If I was given one wish for the 2020 fantasy football season, it would be to properly handicap the RB1 opportunity share for every NFL team. This is the most critical position in fantasy football, especially with an overwhelming number of running backs drafted in the first two rounds. When projecting running back opportunity shares for the upcoming season, it is important to include several different factors.
Projecting RB1 Opportunity Share For Each NFL Team
Most fantasy drafters simply examine the running back opportunity share based on what a player did last year and if a new running back was added to the depth chart. Those factors are not nearly as important as examining how a running back performed in games they were healthy and received the majority of touches. Even if that was a reduced sample, it provides the best window into the potential opportunity share for the 2020 season.
For each team’s projected starting running back, I listed the opportunity share from the 2019 season in games they started and did not leave due to injury. For players that joined new teams (i.e Todd Gurley in Atlanta), I used the stats from last year’s primary starting running back (i.e. Devonta Freeman). While the skill set may not match perfectly, it gives us the best projection of usage for 2020.
In this eight-part series, we will examine the projected lead running backs for each NFL division. Let’s start with the NFC East.
2019 RB: Ezekiel Elliott
Rushing Yards: 63.03%
Receiving Yards: 8.57%
2020 RB1: Ezekiel Elliott
— NFL (@NFL) March 7, 2020
Outlook: Over his first four seasons, Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott has been one of the most consistent producers in all of fantasy football. His greatest gift is versatility, ranking fourth in rushing yards (1357), ninth in receptions (54), and first in red-zone touches (68) among all running backs. Elliott’s 29.17% touchdown share maintains a high annual floor at fantasy’s most important position. New head coach Mike McCarthy provides a significant playcalling upgrade over conservative Jason Garrett. By adding athletic wideout CeeDee Lamb via the draft, the Cowboys project to have one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL. Elliott is one of few elite three-down bell-cow running backs in the NFL.
New York Giants
2019 RB: Saquon Barkley
Rushing Yards: 71.08%
Receiving Yards: 12.28%
2020 RB1: Saquon Barkley
remember when @saquon eviscerated another human being's ankles
— Ryan Disdier (@ryandisdier) June 15, 2020
Outlook: In what many would call a “down” year, Saquon Barkley finished seventh in running back fantasy points per game. He suffered a high ankle sprain in Week 3 and produced just one top-five overall fantasy RB performance from Week 8 until Week 15. The New York Giants new offensive coordinator Jason Garrett received much criticism while serving as head coach in Dallas, but the Cowboys offense did rank first in total yards per game. We probably saw Barkley’s floor last season, which puts him directly in line for a huge bounce-back season. With Christian McCaffrey battling against history as a repeat overall RB1, Barkley is the most likely candidate to usurp his throne.
2019 RB: Miles Sanders
Rushing Yards: 63.99%
Receiving Yards: 12.13%
2020 RB1: Miles Sanders
Are we sure Miles Sanders is only a rookie? @boobiemilesxxiv
— NFL (@NFL) December 16, 2019
Outlook: The Penn State rookie failed to make a fantasy impact until halfway through last season. In Week 8, Miles Sanders tallied 118 yards and one touchdown at Buffalo despite receiving just a 16.9% Snap Share. From that point Sanders rated as the PPR RB9, outscoring more accomplished rushers such as Austin Ekeler, Alvin Kamara, and Leonard Fournette. With Jordan Howard now in Miami, Sanders appears ready to ascend to the role of an overall top-12 running back. In six games as the starter, Sanders accumulated almost 64% of the Philadelphia Eagles rushing yards and 14.29% of the team targets. His 12.13% of the team’s receiving yards ranks seventh among running backs who started six or more games. Sanders is fast (4.49 40-Yard Dash speed), versatile, and the definitive Eagles choice for goal-line work. While the recent news of guard Brandon Brooks tearing his Achilles dampens expectations, Sanders still has a golden opportunity to become one of the best all-around running backs in the league.
2019 RB: Derrius Guice
Rushing Yards: 58.89%
2020 RB1: Derrius Guice
— NFL (@NFL) December 1, 2019
Outlook: The 2020 season is Derrius Guice‘s last chance to become a fantasy-relevant running back this season. The injury-riddled 23-year old rusher is clearly the best back on the depth chart. His 4.49 40-Yard dash speed at 224 lbs provides the athletic foundation for an RB1 season. Aside from his health, the biggest question mark is the Washington Redskins offensive line. Washington finally severed ties with dominant offensive tackle Trent Williams, trading him to San Francisco for a third-round pick this year (center Keith Ismael) and a third-round pick in 2021. While 35-year old Adrian Peterson still lurks, Guice’s biggest challenge will come from versatile rookie Antonio Gibson. The third-round athletic hybrid back will need time to adjust to the NFL, giving Guice a chance to secure this backfield in the first month of the season. All we have from Guice’s career is flashes. He showed dynamic ability in the 2018 preseason and produced the overall RB1 performance in Week 13 last year. His RB34 overall ADP makes him a high-risk, high-reward play in all formats.
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