What’s the difference between Jon Gruden in September and an overripe California-grown tomato? The tomato doesn’t have to put up with Mark Davis for the next seven years, who, coincidentally (or not?), also looks like an overripe tomato — except Davis does for all 12 months of the year. For Gruden, it’s just about a two-month sweet spot, and who can blame him for wanting to get his bronze on to complete that irresistible visor look? From the TV, he looks like he’s yap-yap-yapping from the first whistle to the last, the same way Pete Carroll is chomping at the bit from the moment he comes out of the tunnel.
Both Carroll and Gruden have attractive fantasy running backs at their disposal as they prepare week after week in the form of Chris Carson and Josh Jacobs. They also appear to be staring at pretty hefty fines from the league office after looking somewhat lax with their mask usage during gameplay on Sunday and Monday. No matter how you spin it, the NFL was hit with a plethora of unfortunate story lines in Week 2, with stars on both sides of the ball doing down with seemingly every ailment underneath the moon. That makes my job entering Week 3 of the season as difficult as it’s going to get (*knock on wood, although Gruden’s mid-section as of late Monday night would suffice*), so let’s fast-forward through the pleasantries and get to the ever-controversial top 60 ROS running back rankings. First, let’s take a quick trip around the league via some player news and updates.
Ezekiel Elliott – In a week where Saquon Barkley suffered a torn ACL and Christian McCaffrey is expected to miss multiple weeks with an ankle injury, Elliott totaled 122 all-purpose yards on 22 carries and six receptions (on seven targets), adding in one touchdown on the ground. With the former two names now out of the conversation for RB1 overall, Elliott rises to No. 1 in the rankings. Zeke’s status as a top-tier RB1 is as safe as his tattoo artist’s job security.
Christian McCaffrey – Speaking of McCaffrey, it’s hard to say just where Carolina’s feature back ranks moving forward, but here are a few reference points. Over the past 18 games (2019 plus 2020), McCaffrey averaged 25.7 half-PPR points per game. Sources say McCaffrey will miss four-to-six weeks, so looking towards a best-case scenario, McCaffrey gets cleared to return Oct. 19, putting him on track to play Oct. 25 against New Orleans. If we assume he comes back at 100% and doesn’t miss a step, that would equal 10 games (including Week 17) at 25.7 half-PPR points per game, equating to 257 additional points on top of the 49.8 he’s already accrued. If we compare that to 2019, that would make McCaffrey the overall RB2, or RB1, seeing as McCaffrey himself was the only one to best that total one year ago. As for a worst-case scenario, let’s assume he misses six weeks and returns Nov. 8 at Kansas City, then plays eight weeks at 75% of his previous production. That would give him 154.2 rest-of-season half-PPR points on top of his 49.8 already accrued, which comes out to 204 points — the equivalent to 2019’s RB14, right in between Joe Mixon and Todd Gurley. The aforementioned best-case scenario is unlikely, and we’re probably looking something more in the middle — although the Panthers are so bad, they’ll have little motivation to rush him back or give him a heavy workload upon his return. I’m projecting somewhere around 180 half-PPR points for McCaffrey for the rest of the season, which would be enough to place him within the top 10 at the end of the year. However, these are rest-of-season rankings, not end-of-season projection rankings, which is why McCaffrey is at No. 14 here. Just know he could end up much lower if the Panthers play this conservatively.
Aaron Jones – After scoring 19 touchdowns in 2019, most industry ‘perts’ were screaming regression for 2020. Well, Jones already has four scores (three rush TD, one receiving TD) through two weeks this year after running for 168 yards on 18 carries and adding another 68 yards through the air on four catches in Week 2. It’s obvious the Packers are going to rely heavily on Jones moving forward — especially in the red zone — and he might even have the ceiling of RB1 overall. After creeping up from RB14 to RB10 in the ROS rankings, he’s up to No. 5 this week. Perhaps the most unusual aspect of Jones’ attractive fantasy usage (20 touches in Week 1, 22 touches in Week 2) is that the Packers, a win-now team, used their first two NFL Draft picks this past April on players it won’t be utilizing until 2021 at the earliest.
Nick Chubb – As I sipped on a fine IPA during Thursday night’s game, I found myself texting numerous friends of mine in the fantasy industry the same question about Chubb: fantasy value aside, is Chubb a top five running back in the NFL? He’s highly efficient on the ground (5.1 career Y/A, 5.8 Y/A in 2020) despite having a limited role in passing work (one catch for nine yards on Thursday) and pretty much does exactly what is asked of him in this Browns offense each year. Fantasy isn’t the same as real life, but Chubb (22 carries for 124 yards and two rushing TD in Week 2) is still an RB1 as far as fantasy is concerned heading into Week 3. If you’re fortunate enough to have him as your RB2, you’re set up quite nicely as long as your RB1 avoided the injury bug.
Jonathan Taylor – After Marlon Mack went down for the season, the stock of Taylor and Nyheim Hines skyrocketed. Things didn’t play out in Hines’ favor, as he received just one touch (a four-yard reception) compared to Taylor’s 28 touches — a clear indication that the era of Taylor the bell-Colt has officially begun in Indy. Taylor ran 26 times for 101 yards and a touchdown on Sunday, also catching two passes for an addition nine yards. The back-end RB1, high-end RB2 range of backs is hella crowded like a Philadelphia house party, but Taylor should be locked in as an RB1 in 12 team leagues for the rest of the season.
Joe Mixon – I gained some skeptics by ranking Mixon at No. 15 last week and commenting that I couldn’t see him even as an RB2 on a championship team at the end of the year. That was bold, but I’m thinking bigger than just contending. Not get-you-to-the-playoffs big, but win-it-all big. Does Mixon have the upside to make that happen? He certainly is an undisputed feature back — but in an offense none of us should be willing to trust. The good news is that Mixon caught four passes for 40 yards on Thursday night, and although it’s unclear how sustainable that air game production might be, it would certainly enhance Mixon’s upside moving forward. The bad news is that Mixon totaled just 46 yards on the ground on 16 carries, translating to 2.9 yards-per-rush. He remains locked in as a high-floor RB2. Bring on the critics!
Raheem Mostert – According to Kyle Shannahan, Mostert is unlikely to suit up in Week 3 against the Giants after suffering an MCL sprain on Sunday. It’s unclear how much time he will miss exactly, but if it’s only one game, Mostert should remain safely locked into RB2 status for ROS. That might be a tad bit optimistic, so although I like him far more than the likes of Kareem Hunt and James Conner, he’s ranked at No. 22 until we know more. If he were healthy entering Week 3, Mostert would be sitting at No. 17 behind Todd Gurley. Sadly, that isn’t the case, and Jerick McKinnon should be the primary beneficiary in the short-term, as Tevin Coleman will be out “multiple weeks.” Expect Jeff Wilson to steal some carries as well, but McKinnon should be an attractive flex option and sleeper RB2 until Mostert returns. He’s down at No. 40 for ROS since it’s impossible to know exactly what that timeframe looks like.
James Conner – I kept Conner within RB2 status heading into Week 2, ranking him at RB24. Many thought Benny Snell was going to take hold of this backfield and run with it, but he produced negative fantasy output while carrying the ball just three times for five yards with one catch that went for a loss of four yards — and that line included a fourth quarter fumble. Meanwhile, Conner rushed 16 times for 106 yards and a touchdown, adding another 15 yards on two catches in the passing game. Conner owners can leave out a sigh of relief here — just make sure you do so within the privacy of your own home — unless you find yourself standing on the street next to a mask-less Brett Favre. Conner is the back to own in Pittsburgh and should resume his role as Mike Tomlin’s bell-cow. He’s up to RB20.
James Robinson – Let’s recap Robinson’s trajectory. On the morning of Monday, August 31, he was an unknown, undrafted rookie presumably sitting behind Leonard Fournette, Chris Thompson, Ryquell Armstead and maybe even Devine Ozigbo on the Jaguars running back depth chart. Come Week 1, it was debated what the breakdown in touches would look like in Jacksonville with Fournette out of town and both Armstead and Ozigbo hurt. Robinson then went on to total 16 carries in Week 1, rushing for 62 yards and making a single, 28-yard grab in the air . That caused me to move Robinson from unranked all the way to No. 34 in last week’s rankings. Even then, I thought that was high. Enter Week 2, when Robinson again received 16 carries and rushed for 102 yards and a touchdown, adding another 18 yards on three receptions. With 36 touches through two weeks and little competition for carries on the ground in Jacksonville, Robinson has broken into RB2 status for ROS. I have to smack myself in the face a couple times after saying that. For the first time, my friends can say “stop hitting yourself,” and have it not be a joke.
Leonard Fournette – The fact of the matter is that after the top 22 running backs on this list, there is a major drop-off thereafter as it relates to certainty of opportunity and/or role the player’s given offense. For that reason, I can see more scenarios in which Robinson and Fournette finish as bottom-end RB2s than most of — if not all — running backs to follow. This indicates a major turnaround from Week 1, when Ronald Jones garnered 17 carries and three targets — with Fournette out-touching Jones 16-to-nine in Week 2. Fournette rushed for 103 yards and two touchdowns on 12 carries, also catching four passes on five targets for an additional 13 yards. In my estimation, Jones is all but finished from a fantasy perspective and should be relegated to a bench role, as it’s time to let Fournette roll in Tampa Bay. He’s at No. 24 as an RB2 for ROS and I think a scenario exists where he finishes the season as a top 15 running back. There’s also a scenario that exists in which Bruce Arians kicks him off the team in Week 8 for accidentally sitting on Tom Brady’s hair gel, but it’s not my job to speculate on such.
J.K. Dobbins – Dobbins the Take-it-to-the-House Elf let us down in Week 2, just like the time when Dobby intercepted all of Harry Potter’s letters from his friends to try to keep him from attending Hogwarts heading into second year. You still have to love Dobbins as a bench stash with his incredible ROS upside, but he can’t be ranked as a top 24 back until we see evidence of more consistency of his usage. Dobbins saw just three touches in Week 2, failing to receive a carry until the third quarter. He finished with two rushes for 48 yards with one catch for an additional 13 yards, as he broke away for a 44-yard rush that accounted for almost all of his fantasy production. On top of that, he played the same amount of snaps (10) as Gus Edwards, who received 10 carries to Dobbins’ two. Continually having Dobbins over Ingram may baffle some, but the fact is, Dobbins remains a league-winner while Ingram does not.
Myles Gaskin – If there was one running back I expected to receive complaints about omitting from the Week 2 rankings, it was Gaskin. Surprisingly, only one question popped up about his absence, which in hindsight was as inexcusable as forgetting to replace a finished roll of toilet paper. Not one week does a role in an NFL offense make, but it appears as Gaskin’s Week 1 usage was no fluke, as he led the Dolphins’ backfield in touches in Week 2. Gaskin rushed for 46 yards on seven carries and caught six passes for 36 yards, and it’s hard to argue he isn’t the back to own in Miami.
Mike Davis – With McCaffrey out four-to-six weeks, the Panthers will look to Mike Davis to take over lead-back duties. Not only will Davis be worthy of RB2 consideration while McCaffrey is out, but his stock is perhaps increased by the current trajectory of the Panthers’ season. Should Carolina elect to play it cautious with McCaffrey, Davis would be the primary beneficiary, which makes him an even more attractive waiver wire target given his healthy short-term outlook mixed with league-winning potential should the plan for McCaffrey’s return go awry. Unlikely, but as worthy of an early-season Hail Mary as any pick-up you’re going to find if you’re desperate after just two weeks.
Cam Akers – Sean McVay says that Akers “should be okay” moving forward, which is the same lie I tell myself every morning when I wake up and look in the mirror. I may go down sinking with the ship on this one, but Akers is still the Rams back to own, although Darrell Henderson looked great on Sunday, rushing for 81 yards and one touchdown on 12 carries once Akers was removed from the game. Henderson also added two catches for 40 yards, while Malcolm Brown carried 11 times for 47 yards with zero receptions. Those who spent heavy FAAB on Brown last week will likely be disappointed moving forward, as there’s a chance he ends the season as the Rams’ lowest scoring RB — but it’s Akers (No. 37), Brown (No. 41) and Henderson (No. 45) — in that order — for the time being.
Devonta Freeman – Unsigned and perhaps over-ranked, but if he signs somewhere (like the Giants) and gets weekly double-digit carries to go with a couple targets, doesn’t he have to be worthy of top 36 RB status or weekly Flex consideration? He’s not yet at that point at the time I’m writing this, which is why he comes in at No. 47.
Kerryon Johnson – If I end up convincing myself to write about the Lions backfield in the pre-ranking blurbs every week, Donkey Teeth might find my resignation on his desk (Emails, maybe even in the spam folder) by Week 6. Last week, I ranked this backfield in the following order: D’Andre Swift (No. 37), Adrian Peterson (No. 43) and lastly, Johnson (No. 52). Heading into Week 3, it looks like this: Swift (No. 36), Johnson (No. 52) and then Peterson (No. 55). Swift got an even five touches on the ground (12 yards) and in the air (60 yards), and that production added with the Lions’ usage of him in their Week 1 two-minute drill reveals he’ll be relied heavily upon in passing work in both low and high-leverage situations. Johnson was fed the ball out of the gate in Week 1 on the opening drive, ultimately rushing for 32 yards and one score on eight carries. Peterson, like Johnson, was absent in passing work, but rushed seven times for 41 yards. Stay away from this backfield aside from Swift as a weekly Flex option, depending on how depleted your roster is by injuries.
And that’s the rest-of-season top 60 as we head into Week 3. Just remember, 2-0 doesn’t mean you’re home free, and with 0-2 brings endless opportunities to show off your fantasy genius. By no means does the latter mean your season is over, unless you’re like my one friends’ mom, who took Tom Brady in the second round. Until next time, I’m happy to take this conversation into the comments section or on Twitter, where you can find me @WorldOfHobbs.