Running Back Opportunity Analysis

The Running Back Opportunity Analysis – Tier 1

The Running Back Opportunity Analysis


If you haven’t read the The Running Back Opportunity Analysis check it out before reading the articles on the tiers. 


Criteria: Tier 1 – These are the elite running backs who see over 20 touches per game while still performing well in RBOM. This group should continue to dominate in 2020 as they have elite usage and efficiency


Tier 1

Elite2019 Touches Per Game2019 Points Per Game
Christian McCaffrey25.225.7
Derrick Henry*24.222.3
Dalvin Cook21.619.3
*12 game with Ryan Tannehill incl. playoffs
Honorable Mention2019 Touches Per Game2019 Points Per Game
Ezekiel Elliott22.218.0
Saquon Barkley20.716.8
Josh Jacobs20.214.1


Christian McCaffrey

    • New Offensive Coordinator Joe Brady
    • New Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater
    • Traded Trai Turner (PFF #34 Guard)
    • Signed John Miller (PFF #55 Guard)
    • Traded for Russell Okung (PFF #54 Tackle)


Christian McCaffrey is the cream of the crop, and you don’t need an analysis to tell you that. McCaffrey dominated in all aspects in RBOM in 2019 while paving the way to one of the best fantasy seasons in NFL history. Of the running backs who saw at least 100 touches in 2019 McCaffrey was 9th in both points per touch and points per snap which is absurd since he saw over 400 touches.

New Offensive Coordinator Joe Brady brings excitement to this offense as his LSU passing attack in 2019 dominated the NCAA. Before LSU Brady spent 2 seasons in New Orleans under Sean Payton and has been on record stating he will bring a similar scheme to Carolina. This is evident by the signing of Teddy Bridgewater, who spent 2018 with Brady in New Orleans.

This scheme heavily utilizes the running back in the passing game. Last season at LSU, Clyde Edwards Helaire (CEH) was 7th in the nation in RB targets. Another key aspect of this offense in the red zone usage as CEH was 7th in the nation in red zone carries as well.

Draft Recommendation

Anyone sweating the idea of drafting McCaffrey at the 1.01 should rest easy as almost all the running backs in NFL history who hit the 400 PPG mark in .5 PPR were still the RB1 the following year. The only player to not do it was 2004 Priest Holmes who got hurt after 8 weeks but was on pace for his third 400-point season in a row.

Draft McCaffrey at 1.01 and let’s move on


Derrick Henry

    • Lost Right Tackle Jack Conklin
    • Drafted Offensive Tackle Isaiah Wilson


Continuity is king in fantasy and the Titans are bringing back 10 starters on offense including spark plug Ryan Tannehill. Derrick Henry’s dominance coincided with Tannehill getting the nod as the starter halfway through the 2019 season. Henry was one of two players with 100 touches to finish with over 0.5 points per snap on the season.

Also, the Titans return 4 of 5 starting offensive lineman and used high draft capital to replace RT Jack Conklin by drafting offensive tackle Isaiah Wilson in the first round. According to Vegas win totals, the Titans have the second softest schedule in 2020, which should allow them to continue to have positive game scrips. This will help Henry continue to get monster workloads this season.

Draft Recommendation

Currently being drafted as a top 5 pick, Derrick Henry is locked in as a top 7 RB in 2020 drafts that shouldn’t fall past the pick 7-8 range in the first round. His lack of passing game usage is why I have him only behind McCaffrey, Barkley, Zeke, Kamara and Cook.


Dalvin Cook

    • New Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak
    • Lost Right Guard Josh Kline (PFF #27 Guard)


Dalvin Cook has reported to camp, but a weird loop hole would allow him to play one game then sit out for 2020. Still Cook is worth the risk in the top half of the first round as he has a chance to become offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak’s new Arian Foster. Cook finished the season with over 19 points per game and offers even more upside this season with Kubiak now calling plays.

A complete back, Cook has RB1 overall upside who could demand more targets with the departure of Stefon Diggs. In the 4 seasons under Kubiak, Foster’s 16 game pace was 75 targets a season which is more than enough for Cook to flirt with being a top two back in 2020. Last season Cook was one of only three RBs to see 20 touches and fall into the elite category in RBOM.

Draft Recommendation

Cook is a locked in top 5 pick who will flirt with RB1 overall upside every time he steps on the field. Until more information comes out about Cook’s holding out, everyone should take the chance on his potential. Drafting Alexander Mattison is a must and his ADP should begin to fall now that Cook has reported. Mattison is currently being drafted in the 9th round, but owners could wait until round 10 to the pull the trigger if they believe another player can help their team in round 9.


Honorable Mentions Tier 1 Running Backs


Ezekiel Elliott

    • New Head Coach Mike McCarthy
    • Travis Frederick Retired (PFF #13 Center)


Ezekiel Elliott falls into the honorable mention category as his passing game usage lowers his points per snap and touch. The good news for Zeke is new head coach Mike McCarthy will once again give Zeke one of the biggest workloads in the NFL. McCarthy has overseen schemes dating back to his days with the Saints where RBs had a solid role in the passing game, seeing a 15% target share.

Down the stretch last season, Zeke began to see his passing game usage rise as the percentage of targets he saw on his routes eclipsed 18% over the final six games. This boost in the pass game usage would elevate Elliott into the Elite Tier 1 group and allow him to be in contention for the top RB spot in 2020.

Draft Recommendation

Zeke’s locked-in workload and return of four offensive line starters makes him the RB3 this draft season. Current ADP has him right at three so if you can choose your draft slot, third is a great position.


Saquon Barkley

    • New Offensive Coordinator Jason Garrett
    • Drafted Offensive Tackle Andrew Thomas
    • Lost Jon Halapio (PFF #31 Center)
    • Lost Left Tackle Nate Solder (PFF #45 Tackle)
    • Signed Right Tackle Cameron Fleming
    • Center Spencer Pulley returning from injury


Saquon Barkley was an Elite Tier 1 running back in 2018 before injuries limited him for half the season in 2019. The move to Jason Garrrett as the offensive coordinator solidifies Barkley’s workload, but his passing game usage could dip. The Cowboys as a team had only one season with over 100 targets to the running back position since 2013. This is well below the 152 the Giants had as a team in 2018.

The drop-off in targets should limit Barkley’s ceiling, but his big workload behind an improving offensive line should solidify him as a top two pick. Recent news of Nate Solder opting out pushes Andrew Thomas to the left side, and new off-season acquisition Cameron Fleming could slide in at right tackle. This update is a slight downgrade for the Giants as both tackles will be new in 2020.

Draft Recommendation

Don’t overthink it. Barkley is the second pick in the draft. He is a generational talent and similar to McCaffrey. Just sit back and worry about rounds two and beyond.


Josh Jacobs

    • No changes


Josh Jacobs might be the only back going in the first two rounds that has all five offensive linemen coming back and no changes to his coaching staff. This continuity brings a lot of upside for Jacobs. It is notable Jalen Richard was retained, but general manager Mike Mayock has stated they will get him more involved in the passing game.

Head coach Jon Gruden has experience with providing a target bump to young running backs in their second season. Back in Tampa Bay Cadillac Williams was used strictly as a runner in year one, seeing only 25 targets. That number nearly doubled the next season jumping to 44. If Jacobs makes a similar jump, he can vault into the top half of the RB1 rankings after finishing as the RB13 in points per game in 2019.

Draft Recommendation

Jacobs shouldn’t fall out of the first round as the level of continuity on the Raiders should allow him to make a jump in his second season. Currently being drafted as the RB13 in the middle of the second round, Jacobs makes for an ideal turn pick as the beginning of the second round in 2020.



Sources: Expand The Boxscore, Pro Football Focus and Pro Football Reference