Fantasy football backup rankings: Kareem Hunt leads the way

Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire

Fantasy football insurance is a tricky animal.

On one hand, you want to protect yourself from injuries by warehousing your star player's backup.

On the other hand, the opportunity cost of expending that roster spot could make you miss out on a valuable waiver pickup.

The fact is that identifying the most valuable backups is a useful strategy -- if done correctly.

Some backups are very good players, while others are not. In the event of an injury, some would be positioned for a clear path to a large share of touches, while others would see only a slight uptick in work. Most of your opponents will be thinking about backups only at running back, so you can gain an advantage by considering those at other positions as well.

When evaluating backups, the best game plan is to select players with high ceilings in case the player ahead of them on the depth chart misses time. For example, if Alvin Kamara goes down, Latavius Murray would take on a high-usage role in New Orleans and would be in the RB1 discussion. If Le'Veon Bell goes down, however, the likes of Frank Gore and La'Mical Perine would figure to share touches and neither would be a clear fantasy starter. If you selected Bell and not Kamara, don't cross Murray off your draft board and force a dart throw at Gore. Pick the guy who can win you a league championship, not a player who would barely be worth flex consideration.

Below is a two-part examination of the 2020 backup landscape. Because backups are most relevant to the running back position, the first part is a ranking of the top RB safety nets for each team, as well as some thoughts on how the backfield might look if the starter goes down. That will be followed by a breakdown of a handful of notable backups at each of the other positions.

For updated backup information and advice throughout the season, be sure to keep up with our fantasy depth charts.

Running back insurance rankings

1. Kareem Hunt, Cleveland Browns (upgrade if Nick Chubb is out)

Hunt already has stand-alone value as a borderline top-20 weekly play in PPR leagues (which makes him a bit pricey on draft day), but we know from his Kansas City days that he has the ability to handle a full workload. In this circumstance, Hunt would have little competition for touches and be a borderline top-five fantasy back (as Chubb was before Hunt returned from suspension last season).

2. Latavius Murray, New Orleans Saints (upgrade if Alvin Kamara is out)

Murray is now 30 years old but remains an elite insurance option with little stand-alone value. We saw that on display last season, as Murray was RB49 in fantasy during Kamara's 14 active weeks but fantasy's top-scoring RB (307 yards and four TDs on 60 touches) during the two weeks he was out. Ty Montgomery would also be in the mix.

3. Tony Pollard, Dallas Cowboys (upgrade if Ezekiel Elliott is out)

Pollard looked the part as a rookie, averaging 5.3 yards per carry (YPC) and pacing qualified backs with 2.7 yards after contact (YAC). Of course, the fourth-rounder managed only 101 touches behind Elliott. The 23-year-old is the only tailback on the Dallas roster other than Elliott who has played an NFL offensive snap. He'd have a clear path to a huge role in a good (perhaps great) offense.

4. Alexander Mattison, Minnesota Vikings (upgrade if Dalvin Cook is out)

Mattison's ADP (average draft position) is on the rise with Cook threatening to hold out, and there's little doubt the 2019 third-round pick would be in the RB1 discussion if called on to start. Mattison produced 544 yards on 110 touches playing behind Cook as a rookie. Mike Boone and Ameer Abdullah would be supporting actors.

5. Chase Edmonds, Arizona Cardinals (upgrade if Kenyan Drake is out)

We saw a flash of Edmonds' insurance appeal in Week 7 last season, when the 2018 fourth-round pick produced 150 yards and three TDs on 29 touches in relief of David Johnson. Edmonds eventually fell behind Drake on the depth chart, but he'd be in the RB1 discussion in this situation considering his only current competition for snaps are seventh-round rookie Eno Benjamin and D.J. Foster.

6. Ke'Shawn Vaughn, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (upgrade if Ronald Jones II is out)

Vaughn has the size and skill set to operate as a three-down back in what is likely to be a high-scoring Tampa Bay offense. The third-round rookie might actually emerge as the starter, but regardless, if either Vaughn or Jones goes down, the other would be a solid RB2 play at worst. Dare Ogunbowale, T.J. Logan and Raymond Calais are also on the depth chart.

7. J.K. Dobbins, Baltimore Ravens (upgrade if Mark Ingram II is out)

Dobbins would need to overcome Gus Edwards for carries and goal-line work (and perhaps Justice Hill for occasional passing-down work), not to mention an RB-unfriendly Greg Roman scheme, but there would be enough here for the super-athletic rookie to leap into the RB2 mix. Why isn't he higher? I wrote about my concerns with Dobbins' current ADP in Sleepers, Busts and Breakouts.

8. Zack Moss, Buffalo Bills (upgrade if Devin Singletary is out)

Moss is expected to begin his career in the 2019 Frank Gore role, which will constitute a handful of carries and goal-line work in relief of Singletary. The third-round rookie's frame and college résumé suggest he can handle three-down duties, however, so with only TJ Yeldon as a real threat for touches, Moss would leap into the RB2 mix in Buffalo's run-first scheme.

9. Darrynton Evans, Tennessee Titans (upgrade if Derrick Henry is out)

Evans landed in a very backup-friendly spot when drafted in the third round in April. The rookie replaces Dion Lewis as Henry's primary backup. Henry missed one game last season, leaving Lewis and Dalyn Dawkins to combine for 111 yards on 25 touches. Evans would be a strong bet for 15-plus touches, with Dawkins next in line.

10. DeAndre Washington, Kansas City Chiefs (upgrade if Clyde Edwards-Helaire is out)

Damien Williams has opted out for the 2020 season, which positions Washington as the likely next man up behind the rookie Edwards-Helaire in Kansas City. Washington operated as a change-of-pace back for the better part of his four seasons with the Raiders, totaling 1,735 yards on 370 touches. Of course, Williams played a similar role in Miami prior to posting 278 touches for 1,534 yards and 21 TDs in the 16 games in which he played more than half the snaps with the Chiefs. Washington's top competition for touches would be the likes of Darrel Williams, Darwin Thompson and Elijah McGuire. It'd likely be a committee, but the leader would be in the RB2 mix in the Chiefs' high-scoring offense.

11. Darrell Henderson Jr., Los Angeles Rams (upgrade if Cam Akers is out)

Henderson has as good a shot as the rookie Akers to earn lead-back duties in L.A. this season, but ADP tells a different story. Regardless, if one of the young backs goes down, the other would easily lead the Rams' backfield in touches, with Malcolm Brown helping out on early downs and near the goal line. That's enough for RB2 numbers, though there's upside for more.

12. Phillip Lindsay, Denver Broncos (upgrade if Melvin Gordon is out)

Sans Gordon, Lindsay would be right back where he was in 2019, sharing touches with Royce Freeman. That situation allowed Lindsay only three top-10 fantasy weeks and a 19th-place finish overall. He'd be a borderline RB2.

13. Giovani Bernard, Cincinnati Bengals (upgrade if Joe Mixon is out)

We didn't see much of Bernard last season because Mixon held up for 16 games, but remember that Bernard was fantasy's No. 6 RB in 2018 and No. 16 in 2017 during the weeks Mixon was sidelined. Bernard is now 28 years old and would defer some touches to Trayveon Williams and/or Rodney Anderson, but 15-plus touches would be easily manageable in an improved Bengals offense.

14. Kerryon Johnson, Detroit Lions (upgrade if D'Andre Swift is out)

Johnson flashed as a rookie in 2018 and was en route to a breakout 2019 season, but injuries disrupted both campaigns. That led to Detroit spending a 2020 second-round pick on Swift, who is the favorite to lead this backfield in touches. If either back goes down, the other youngster will be positioned for enough work to allow RB2 numbers. Bo Scarbrough, Jason Huntley and Ty Johnson are next in line.

T15. Tarik Cohen, Chicago Bears (upgrade if David Montgomery is out)

T15. Boston Scott, Philadelphia Eagles (upgrade if Miles Sanders is out)

T15. Duke Johnson, Houston Texans (upgrade if David Johnson is out)

I grouped this trio together because they're in a very similar boat. Cohen, Scott and Johnson are undersized and best as change-of-pace and/or pass-catching backs. As such, none is likely to be asked to handle feature back duties, but as rosters stand, each has minimal legitimate competition for touches in the event of an injury to the starter.

18. AJ Dillon, Green Bay Packers (upgrade if Aaron Jones is out)

This might seem low for the second-round pick, but remember that Jamaal Williams averaged 24 snaps per game last season and that number would figure to be higher if Jones (39 per game in 2019) were to go down. Additionally, Dillon doesn't project as much of a pass-catcher, so while he might pace the team in carries and goal-line work, he'd defer significant change-of-pace and receiving-down touches to Williams.

19. Tevin Coleman, San Francisco 49ers (upgrade if Raheem Mostert is out)

Coach Kyle Shanahan's scheme is generous to running backs, but the problem is that he rarely commits to one back. That doesn't figure to change if Mostert misses time. In that situation, Coleman would leap into the RB2 discussion but would be sharing touches with "hot hand" threats Jerick McKinnon, Jeff Wilson Jr. and perhaps even an undrafted free agent such as Salvon Ahmed or JaMycal Hasty.

20. Marlon Mack, Indianapolis Colts (upgrade if Jonathan Taylor is out)

This is going to seem way too low for Mack, but let's be clear: He has not been a good fantasy back. Mack was top 10 in carries, rushing yards and rushing TDs last season but was held to 14 receptions and failed to manage his first top-20 fantasy campaign. Even if the talented rookie Taylor is out, Mack would share with Nyheim Hines and perhaps Jordan Wilkins, which would limit him to flex territory in PPR leagues.

21. Carlos Hyde, Seattle Seahawks (upgrade if Chris Carson is out)

With Rashaad Penny recovering from a torn ACL, Hyde would be positioned for a big role if Carson were to miss time early this season. Considering the solid fantasy contributions of Seattle lead backs in recent seasons, that would be enough to launch Hyde into the fringe RB2 mix. Of course, he'd also need to fend off fourth-round rookie DeeJay Dallas and Penny, who is a name to monitor in the second half of the season and is eventually expected back in the mix.

22. Damien Harris, New England Patriots (upgrade if Sony Michel is out)

The New England backfield remains crowded, and that wouldn't change if Michel were to go down. Still, Harris, a 2019 third-round pick, would be the heavy favorite to step in as the team's primary ball carrier, leaving passing-down work to James White and change-of-pace duties to Rex Burkhead and perhaps Brandon Bolden. Harris would be a must-add but might cap out as a flex play.

23. Dion Lewis, New York Giants (upgrade if Saquon Barkley is out)

Lewis turns 30 years old this year and isn't a candidate for a full workload at 5-foot-9, 195 pounds. However, he has pass-catching chops and would be positioned for 15 or so touches per game in this situation, especially with Wayne Gallman as his next-best competition for carries. Lewis would be a flex option and perhaps an RB2 play if the Giants' offense makes a leap forward.

24. Matt Breida, Miami Dolphins (upgrade if Jordan Howard is out)

Should Howard or Breida miss time, the other veteran back would step into a sizable offensive role. The likes of Patrick Laird and Kalen Ballage are next in line but not real threats for large workloads. Miami's work-in-progress offensive line is likely to cap fantasy production from its backs this season, so the lead back is a good bet to max out as a flex option.

25. Ito Smith, Atlanta Falcons (upgrade if Todd Gurley II is out)

Smith struggled with efficiency as a rookie and missed most of the 2019 season with an injury, but in this circumstance, it would be Smith, Qadree Ollison and Brian Hill battling for lead-back duties in a good, albeit pass-first, Atlanta offense. Smith is undersized at 5-foot-9, 195 pounds, so while he could see 15 or so touches, that's likely his ceiling.

26. Ryquell Armstead, Jacksonville Jaguars (upgrade if Leonard Fournette is out)

Fournette trade rumors have boosted Armstead's ADP, but the 2019 fifth-round pick might not be the most inspiring fantasy asset, even if atop the depth chart. Jacksonville is in rebuilding mode and underwhelming along the offensive line, and Armstead would defer change-of-pace and receiving work to Chris Thompson. Armstead would be a flex option.

27. Reggie Bonnafon, Carolina Panthers (upgrade if Christian McCaffrey is out)

Bonnafon would be a must-add in this scenario, but it's very likely that Carolina would lean on a committee and/or hot-hand approach with Bonnafon, Mike Davis and Jordan Scarlett. If one back emerges into a 15-plus-touch player, RB2 production is possible, but it's not worth stashing any of them in most formats.

28. Justin Jackson, Los Angeles Chargers (upgrade if Austin Ekeler is out)

Jackson and fourth-round rookie Joshua Kelley are popular late-round fliers with Melvin Gordon out of the mix. Even with Ekeler in the mix, it's conceivable one could emerge as a flex option in deeper leagues. Without Ekeler, however, a chunk of the RB targets would be directed to other positions, with Jackson and Kelley forming a committee. Until one back clearly emerges, there wouldn't be a ton of upside in what is likely to be a low-scoring, low-volume offense.

29. Anthony McFarland Jr., Pittsburgh Steelers (upgrade if James Conner is out)

The Pittsburgh offense provides plenty of value to the RB position, but the problem is that the depth chart is unclear behind Conner. As we saw in 2019, a committee would be likely in this scenario. Fourth-round rookie McFarland and 2019 fourth-rounder Benny Snell Jr. would compete for most of the carries, with Jaylen Samuels a strong bet for most of the receiving work. That doesn't even include Kerrith Whyte Jr. and Trey Edmunds off the bench. Until one back cements backup duties, this insurance situation is unclear.

30. Antonio Gibson, Washington (upgrade if Derrius Guice is out)

Washington's situation is similar to Pittsburgh's in that the starter is injury-plagued and the backup situation is deep but unclear. Adrian Peterson is back, veterans Peyton Barber and J.D. McKissic were signed, 2019 fourth-round pick Bryce Love may be healthy and third-round rookie Gibson is a wild card. Gibson is your best bet as a stash, but he'd likely lead a committee in a low-scoring offense.

31. La'Mical Perine, New York Jets (upgrade if Le'Veon Bell is out)

New York signed Frank Gore during the offseason, but the 37-year-old is a poor candidate for anything more than a situational role, which makes fourth-round rookie Perine a more interesting insurance option. Coach Adam Gase's offense has not been very generous to running backs (especially near the goal line), so we don't want to get too excited here, but we could see a situation similar to the 2019 Bills (Perine playing the Devin Singletary role, Gore in the Gore role) should Bell miss time. It's a situation to avoid in most formats.

32. Jalen Richard, Las Vegas Raiders (upgrade if Josh Jacobs is out)

Richard is a 5-foot-8, 207-pound passing-down specialist who is unlikely to handle more than a half-dozen carries in a single game regardless of the state of the depth chart. Sans Jacobs, Richard would share touches with some combination of third-round rookie Lynn Bowden Jr., Devontae Booker and Rod Smith. None is likely to see enough touches for consistent RB2 consideration.

Backups to know at other positions

Wide receiver

Mecole Hardman, Kansas City Chiefs: Hardman topped this list as a rookie and remains in a similar situation in 2020. The 2019 second-round pick is clearly behind Tyreek Hill, and the team re-signed Sammy Watkins and Demarcus Robinson, who both played significantly more snaps than Hardman last season. Hardman is unlikely to provide consistent fantasy production early on, but the sky is the limit if he finds his way into an every-down role in an elite Chiefs offense.

Chase Claypool, Pittsburgh Steelers: Pittsburgh has a rich history of turning its wide receiver draft picks into fantasy stars, and perhaps 2020 second-round pick Claypool is next in line. The 6-foot-4 perimeter weapon is unlikely to make noise early on with JuJu Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson and James Washington in the fold, but we've seen this franchise support three fantasy-relevant receivers during the Tomlin era. Expect the Steelers to be one of the league's most reliant offenses on the pass and on three-plus WR sets.

Tee Higgins, Cincinnati Bengals: Higgins is another second-round receiver stepping into an offense that relies heavily on three-wide sets. He'll open his career battling speedster John Ross III for reps opposite A.J. Green and Tyler Boyd. We should anticipate a slow start, but the 6-foot-4 Clemson product is a strong bet to see a lot of work as a rookie, especially considering the recent injury struggles for Green and Ross.

Laviska Shenault Jr., Jacksonville Jaguars: Sticking with the second-round rookie theme, Shenault is expected to open his pro career behind DJ Chark Jr., Dede Westbrook and Chris Conley. Jacksonville's shaky defense figures to lead to a ton of passing (especially if Leonard Fournette is traded), which will open the door for plenty of targets for the team's wideouts. Shenault is a fine end-of-bench stash in deeper leagues.

Hakeem Butler, Andy Isabella and KeeSean Johnson, Arizona Cardinals: DeAndre Hopkins, Christian Kirk and Larry Fitzgerald are locked in as Arizona's top three receivers, but the Cardinals had four WRs on the field for 42% of their pass plays during Kliff Kingsbury's first season as head coach. That will give the likes of Butler, Isabella and Johnson (all 2019 draft picks) an opportunity to see the field and earn the No. 4 gig. One injury later, the best of the trio very well could land on the weekly fantasy radar in what is one of the best candidates to be the breakout offense of 2020.

Tight end

Dallas Goedert, Philadelphia Eagles: Goedert was fantasy's No. 10 tight end last season, though that was primarily a product of a huge second half due to overwhelming injuries to the Eagles' WR group. His stand-alone value will take a hit in 2020, but there's no doubt he'd be a weekly top-five fantasy TE in the event of a Zach Ertz injury. We saw a glimpse of that when Ertz was out in Week 16 last season. Goedert posted a 9-91-1 receiving line on 12 targets.

David Njoku, Cleveland Browns: A 2017 first-round pick, Njoku's stock has taken a huge hit following a rough 2019 season and Cleveland's signing of Austin Hooper. However, the 24-year-old is now operating in coach Kevin Stefanski's TE-friendly scheme and is a Hooper injury away from a substantial workload.

Trey Burton, Indianapolis Colts: Coach Frank Reich has called plays for four seasons and all four TE units finished no worse than 11th in fantasy points, 10th in targets and receptions, and eighth in yardage and TDs. If Jack Doyle misses time, Burton will be positioned for a bounce-back season.

Gerald Everett, Los Angeles Rams: Tyler Higbee exploded into fantasy stardom down the stretch last season and is now the top fake football option among Los Angeles' talented duo. However, coach Sean McVay's adjustment to more balanced personnel usage, as well as the departure of Brandin Cooks, would vault Everett into the TE1 discussion if Higbee were to miss time.

O.J. Howard, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Howard disappointed in 2019 and his future value took a big hit when the Buccaneers acquired Rob Gronkowski. Of course, Gronkowski is now 31 years old, didn't play last season and struggled with durability prior to his one-year hiatus. Howard will be an intriguing bench flier should he work his way to third in line for targets in Tampa Bay's Tom Brady-led offense.


Jameis Winston, New Orleans Saints: There's no guarantee Winston would start over Taysom Hill in the event of a Drew Brees injury, but even if he doesn't, 30-year-old Hill and his 13 career pass attempts would certainly be on a short leash. Winston, who was fantasy's No. 5 QB last season, would be a must-add with elite upside in coach Sean Payton's offense.

Jalen Hurts, Philadelphia Eagles: Carson Wentz's durability concerns are well documented, which makes the rookie Hurts one of the most intriguing non-RB backups of 2020. Hurts was extremely efficient as a passer at Oklahoma last season while also adding 1,298 yards and 20 touchdowns on 233 carries. The 2020 second-round pick's rushing ability would put him on the QB1 radar if called on to start.

Jordan Love, Green Bay Packers: Rookies are always wild cards, but Love will be a player we're going to want to throw on the end of our bench in case Aaron Rodgers goes down. The 2020 first-round pick is only 21 years old and a long shot for short-term fantasy production, but if he's the real deal, top-15 numbers aren't out of the question. Monitor his situation in deeper leagues.

Robert Griffin III, Baltimore Ravens: Greg Roman has had success with Colin Kaepernick, Alex Smith, Lamar Jackson and Tyrod Taylor, so if Jackson goes down and RG3 steps into what was one of the league's highest-scoring offenses last season, the veteran QB will be worth a speculative add.

Andy Dalton, Dallas Cowboys: Dallas has a very good offensive line, arguably the league's best WR trio and a pass-first head coach in Mike McCarthy. We've seen QB1 production from Dalton in the past and this situation certainly could allow for a return to those days.

Marcus Mariota, Las Vegas Raiders: A change of scenery can work sometimes. Just ask the man who replaced Mariota in Tennessee last season, Ryan Tannehill. Should Derek Carr go down, Mariota, who adds a lot of value with his legs, would be worth a speculative bench add.