At the top of every draft, the stud running backs fly off the board. By the end of round 5, most lead backs are taken and the pickings are slim. By round 6 it becomes a guessing game as to who has the best chance to outperform the mid-to-late round price tag. Each of the last 3 seasons a running back drafted in rounds 6 and beyond breaks out and has RB1 production for stretches of a season. If you can hit on one of these "league winners", it immediately upgrades your team into a contender!
Late round breakouts from the past 3 seasons:
2019: Austin Ekeler (RB6) Miles Sanders (RB14)
2018: James Conner (RB7) James White (RB8) Phillip Lindsay (RB12) Tarik Cohen (RB13)
2017: Kareem Hunt(RB3) Alvin Kamara (RB4) Duke Johnson (RB14)
In order to use these past breakouts to predict the future, we need to figure out what they have in common:
-Pass catching ability
-Age 27 or younger
-Lead RB is prone to miss time or not that good (Holdout pending or Injury-prone)
For the sake of this article we will exclude obvious RB1 handcuffs such as Pollard, Mattison, and Murray. These are all players that would have incredible fantasy value if the starter were to be hurt. However, they are clearly the second option behind established star running backs, we want players that can become more than that without a catastrophic injury!
While these 3 criteria leave us with plenty of options, here are the six names that standout as potential backup RB breakouts in 2020:
Antonio Gibson, RB/WR, Washington Redskins (ADP: 223 *Undrafted*)
Taken as the 66th overall pick in the 2020 NFL draft, Antonio Gibson is as versatile as they come. Listed as an RB, but having more receptions than carries in his Senior year at Memphis, you can see the PPR appeal with Gibson. Standing at 6’ feet tall and weighing 230 pounds, Gibson ran a 4.39 40 yard dash and averaged an incredible 19.3 yards per reception in 2019. In a backfield that lacks explosion, Gibson provides that, specifically as a receiver.
Who’s ahead of him?
While these two guys are a formidable duo in their own right, Gibson’s receiving back skill set differentiates from the guys ahead of him. Being the first offensive selection in the draft for the Redskins, there is a clear belief in him as a player. It also is good if Head Coach Ron Rivera says you have a “CMC-like skillset”. The unique skill set Gibson provides will earn him a pass-catching role early in his NFL career and his blend of size, speed, vision and agility could see him breakout as the RB to own in Washington during his Rookie season!
Chase Edmonds, RB, Arizona Cardinals (ADP:164)
If Edmonds had not gotten injured in week 8 following his dominant 29 touch 150 yard and 3 touchdown performance against the Giants in week 7, he could’ve been drafted inside the top 60 going into 2020. While he is small (5’9 205), Edmonds' stop-start ability is second to none, and his patience is reminiscent of, dare I say, Alvin Kamara. Edmonds is a guy who will be involved in this offense (30-35% snap share), similar to the way he was in 2019. Being a part-time player in one of the league’s most efficient ground attacks is definitely a good place for a breakout to start.
Who’s ahead of him?
Drake is rarely injured and was just signed to a hefty 1 year 8.5 million dollar transition tag, so why is Edmonds on this list? Drake has never been a workhorse back, even dating back to his college days. Last year’s breakout was the first time Drake had ever gotten over 200 touches since High School (if he got 200 in HS). This isn’t to say that Drake can’t handle a workload, his ability to handle such a workload is simply unknown. If Drake were to wear down in a bigger role, Edmonds could step in and see workhorse-type volume for a stretch of games. When you watch the tape, you can see Edmonds’ talent, and if that talent meets a big-time opportunity, congratulations you have yourself a league-winner.
Duke Johnson, RB, Houston Texans (ADP: 127)
He’s done it before and he could do it again. Did Bill O’Brien trade away one of the NFL’s best receivers to acquire David Johnson? Yes. Does that trade mean Duke Johnson’s chances at being fantasy relevant are dead? No. Similar to Chase Edmonds, Duke will have his part-time role in this offense. 120 touches in a good offense is okay, but how does Duke reach his breakout upside?
Who’s ahead of him?
The last time we saw David Johnson he looked like a shell of his former self, probably due to injury but what if he never gets back to being David Johnson? Duke Johnson is already a hyper-efficient running back (6.5 career yards per touch), if David struggles, then Duke will be thrusted into a 200+ touch role for this Houston offense, that role screams RB1 potential. Yes, Duke is going to be 27 years old, but the last time he saw over 150 touches, he finished as the RB14 in 2017. Duke Johnson’s explosiveness and pass catching ability will give him standalone value, but the breakout upside relies on David Johnson’s potential bounce-back, or lack thereof from a down 2019.
D’andre Swift, RB, Detroit Lions (ADP: 75)
The former Georgia Bulldog was widely touted as a top 3 running back prospect in this draft. Swift’s biggest strength is his ability in the receiving game where he will make a huge impact day one in this Lions offense. The last “receiving back” Matthew Stafford had was Theo Riddick, who averaged nearly 6 targets per game in his last 4 season in Detroit. Swift is lightyears ahead of Riddick as a player and will immediately be able to showcase his game-changing ability in a (potentially) high-volume receiving role!
Who’s ahead of him?
While these players project to be ahead of Swift come week 1, Swift could atop atop this depth chart after the first practice in training camp. Swift is far and away the most talented back on this team and that talent will shine throughout the season. Drafted with the 35th pick of the 2020 NFL draft, the Lions saw RB as a need and used Swift to remedy that. Swift is a player who will have a role in a committee early, but he could become the lead-back quickly. With his pass-catching chops and superior rushing talent, Swift could deliver big-time results when he’s given the starting role for the Detroit Lions.
Matt Breida, RB, Miami Dolphins (ADP: 95)
Speed. Matt Breida is a really good football player, and a big part of it is because of his speed. Breida has posted the top speed for the entire NFL in two consecutive seasons 2018 and 2019 (22.09 and 22.3 MPH). He and his speed moved from Kyle Shanahan’s golden running system to Chan Gailey’s post-retirement system, which could hurt Breida’s efficiency, but in this offense Breida could become a game-script proof back. Breida’s pass-catching ability and his home run threat on any given play makes him an appealing option in the 8th round of every draft, purely based on his boom potential any given week.
Who’s ahead of Him?
While Howard is no slouch himself, there is no coincidence that he’s on his 3rd team in 3 years. Howard adds little value in the receiving game, and while he is a good runner in between the tackles, the Dolphins are going to spread things out with Tua and that favors Breida’s explosive style of play. Breida is a perfect example of someone who projects to be in a committee, but he could quickly take the lion share of touches in this backfield. If Breida can dethrone Howard as the lead back, we could see the 25 year old have a career year in his biggest role yet!
Kareem Hunt, RB, Cleveland Browns (ADP: 79)
Another player who has done it before! We all know the story of Kareem hunt, he is one of the best RB's in the league and is a home run threat anytime he touches the football. His blend of vision, burst, power, and patience makes him incredibly hard to stop, especially in the open field. With Kevin Stefanski coming in as the HC, Hunt will surely see a role of 150+ touches behind a good offensive line, in what projects to be a good offense. With his talent and decent opportunity, he is already worthy of his ADP.
Who’s ahead of Him?
Chubb is better than Hunt, and he is a better fit than Hunt in this offense. So how does Hunt become an RB1? There are two options: be the 2020 version of 2017 Kamara, a historically efficient back who catches a lot of passes, or take the RB1 workload if Chubb were to miss time. If Chubb misses any games at all, Hunt would be a top 5 option every single week. Even if Chubb doesn't miss time, we've seen Hunt be one of the best RB's in the league before, and at the young age of 24, that ability hasn't magically disappeared. Hunt is being drafted as a flex, which is what he will be at a minimum. Get him on your team and watch him flourish into an RB2, MAYBE an RB1 if things go his way in Cleveland.
Each of these players are currently part-time players, but due to either injury or the starters simply not being good enough, there is breakout upside for each of these guys in 2020. Finding players with talent and the potential for big opportunity is key! Get a few of these guys on your team and be patient, the minute they are given a high-volume role, you will receive high-quality results!
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*All ADP's come from https://www.fantasypros.com/nfl/rankings/half-point-ppr-cheatsheets.php*