The Fantasy Footballers’ Early Top-10 RB Rankings Recap

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It’s early April and the first look at how Andy, Mike, and Jason’s rankings stack up against one another. In Tuesday’s Early Top-10 RB Rankings, they discussed an elite group of fantasy RBs that all make you want to grab them in the first round of your drafts. However, it’s important when you are discussing this tier of players to share some of the concerns and a range of outcomes of what could happen to a player. After all, who would’ve known that the 1.01 & 1.02 (Christian McCaffrey and Saquon Barkley) would be out for most of 2020, and the landscape of the RB position change so quickly?

Here is a recap of each of the top-10 RBs as well as some of the statistics and arguments shared on the show:

1. Christian McCaffrey | Panthers 

Andy 1 | Jason 1 | Mike 1
2020 stat line: 3 games — 59/225/5 — 19 targets for 17/149/1

Don’t overthink this one. A 17-game season makes him even more valuable for fantasy. CMC is a true workhorse back seeing over 90% of snaps in 2018 & 2019. If you compare him to other elite RBs other the last three years, it is staggering how much he stays on the field.

We know he’s an elite pass-catcher averaging 101 receptions in three full seasons and his fantasy finishes (RB11, RB3, RB1) have shown us we know his floor is higher than anyone else. The only concerns would be recovering from his ankle, shoulder, and thigh injuries from 2020 and the Panthers installing a new QB in Sam Darnold. Critics might point out that Darnold did not throw to the RB position at a high enough rate. Tell that to Cam Newton who  “never threw to the RB”… and then he did. Mike Davis and Curtis Samuel are out and there is no one of any concern behind CMC that should make fantasy managers worry. We should point out that through Christian McCaffrey‘s 1st four seasons, his team is 7-20 when he goes over 100 scrimmage yards and 16-8 when he hits under that mark. Just shows you how fantasy glory is different than reality.

2. Dalvin Cook | Vikings 

Andy 2 | Jason 2 | Mike 2
2020 stat line: 14 games — 312/1557/16 — 54 targets for 44/361/1 — 5 fumbles

Cook is the clear No. 2 for all three of the Ballers despite the constant argument about him being an injury risk. Jason made an excellent point that every single RB gets injured at some point. Of the top-20 RBs, only two(!) played all 16 games in 2020. Cook is a true dominator who gets the type of money touches that produces for fantasy. He had a league-leading 66 red-zone touches and the most goal-line carries in football. That’ll work! He also is an elite talent with the 2nd most evaded tackles and has been a top-5 RB in back-to-back seasons despite only playing 14 games. The change in offensive coordinator shouldn’t scare anyone as it’s all in the family with Klint Kubiak replacing Gary Kubiak. Cook is in the primary RB tier with CMC according to Jason and Mike.

3. Alvin Kamara | Saints

Andy 5 | Jason 3 | Mike 3
2020 stat line: 15 games — 187/932/16 — 107 targets for 83/756/5 — 1 fumble

Fantasy’s RB1 in 2020 was an unstoppable force and single-handedly won people fantasy championships with a Week 16 to remember: 54.7 fantasy pts on the back of SIX rushing TDs). Super Kamario is an elite pass-catcher, playmaker, and the model of consistency with his season reception totals: 81, 81, 81, 83. He’s insanely efficient: since 1970, he’s averaging the most yards per touch (6.18) of any RB through their 1st four years in the NFL. (#3 is CMC & #5 is Aaron Jones) Only three players in NFL history have had a season with 100+ targets & 20+ TDs: Marshall Faulk (x2), David Johnson (2016) & now Kamara. Ok one final stat to show you how awesome Kamara has been: He has the MOST receptions ever for an RB’s 1st four years in the NFL (326) and the 7th MOST for any pass-catcher.

But on top of all the accolades, this Saints offense is built for fantasy RB dominance. Check out the last decade and how they have ranked as a team in terms of RB fantasy points:

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YEAR Saints RBs TOTAL Fppg
2011 1st
2012 1st
2013 3rd
2014 2nd
2015 2nd
2016 2nd
2017 1st
2018 1st
2019 11th
2020 1st

The only mark against Kamara in 2021 is thinking he might hit a wall of inefficiency with the retirement of Drew Brees. His splits last year were somewhat concerning when Brees was out for a 4-week stretch:

With Brees (11 games)
Without Brees (Wks 11-14)
Rush Att. per Game 12.5 12.5
Receptions Per Game 6.6 2.5
FPPG 25.9 12.9

Regardless, his floor is just too high given his dependability in the receiving game and in full PPR leagues, he can easily finish as the RB1 again.

4. Derrick Henry | Titans

Andy 3 | Jason 6 | Mike 4
2020 stat line: 16 games — 378/2027/17 — 31 targets for 19/114/0 — 3 fumbles

Whoaaaa buddy. Jason talks about this all the time on the show but Derrick Henry is one of the true outliers at the RB position that doesn’t need major passing work to be effective for fantasy. However, in 2021, there is some disagreement among the Footballers about Henry’s ranking although they did agree he’s part of a clear-cut 2nd tier. Over the last two seasons, he’s averaged 340 rushes for 1783 yards and 16 rush TDs. His rushing attempts have grown each year since entering the league (110 < 176 < 215 < 303 < 378) and now he has back-to-back top-3 fantasy finishes. Those 378 rush attempts were the most since Demarco Murray’s 394 in 2014 for the Cowboys.

Henry is also a beast on any down at any time. His yards per carry per down in 2020 was basically unfair (1st- 5.2 / 2nd- 5.5 / 3rd-7.1) and although he feasted on bad defenses (+5.69 fantasy points vs bottom-16 defenses) and weirdly was better on the road (+8.3 fantasy points), it’s hard to doubt him.

The concerns with Henry are always the lack of targets (averages fewer than 30 per year) and a new offensive coordinator in Todd Downing. Check out NFL Coaching Changes for 2021 & What it Means for Fantasy if you want a deeper dive on the subject. As I discussed recently in NFL Vegas Unders article, there’s a big question in my mind: what if Tennessee as a whole regresses? Their efficiency as an offense (2nd in yards per game) isn’t sustainable and they also went 7-2 in one-score games. If you look at Henry’s splits, they were drastic for fantasy when the Titans lost as he failed to consistently visit the end-zone.

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TEN Wins (11) TEN Losses (5)
Rush Att. per Game 25.7 19.0
Rush YPG 143.5 89.6
FPPG 24.1 12.0

In the five Titans losses in 2020, he had four total receptions for 12 yards. But this isn’t why you are drafting Derrick Henry. You know what you’re getting: a huge workload and games where he explodes for 200+ yards and multiple rushing TDs.

Getty Images / Icon Sportswire

5. Saquon Barkley | Giants

Andy 4 | Jason 4 | Mike 6
2020 stat line: 2 games — 19/34/0 — 9 targets for 6/60/0

It’s been a while since we’ve seen Saquon on the field so maybe you forgot how much an elite talent he is. He can do it all and still has the ability to finish as the RB1 this year. He did drop in efficiency and touches from 2018 to 2019 but still managed the type of production you want in a 1st round RB.

2018 (16 games) 2019 (13 games)
Touches Per Game 22 (2nd) 20.7 (7th)
Yards Per Game 126.8 (2nd) 110.8 (6th)
TD Rate Every 24.6 touches (20th)
Every 33.6 touches (28th)
FPPG 21.3 (2nd) 16.8 (6th)

The major concern is coming back from a torn ACL in an offense led by Daniel Jones. The Giants were dead last in yards per TD in 2020 (176.2) and going into Year 3, things need to shift. He’s shown small glimpses of fantasy upside but he also fumbles the ball like it’s going out of style. With Kenny Golladay and Kyle Rudolph added to the mix, this the best mix of weapons to compliment Saquon. Bet on the passing volume and his other-worldly talent.

6. Aaron Jones | Packers

Andy 7 | Jason 7 | Mike 5
2020 stat line: 14 games — 201/1104/9 — 63 targets for 47/355/2 — 2 fumbles

Mike was right that Jones can’t get no respect! He’s a great player that could see an even bigger workload in 2020 with Jamaal Williams signing with Detroit. Williams averaged 163 opportunities per season over the last four years. Jones is an efficiency monster who has the type of explosion performances that can win you a week. Last year, he saw the ninth most targets among RBs and the 4th highest yards per touch at RB. With back-to-back top-5 fantasy finishes, the only other person in the backfield that could challenge Jones is behemoth A.J. Dillon. It’s also worth mentioning that the Packers’ offense could be due for some TD regression. Their efficiency was off the charts ranking #1 in points per game (31.8) and points per drive (3.1) while scoring a TD every 97 yards. For context, Patrick Mahomes’ 50-TD season was every 103 yards. The Packers are still the class of the NFC North and should be in contention for the Super Bowl meaning Jones is a locked-in RB1 for 2021.

7. Ezekiel Elliott | Cowboys

Andy 6 | Jason 5 | Mike 8
2020 stat line: 15 games — 244/979/6 — 71 targets for 52/338/2 — 6 fumbles

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Zeke is going to be a name to watch in drafts because there’s a narrative going around that he’s somehow “old busted”. Losing Dak Prescott early and having an offensive line decimated with injuries did not help his cause at all. He still finished as an RB1, something he’s done every year of his career:

Year Games Played Fantasy Finish
2016 15 RB2
2017 10 RB10
2018 15 RB5
2019 16 RB4
2020 15 RB11

Jason noted that the concerns of him wearing down (averaging 353 opportunities per season) were a bit exaggerated as he still looks good on film. Tony Pollard did show out the one game he was given the lion’s share of work but Elliott should continue to be a true workhorse. He likley has a higher floor than other players drafted around him (Jones, Taylor, Akers) but the days of top-5 production are waning.

8. Nick Chubb | Browns

Andy 8 | Jason 11 | Mike 7
2020 stat line: 12 games — 190/1067/12 — 18 targets for 16/150/0 — 1 fumble

It’s tough forming a compelling argument against Chubb because like Derrick Henry, he’s just an outlier. Chubb is an elite runner on a run-first team with the Browns, who had PFF’s #1 rated offensive line in 2020. He’s just plain fun to watch play football and he’s also in a contract year although it’s expected that he’d stay with the Browns. The main concerns are the lack of targets (fewer than two per game in 2020) and the presence of Kareem Hunt. We get it but have you ever seen this guy play football? Despite missing four games, he led NFL in Yards after Contact and had the highest Elusive Rating per PFF (by a wide margin!) and as many eluded tackles as Kenyan Drake and Miles Sanders…. COMBINED. He’s a locked-in end-of 1st round RB in 2021. In the early top-24 episode in January, Mike took him at pick 13.

9. Jonathan Taylor | Colts

Andy 9 | Jason 9 | Mike 9
2020 stat line: 15 games — 232/1169/11 — 39 targets for 36/299/1 — 1 fumble

JTT! Yes, he was a 90’s heartthrob turned NFL RB and he certainly heated up in the second half. From Weeks 11-17, he was the RB3 winning many managers fantasy championships that believed in him despite starting slow. From Weeks 4-10, he was the RB39 in fantasy points per game (8.9) about the same as Rex Burkhead or Zack Moss. In the lull months of October and November, he averaged only 12 carries per game. The excitement surrounding Taylor has tempered this off-season when Marlon Mack was brought back and the team acquired enigma Carson Wentz at QB. This team looks like a playoff contender and should be in the mix with Tennessee to win the AFC South. However, Taylor was game-scripted out of far too many games in 2020 as the team seems to like Nyheim Hines a lot. Taylor averaged only 45 rush yards per game in Colts losses in 2020.

10. Cam Akers | Rams

Andy 11 | Jason 10 | Mike 10
2020 stat line: 13 games — 145/625/2 — 14 targets for 11/123/1 — 1 fumble

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The guys are all-in on Akers upside in 2021. Sean McVay offenses have consistently produced for fantasy and when you get a look at the type of workload he saw at the end of the season, he could skyrocket to the top-5. In two playoff games, averaged 24.5 touches for 136 yards and a touchdown, good enough for 21.4 fantasy points per game. But even before that explosion, Akers was receiving the type of workload (with Darrell Henderson Jr. hurt and Malcolm Brown being phased out) that have everyone licking their chops for 2021.

Week Touches Total Yards TDs Fantasy Finish
12 9 84 1 RB14
13 22 94 1 RB12
14 31 194 0 RB8
15 16 62 0 RB41
16 —– Inactive —– —–
17 26 86 0 RB36
Wildcard 30 176 1 —–
Divisional 19 96 1 —–

Akers was also the winner of this recent Twitter poll of players on the fringe of the top-10 that fantasy managers feel most confident about.

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Chad Forcier says:

I’m drafting 11th this year. PPR 12 team league (2rb, 2wr, 2flex, te, qb, dst, k) standard scoring. Looking at ADP, I’m going to likely be choosing between Hill/Diggs (Hop) and A.Jones/Eckler/Akers (maybe Zeke drops). Loving seeing Aaron Jones down there but if he’s gone, I’m going to have a tough time picking Akers over Eckler. I get the ceiling with Akers but intentionally avoided LAR RBs last year. Are we sure that Gurley breaking down isn’t a lesson learned instead of an example McVay is looking to repeat? How impactful do you think Lindsley is going to be in the running game for the LAC? If they pick up a stud LT, I’m guessing they would be in contention for a top 12ish OL.

I’m going to have a fun time torturing myself about going RB/Kittle with WRs like Evans/Julio/Mclaurin and RBs C. Carson and Mostert projecting as late 3rd/early 4th rounders. Also feeling a little spicy potentially with a DJ Moore/Lockett/ Kupp- Edmunds/M.Gordon/ David Johnson looking like late 5/ early 6 rounders.

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