The 2020 running back class has the early returns of being a special one. They had their highs and lows but overall performed extremely well. These running backs will bring fantasy relevance for years to come and should be valuable assets moving forward. In this article, we will review their performances from 2020 and see what the future holds for each back.
CLYDE EDWARDS-HERLAIE (KANSAS CITY CHIEFS)
Stat line: 13 Games, 181 rushing attempts for 803 rushing yards and four touchdowns; 54 targets, 36 receptions, 297 receiving yards and one touchdown.
Fantasy Finish: RB22
Analysis: Likely the most divisive back from the 2020 class, Clyde Edwards-Helaire fits right into the Kansas City high-octane offense. Battling through injuries and the arrival of Le'Veon Bell midseason, CEH was still able to post a low-end RB2 fantasy season. For people who thought he would be a high-end RB1 right away, you set yourself up for failure and have nobody to blame but yourself. If you kept expectations in check, then you were rewarded with a safe fantasy floor each week.
2021 and Beyond: CEH is only going to improve as a player in this offense. Andy Reid likes to rotate his backs but CEH was being trusted with a heavy workload right away. Expect CEH to improve upon these numbers and potentially reach RB1 range in 2021. If you have him, then hold onto him in fantasy unless you are blown away by a deal. The only worry would be the possible departure of offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy and its potential impact on the offense.
D’ANDRE SWIFT (DETROIT LIONS)
Stat Line: 13 games, 114 rushing attempts for 521 rushing yards and eight touchdowns; 57 targets, 46 receptions for 357 receiving yards and two touchdowns.
Fantasy Finish: RB18
Analysis: The second running back off the board in the 2020 Draft, Swift, unfortunately, had to deal with the turmoil that comes with being a member of the Detroit Lions. His first few weeks in the league were nothing to write home about but he broke out in a big way in week six against Jacksonville. Outside of a dud in Week eight, Swift established himself as a future star and came on as the season wore down. While he only passed the 100-yard rushing mark in a game once, Swift saw action in the passing game and proved to be a legitimate offensive threat in his rookie campaign.
2021 and Beyond: Like CEH, Swift should be held onto TIGHTLY heading into 2021. The Lions will have a new coaching staff and front office in place. While that usually leaves fantasy owners a bit uneasy due to the constant NFL turnover and always wanting 'your guy,' owners of Swift should take solace in the fact that he was impressive enough to be given the reigns of the starting job in 2021 regardless of who the coach is. He is a future RB1 in the making and could even hit that benchmark as soon as this year. Something to watch for would be the status of quarterback Matthew Stafford, who's standing with the team is currently up in the air.
JONATHAN TAYLOR (INDIANAPOLIS COLTS)
Stat Line: 15 games, 232 rushing attempts for 1169 rushing yards and 11 TDs; 39 targets, 36 receptions for 299 receiving yards and one touchdown.
Fantasy Finish: RB6
Analysis: Here we have a case of PATIENCE. A ton of people in the fantasy community wrote off Taylor as a bust due to his lackluster start in 2020. News flash: maybe let a guy play more than seven games before labeling him a bust, just a thought. Anyways, Taylor shut those people up real quick following Week 10. He posted six straight weeks of at least 74 total yards. He is running behind one of, if not the best offensive line in the league. He’s officially the stud we all expected him to be even before the draft.
2021 and Beyond: Jonathan Taylor is a true workhorse running back in a league where that title is starting to go extinct. By no means should you be selling Taylor, unless someone sells you the farm to get him and even that might not be enough. The aforementioned offensive line, plus the offensive system Frank Reich runs is a perfect storm that will keep Taylor as an RB1 for years to come. The only thing that bears watching is the quarterback position. Philip Rivers is likely a one-year rental. The Colts need to find their quarterback of the future. That will have some impact on Taylor but not enough to sell him in dynasty.
CAM AKERS (LOS ANGELES RAMS)
Stat Line: 13 games, 145 rushing attempts for 625 rushing yards and two touchdowns; 14 targets, 11 receptions for 123 receiving yards and one touchdown.
Fantasy Finish: RB45
Analysis: Yet another rookie running back who started a bit sluggish and came on late, Cam Akers was a midseason stud for the Rams. He peaked in Week 14 against the New England Patriots, rushing for 171 yards on 29 attempts. He has the draft capital and system needed to flourish. Sean McVay seemed to trust him more as the season wore on, which is what you like to see from a rookie running back.
2021 and Beyond: Akers proved enough in his rookie year to be given a full workload in 2021. Making the second-year leap will be critical for him. If he can show improvement in areas such as pass-catching and blitz pickup then he should be the Rams' lead back for years to come. That position is very valuable from a fantasy perspective. Sean McVay is one of the best offensive minds in the game. If Akers can ascend to being the workhorse back for Los Angeles, then he should be treated as a possible RB1. If the right deal comes along (mid-2021 first-round pick would do it), then he is a movable asset. The 2021 season will go a long way in determining where Akers stands amongst the NFL running back hierarchy.
CAM AKERS (LOS ANGELES RAMS)
Stat Line: 15 games, 134 rushing attempts for 805 rushing yards and nine touchdowns; 24 targets, 18 receptions for 120 receiving yards.
Fantasy Finish: RB24
Analysis: JK Dobbins had a bit of a different situation than any other rookie running back. Baltimore has a boatload of running backs and they use all of them. Mark Ingram, Gus Edwards, Justice Hill and Dobbins all were involved on offense this season. That makes what Dobbins did much more impressive. The moment Ingram started missing time, Dobbins and Edwards were splitting the workload and it was pretty clear from the start that Dobbins would not be held down for long. He never topped 15 carries in a game and still managed to produce a very promising stat line.
2021 and Beyond: Mark Ingram, a healthy scratch during the final two games of the regular season, will not be in Baltimore in 2021. Gus Edwards is a restricted free agent and could also be gone. Regardless of any additions, JK Dobbins is going to be the man in the Baltimore backfield. He will be an RB1 as soon as next season and should be held in high regard by fantasy owners. It would take a lot to of capital to land Dobbins in a trade at the moment. Baltimore is one of the best rushing teams in the league and that will continue into 2021 and beyond. The future is bright for Dobbins.
A.J. DILLON (GREEN BAY PACKERS)
Stat Line: 11 games, 46 rushing attempts for 242 rushing yards and two touchdowns; two targets, two receptions for 21 receiving yards.
Fantasy Finish: RB84
Analysis: AJ Dillon spent most of 2020 backing up Aaron Jones. Unfortunately for Dillon, that meant a whole lot of sitting on the bench. He doesn't offer much as a pass catcher, as you can see by his receiving stat line. That is not likely to improve, as Dillon has never been a reliable receiving back, dating back to his days at Boston College. Dillon had a breakout game in Week 16 against Tennessee, totaling 124 yards on 21 attempts and finding the end zone twice. He did so while Aaron Jones still received 10 carries himself. That should be what fantasy owners hold onto heading into 2021.
2021 and Beyond: With Jones likely gone, AJ Dillon has a chance to become the lead back in Green Bay in 2021. He is a big bull of a running back and would be a nightmare to deal with for opposing defenses, simply due to the fact Aaron Rodgers is the one sharing the backfield with him. Don't like it when Rodgers carves you up throwing the ball? Fine, we'll hand it to our six-foot, 247-pound bruiser back. Have fun tackling that! In all seriousness, Dillon has a golden opportunity in a very good offense. The biggest worry is his lack of receiving ability. If that rubs you the wrong way, then capitalize on the value Dillon will bring you when he inevitably has a big game next season. He is a good sell-high candidate.
ANTONIO GIBSON (WASHINGTON FOOTBALL TEAM)
Stat Line: 14 games, 170 rushing attempts for 795 rushing yards and11 touchdowns; 44 targets, 36 receptions for 247 receiving yards.
Fantasy Finish: RB13
Analysis: What a wild ride Antonio Gibson sent us on in 2020. A popular draft crush during draft season, it is hard to believe that even the most loyal fan of Gibson saw a year like this coming. Give credit where credit is due, Washington had the guts to firmly entrench Gibson as a running back, when many thought he could be more helpful as a receiver. Gibson outperformed expectations in 2020 and had multiple performances that will land him in the good graces of fantasy owners heading into 2021, including a 115 yard, three touchdown performance on Thanksgiving day against Dallas.
2021 and Beyond: Gibson seems to be firmly entrenched as the lead back in Washington. A surprising NFC East champion, Washington still has an offense that could use some work but Gibson should be a stalwart for the foreseeable future. His receiving ability paired with his rushing upside should allow him to hang around RB1 range for fantasy football. The change on offense bears watching but Gibson has established himself as a very good back. With some refinement to his game, he could break into RB1 territory sooner rather than later. He's a hold for fantasy football at the moment but selling high is also an option.
KE’SHAWN VAUGHN (TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
Stat Line: 10 Games, 26 rushing attempts for 109 rushing yards; ten targets, five receptions for 34 Yards and one touchdown.
Fantasy Finish: RB99
Analysis: Vaughn was pretty much an afterthought in 2020. He built up a lot of buzz as a possible third down receiving option for new Bucs quarterback Tom Brady but was passed over for Ronald Jones II and Leonard Fournette.
2021 and Beyond: The aforementioned Fournette will likely be gone in 2021, as the fit was just not natural. Ronald Jones II seems to have established himself as the lead back and should keep that role going into next year. Vaughn will have a limited opportunity in 2021 and that opportunity could shrink even more if the Bucs go after a favorite target of Brady in James White, once free agency rolls around. You likely can't trade him because his value is too low. Your options are to hold onto him and hope or let him hit the waiver wire.
ZACK MOSS (BUFFALO BILLS)
Stat Line: 13 games, 112 rushing attempts for 481 rushing yards and four touchdowns; 18 targets, 14 receptions for 95 receiving yards and one touchdown.
Fantasy Finish: RB46
Analysis: Zack Moss was in a position battle with Devin Singletary heading into the season. The season has ended and neither running back was able to pull. That is just the first troubling sign for Moss. The second was the fact that Josh Allen is QB1 and RB1 in Buffalo. With Singletary taking carries and Allen taking carries, it's hard to buy into Moss having any sort of consistent fantasy success moving forward.
2021 and Beyond: While Moss did flash at times, the previously mentioned workload split is something that will likely hold him back from being anything more than a flex option. Your best bet with Moss is to include him in a package and move him.
JAMES ROBINSON (JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS)
Stat Line: 14 games, 240 rushing attempts for 1070 rushing yards and seven touchdowns; 60 targets, 49 receptions for 344 receiving yards and three touchdowns.
Fantasy Finish: RB7
Analysis: One of the best stories of 2020 was the rookie campaign of undrafted free agent James Robinson. The Jaguars took a flyer on the Illinois State product and are sure happy they did as he eclipsed the 1,000 yards rushing mark, which is impressive in and of itself but especially impressive when considering how bad Jacksonville was in 2020. Robinson was a feel-good story in 2020, but will this story have a happy ending?
2021 and Beyond: Deciphering Robinson's fantasy value is going to prove difficult. The dreaded draft capital argument will be made because he was an undrafted free agent. The Jaguars also have a new coaching staff and front office being put into place. On top of all that, a new quarterback and a ton of cap space mean the Jaguars will have a lot of new pieces on offense. Robinson may enter next season as the undisputed lead back but it's also possible the Jaguars bring in some very capable competition. If you hold onto him, then be aware of the risks previously mentioned. If you sell him, then a 2021 first-round pick would be the ideal get.
Honorable Mentions: Salvon Ahmed (Miami Dolphins), Joshua Kelley (Los Angeles Chargers), DeeJay Dallas (Seattle Seahawks), Jamycal Hasty (San Francisco 49ers), JJ Taylor (New England Patriots) and Anthony McFarland Jr. (Pittsburgh Steelers)