Running back is considered the most significant position in fantasy football. You want to draft best and top-ranked Running Backs early, handcuffs late, and sleepers everyplace in between.
Drafting sleepers early before they’re hot on the waiver wire gives you an early advantage as a Fantasy Manager.
However, the 2021 season RB rankings try to uncover the most likely RB’s to finish as sleepers for Fantasy Managers by midseason.
Understand the RB tiers
While Fantasy Managers concentrate on the top tier ranked players, it’s essential to ensure you understand the value of each RB you’re targeting throughout each tier.
Choosing a stud RB seems complicated when you’re considering Derrick Henry vs Christian McCaffrey vs Dalvin Cook. However, ultimately, if you are lucky enough to draft any of this tier 1 group, your team will be strong.
It is the lower-tiered RB’s that might create or break your season. If you draft an RB2 who ends up producing like an RB1 in the fourth round, you might well win your league.
Conversely, if you reach for your favourite sleeper and he busts, you may be catching up all year.
2021 PPR Fantasy Rankings
In standard PPR leagues, the difference between RB16 and RB26 will be drastic in actual production. However, it might mean a difference of 2 or 3 rounds throughout the draft and missing some top-ranked WR’s and TE’s.
Once you get past the top tier RB’s the outlook for the remainder of the RB’s is similar: they might be relying on an injury to have an enormous season.
RB’s as far back as Javonte Williams or Phillip Lindsay may end up as the starters for their teams, but there’s no guarantee.
You have to get lucky if these are your best RB’s in a zero RB draft strategy. You’ll be better off taking a hero RB approach.
2021 Standard Fantasy Rankings
The draft-day decision process is rarely straightforward, particularly if you are operating underneath false pretences.
While last year had some season-ending injuries for some of the round 1 Running Backs, those who did finish the season as top eight RB’s had over 1,000 rushing yards – down from 15 the season before.
The 15 1,000-yard rushers in 2019 is an outlier over the past 6 seasons. The eight last season is trending back to the norm. However, it shows why it’s vital to consider receiving stats and ratings, even in non-PPR leagues.
2021 Fantasy Auction Values (Standard & PPR)
There are more touchdowns chances across the board if you draft a team’s RB1 in general.
The top 8 RB’s scored at least 10 rushing touchdowns last year. This can also be compared to the 2018 season when 6 RB’s hit that TD rate.
Is your RB1 going to get the goal-line work? Or are they in an RB committee situation?
2021 Fantasy RB Sleepers
There is a “right” strategy for drafting Running Backs shown by top fantasy analysts who prefer to pick 3 of 4 on RB’s early.
Regardless of quality, you have to focus on quantity at RB as well. Many Fantasy Managers see value in veterans only to have an injury-hit them early in the season. Leaving their RB position weak if they didn’t draft backups or handcuffs to uncover sleepers.
2021 Fantasy Best Running Backs To Draft – Standard PPR
McCaffrey faced three separate injuries during the 2020 season (quad, thigh, ankle). These injuries caused him to miss 13 games in 2020. It does lead us to wonder if durability will continue to be an issue. In his 3 games he posted 374 total yards and 17 catches with 6 touchdowns. However, if he’s healthy, he could surpass 2,000 total yards, 100 catches, and 15-plus TDs. His production when healthy is far above the rest at RB so he is still No. 1 back in PPR formats.
In the past two seasons, Henry has enjoyed leading the league rushing attempts, yards, and rushing TDs. Will he be able to make it three years in a row in all three categories? Given his sky-high workload last year (378 attempts), history shows it’s unlikely he can do it again. However, Henry has worked hard and has proven himself a beast after an up-and-down start to his career.
Barkley missed 14 games last season because of a torn ACL. However, it appears he will be ready for Week 1. The Giants now have to ease him back into action as soon as possible. Barkley’s most significant question mark will be: can he perform at the elite level again after suffering a serious injury? It’s important to note that his receiving numbers did drop from his rookie season (5.7 receptions/game, 45.1 yards) to his sophomore season (4.0 receptions/game, 33.7 yards/game).
Chubb is an elite runner and has never averaged below 5.0 yards/carry in a season. Chubb has to dominate the goal-line touches if he wants to continue this trend. All signs point to this happening again for Chubb who’s expectations with many are to produce at a top-five level in standard leagues.
Kamara was a touchdown machine last year, scoring 21 TD’s. However, with no John Drew Brees, it’s an entirely new Orleans’ offense. Kamara is on top of his game, and has the capacity to challenge the league and lead in receptions among RBs. This makes him a top PPR play, but you must consider the Saints’ uncertainty at QB when drafting Kamara.
Zeke had the worst season of his career last season, Zeke was an elite RB until Dak Prescott went down early. This year’s question is can he bounce back to his previous elite form? At just 26, he should have plenty left in the tank. Nobody will be shocked if Elliott challenges for the top-ranked RB, even if Tony Pollard eats into some of his snap share.
Jones’ outlook this off-season has fluctuated depending on whether or not it appears likely that Aaron Rodgers will play for the Packers this season. Now that Rodgers is confirmed, Jones is back to being an elite RB. Jones has averaged 5.5 yards in 3 of his 4 seasons and finished as a top 5 RB in PPR formats. We can expect more of the same.
Taylor got plenty of attention as a rookie, averaging 5.0 yards per carry and scoring 12 TD’s. Taylor should be operating behind an improved offensive line and QB upgrade, giving him top 5 RB potential. The comeback of Marlon Mack (Achilles’) could eat into some of his carries, although the coaching staff have confirmed Talyor as the main RB.
Offseason reports have suggested Gibson is going to be a huge part of the receiving game this year. However, with J.D. McKissic still around, it appears unlikely he’ll be a regular and three-down back. In his rookie season, Gibson showed plenty of talent to give Fantasy Managers confidence to draft him as early as the second round.
CEH didn’t quite live up to all the hype around him last year. However, he did still managed to score 1,100 yards and 5 TDs in 13 games. Perhaps, this is a good sign that he’s going to get more short-yardage work in 2021. The Chiefs run an extremely proficient passing game on the league’s best offense. If CEH gets more involved in the passing game, he could be an excellent value pick in the 3rd round.
Ekeler was off to a great start last season before his left hamstring injury sidelined him for 6 games. He came back in Week 12 and was good for the remainder of the season. However, he only scored 3 touchdowns, and Fantasy Managers will be concerned that this TD rate will hold him back from being an RB1. The great news for Ekeler is that the Chargers did not do any significant RB moves this offseason. Drafting Larry Rountree III within the sixth round and both Justin Jackson and Joshua Kelley did not impress last year. Expect Ekeler to be the unchallenged lead back in 2021.
Dobbins rookie season was a slow beginning for a potentially elite talent last year. However, once he started obtaining consistent double-digit carries around Week 7, Dobbins became fantasy relevant. Unfortunately, Dobbins is the lead RB in a committee for the Ravens. Dobbins will be the leader of the committee and hopefully ends the season in the 1,000-plus yards and double-digit touchdowns range. But Gus Edwards and Lamar Jackson may well dig into his workload and bring him down as far as an RB3 in fantasy.
Montgomery improved across the board last year, totalling 1,508 yards, 54 receptions, and 10 TDs. However, his yards per carry averaged only 4.3 yards. Montgomery also plays on a mediocre offense, pushing him back into the 3rd and 4th rounds in standard PPR league drafts. Mongomery did finish as RB12 in 2020, so he could be a great value fantasy choice at his current ADP.
Mixon hasn’t quite broken out as Fantasy Managers have hoped he would over the past few seasons. If he can eat up the majority of the rushing work and take over the RB passing game (with Giovani Bernard gone), Mixon has top 5 RB all over him.
Sanders missed four games last year thanks to injury. However, he still managed 1,064 total rushing yards and 6 TDs. With a replacement set of coaches (and QB) in Philadephia, Sanders ADP this off-season continues to decline. If Sanders can hold onto featuring in the receiving game as he did in his rookie season (50 receptions). And continue his career average of 4.9 yards/carry. Sanders could be an explosive draft pick this season at his current value.
The Steelers are known to feature their rookie RB’s. Selecting Harris within the first round of this year’s draft will ensure 2021 is no exception. It’s safe to assume he’ll average north of eighteen touches per game — seemingly within the 20-22 range like James Conner averaged in his 2018 rookie season.
Jacobs, unfortunately, could not maintain his performance last season. He dropped from 4.8 yards to 3.9, and 88.5 yards per game to 71.0. However, he improved slightly as a receiver and scored 12 touchdowns, thanks partly to leading the league in red-zone carries (64). The addition of Kenyan Drake is problematic, particularly for Jacobs’ budding role as a receiver.
Carson averaged a career-high of 4.8 yards/carry in 2020 and tied his career-high for receptions (37) despite missing 4 games last year. With Wilson under center throwing a lot, Carson’s well-rounded game should maintain his “lead back” status for at least one more season.
Hunt is most valuable in fantasy as a “PPR back”. In 2020 he averaged 2.4 receptions per game last year. He is a part of a rushing committee backfield with Nick Chubb. Chubb will still see most of the valuable carries, Hunt should get mostly passing downs work. Hunt scored 11 times last year and averaged 71.6 total yards per game, thanks partly to Chubb missing 4 games. If Chubb misses some time, Hunt will be huge in PPR.
Williams will compete with veteran Melvin Gordon for touches. However, even though the rookie will likely be the Bronco’s RB2 in week one, he is far more explosive than Gordon. In his final college season at North Carolina, Williams rushed for 1,445 yards and 22 TDs while averaging 7.9 yards per carry.
A knee injury and COVID caused Gaskin to miss six games last year once he had established himself as Miami’s lead back. In Weeks 3-15 (seven games), he averaged 20.9 touches, 106.7 total yards, and 3.9 receptions per game. That is RB1-level production in PPR leagues. A scarcity of TDs (four in this span) bring him down. However, if his body can hold up, he has the opportunity to have a prominent role this year. As a later round pick with RB1 upside, he may pay off nicely for Fantasy Managers.
Last season when Rams lead RB Cam Akers was injured, it opened the door for Henderson. He had moderate levels of success when given the chance, averaging 4.5 yards/carry and scoring 6 TD’s last year. However, it’s anyone’s guess on how he’ll handle being LA’s feature back for an entire season.
Davis was effective as a backup-turned-starter role with the Panthers last season when CMC was injured. Despite having an average of only 3.9 yards, Davis still had value because of his 59 receptions and 24.9 receiving yards per game. Hopefully, he stays healthy and productive for 17 games at Atlanta.
With the Patriots early-round draft pick Sony Michel and 2020 fourth-round pick Rhamondre Stevenson on the roster, Harris is in a crowded backfield. Harris may be a legit talent and will have the advantage on these players for carries. Stevenson may well be the most significant threat to Harris’ fantasy value. Stevenson is a big RB (6-0, 246 pounds). However, Harris won some trust with the coaching staff based on last year’s performance.
As the saying goes, “health is wealth”. The same saying applies here for Mostert to be a reliable RB fantasy option. The veteran speedster has flashed big-time upside, shown by his career average of 5.6 yards per carry. However, his ADP is low given he’s missed a lot of games due to injury and Trey Sermon joining the 49ers backfield.
It stunned everyone when the Jaguars used a first-round pick on Etienne with James Robinson was marked as the starter. However, Urban Meyer and the rest of the coaching staff plan on creating full use of Etienne’s versatile skill-set.
Edmonds has additional value in PPR leagues, shown by his 53 receptions last year. Edmonds will see an even bigger role in the run game and passing game with Kenyan Drake gone. However, it’s unclear what workload James Conner will take on, and it looks Conner will be the goal-line back. Edmonds may be a safer choice in PPR leagues, if he can hold off Conner, he’ll be a solid RB2 in standard leagues.
Often the last potential starting RB on the board. If you’ve gone a zero RB strategy and Gordon is your last option for your RB1 you may be regretting your strategy on draft day. However, Gordon proved productive for Denver last season. The Broncos are going to want to run the ball a lot so he may end up being a serviceable RB2 in Fantasy this season.
The list of the top running backs in fantasy football this season is strong. Where an RB is expected to be the lead back for an offense, they will have value.
The goal of Fantasy Managers on draft day will be to spot the RB value. And ensure they don’t leave drafting an RB too late and fall into the RB deadzone.