The Fantasy Footballers’ Top-10 RB Rankings for 2021

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Football is back, baby!

Preseason games are officially underway and with the season opener fast approaching, so are fantasy drafts. Luckily for the #Footclan, the Fantasy Footballers have you covered with their top-10 RB rankings. See where Jason, Andy, and Mike have these paramount RBs rated in their consensus rankings for RBs #1 through 10. Please note that all points and rankings are based on 0.5 PPR.

And if you’re interested to see how their views evolved over time, check out their way-too-early RB rankings from back in April before the NFL draft!

Let’s review who the guys have chosen as their top-10 RBs for the 2021 season:

1. Christian McCaffrey | Carolina Panthers

Andy 1 | Jason 1 | Mike 1
ADP: 1.01/RB1
2020 stat line: 3 games — 59/225/5 — 19 targets for 17/149/1 (RB53 fantasy finish)

I may have been somewhat hesitant on drafting McCaffrey first overall last year, and while the star RB was indeed a bust thanks to debilitating ankle and shoulder injuries, let’s not overthink it — CMC is the unanimous 1.01 pick, and for good reason.

McCaffrey is a true workhorse back, an increasingly rare sighting in this modern age. He averaged over 90% of snaps in 2018 & 2019 and played in every game. In fact, he hadn’t missed a single game until last season, proving that 2020 sucked for everyone.

When active, McCaffrey is fantasy GOLD. Even in the three games he hobbled through last year, the dynamic stud averaged 124.7 all-purpose (AP) yards and two TDs per game, or 27.3 half PPR points. Again, that happened with limited gameplay as he was nursing a nagging high ankle sprain, a notoriously crippling injury.

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Are there concerns? Sure. After all, he’ll be playing with a new QB in journeyman Sam Darnold, hasn’t had much experience with the Matt “Ja” Rhule/Joe Brady offense, and is returning from injury (although he should be good to go). But nevermind all that. CMC is a bona fide bell-cow RB, an elite pass catcher, and will be Darnold’s new security blanket. He is the Carolina offense. DON’T OVERTHINK IT. CMC 1.01.

2. Dalvin Cook | Minnesota Vikings

Andy 2 | Jason 2 | Mike 2
ADP: 1.02/RB2
2020 stat line: 14 games — 312/1557/16 — 54 targets for 44/361/1 — 5 fumbles (RB3 Fantasy Finish)

Speaking of workhorse backs, Cook is a viable contender for the RB throne. The Minnesota RB has an enormous floor AND ceiling as he’s heavily utilized with not just ridiculous rushing volume and targets, but also the highly coveted red zone (RZ) opportunities.

In 2020, he led all players last year in RZ touches and goal-line carries. He also saw the second most opportunities per game (24), coming just shy of CMC (26). He overcame a shaky O-line with his elusiveness, notching the second most evaded tackles and averaging a whopping 137 AP yards and 1.2 TDs per game.

Curmudgeonly coach Mike Zimmer and new OC Klint Kubiak will continue to lean on the run game and “let Dalvin Cook.” He will continue to reward fantasy managers with his dazzling abilities, and the gang unanimously agrees that Cook is a fantasy goldmine that deserves to go second overall.

3. Alvin Kamara | New Orleans Saints

Andy 3 | Jason 3 | Mike 3
ADP: 1.04/RB4
2020 stat line: 15 games — 187/932/16 — 107 targets for 83/756/5 — 1 fumble (RB1 Fantasy Finish)

Despite finishing as 2020’s RB1 with a league-winning SIX TDs and 54.7 fantasy points during the fantasy championships, Kamara finds himself as the ‘Ballers’ unanimous RB3 heading into the 2021 season. The worry, of course, is the absence of future hall-of-famer Drew Brees.

In the last decade, the Saints have been an absolute treasure trove for RBs, producing a top-three RB in fantasy points per game (FPPG) EVERY YEAR minus one (2019, RB11 in FPPG). Unfortunately, Brees was captaining the ship during all those years, and Kamara’s numbers took a noticeable dip whenever gadget QB Taysom Hill subbed in.

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While the QB carousel of Hill and Jameis Winston could make things difficult for the electrifying playmaker, the offense will still undoubtedly run through Kamara, especially with WR Michael Thomas comic sans-ing his way out of the team. His pass-catching prowess, insane efficiency (average 6.18 yards per touch, the MOST of any RB through their first four seasons), and ironclad O-line (4th per PFF) will secure his place among the elites. The guys are confident in “Super Kamario” as they all have him ranked as their RB3, which is one spot above his ADP. Despite the QB worries, Kamara is set for another explosive year as football’s most electric player.

4. Derrick Henry | Tennessee Titans

Andy 4 | Jason 4 | Mike 4
ADP: 1.03/RB3
2020 stat line: 16 games — 378/2027/17 — 31 targets for 19/114/0 — 3 fumbles (RB2 Fantasy Finish)

While Kamara excels in the passing game, Derrick “Yeti” Henry makes his bread and butter on an obscene amount of rushing attempts. Since his debut in 2016, his rushing attempts have increased dramatically year after year: 110 < 176 < 215 < 303 < 378.

From the past two seasons, he’s miraculously averaged 340 carries for 1,783 yards and 16 TDs, finishing as a top-three RB in both years and formidably putting the “running” in “running back.” He may not get the targets needed to finish as the RB1, but with insane usage like this, who needs them? Henry will have enough opportunities to retain fantasy prominence so long as his body holds up. Can he sustain another season with 300+ rushes?

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5. Ezekiel Elliott | Dallas Cowboys

Andy 6 | Jason 5 | Mike 5
ADP: 1.09/RB8
2020 stat line: 15 games — 244/979/6 — 71 targets for 52/338/2 — 6 fumbles (RB11 Fantasy Finish)

If there was ever a “buy low” opportunity early in the first round, it is with Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliot. The fifth-year back had mixed results in 2020 as his team went down in flames, yet he still managed to finish as the overall RB11. This was also his worst fantasy finish ever, reaffirming just how dominant he’s been in his whole career.

However, if you rostered Elliott last year, you were undoubtedly disappointed as he uninspiredly plodded his way through the second half of the year after his O-line was decimated and QB Dak Prescott suffered a season-ending injury. But that’s the only time a Zeke manager was disappointed as he’s been a fantasy studmuffin every other time.

As a healthy Prescott and world-class O-line returns, so will Zeke’s dominating ways. He is a strong bounce-back candidate who should outperform his ADP. Draft him while you still can before the inevitable “Hard Knocks” bump pushes him up the draft boards.

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6. Aaron Jones | Green Bay Packers

Andy 5 | Jason 6 | Mike 6
ADP: 1.11/RB9
2020 stat line: 14 games — 201/1104/9 — 63 targets for 47/355/2 — 2 fumbles (RB5 Fantasy Finish)

Jones is another strong candidate to outperform his ADP. He’s been a top-five RB in the past two years, and he’ll get another chance to do it again, this time without Jamaal Williams siphoning his touches. Of course, A.J. Dillon will be there to take some of those carries, but his deficiencies in pass-catching will provide Jones with even more valuable targets. Now that QB Aaron Rodgers is back for one last dance, expect fireworks on all aspects of this blazing offense.

7. Saquon Barkley | New York Giants

Andy 7 | Jason 8 | Mike 8
ADP: 1.05/RB5
2020 stat line: 2 games — 19/34/0 — 9 targets for 6/60/0 (RB119 Fantasy Finish)

While the crew is willing to reach for Elliot and Jones, they are equally unconfident with Barkley. It has nothing to do with his talent, of which he has an immense amount of (averaged 120 AP yards per game in 2018-2019), nor his expected workload, which should be bountiful (averaged 23.2 opportunities per game in 2018-2019).

The concerns are with his injury history, as even the man himself isn’t sure if he’ll be ready in time for the season opener due to a severe ACL tear and MCL sprain. With his availability already in serious doubt, that should bring pause to any savvy GM as their first pick should be someone who at the very least is healthy to start the season. Not to mention, the Giants offense struggled mightily to convert scores last year, ranking LAST in yards per TDs (176.2).

Barkley is clearly an otherworldly talent that’s been hindered by a weak supporting cast, mediocre O-line, and plagued with injuries, playing in just 15 of 32 games in the last two years. But as they say, “only shooting stars break the mold,” and the former Penn State has all the makings of a star playmaker who could do so… just as long as he’s healthy enough.

8. Nick Chubb | Cleveland Browns

Andy 9 | Jason 9 | Mike 7
ADP: 1.07/RB7
2020 stat line: 12 games — 190/1067/12 — 18 targets for 16/150/0 — 1 fumble (RB9 Fantasy Finish)

Sometimes, real-life football production doesn’t always translate to fantasy. For example, Cleveland’s Nick Chubb just might be one of the BEST rushers in the NFL. He led the league in yards after contact and had the HIGHEST elusive rating per PFF, boasting the best broken tackle rate over the last two years (124 broken tackles on 488 carries). Give him the ball, and he’ll do amazing things.

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But while that’s all fine and dandy, the hard truth is that Chubb does not see enough targets to jump into the upper RB echelon. He averaged a paltry two targets per game last year, and has to contend for work against Kareem Hunt, who is also excellent with the ball. Chubb is essentially a “cheaper” Derrick Henry with a slightly lighter workload. He’s still a great late first-round pick who could be a wonderful foundational piece to your starting lineup, but he lacks the upside to outright win you the crown on his own.

9. Austin Ekeler | Chargers 

Andy 11 | Jason 7 | Mike 13
ADP: 2.02/RB10
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 “Awesome” Ekeler is lightning on the field. Just like how Nick Chubb was a “poor man’s” Derrick Henry, Ekeler is the Kirkland-brand version of Alvin Kamara. What he lacks in carries, he more than makes up for with his pass-catching usage, averaging 6.5 targets per game last year. Even better, he target share increased to 8 per game once he returned from injury and played exclusively with QB sensation Justin Herbert.

However, what separates Kamara from Ekeler is that the latter is not used in the endzone. Ekeler has only had nine TOTAL rushing TDs in his four-year career. And aside from an outlier 2019 season where he surprisingly racked up eight receiving TDs, he’s only averaged 2.7 rec TDs per season.

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But in fantasy football (particularly in PPR leagues), receptions are worth their weight in gold. It is this elite usage in the passing game that will allow Ekeler to succeed despite his lack of TDs and a bellcow-worthy workload (averaged 60% of snaps in the past two years). The ‘Ballers are split on the awesome one, with Jason ranking his as his RB7 while Andy and Mike have him at RB11 & RB13, respectively. Can Ekeler withstand enough victories to make it through a full season and become a top-10 RB?

10. Jonathan Taylor | Indianapolis Colts

Andy 8 | Jason 13 | Mike 11
2020 stat line: 15 games — 232/1169/11 — 39 targets for 36/299/1 — 1 fumble (RB6 Fantasy Finish)

Snip, snap, snip, snap! That’s how Jonathan Taylor fans must’ve felt as they saw his ADP rise, plummet, and now slowly rise again after news of QB Carson Wentz and standout OG Quenton Nelson similar foot injuries and subsequent surgeries. However, with news that they are expected to start in Week 1 (which could always be more optimistic than the truth), the skies the limit for the Wisconsin phenom.

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Despite infuriating usage, Taylor managed to shine with his limited workload, finishing as the overall RB6 and totaling a monstrous 1,468 AP yards. But will the coaching staff award him with a workhorse role in 2021? Probably not, as former lead back Marlon Mack is returning (albeit from a devastating achilles tear) to the already crowded RB room where you’ll find a loitering Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins lingering on. Fantasy analysts love Taylor and firmly believe that he deserves to be the Colts’ offensive centerpiece. The crew is split, with only Andy believing he should be in the top-10 while the others are hesitant due to his lackluster opportunity share. Will Frank do the Reich thing (sorry) and let Taylor commandeer the rock?

Comments

Nick says:

Keep the puns comming!

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