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Fantasy Football RB Rankings 2021: Best running backs to draft, sleepers to know

Fantasy Football RB Rankings 2021: Best running backs to draft, sleepers to know

RankPlayer1Derrick Henry, Titans. Henry has led the league in attempts, rushing yards, and rushing TDs in each of the past two seasons. Can he make it three years in a row in all three categories? That won’t be easy, especially after his sky-high workload last year (378 attempts), but Henry has proven to be a consistent beast after an up-and-down start to his career. He’s the best bet to lead the league in TDs, if nothing else, and even with limited work in the receiving game, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see finish in the top three in total yards among RBs.2Christian McCaffrey, Panthers. McCaffrey dealt with three separate injuries (quad, thigh, ankle) that caused him to miss 13 games in 2020. It’s fair to wonder if durability will continue to be an issue, but if he’s healthy, he could easily approach or surpass 2,000 total yards, 100 catches, and 15-plus TDs. Last season in just three injury-riddled games, he posted 374 total yards, 17 catches, and six touchdowns. McCaffrey is our No. 1 back in PPR formats, but Henry’s durability and TD reliability nets him the top spot in standard leagues.3Dalvin Cook, Vikings. Cook isn’t a picture of health, but he’s played 14 games in each of the past two seasons, which should help quell at least some of his durability concerns. Cook isn’t a huge pass-catcher, but he’s far from a zero in that category, giving him roughly the same value in standard and PPR leagues, and with a career 4.8 yards-per-carry average, Cook will produce even if he sees a slightly reduced workload this year.4Saquon Barkley, Giants. Barkley missed 14 games due to a torn right ACL last year, and while he’s tentatively expected to ready for Week 1, it’s possible the Giants ease him back into action early on. There are always worries with a player coming off a serious injury, but given Barkley’s age (24) and talent, we expect him to produce at a high level. It’s worth noting that his receiving numbers noticeably dropped from his rookie season (5.7 receptions/game, 45.1 yards/game) to his sophomore season (4.0 receptions/game, 33.7 yards/game), but an improved overall Giants offense should lead to even more scoring chances.5Nick Chubb, Browns. Kareem Hunt will continue to be an issue, but Chubb is an elite runner who has never averaged below 5.0 yards/carry in a season. It would be nice if Chubb dominated the goal-line touches (two more carries than Hunt inside the five-yard line; four more carries inside the 10), but he still gets more than enough to produce at a top-five level in standard leagues. His value takes a noticeable hit in PPR leagues, but even there he’s a high-level RB2.6Alvin Kamara, Saints. Kamara was a touchdown machine last year, scoring 21 times, but with no Drew Brees, it’s entirely possible New Orleans’ offense as a whole is slowed down. Kamara will still challenge for the league lead in receptions among RBs, making him a top-flight PPR play, but the Saints’ uncertainty under center is enough to drop him slightly in standard leagues.7Ezekiel Elliott, Cowboys. Zeke got paid last year…and promptly had by far the worst season of his career. Does that mean he can’t bounce back? Of course not. At just 26, he shouldn’t be worn out, and after getting just 16.2 carries per game — by far the lowest of his career — he should be somewhat fresher heading into this season. Most important will be the return of a healthy Dak Prescott and (hopefully) healthy Zack Martin and Tyron Smith along the o-line. No one should be surprised if Elliott challenges for the top RB ranking, even with Tony Pollard commanding more of a snap share.8Aaron Jones, Packers. Like all Packers skill players, Jones’ outlook is somewhat dependent on whether Aaron Rodgers is under center. He has upside either way, but obviously his touchdown potential figures to be significantly higher playing with Rodgers than Jordan Love. Jones has averaged 5.5 yards/carry in three of his four seasons, showing his ability to do a lot with a little.9Jonathan Taylor, Colts. Taylor impressed as a rookie, averaging 5.0 yards per carry and scoring 12 times while catching all but three of the 39 passes thrown his way. The Colts still boast one of the league’s best offensive lines, but the change from Philip Rivers to Carson Wentz is a major wild card. Taylor will get plenty of carries either way, but if the Colts offense struggles to sustain drives, his overall upside will be limited. The return of Marlon Mack (Achilles’) could also factor in.10Antonio Gibson, Washington. Offseason reports have suggested Gibson will be more involved in the receiving game this year, but with J.D. McKissic still around, it seems unlikely he’ll be a full-time three-down back. That said, he showed enough in his rookie season (4.7 yards per carry, 11 TDs) for us to expect a big jump as a sophomore. Gibson has the size (6-2, 220 pounds) and versatility to dominate between the 20s and around the goal line. Washington’s offense figures to be a bit more explosive with Ryan Fitzpatrick under center, which should only mean good things for Gibson.11Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Chiefs. CEH didn’t quite living up to the hype last year, but he still totaled 1,100 yards and five TDs in 13 games. The opportunity was there for more, as Edwards-Helaire scored just once on nine rushing attempts inside the five-yard line (and 15 attempts inside the 10). Perhaps that’s a sign that he is a bad short-yardage runner and won’t get as many opportunities, but it might also be a fluky stat that will correct itself this year, resulting in double-digit touchdowns. Either way, a highly skilled RB on the league’s best offense is usually a worthwhile investment.12Austin Ekeler, Chargers. Ekeler was off to a hot start last year before a left hamstring injury sidelined him for six games. He returned in Week 12 and was decent the rest of the way, but after scoring just three touchdowns, fantasy owners might be wondering if he can really produce at an RB1 level. The good news for Ekeler is the Chargers didn’t make any significant RB moves in the offseason aside from drafting Larry Rountree III in the sixth round. Both Justin Jackson and Joshua Kelley failed to impress last year, so Ekeler should once again be the unquestioned lead back. If you take away the game in which he got hurt, Ekeler averaged 102.1 total yards per game. He’ll need more touchdowns to live up to this ranking, but the potential is there, especially in PPR leagues.13JK Dobbins, Ravens. It was a slow start for Dobbins last year, but when he started getting consistent double-digit carries around Week 7, he produced. That includes ending the season on a six-game scoring streak. Baltimore’s offense will continue to be run-heavy, and with Mark Ingram gone, Dobbins will only be splitting time with Gus Edwards. Both backs have a lot of upside, but Dobbins figures to be the leader in this backfield, which should result in 1,000-plus rushing yards and double-digit touchdowns.14David Montgomery, Bears. Montgomery noticeably improved across the board last year, totaling 1,508 yards, 54 receptions, and 10 TDs. However, because he averaged just 4.3 yards/carry and plays on a mediocre offense, he’s not considered an exciting fantasy option. The upside is there for much more, though it’s worth noting that his role in the receiving game could be reduced with Tarik Cohen back from a torn right ACL and Damien Williams joining the backfield.15Joe Mixon, Bengals. Mixon hasn’t quite broken out the way many have hoped he would, and he also doesn’t catch quite as many passes as people seem to think he will (though that might change with Giovani Bernard gone). Enterting his fifth season, it’s tough to say what his ceiling truly is, but with an average of 95.9 total yards/game over the past three years, it seems clear that Mixon is at least a dependable RB2 when he’s healthy. The Bengals have playmakers all over the field, which should only help Mixon get more scoring opportunities. If he can stay in one piece, he could finally have that elite season fantasy owners have been waiting for.16Miles Sanders, Eagles. Sanders missed four games last year due to various injuries, but he still managed 1,064 total yards and six TDs. With a new set of coaches (and QB) in Philadelphia, it wouldn’t be a surprise to once again see Sanders featured in the receiving game like he was as a rookie (50 receptions). With a career 4.9 yards/carry average, Sanders has proven to be explosive. All he needs is more stability around him to break out.
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17D’Andre Swift, Lions. It was tough to figure out what the Lions were doing with their RBs last year. Swift was clearly the most explosive option, but he split time (or operated behind) Kerryon Johnson and Adrian Peterson for much of the season. Swift still impressed with 878 total yards, 46 catches, and 10 TDs in just 13 games. Detroit’s offensive line is solid on paper, and with a new coaching regime, it’s possible the Lions finally remembers how to run. Even with Jamaal Williams now in the backfield, Swift should see the bulk of the carries and has the potential to be a top-10 receiving back. Detroit doesn’t have (m)any other offensive weapons, which could cause defenses to key on Swift, but if everything goes well, he could finish as a top-10 back in standard and top five in PPR.18Najee Harris, Steelers. We know the Steelers like to heavily feature their starting RBs, and after selecting Harris in the first round of this year’s draft, it’s safe to assume he’ll average north of 18 touches per game — likely in the 20-22 range like James Conner averaged in his 2018 Pro Bowl season. Harris is a skilled runner and solid receiver, so he should fit perfectly in the Steelers’ scheme. The only issue is Pittsburgh’s subpar o-lilne, which “paved the way” for a league-low 3.6 yards/carry last year. Harris’s presence should improve that, but he could still be more of a volume play, at least in standard leagues.19Josh Jacobs, Raiders. Jacobs seemingly regressed last year, dropping from 4.8 yards/carry to 3.9 and 88.5 yards per game to 71.0. However, he improved slightly as a receiver and scored 12 touchdowns, thanks in part to leading the league in red-zone carries (64). The addition of Kenyan Drake is worrisome, especially for Jacobs’ budding role as a receiving, but Drake still figures to work in a complementary role. Jacobs will be somewhat touchdown dependent, but he’s shown the ability to be a steady RB2.20Kareem Hunt, Browns. Hunt is considered more of a “PPR back,” but he averaged just 2.4 receptions per game last year. He’s more of a straight-up committee back with Nick Chubb, and while Chubb should continue to see more carries, Hunt is no slouch. He scored 11 times last year and posted 71.6 total yards per game, thanks in part to Chubb missing four games. This might be an aggressive ranking for him, as his ceiling is artificially limited as long as Chubb is healthy, but there are similar issues with all of the backs below him. Given what we know about Hunt’s talent and production level, he feels like a solid RB2 who could really take off if Chubb gets hurt again or starts catching more passes.21Javonte Williams, Broncos. Williams will be competing with veteran Melvin Gordon for touches, but even if the talented rookie isn’t starting in Week 1, he has more long-term potential because of his explosiveness. In his final season at North Carolina, Williams totaled 1,445 yards and 22 TDs while averaging 7.9 yards per touch. The Broncos offense has a lot of talent but also a lot of question marks. Williams can be a stabilizing force if the coaching staff lets him. It would be foolish to completely write off the 28-year-old Gordon, who posted 1,144 total yards, 4.6 yards/carry, and 10 TDs last year, but Denver drafted Williams early in the second round for a reason.22Myles Gaskin, Dolphins. A knee injury and COVID caused Gaskin to miss six games last year after he had established himself as Miami’s lead back. In Weeks 3-15 (seven games), Gaskin averaged 20.9 touches, 106.7 total yards, and 3.9 receptions per game. That’s RB1-level production, at least in PPR leagues. A lack of TDs (four in that span) held him down, but if Gaskin has the same role this year, he’ll pay off handsomely for fantasy owners. Salvon Ahmed, who flourished in Gaskin’s absence before suffering an injury of his own, and newcomer Malcolm Brown will challenge for touches, so this is an unpredictable situation, but clearly the Dolphins thought they found something with Gaskin last year. They will likely give him every chance to keep the starting job this season.23Darrell Henderson, Rams. Cam Akers’ season-ending Achilles’ injury opens the door for Henderson. He’s had moderate levels of success in the past, such as averaging 4.5 yards/carry and scoring six times last year, but it’s anyone’s guess as to how he’ll handle being L.A.’s feature back. At 5-8, 208 pounds, it’s also unclear just how much of a workload the Rams will want to give him, but in Weeks 3-7 last year, he averaged 15.8 touches/game and had a 20-carry outing. L.A.’s offense figures to provide plenty of opportunities for yards and TDs, so if Henderson can hold onto the starting job, he has intriguing upside.24Chase Edmonds, Cardinals. Edmonds has more value in PPR leagues, shown by his 53 receptions last year while playing second fiddle to Kenyan Drake. With Drake gone, Edmonds should see a bigger role in the running game, but it’s unclear how much. James Conner is now in the desert, and it seems likely he’ll at least be used more along the goal line. Edmonds is a much safer pick in PPR leagues, but if he does hold off Conner, he’ll be solid RB2 in standard leagues, too.25Mike Davis, Falcons. Davis impressed in a backup-turned-starter role with the Panthers last season. Despite averaging just 3.9 yards/carry, Davis had plenty of value thanks to 59 receptions and 24.9 receiving yards per game. Atlanta’s running back room is full of question marks, with Cordarrelle Patterson serving as the “backup” and a host of young, unproven backs rounding out the depth cart. If Davis stays in the starter’s role, he could post RB2-level stats thanks to volume — especially if he equals Todd Gurley’s 52 carries inside the 20 (fifth most) and 14 carries inside the five (seventh) from last year.26Damien Harris, Patriots. Harris might be the biggest example of a “good in standard leagues, bad in PPR” RB. He caught just five-of-seven targets last year in 10 games, but he also averaged 13.7 carries/game and 5.0 y ards/carry. The main thing that kept Harris down (aside from injuries) was a surprising lack of TDs. He scored just twice despite his beefy frame. Fantasy owners know they can’t trust a Patriots RB — especially with receiving back James White, 2018 first-round pick Sony Michel, and 2020 fourth-round pick Rhamondre Stevenson on the roster — but Harris is a legit talent and should have the upper hand on all of those players for carries. Stevenson might be the biggest threat to Harris’ fantasy value when you factor in his size (6-0, 246 pounds), but Harris earned at least some trust with last year’s performance.
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27Raheem Mostert, 49ers. Mostert is a classic “if he stays healthy…” guy. The well-traveled speedster has flashed big-time upside, shown by his 5.6 career yards/carry, but it doesn’t seem likely that he has the durability to be a full-time starter. That’s probably why the 49ers drafted Trey Sermon in the third round this year, and it’s why you can’t really trust Mostert with anything other than a early middle-round pick. We know the 49ers want to run a lot, so both Mostert and Sermond can be RB2s if they’re healthy, so if you draft Mostert, you’d be wise to also draft Sermon.28Travis Etienne, Jaguars. It surprised many that the Jaguars used a first-round pick on Etienne after James Robinson starred as a rookie, but clearly Urban Meyer and the rest of the coaching staff anticipates making full use of Etienne’s versatile skillset. While it’s tempting to think the bigger Robinson will handle the majority of the carries and the goal-line touches, one would have also thought Jacksonville would be fine with him as a receiving option after he caught 49 passes last year. Clearly, this situation is murky, and we’re banking on Etienne ultimately being the more productive. At the very least, he’s more explosive and will be a constant big-play threat, giving him slightly more upside if the split is close to equal.29Melvin Gordon, Broncos. See Javonte Williams.30Devin Singletary, Bills. Singletary and Zack Moss make up a classic “thunder-and-lightning” duo, but unless one gets hurt, they’ll likely see similar workloads. Singletary will be used more in the receiving game, but Moss should get more goal-line touches. Last season, Moss had eight more red-zone carries, seven more carries inside the 10, and three more carries inside the five despite playing three fewer games. Again, that might be a clue that Moss will be more valuable, at least in standard leagues, but Singletary is more explosive and Josh Allen steals a lot of goal-line TDs anyway. If one gets hurt, the other will have a lot of value, but their overall outlooks heading into the season are essentially the same.31Gus Edwards, Ravens. Everyone is excited about JK Dobbins this year — and deservedly so — but don’t sleep on Edwards. He’s posted at least 700 yards and averaged at least 5.0 yards/carry in each of his three seasons, so you know he’s going to produce on the ground. He might not crack double-digit receptions, but it wouldn’t be a complete shock if Edwards wound up getting more touches than Dobbins and starred in the Ravens backfield.32Zack Moss, Bills. See Devin Singletary.33Michael Carter, Jets. Carter is competing with Tevin Coleman and La’Mical Perine for carries, but it’s tough to trust either after they averaged 1.9 and 3.6 yards/carry last year, respectively. Carter posted back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons at North Carolina and averaged a whopping 8.0 yards/carry in his final season. He’s the most explosive player in New York’s backfield and should eventually see the most touches.34Phillip Lindsay, Texans. David Johnson had a surprise bounce-back season last year, posting 1,005 total yards and eight TDs while averaging a career high 4.7 yards/carry in 12 games. Even so, the Texans picked up Lindsay in the offseason, and fantasy owners shouldn’t ignore him. Lindsay started his career with back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons before struggling in an injury-plagued 2020. Lindsay still has a career 4.8 yards/carry average, and despite his size (5-8 ,190 pounds), he’s a tough inside runner. Johnson might begin the season as Houston’s starter, but given his injury history and age (29), Lindsay could wind up outproducing him for the season.35David Johnson, Texans. See Phillip Lindsay.36Ronald Jones II, Buccaneers. Jones dominated carries (and rushing yards) for Tampa last season, but a late injury allowed Fournette to dominate in the playoffs. It’s easy to think Tampa will stick with that formula, but Jones is three years younger and averaged 1.3 more yards/carry last year. It’s more likley he runs away with the job than Fournette, but this could still be a split. Fournette likely has more value in PPR leagues, but it’s anyone’s guess as to how this backfield will ultimately play out.37Leonard Fournette, Buccaneers. See Ronald Jones II.38James Robinson, Jaguars. See Travis Etienne.39Latavius Murray, Saints40Jamaal Williams, Lions41Nyheim Hines, Colts42James Conner, Cardinals43AJ Dillon, Packers44Tony Pollard, Cowboys45JD McKissic, Washington46Trey Sermon, 49ers47James White, Patriots48Tarik Cohen, Bears49Alexander Mattison, Vikings50Tevin Coleman, Jets51Justin Jackson, Chargers52Malcolm Brown, Dolphins53Kenyan Drake, Raiders54Darrel Williams, Chiefs55Rashaad Penny, Seahawks56Marlon Mack, Colts57Devontae Booker, Giants58Benny Snell Jr., Steelers59Kenneth Gainwell, Eagles60Kerryon Johnson, Eagles61Rhamondre Stevenson, Patriots62Cordarrelle Patterson, Falcons63Samaje Perine, Bengals64Chuba Hubbard, Panthers65Damien Williams, Bears66Salvon Ahmed, Dolphins67Joshua Kelley, Chargers68La’Mical Perine, Jets69Mark Ingram, Texans70Jeff Wilson Jr., 49ers71Darrynton Evans, Titans72Jeremy McNichols, Titans73Anthony McFarland Jr., Steelers74Javian Hawkins, Falcons

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Donald Langer

Donald is a sports enthusiast who loves indulging in occasional cricket and football matches. He is a passionate journalist who flaunts a perfect hold over the English language. He currently caters his skills for the sports section of The Madison Leader Gazette.

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