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THIRD-ROUND RUNNING BACKS: Diamonds in the Rough or Fool’s Gold?

In 2020 at least, the running back position is once again king in fantasy football. Per the Average Draft Position Data at Fantasy Football Calculator, 10 of the first 12 picks in drafts this year are running backs. Backs are flying off the board—15 in the first two rounds.

However, an argument can also be made for drafting an elite wide receiver like Julio Jones of the Atlanta Falcons early. Or using a second-round pick on one of the top two options at tight end. Or even drafting an elite quarterback like Patrick Mahomes.

I’m not saying I’d do it—only that the argument can be made.

If you’re circling back around for a RB2 (or even RB1) in Round 3, there are several options to choose from. Among those are a handful of veteran backs who demonstrated top-10 fantasy upside in the past.

But most of those veteran backs are also trying to put a disappointing 2019 season behind them. Trying to recapture past glories. And given that none of these running backs are a sure bet, fantasy managers are left asking themselves an important question before investing significant draft capital in them.

No, not that question—at least not exactly.

Which of these Round 3 backs is most likely to out-point their draft slot and achieve stud status in 2020?

In reverse order from least likely to most likely, here’s this writer’s best guess as to the answer to that question.


Melvin Gordon III, Denver Broncos (ADP: 37.7, RB22)

After signing a two-year, $16 million pact to join the Broncos in free agency, most fantasy drafters have penciled in Gordon as the new lead back in the Mile High City. And Gordon has shown the ability to produce like a top -12 back in the past—as recently as 2018 Gordon posted over 1,300 total yards, scored 14 touchdowns and cracked the top-10 in PPR fantasy points. But as Zach Segars reported for Pro Football Network, it appears someone forgot to tell Phillip Lindsay that his time as Denver’s No. 1 back is over.

“Gordon hasn’t performed badly,” he said. “but Lindsay has still managed to look like the clear No. 1 back, thanks to an improved ability as a pass-catcher and the same burst, vision, and toughness that’s made him a consecutive 1,000-yard rusher the last two seasons.”

Lindsay isn’t the only thing working against Gordon in 2020. Gordon’s 2019 season was a mess—he rushed for a career low 612 yards, didn’t gain 1,000 total yards, and failed to average four yards a carry for the fourth time in five seasons. If the timeshare between Gordon and Lindsay is anything close to 50/50, it’s going to be difficult for the former to justify his ADP.

Verdict: Fool’s Gold.


Le’Veon Bell, New York Jets (ADP: 28.7, RB17)

After signing a four-year, $52.5 million contract to join the Jets last year, Bell’s first season in the Big Apple was a hot mess—he failed to gain even 800 yards on the ground and averaged a miserable 3.2 yards per carry. According to Andy Behrens of Yahoo Sports, fantasy drafters expecting bigger and better things in 2020 are setting themselves up for disappointment.

“We’ve all read the stories,” Behrens said. “Bell is a new man, best shape of his life and whatnot. And still, I am not even slightly tempted by Bell in drafts to this point. I don’t trust his line or his team’s coaching staff, and, if I’m gonna draft an inefficient back, I’d prefer he be tied to an upper-tier offense. Let’s remember that Bell wasn’t merely a disappointment last year, he was historically ineffective. He became one of just five running backs since the merger to rush for less than 800 yards on at least 240 carries. None of the others bounced back to do anything notable. For me, Bell is an easy fade.”

Back in 2017, Bell topped 1,900 total yards and finished second among all running backs in PPR fantasy points. But that was before sitting out all of 2018 in a contract dispute. And joining a Jets team that sports possibly the AFC’s most talent-deficient offense. Even with an improved offensive line, it’s difficult to get to excited about Bell in 2020—especially with player and coach already feuding about his role in the offense.

Verdict: Fool’s Gold.

About Gary Davenport

A member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association and Pro Football Writers of America who resides in Columbus, Ohio, Gary has been featured on a number of fantasy websites and in nationally circulated publications. These publications include the USA Today Fantasy Football Preview and the magazines distributed by Fantasy Sports Publications Inc., for whom Gary is a both a contributing author and associate editor. Gary is an nine-time FSWA Award finalist and three-time winner who has been a finalist for that organization's Fantasy Football Writer of the Year award each of the last four years. He won the honor in 2017 and 2019. Gary also appears regularly on Sirius XM Radio (including live from Radio Row at Super Bowl XLIX) and over-the-air stations across the country. Gary was one of the co-founders of, and Head Writer at, Fantasy Football Oasis before joining Fantasy Sharks as an IDP Senior Staff Writer in 2011. He knows football. Or so he's heard.