Lions lack of depth behind him was brought to light with him out… Chris Carson has been the RB16 and RB13 in points per game over the past two years. But he’s also now had significant injuries in each of his first three seasons while entering the final year of his contract… James Conner showed in 2018 that he can be a workhorse back, but he is also entering the final year of his contract coming off an injury-plagued season. Durability has been an issue for Conner over the past two seasons, missing nine games outright due to injury and playing fewer than 40% of the team snaps in 10 of his 23 games active… Derrius Guice has played in just five games through two seasons. The surrounding talent on the Washington depth chart can be overcome, but a committee is expected until Guice proves he can stay healthy.

Tier Seven

33. Damien Williams (28.4)
36. Mark Ingram (30.7)
39. Devonta Freeman (28.5)
40. Raheem Mostert (28.4) 

These backs are approaching the age cliff at the position. They all still carry some intrigue and capability of strong fantasy seasons, but also all have a “one foot out of the door” element to their dynasty stock cratering. 

Over his final seven full games played, Damien Williams played 77% of the snaps, handled 82% of the backfield touches, and averaged 110.4 YFS and 22.9 fantasy points per game. It’s not a matter of if the Chiefs add a back this offseason, but what kind of capital they invest in the position that will shake the tree for Williams in the final year of this contract… Mark Ingram had 1,265 yards and 15 touchdowns at age 30 last season for Baltimore, but did so on just 228 touches and 26 receptions while playing in the league’s best offense…Raheem Mostert is the only 49er running back currently with a contract beyond 2020. He tallied 792 total yards and 12 touchdowns over the final eight games of 2019… Devonta Freeman has reached 1,000 yards from scrimmage in each of his past four full seasons, but Freeman’s yards per touch have dropped in each of the past three seasons from the year prior while he remains a cut candidate headed for committee usage this offseason.

Tier Eight

37. Tony Pollard (23.3)
38. Alexander Mattison (22.2)
44. Justice Hill (22.8)

Our group of second-year handcuffs that play behind a top-back or in an offense enticing enough to elevate them to immediate fantasy relevancy should they get the opportunity. Tony Pollard and Alexander Mattison looked the part in year one while each garnered 100-plus touches. Justice Hill (66 touches) never elevated himself beyond ancillary status as a rookie. 

Tier Nine

41. Tarik Cohen (25.0)
43. James White (28.6)
56. Duke Johnson (26.9)
55. Nyheim Hines (23.8)

Our primary pass-catchers. 74.9% of Tarik Cohen’s career fantasy output has come solely from receiving while James White is at 82.2%. Those two are the most alluring fantasy performers of this group. Cohen has a slight edge due to age and the state of Tom Brady’s contract… Nyheim Hines fell down from 148 touches to just 96 in his second season. He’s been non-existent on the ground, but the addition of Philip Rivers gives him a pulse in full PPR formats…We’re now stacking a pile of coaching staffs that have kept Duke Johnson in the same role in the NFL despite his effectiveness per touch. Johnson’s 2.8 receptions per game during his first year in Houston were his fewest per game in any of his first five seasons.

Tier Ten

45. Zack Moss (22.7)
46. A.J. Dillon (22.3)
47. Darrynton Evans (22.1)
48. Eno Benjamin (21.4)
51. Ke’Shawn Vaughn (23.3)
60. James Robinson (N/A)
61. Joshua Kelley (22.8)
62. Anthony McFarland (22.5)
76. Michael Warren (N/A)
77. LeVante Bellamy (23.8)

The rookie back group that is behind the top-five in this class. The draft investment for anyone here has a wide amount of variance and landing spots will matter to go along with that potential investment

Tier Eleven

41. Ronald Jones (23.1)
49. Rashaad Penny (24.6)
50. Royce Freeman (24.5)
51. Jordan Howard (25.8)
53. Matt Breida (25.5)
59. Ryquell Armstead (23.8)
63. Jamaal Williams (25.4)
65. Chase Edmonds (24.4)
66. Jaylen Samuels (24.1)
67. Bryce Love (23.1)
68. Darwin Thompson (24.3)
69. Benny Snell (22.5)
70. Damien Harris (23.6)
71. Travis Homer (22.1)
72. Gus Edwards (25.4)
73. Boston Scott (25.3)
74. Jalen Richard (26.9)
78. Chris Thompson (29.9)
79. Mike Boone (25.6)
80. Patrick Laird (25.0)

This tier of backs are committee or specialized backs that are still on the front end of their career arcs, many of the backs here need more than one domino to fall. 

Tier Twelve

54. Tevin Coleman (27.4)
57. Latavius Murray (30.6)
58. Carlos Hyde (29.9)
64. Lamar Miller (29.4)
75. Giovani Bernard (28.8)

Similar to the previous tier, but with backs on the back portion of their career arc. These backs have proven production in the league, which is why they have made it in the league under contract despite passing that apex and all have handcuff appeal.