Running Backs to Take with Your Last Pick in Fantasy Football Drafts for 2021

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Over the next few weeks, millions of football fans will be drafting their fantasy football teams. Since you’re here reading this, you’re probably one of them. You also probably listen to The Fantasy Footballers, which means you likely have a strong grasp on the players to target in the early rounds, along with sleepers and breakouts to look for in the middle rounds. So let’s talk about the late rounds. The really late rounds.

Over the next week, I’ll offer up players you can target at the very end of your drafts. Fliers, dart throws, long shots, whatever you want to call them, these players all have an average draft position (ADP) no sooner than the 18th round. That means you can take them with your last pick in the draft and see if they have a larger than expected role to start the regular season. Even if you don’t draft them, these are players to keep on your radar over the first few weeks as possible waiver wire targets.

To kick the series off, let’s look at running backs. This position typically dominates the early rounds of fantasy drafts, but there’s still the occasional diamond in the rough that can be found at the end of drafts. Last season three running backs, James Robinson, Myles Gaskin, and J.D. McKissic, all had round 18 or later ADP and finished as top-30 running backs with many useable fantasy weeks.

Of course, 2020 was a very different season without preseason football. Since we have exhibition games this year, it will be important to follow reports and pay attention to any trends that emerge. After the first weekend of preseason games, here are some running backs to keep an eye on and consider at the end of your drafts. They all have a chance to offer some stand-alone value and have tremendous upside if more opportunity opens up in their backfield.

Giovani Bernard, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Current ADP 18.07

Bernard flashed fantasy upside several times over his eight-year career with the Bengals. Just last season, he finished as a top-ten fantasy back in four separate weeks. While he’s had occasional success on the ground, most of his fantasy value has come through the air with his career average of 57 targets/season.  

Now he’s joined Tom Brady on the Super Bowl defending Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a team that targeted running backs 119 times last season, albeit with limited success. The Buccaneers management has given Brady every weapon he’s asked for so far, and we can presume that he asked for a better pass-catcher out of the backfield this season.

During his last two seasons in New England, Brady helped James White finish as the overall RB8 and RB22. Bernard could see similar success if he functions in the “James White” role for Brady in Tampa. The fact that Bernard joined Brady on the field for third-down twice in their limited preseason debuts against the Bengals seems like a good start.

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Malcolm Brown, Miami Dolphins

Current ADP 19.04

After the Miami Dolphins bypassed drafting a running back earlier this spring, the fantasy football community became convinced that Myles Gaskin would operate as their workhorse back again in 2021. After all, that’s how he was used when healthy in 2021. But, as I asked in an article earlier this offseason, what if we’re wrong?

It’s dangerous to blindly copy and paste any offensive projections from year-to-year, but doing so with Miami this season is particularly foolish. Last year the offense was designed by Chan Gailey to be run by Ryan Fitzpatrick. This season co-offensive coordinators Eric Studesville and George Godsey designed it to be run by Tua Tagovailoa. We shouldn’t expect it to mirror what happened last season.

Head coach Brian Flores has declared three running backs, Brown, Gaskin, and Salvon Ahmed, will all get on the field for Miami. Of the three, Brown profiles as the best goal-line back and pass-blocker of the bunch. That would put him on the field in the most high-leverage fantasy situations of the game. He also started Miami’s first preseason game, led the team in rush attempts, and was targeted in the passing game.

It was easy to dismiss Brown back in March when the seemingly perennial backup signed a one-year deal in Miami. Fast forward five months, and it may be time to start giving Brown some draft consideration.

Anthony McFarland Jr, Pittsburgh Steelers

Current ADP 25.03

Ok, we all expect Najee Harris to get the majority of the work in the Steelers backfield, and rightfully so. Still, even the most prolific bell-cow running backs are sharing backfields to some extent. In Pittsburgh, Benny Snell and Kalen Ballage profile as early-down rushers, a role Harris will rarely cede. McFarland, on the other hand, profiles as a change-of-pace back that can catch the ball and make plays in third down and passing situations.

The Steelers selected McFarland in the fourth round of the 2020 draft, but he saw just 33 carries and nine targets as a rookie. He was admittedly underprepared last season after navigating the unique COVID-impaired offseason. It’s been a different story this summer, as he continues to receive glowing reports out of camp and has had solid showings so far in preseason games. 

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It also bodes well for McFarland that the Steelers new offensive coordinator, Matt Canada, coached him at the collegiate level at Maryland. In fact, during their time together, Canada would occasionally deploy McFarland on motions and jet sweeps in two-back sets. He appears primed to have a role of some sort in the Pittsburg offense this season.

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