2020 was a weird year. And that was not exclusive to the NFL. Games were played with largely empty stadiums and players missed games for reasons other than injury. At running back, there was a ton of attrition, with many big names rendered irrelevant due to injury. In fantasy football, Alvin Kamara was his usual self, while Ezekiel Elliott was not. At the same time, players like James Robinson and Antonio Gibson came out of nowhere. Read on to see who wins the Superlative awards at running back!
Alvin Kamara and James Robinson Win Fantasy Football Running Back Superlative Awards
MVP: Alvin Kamara
Alvin Kamara was far and away the best running back of the season in half-PPR. He averaged 22.4 fantasy points-per-game (PPG). Technically this was just behind Dalvin Cook, as well as Christian McCaffrey, who played just three games. But Kamara was on another level for basically all but the first couple games this year that Taysom Hill took over at quarterback.
Kamara is an interesting back because he rarely goes over 100-yards rushing. But his strength is that he gets a ton of targets, and has a knack for the end zone. Kamara didn’t even go over 1,000 yards rushing, but he did have 83 receptions for 756 yards. Oh and about those touchdowns? He had 21 total.
What also made those who drafted Alvin Kamara love so much is that he performed when it counted. Week 16, championship weekend for most, Kamara had his only 100+ rushing game of the season. But that was just the beginning of things. Kamara also scored six touchdowns. Six. Most people with him on their squad probably won that week.
Beat the Odds of Regression: Aaron Jones
Aaron Jones finished last season fifth in points per game. A lot of that was the result of his unreal 19 touchdowns. That year, Jones could be somewhat of a frustrating back. In games that he didn’t score, he could sometimes have a terrible floor, especially as a rusher. Jones had seven games under 50 rushing yards, and nine games with under 60 yards. Many feared regression was imminent for Jones.
However, even counting McCaffrey, Jones averaged the fifth-most points at running back in 2020. His touchdowns did regress, from 19 to 11, but is still a relatively healthy number. And, it should also be noted that he missed three games, so could have had more. Jones also had much better rushing lines, only going under 50 yards rushing four times on the year. One of those games was a week 17 blowout of the Chicago Bears.
Jones still has questions moving into 2021. He will be a free agent, and the team drafted the bruising back A.J. Dillon in the second round. Are they going to let him walk for the younger, cheaper option? His ADP will be cemented by how free agency plays out. Green Bay would be smart to keep Jones though, as he is as versatile as they come.
Biggest Busts: Ezekiel Elliott
This one is probably the most debatable of the picks. Some may argue that players like Saquon Barkley or even Christian McCaffrey would be the biggest busts, considering they only played a few games each. But it is tough to call a player a bust when they weren’t on the field, especially since they weren’t necessarily stinking up starting lineups.
Zeke missed two games, but overall was one of the healthier backs all year. And given his pedigree, he was tough to bench. Elliott was a top-five pick in almost all draft formats, yet finished as a borderline RB2, and averaged a 13.2 PPG. It doesn’t sound terrible, but it’s sandwiched in-between the likes of the largely undrafted Antonio Gibson, and mid-round pick David Johnson.
Prior to that, Elliott had been a top-ten back in each of his NFL seasons. And in two of those years, he was top-five in PPG. On the year, Elliott only had two 100-yard rushing games and didn’t even crack 1,000-yards rushing. His eight touchdowns were also a career-low, which were somehow less than the year he only played in ten games.
Now entering his sixth season in 2021, Elliott is starting to look like a high-volume plodder. Still, his ADP is worth monitoring, as he is likely to keep his volume, and could bounce back if Dak Prescott comes back with the Cowboys.
Breakout Player: James Robinson
One of the wilder stories of 2020 was how the Jacksonville Jaguars backfield played out. The former first-round pick Leonard Fournette had been the team’s leading rusher since he was drafted by the team in 2017. Despite finishing as the RB10 in PPG for 2019, his relationship with the team was souring. Some thought the team would just run him into the ground after declining his fifth-year option. There was buzz that he could be traded, but after no one materialized it looked like Fournette would get at least one more season with the Jags.
Until he didn’t. Just two weeks before the season, he was cut. With a lack of preseason, all people could do was predict that incumbents Ryquell Armstead or Chris Thompson would become the lead backs. That too didn’t happen. Instead, enter James Robinson.
Robinson was an undrafted rookie from Illinois State. He ended up coming out of nowhere to rush for over 1,000 yards and seven touchdowns. Robinson also added 344 receiving yards and another three touchdowns. With him nursing injuries to end the year, and the team trying to secure the number one overall pick, they rested Robinson for the final two weeks of the year. Still, he finished as the RB7 in PPG, and RB4 in total points scored.
Next season he is likely to be a first-round pick. And with the Jags likely to draft Trevor Lawrence, he will be leaned on frequently for his rookie quarterback.
Watch Next Year: D’Andre Swift
This year had a ton of young rookie running backs come into the league. Jonathan Taylor and Clyde-Edwards Helaire received plenty of hype early. But a trio of others was watched all season long, as savvy fantasy team managers waited for them to break out: Cam Akers, J.K. Dobbins, and D’Andre Swift. All three finally at least somewhat broke free of their running-back-by-committees by the end of the year. They will also all go a lot higher in drafts in 2021.
However, Akers and Dobbins might have a higher price than Swift, who has at least an equal ceiling. This is due in part to playing on better teams – both the Los Angeles Rams and Baltimore Ravens are in the playoffs. The Detroit Lions, on the other hand, cleaned house. With a new head coach, who knows how the team looks in 2021.
But something else that differentiates Swift above others is the competition around him at the position. In Baltimore, Gus Edwards is the team’s go-to power back. Even into next year will be a part of this team’s offense at the goal line and as the closer. For Los Angeles, they still have Darrell Henderson. Henderson is less of a threat, but he will still get carries as a young runner for the team.
In Swift’s case, he ran behind Adrian Peterson last year. Peterson is undoubtedly a first-ballot Hall of Famer, but he has a much better chance of retiring next season than returning to the team. There is still the issue of Kerryon Johnson, who showed flashes his first two year seasons. But he was nothing more than an afterthought in 2020, not even surpassing 200 yards rushing. Swift has a clear shot for dominance in the team’s snaps.\