The Fantasy Footballers’ Early RB Rankings Part 2 Recap

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Welcome to part two of the Footballers’ early RB rankings, which covers Andy, Jason, and Mike’s consensus rankings for RBs #11 through 20. In case you missed it, check out the first episode or read the recap to see who made their top-10. Please note that all points and rankings are based on 0.5 PPR.

Let’s review who the guys have chosen as their #11 to 20 RBs for the 2021 season:

11. Austin Ekeler | Chargers 

Andy 13 | Jason 8 | Mike 11
2020 stat line: 10 games — 116/530/1 — 65 targets for 54/403/2 — 1 fumble (RB29 fantasy finish)

Good friend of the show, Austin Ekeler, was all set to dominate the fantasy rankings last year as the team’s clear-cut lead back with Melvin Gordon III finally gone. Instead, an early hamstring injury decimated any hopes for the pass-catching specialist to build off of his 2019 RB6 breakout. But it’s a new dawn, and it’s a new day for Ekeler, who is healthy and poised to return to fantasy glory as QB sensation Justin Herbert‘s favorite dump-off target. While draft day looms, the team has made it clear that Ekeler is their man. They haven’t added any competition in free agency and instead got rid of the uninspiring Kalen Ballage, while fellow RBs Justin Jackson and Joshua Kelley proved to be nothing more than innocuous depth pieces.

What keeps Ekeler out of the top-10 echelon is his lack of usage in the Red Zone and thereby his low TD numbers. In 2020, he had only two carries inside the five with only one rushing TD. But you don’t draft Ekeler for his scoring prowess–you draft him because of his insane usage in the passing game. In just 10 games, he totaled 65 targets (RB8) and averaged 6.5 targets per game (RB3), which was on pace for 104 total targets. In fact, if we remove his Week 4 outlier game where he exited in the first quarter, his average is boosted to 7.1 targets per game, which would have been tied for first with last year’s RB1, Alvin Kamara. Ekeler is an awesome fantasy asset that has weekly top-10 upside, especially in PPR leagues. Let’s just hope the offense doesn’t take a step back from all the coaching changes.

12. Antonio Gibson | Washington

Andy 12 | Jason 12 | Mike 12
2020 stat line: 14 games — 170/795/11 — 44 targets for 36/247/0 — 2 fumbles (RB12 fantasy finish)

Remember Bryce Love? The guy who many argued would win the workhorse role over Antonio Gibson last year? Turns out, all you need is Gibson, not Love, as Mike’s rookie darling dominated the scoreboards to become the only rookie RB in history to score 10+ TDs and 35+ receptions in <15 games played, and the only one to score 11+ rushing TDs on <180 carries. Best of all, he did this while only averaging a mere 15 opportunities per game under a mediocre QB carousel. Talk about efficiency. With an improved offense now captained by Ryan Fitzpatrick and another year under Riverboat Ron’s tutelage, Gibson could see an increased workload with even more valuable touches.

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However, Gibson’s lack of usage in the passing game remains a concern as scatback J.D. McKissic remains on the team. You know, the guy who annoyingly led all RBs in total targets (110). But the lopsided target share between Gibson and McKissic (3.1 vs 6.9 per game) should even out a bit as the likes of Alex Smith and Dwayne Haskins are no longer in town to constantly dink and dunk their way to the next commercial break. All signs point to another fringe RB1 year for the Memphis product.

13. J.K. Dobbins | Ravens

Andy 16 | Jason 13 | Mike 13
2020 stat line: 15 games — 134/805/9 — 24 targets for 18/120/0 — 2 fumbles (RB20 fantasy finish)

If two’s company and three’s a crowd, then Baltimore’s backfield was a congested, pre-COVID bacchanal. Not only did Dobbins have to compete against veteran Mark Ingram and journeyman Gus Edwards for carries, but they were also all overshadowed by lead RB QB Lamar Jackson. There were 11 games last year where all four players were active; here’s how their opportunities (i.e., carries + targets) were divvied up:

Week Opportunities
Ingram Edwards Dobbins Jackson
1 10 4 7 7
2 12 10 3 16
3 8 4 5 9
4 9 9 7 7
5 11 10 4 2
6 5 14 13 9
10 7 9 7 11
11 2 3 17 13
13 7 7 11 13
14 0 8 13 9
17 9 13 13 11
Average 7.3 8.3 9.1 9.7

Not great, Bob. But with Ingram headed south for Houston, the belief is that Dobbins will finally be unleashed as the bellcow he was drafted to be. There were just five games where the remaining trio played while Ingram was inactive or saw zero looks. Here’s how the timeshare was split:

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Opportunities
Week Edwards Dobbins Jackson
8 17 17 16
9 13 14 13
14 8 13 9
15 11 15 10
16 17 12 13
Average 13.2 14.2 12.2

Better… but still not a sign of confidence that Dobbins will be guaranteed the RB1 workload many fantasy managers are assuming he’ll be gifted. Also, like Gibson above, Dobbins was extremely efficient in the endzone, particularly in the second half of the season. From Week 11 on, he somehow averaged a rushing TD every 11 carries, making him the RB8 during that timespan. Though that superb TD rate is sure to regress, the team’s run-heavy approach will help secure a safe floor. If the coaching staff decides to keep feeding Dobbins (and if Jackson starts tossing the ball more), then the skies the limit.

14. Joe Mixon | Bengals

Andy 10 | Jason 17 | Mike 18
2020 stat line: 6 games — 119/428/3 — 26 targets for 21/138/1 — 1 fumble (RB49 fantasy finish)

Here’s where things get messy. Bengals RB Joe Mixon represents one of the biggest disparities in the ‘Ballers’ rankings as Andy has him in the top-10 while Jason and Mike disagree. There are many positives with Mixon: he’s young (24.7 years old), he’s a workhorse back (averaged 24 opportunities per game in 2020, 20 opps/gm in 2019), his main receiving competition is gone (Giovani Bernard to Tampa Bay), and he’s totaled 1,641 all-purpose yards and 11 TDs over his last 16 games played. The downside is that he only played in six games last year and has dealt with injury concerns every season. Not helping matters is that his offensive line is abysmal, ranking as the third WORST line per PFF. With a secured workload and another year to build rapport with QB Joe Burrow, Mixon has an obvious path to fantasy glory. But the question remains: can he stay healthy? Maybe if they draft Penei Sewell instead of Ja’Marr Chase…

Andy Lyons/Getty Images

15. Clyde Edwards-Helaire | Chiefs

Andy 17 | Jason 14 | Mike 14
2020 stat line: 13 games — 181/803/4 — 54 targets for 36/297/1 — 0 fumbles (RB21 fantasy finish)

First RB selected in the draft. Handpicked by superstar QB Patrick Mahomes.  Hefty workload (18 opportunities per game) on an elite offense. Competition gone (Damien Williams). And yet, LSU cannonball Clyde Edwards-Helaire was a fantasy disappointment, finishing as the overall RB21 despite a first-round draft capital. Unlike fellow rookies Antonio Gibson, J.K. Dobbins, and James Robinson, Edwards-Helaire was “unlucky” at the goal line, converting just one measly TD from 15 rushing attempts inside the 10. If he can improve on this facet and receive more passing work (averaged 8.2 yards per reception), then he’ll would be a shoo-in to outproduce his ADP in his sophomore season. The Hitman himself believes CEH could have top-5 upside, but only time will tell.

16. James Robinson | Jaguars

Andy 14 | Jason 21 | Mike 17
2020 stat line: 14 games — 240/1070/7 — 60 targets for 49/344/3 — 3 fumbles (RB7 fantasy finish)

Can last year’s waiver wire savior, James Robinson, repeat his record-breaking rookie year? Andy is bullish, while Jason is cautiously optimistic. Although he was stuck on a bad offense, Robinson surprised everyone with an amazing RB7 performance. He had the fifth-most 10+ yard runs among RBs and was the only rusher in the top-20 ranks to score all of his TDs while trailing. Though the Jaguars signed Carlos Hyde in free agency, he has proven to be a JAG and should not threaten Robinson’s workload. There are obvious risks as the team will have a new face under Urban Meyer’s regime and presumably a new QB in Trevor Lawrence, and it’s certainly possible that they draft another RB to muddy the waters. But Robinson should get the chance to further prove his worth, and if he’s able to maintain the same prolific production, then it’s James RB1SZN all over again.

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17. Chris Carson | Seahawks

Andy 22 | Jason 15 | Mike 15
2020 stat line: 12 games — 141/681/5 — 46 targets for 37/287/4 — 1 fumble (RB17 fantasy finish)

Head coach Pete Carroll has publicly expressed his love for Chris Carson, who has been a beast for Seattle and will now be paid handsomely to continue being one. When active, Carson is a fantasy producer who was tied for third-most fantasy points per touch (1.0) despite seeing a robust workload (16 opps/gm in 2020, 22 opps/gm in 2019). As Andy mentioned, based on Carson’s first five games, he was on pace for 9.6 rushing TDs on 195 rushing attempts, and 67.2 receptions on 73.6 targets. But that’s the rub: Carson can’t seem to stay healthy. Though he has obvious injury concerns, the signing of former Raiders OG Gabe Jackson should help. And while Andy’s worried that he lacks top-5 upside, Carson will be the key piece in a fantasy-friendly run-first offense and is my personal favorite dynasty buy.

18. Miles Sanders | Eagles

Andy 15 | Jason 20 | Mike 19
2020 stat line: 12 games — 164/867/6 — 52 targets for 28/197/0 — 4 fumbles (RB22 fantasy finish)

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Will Miles Sanders ever have an RB1 season? Though he came close in his rookie season, his sophomore attempt was ugly for fantasy GMs. But with a new coaching staff and another year to work with QB Jalen Hurts, Sanders could finally break out. He saw a bountiful 18 opportunities per game, yet was still one of the most efficient runners in the league with 5.3 yards per carry. His offensive line was brutalized last year but should return to prominence with vital pieces like Lane Johnson and Brandon Brooks hopefully returning with full health. However, he may see a reduced role after the signing of Jordan Howard and re-signing of Boston Scott. There are too many questions to feel confident about Sanders, but his big-play abilities will always make him a contender.

19. David Montgomery | Bears

Andy 18 | Jason 16 | Mike 20
2020 stat line: 15 games — 247/1070/8 — 68 targets for 54/438/2 — 1 fumble (RB4 fantasy finish)

David Montgomery made the most of his “Mopportunity” and shocked managers everywhere when he finished as the RB4. So why the low ranking? Maybe because his stat line was bumped up because he was the sole survivor of a depleted RB room after Tarik Cohen was ruled out of the season after Week 3. Maybe because he was the benefactor of one of the best final schedules ever seen. Or maybe because the Bears signed Damien Williams and are expected to have Cohen back. But are we disrespecting Montgomery a tad too much? Though he’s labeled as volume-dependent, he was able to force 72 missed tackles last year. In comparison, Miles Sanders has only forced 68 total missed tackles in his CAREER. He’s made a clear improvement since his rookie season. Though it’s hard to bet on Montgomery, there is always a chance he could become a league winner again.

20. D’Andre Swift | Lions

Andy 19 | Jason 22 | Mike 16
2020 stat line: 13 games — 114/521/8 — 57 targets for 46/357/2 — 3 fumbles (RB18 fantasy finish)

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D’Andre Swift may be one of the hardest RBs to rank right now. He impressed in his rookie season, ranking as the RB9 in points from Week 6 on. Most impressively, he pulled this off despite missing three games. While Adrian Peterson is a free agent, the Lions have already signed a very dependable replacement in Jamaal Williams, who is great at pass protection and will likely carve a role as the third-down back. His 57 total targets were the 13th highest among RBs, a number that should improve under new head coach Dan Campbell and OC Anthony Lynn, but this could be negated by the QB change from Matthew Stafford to Jared Goff. When Swift saw 10+ opportunities (seven games), he averaged a whopping 16.2 points per game. But remember, this is the Lions, a team that hasn’t exactly been generous for RBs. Can Swift change the tide when so many others before him failed?

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