Back in 2017 the Saints went into the season with 3 relevant running backs on the roster, Mark Ingram (the longtime Saint), Adrian Peterson (the star newcomer) and Alvin Kamara (the rookie). Due to the fears of an RBBC forming, all three players had low ADP’s. By week 4 Adrian Peterson was traded to the Cardinals and Kamara and Ingram were en route to their RB4 and RB6 finishes, respectively.
Most teams can only support a single fantasy relevant running back, but in 2017 the Saints had TWO RB1’s in the same backfield. How did they do it? A QB who loves to checkdown, an offensive line that can create holes and an offense that scores points.
While it is unlikely that we see two top-6 running backs in the same backfield, it is possible that there will be RB1 and RB2 or flex combos within the same backfield. Here are the backfield tandems most likely to be the next “Kamara and Ingram” (ranked most likely to least likely) :
1. Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt
If there were ever a backfield capable of repeating the 2017 Saints’ success, it is the 2020 Cleveland Browns. This tandem is arguably more talented than that of the 2017 Saints as Chubb is definitively better than Ingram and Hunt isn’t too far behind Kamara. This Browns team is going to emphasize a zone running scheme which will allow Chubb to thrive behind an improved O-line. Chubb is expected to finish inside of the top 12 RB’s but how does Hunt get there?
Receiving. Hunt’s pass-catching ability is amongst the best in the league and this is an area where he is superior to Chubb. Whether it is being used as a slot receiver or simply becoming a checkdown cheat code, Hunt will be catching high-percentage passes in open space. Even as a complementary back, Hunt’s versatility allows him to take on a bigger role than most backup running backs. The coaching staff believed in Hunt enough to keep him around for one more year, and it definitely won’t be to
New Head Coach Kevin Stefanski gave Vikings running backs over 500 touches in 2019, and now his backfield and offensive line is better than he had in Minnesota. If Stefanski could work wonders in Minnesota, expect this ground game to set the league on fire in 2020.
Bold Prediction: Chubb finishes top 6 and Hunt finishes top 12 in PPR formats
2. Melvin Gordon and Phillip Lindsay
The casual NFL fan will tell you this isn’t possible because the Broncos are a bad football team. I will tell the casual NFL fan that they are wrong. The Broncos improved in all facets going into 2020, and given the youth in this offense, I believe the veteran RB’s will carry them. Phillip Lindsay has been nothing short of incredible as a homegrown success story who made the pro-bowl as a rookie. Lindsay has been highly productive in the NFL, coming off of back-to-back 1,000 yd seasons to begin his career. Lindsay’s calling card is his efficiency, specifically his rookie year when he averaged 5.6 yards per carry. Lindsay is solid, but he needed another star to be his running mate.
Insert Melvin Gordon. One of the league’s most talented and versatile backs has been stuck behind a bottom 5 offensive line in San Diego/Los Angeles, but still managed to post multiple seasons with over 1,000 yards from scrimmage AND 10+ touchdowns. Gordon’s star shines its brightest when he catches passes, averaging over 7 yards per catch each of the last 4 seasons of his career.
This backfield dynamic is interesting because Lindsay is smaller, but a more efficient runner in between the tackles, while Gordon is larger, but the better pass catcher and red zone threat. With both players being able to do virtually anything the team might need them to do, it would be smart to grab both of these guys in your fantasy drafts in 2020.
Bold Prediction: Gordon finishes top 10 and Lindsay finishes top 20 in PPR formats
3. Jonathan Taylor and Nyheim Hines
Ah, the Phillip Rivers running backs. A historically productive Wisconsin running back and a speedy pass catching scat back, why does this all sound so familiar. The Colts have taken the running back situation from the Chargers and nearly replicated it with their own tandem.
Jonathan Taylor will be one of the best pure runners in the NFL the minute he takes his first carry. At 5’10 225 pounds, Taylor runs a 4.39 40yd dash and runs with a mean streak in between the tackles. Taylor is essentially an Ezekiel Elliot clone, and like Zeke, he is playing behind one of the best offensive lines in all of football. The upside for Taylor is simple, be so good they forget about Marlon Mack. If Taylor can secure the 250+ touches that Marlon Mack got in 2019, he will easily smash his early 6th round ADP and likely be drafted inside the top 20 going into 2021.
This offseason has been so crazy that Nyheim Hines has his own personal hype train now, and I’m all for it. The pass catching back has been steadily involved in the passing game, averaging 54 receptions per year, but now he gets to play with Phillip Rivers. Rivers is notorious for “dumping off” to running backs, and that notoriety is justified. In 2019, Rivers completed 134 passes to running backs for 1,289 yards. Those are WR1 numbers at the RB position. While I don’t expect Hines to take all of the passing work, I do expect him to break 70 receptions and 700 receiving yards, and that’s assuming he doesn’t turn into a scat back “star” in 2020.
With Taylor bullying defenses on the ground, and Hines eating up open space with dump off passes, this duo will surely surprise people going into 2020, and with their low ADP’s relative to their upside, they are a duo everyone should target in drafts this year.
Bold Prediction: Jonathan Taylor finishes top 10 and Nyheim Hines finishes top 25 in PPR formats.
4. David Montgomery and Tarik Cohen
Admittedly, I hate watching the Bears offense. The talent is at the skilled positions is solid but they have been held back by Trubisky’s inability to consistently deliver NFL caliber passes. As long as the 2019 version of Trubisky is under center, scrap these two off this list.
If Nick Foles in under center in 2020, this offense transforms completely. Foles’ ability to execute an RPO to perfection has been proven by his 2018 playoff run which ended in him hoisting a Super Bowl MVP. If Foles can throw, the running backs will have more room to work.
David Montgomery is not a special talent in the NFL, at least not yet. He plays like a slower version of Joe Mixon, which is still a really good player in the NFL. Montgomery is talented, but can he improve on his 267 touches from 2019? This will be key in order for Montgomery to truly unlock his top 15 upside. If this offense can get back to what it was in 2018, Montgomery will need to be a huge part of the turnaround.
Tarik Cohen has finished as a High RB2 before, how does he get back there? Efficiency. In 2018, Cohen averaged 10.2 yards per catch and 4.5 yards per carry. In 2019 Cohen averaged 5.8 yards per catch and 3.3 yards per carry. This lack of efficiency is reflective of the Bears atrocious offense in 2019, but it also shows how much better it could be in 2020. If Cohen can find a middle ground from his incredible 2018 efficiency and his poor 2019 efficiency, we could see Cohen resurrect himself as a top 25 RB in 2020.
If Foles can get this offense back to the level it was at in 2018, it is possible that these two running backs become an unprecedented RB2 and RB3 combo in 2020!
Bold Prediction: Montgomery finishes top 15 and Cohen finishes top 25
5. Austin Ekeler and Joshua Kelley
While the offense is going to be very different without the "Dump off King" in Phillip Rivers, running backs will still be heavily involved in this offense. The Chargers improved their offensive line and have a defense that should be able to produce neutral or positive game scripts for running backs
Austin Ekeler is the obvious stud here, being drafted as a top 15 guy, you can reasonably expect Ekeler to light it up in PPR formats. Coming off of a near 1,000 yard receiving campaign, Ekeler is explosive in the passing game and efficient in the running game, making him the perfect “lightning” complement to someone’s “thunder”. While Ekeler likely won’t see more than a 65% snap share, his receiving volume and production will make him, at worst, a high RB2 in 2020.
The Melvin Gordon role in this offense, someone has to take it, right? My guess at the heir to MGIII’s throne is Joshua Kelley, the only running back on the roster that weighs over 200 pounds. Coming in at 5’10, 215, Kelley is a do-it-all running back that thrives between the tackles, but can also make you miss or run you over in open space. His lone competition for the “thunder” role in this offense is Justin Jackson, who is talented, but profiles more as a change of pace back than someone who can really carry the load for an offense. Last year Melvin Gordon averaged 17 touches per game, it would be overly optimistic to assume Kelley takes the role completely; however, he could see a 12-14 touch workload with goal line work. In an offense that lacks a powerful rushing presence, Kelley is flying under-the-radar as a player with top 30 upside due to his talent and potential opportunity in 2020.
Bold Prediction: Ekeler finishes top 10 and Kelley finishes top 30 in PPR leagues.
The obvious pick to replicate Kamara and Ingram’s success is Chubb and Hunt, but the other 4 backfields are all especially intriguing given their low ADP’s for a near 100% of either Denver, Chicago, Indianapolis, or LAC’s running back production. If you believe in either of these backfields, grab both guys and feel comfortable starting one as an RB2 and the other as a flex, each of these players will receive a solid volume and will produce great value on their ADP.
Disclaimer: The Bold predictions are not something that I believe will happen, but something that is within the range of possible outcomes for 2020.
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