Wednesday, August 4, 2021

2021 Fantasy Football Half-PPR RB Rankings

The NFL season is fast approaching. Now only one day away from the preseason opener between the Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers, the regular-season opener is only a little more than a month away.

Leading up to the start of the season, these rankings will be updated regularly.

Note: These rankings are for half-PPR scoring.

More scoring formats:

More 2021 fantasy football rankings:

1. Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers

If you drafted McCaffrey first overall in 2020, you likely find little solace that he was fantasy's top-scoring back over the three-week window in which he appeared (Weeks 1, 2 and 9). In those games, however, CMC handled 76 touches including 17 receptions, racked up 374 yards from scrimmage and scored six total touchdowns. All of those numbers were either first or second among running backs in that split timeframe.

Before his lost season due to injury, McCaffrey was nearly an every-snap iron man in 2019. Heading into his age-25 season, he remains the top choice for me in 2021 drafts.

2. Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings

Once again, Cook has missed multiple games, but he set career highs in touches (356), yards from scrimmage (1,918) and touchdowns (17) and scored the third-most fantasy points (half-PPR) among running backs. The clear lead back in one of the league's most run-heavy offenses, Cook averaged a career-high 5.0 YPC and has a minimum of 40 catches in each of the past three seasons.

3. Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans

If there's a concern with Henry, it's his relative lack of involvement in the passing game. That said, Henry more than compensates for his smaller role as a receiver with his dominant rushing production. Not only is he the back-to-back rushing champion coming off a 2,000-yard campaign, but Henry has led the league in rushing touchdowns in each of the past two seasons with 33 rushing scores in 31 games.

No running back scored more fantasy points in non-PPR formats, but Henry also finished second in half-PPR and third in (full) PPR as well. In other words, the limited passing-game role hasn't hurt his value much, even in leagues that reward a full point per reception. Regardless of format, Henry is a top-three option for me in 2021.

4. Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints

No running back scored more fantasy points in half-PPR formats than Kamara in 2020. The versatile back had exactly 81 receptions in each of his first three NFL seasons and then set a career high (83) in 2020. That said, he was on pace for a much higher career-best number before Drew Brees (ribs) missed four weeks. The only three games that Kamara failed to reach three catches came with Brees sidelined.

If the Saints utilize Taysom Hill as their starter, it would likely cap Kamara's upside and lead to more volatility in his weekly production. In 11 games with Brees, Kamara was a top-10 weekly producer in all but one game last season. In four games with Hill, Kamara posted weekly finishes (half-PPR) of RB25, RB36, RB9 and RB9, respectively.

5. Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys

The offense went off the tracks when Dak Prescott sustained his season-ending injury and the offensive line injuries further impacted Elliott's production. From Weeks 6 to 17, Zeke finished as a top-12 fantasy running only twice in 10 games after doing so three times in the team's first five games. Even if Tony Pollard earns a few more touches in 2021, Elliott should rank near the top of the league in workload. In fact, only three backs had more than six games last season with at least 20 touches -- Derrick Henry (14), Dalvin Cook (11) and Elliott (11).

6. Aaron Jones, Green Bay Packers

One year after leading the NFL in touchdowns (19, 2019), Jones averaged a career-high 5.89 yards per touch for the league's top-scoring offense. Even though he missed two games and scored eight fewer touchdowns in 2020, he has finished as a top-five fantasy running back in consecutive seasons.

7. Austin Ekeler, Los Angeles Chargers

Missing a significant chunk of time due to injury and playing at less than 100 percent when returning to the field, Ekeler averaged 5.5 yards per touch and scored only three touchdowns, both of which were career lows. With Joe Lombardi coming over from New Orleans to run the offense, Ekeler's immense upside as a receiver makes him a top-10 back across all formats.

8. Saquon Barkley, New York Giants

As a rookie, Barkley was about as good as it gets. Technically, Todd Gurley was better (fantasy's RB1), but Barkley was the RB2 in his rookie season and led the NFL in scrimmage yards (2,028), scored 15 touchdowns and hauled in 91 catches. Injuries have kept him out of 17 of the team's past 19 games, but if his health cooperates in 2021, he has the skill set to finish as one of the top two or three backs in the league.

9. Jonathan Taylor, Indianapolis Colts

Over his final seven games of the season including a playoff loss, Taylor handled a massive 156 touches, racked up 921 yards and scored nine total touchdowns. Excluding that playoff appearance, Taylor ranked top four in the NFL in touches, YFS, touchdowns and half-PPR fantasy points from Week 11 on. Running behind one of the league's best offensive lines, Taylor carries plenty of momentum with him into 2021 even though the Colts re-signed Marlon Mack.

Given the Wentz injury, it's possible that the Colts lean even more heavily on Taylor and the rushing attack earlier in the season than previously anticipated.

10. Joe Mixon, Cincinnati Bengals

Mixon appeared in only six games in 2020 and he has now missed multiple games in three of his four NFL seasons. That said, Mixon had a minimum of 19 touches in the six games in which he appeared in 2020. Through Week 6, Mixon had more carries (119) than all running backs not named Derrick Henry (123) and was top 10 among running backs in targets (26). With Giovani Bernard now in Tampa, Mixon should be even more involved as a receiver.

11. Najee Harris, Pittsburgh Steelers

The all-time career rushing leader in Alabama history, Harris rushed for 1,466 yards and 26 touchdowns and added 43 receptions for 425 yards and four more scores last season. With few holes in his game, Harris will step in as a Week 1 workhorse. Given the team's propensity to feature its lead back, Harris has the chance to vastly exceed his ADP.

12. Nick Chubb, Cleveland Browns

Despite missing four games, Chubb still finished as fantasy's RB9 in 2020. Chubb has finished second and third in rushing yards per game in 2019 and 2020, respectively. Through his first three seasons, Chubb has never averaged fewer than five yards per carry in a season.

Even with the league's best No. 2 back (Kareem Hunt) on the roster, Chubb has averaged 18.05 touches per game since Hunt returned from his 2019 suspension. Only four teams in the league had a higher rushing play percentage than the Browns in Kevin Stefanski's first year as head coach.

13. Antonio Gibson, Washington Football Team

Before suffering a turf toe injury early in his Week 13 matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Gibson had a five-game stretch where he performed as fantasy's RB5, RB11, RB8, RB7 and RB2, respectively. Even without adjusting for Washington's Week 8 bye, only Dalvin Cook and Derrick Henry scored more fantasy points during that stretch. Gibson has tremendous upside in his second season and coach Ron Rivera recently said of Gibson "I expect he can make a big jump."

14. Chris Carson, Seattle Seahawks

Few teams want to "establish the run" more than the Seahawks so returning to Seattle on a two-year deal was Carson's ideal landing spot. Even though the Seahawks let Russell Wilson "cook" in the first half of the year, Carson performed as a weekly fantasy RB13 or better in four of the team's five games before their Week 6 bye. In fact, he was a top-five performer from Weeks 1 to 5. Coming out of the bye, Carson sustained a foot injury in Week 7 that kept him out of several games. Carson's physical running style lends itself to a greater propensity to get banged up, but he will likely be undervalued in fantasy drafts this summer.

15. Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Kansas City Chiefs

Given how productive a third-round rookie (Kareem Hunt) had been in Andy Reid's offense just a few seasons ago (2017), Edwards-Helaire, the only first-round running back in the 2020 NFL Draft, was a relative disappointment despite a couple of big performances in the first half of the season. Even so, he has the skill set and draft pedigree to be much more productive in Kansas City's high-powered offense this season than he was as a rookie and could turn out to be a draft-day bargain.

16. J.K. Dobbins, Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens have had a 1,000-yard rusher in back-to-back seasons. Unfortunately (for the team's running backs), that player is quarterback Lamar Jackson. For a team that loves to run the ball, however, Dobbins offers plenty of profit potential as a mid-RB2 type. Dobbins could potentially be a steal if Harbaugh follows through on a "main offensive point of emphasis" this offseason, which is to get the RBs more involved in the passing game.

17. D'Andre Swift, Detroit Lions

Swift was much more involved in the second half of the season as he finished his rookie campaign with 114/521/8 (4.6 YPC) rushing and 46/357/2 (7.8 Y/R) receiving. Swift had three-plus catches in 12 of 13 games and his ability as a receiver gives him the upside to crack the top-10 fantasy running backs in 2021.

18. Miles Sanders, Philadelphia Eagles

Falling short of preseason expectations, Sanders missed four games and averaged just 3.1 yards per target after his catch rate dropped from 79.4% as a rookie to 53.8% in 2020. Although he averaged an impressive 5.3 yards per carry for the season, Sanders failed to exceed 3.8 YPC in four of his final five games. While roster cuts will make the running back room less crowded, comments by running backs coach Jamel Singleton suggest that Sanders may not be featured as heavily as he was last year even though he's the clear RB1.

19. Darrell Henderson, Los Angeles Rams

With Cam Akers (Achilles) injured and Malcolm Brown now longer in L.A., the Rams will turn to Henderson, by default, for large workloads. It's possible that they add a veteran free agent before the start of the season as Henderson has dealt with his own share of injuries over the past year. That said, he has massive upside in what should be a much-improved offense with Matthew Stafford under center.

20. Myles Gaskin, Miami Dolphins

Gaskin was off to a strong start through Week 8, but he only appeared in three games (Weeks 13, 16 and 17) after that point. Even though he missed six games, he ranked 15th among running backs in receptions (41). In addition, only three running backs had more receptions in the 10 weeks that Gaskin played.

The former seventh-round pick out of Washington has shown the ability to be highly productive and the Dolphins were unable to draft one of the top three backs in the 2021 NFL Draft. While I currently project a first-round running back to the Dolphins in my early 2022 NFL Mock Draft, Gaskin is a viable RB2 for fantasy managers in 2021 and he has the potential to vastly exceed his current ADP with good health.

21. Josh Jacobs, Las Vegas Raiders

Improvements in durability, volume and red-zone efficiency helped to boost Jacobs' overall fantasy production (RB8 across scoring formats) despite an overall drop in efficiency from his 2019 rookie season. Despite a slight uptick in the passing game (2.2 receptions per contest) last season, Jacobs averaged only 4.26 yards per touch, a drop from 5.02 as a rookie.

Jacobs played 15 of 16 games, scored 12 touchdowns (compared to seven in 2019) and only Derrick Henry and Dalvin Cook had more touches than Jacobs (306). The addition of Kenyan Drake to the backfield should lead to fewer touches and especially fewer targets in 2021. Without a significant drop in Josh Jacobs' fantasy ADP, he will likely be a player that I avoid in drafts this summer.

22. Mike Davis, Atlanta Falcons

Filling in for a mostly-injured Christian McCaffrey in 2020, Davis performed as a top-15 (half-PPR) fantasy running back last season. With limited competition for running back touches, Davis will have at least flex appeal, especially with Arthur Smith (most recently OC in Tennessee) taking over as Atlanta's head coach.

23. Chase Edmonds, Arizona Cardinals

The former fourth-round pick has averaged 4.4 yards per carry and 7.2 yards per reception over his first three NFL seasons. With Kenyan Drake out and James Conner in, Edmonds should be Arizona's RB1 and has an opportunity to perform as a fantasy RB2 in 2021.

24. David Montgomery, Chicago Bears

Over the final six weeks of the season, Montgomery was absolutely dominant (although that was aided by a soft schedule). Even so, the second-year back scored no less than 19.1 fantasy points and finished no worse than fantasy's weekly RB9 during that stretch. Montgomery exceeded 100 scrimmage yards and scored a touchdown (or two) in all six of those games and only Derrick Henry had more fantasy points during that span.

The return of a healthy Tarik Cohen and signing of Damien Williams may lead to a few less touches in 2021 for Montgomery, but he offers some upside based on Montgomery's ADP.

25. Javonte Williams, Denver Broncos

Even though he was the third back off the board, some teams viewed Williams as "best back in the draft." With the Broncos moving up to get in front of the Dolphins to select Williams, it's likely that he emerges as the team's lead back sooner rather than later. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me if the Broncos parted ways (via trade or release) before final roster cuts. The 20-year-old back is a tackle-breaking machine.

26. Travis Etienne, Jacksonville Jaguars

A two-time ACC Offensive Player of the Year, Etienne surprised many by returning to school for another season. As impressive as James Robinson was as a rookie (UDFA), Etienne's talent and (first-round) draft pedigree make him the favorite to emerge as the team's primary back sooner than later even if Robinson gets more touches in Week 1.

27. Raheem Mostert, San Francisco 49ers

Missing half of the season, Mostert finished the year with 677 scrimmage yards (84.6/G) and only three touchdowns on 120 touches (15/G). Mostert has career averages of 5.6 YPC and 10.0 Y/R, but it's possible that Trey Sermon emerges as the team's top fantasy running back at some point this season.

28. Kareem Hunt, Cleveland Browns

While Chubb (RB9) was a top-10 fantasy running back in 2020, so was Hunt (RB10). Outside of Week 16, Hunt had double-digit touches in all of his other 15 games. Playing in one of the league's most run-heavy offenses, there is enough to go around for both Chubb and Hunt to be drafted as viable starters in 12-team leagues.

29. James Robinson, Jacksonville Jaguars

Robinson had modest performances in Weeks 14 and 15 and missed Weeks 16 and 17. Before that, however, he was the favorite for 2020 Fantasy Football MVP (if such an award actually existed).

As lead back of a one-win team, the UDFA was fourth in half-PPR fantasy points, fourth in YFS and third in touches through Week 13. Even though Robinson has shown that he can be highly effective as the featured back, the addition of a first-round running back takes the sails out of Robinson's 2021 outlook.

30. Kenyan Drake, Las Vegas Raiders

As lead backs for their respective teams in 2020, the duo of Josh Jacobs and Drake combined for a massive 570 touches last season. Obviously, that number will drop significantly now that they share a backfield, even if the Raiders plan to use Drake in a variety of ways including at receiver. With Drake often going in Round 9 or later in fantasy football mock drafts, Drake is worth the risk as an RB4+ that late.

31. Michael Carter, New York Jets

Opening camp with the first-team offense, Carter is the 1(a) option in the backfield even if the offense deploys a committee approach this season. The rookie out of UNC averaged 8.0 YPC as a senior and finished his collegiate career with 82 receptions.

32. Trey Sermon, San Francisco 49ers

Not only does Sermon have the highest draft pedigree (third round) among the team's running backs, but the Niners traded up to draft him. Given his frame, balance and vision, the team could look to make him their featured back sooner than later (as much as Kyle Shanahan will feature an individual back, that is).

33. Damien Harris, New England Patriots

Harris is a non-factor as a receiver (five receptions in 2020) and that likely won't change much with James White returning to Foxboro. The other major obstacle to Harris being a top-24 option is the presence of Cam Newton, who rushed for six times as many touchdowns as Harris (12 to two) in 2020. While it may not be a six-to-one ratio in 2021, Newton's return limits Harris' touchdown upside for as long as Newton holds off Mac Jones as the starter.

34. Zack Moss, Buffalo Bills

Many 2021 mock drafts linked the Bills to a first-round running back. Instead of adding an early-round running back, it's a positive for the outlook of Moss and Devin Singletary that the Bills only added Matt Breida in free agency. While I prefer Moss over Singletary, a concern for both is that Josh Allen has 25 rushing touchdowns over the past three seasons. Not only has Allen led the team in that category in each of the past three years, he has 56.8% (25 of 44) of the team's rushing touchdowns over that stretch.

35. Leonard Fournette, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Buccaneers leaned on Playoff Lenny in their Super Bowl run as Fournette tallied 448 scrimmage yards and four all-purpose touchdowns on 82 touches including 18 receptions over four playoff games. With the addition of Giovani Bernard to the backfield as a viable threat to steal valuable passing-down reps, Fournette enters the season no better than a flex option even if he's Tampa's 1(a).

36. Ronald Jones, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Despite missing a couple of games and the fact that Fournette emerged as the team's primary back, Jones had his best season as a pro with career highs as a runner -- 192 carries, 978 yards, 5.1 YPC and seven touchdowns. RoJo took a step back as a receiver, however, with a 66.7% catch rate (77.5% in 2019) and 5.9 Y/R (10.0 in 2019).

37. David Johnson, Houston Texans

Johnson's three best games of the season occurred over the final three games of the season -- 18.8 half-PPR fantasy points (RB13), 27.4 (RB4) and 19.5 (RB11), respectively. Outside of that three-game stretch to close the season, however, Johnson was a more modest performer, but he finished as a top-25 weekly running back in 10 of 12 games in 2020.

The Texans should be one of the worst teams in the NFL in 2021 and the additions of Phillip Lindsay, Rex Burkhead and Mark Ingram further muddy DJ's 2021 outlook.

38. Melvin Gordon, Denver Broncos

While only 14 yards shy of 1,000 rushing yards in 2020, Gordon averaged a career-low 4.9 yards per catch. From Weeks 11 to 17, however, elite volume (120 touches, seventh-most) allowed MG3 to rank seventh in yards from scrimmage (618) and ninth in half-PPR scoring during that stretch.

Will the presence of Javonte Williams make Gordon expendable? For fantasy managers that roster MG3, it may be better for a new opportunity than a situation where the Broncos gradually shift a larger share of the workload to Williams as the season progresses, a potentially frustrating development for MG3 fantasy managers.

39. Latavius Murray, New Orleans Saints

When both Kamara and Murray are active, Murray flirts with stand-alone flex value -- especially during bye weeks. For any weeks that Kamara may miss, however, Murray becomes a must-start play. In the two games that Kamara missed and Murray was active, Murray had a total of 62 touches, 307 scrimmage yards and four touchdowns.

40. Jamaal Williams, Detroit Lions

In his four NFL seasons, Williams has averaged 736.5 scrimmage yards, 155.5 touches and 30.5 receptions per season with the Packers. While he remains his team's RB2 (to D'Andre Swift instead of Aaron Jones), Williams should get 8-10 touches per game even with both Swift and Williams healthy.

41. Devin Singletary, Buffalo Bills

Singletary followed up his rookie season with 687 rushing yards (4.4 YPC) and two touchdowns to go along with 38 catches for 269 yards. While I would prefer Moss over Singletary, both are not much more than a flex option heading into 2021. On a positive note, however, coach Sean McDermott has praised Singletary for "really trying to master the small things that come up down in and down out. ... I've really been impressed with his attention to detail over the past few days."

42. Gus Edwards, Baltimore Ravens

Best in standard (non-PPR) formats, Edwards performed as fantasy's RB28 in non-PPR, RB35 in half-PPR and RB37 in full PPR formats in 2020. Edwards has a minimum of 133 carries, 711 yards and 5.0 YPC in all three of his NFL seasons. While Dobbins will handle the bulk of touches, Edwards should approach double-digit touches per game and has stand-alone flex value.

43. James Conner, Arizona Cardinals

Joining the Cardinals on a one-year deal, Conner will steal some early-down carries from Edmonds and could potentially be in a fairly even split. If he can stay healthy and earn a larger role, there is plenty of upside.

44. A.J. Dillon, Green Bay Packers

With 21/124/2 against the Titans in Week 16, fantasy managers got a glimpse of what Dillon could do in a lead-back role. With Aaron Jones re-upping with the Packers, however, that won't happen as long as Jones is on the field. Unlike Jamaal Williams, who's now in Detroit, Dillon isn't much of a receiver out of the backfield, which lowers his fantasy floor.

45. Tony Pollard, Dallas Cowboys

Despite playing fewer than 50% of the team's offensive snaps every week except for the game Ezekiel Elliott missed (Week 15, 90%), Pollard had at least eight touches in 10 of the team's final 12 games. Excluding his one start, Pollard averaged nine touches over his final 11 games in which he appeared in less than half of the team's offensive snaps. Assuming good health for Dak Prescott and the offensive line, 8-10 weekly touches in this offense could lead to stand-alone flex value for Pollard on a weekly basis.

46. Phillip Lindsay, Houston Texans

Beginning his career by rushing for 1,000-plus yards and hauling in 35 receptions in back-to-back seasons, Lindsay missed five games but was also on the wrong side of Denver's timeshare with Melvin Gordon in 2020. The former UDFA joins a crowded backfield in Houston that will be hampered often by negative game scripts.

47. J.D. McKissic, Washington Football Team

McKissic ranked top three on the team in receptions (80), targets (110) and receiving yards (589) in 2020 and only Alvin Kamara (83) had more receptions among running backs. With a quarterback less likely to check down and Gibson's ability as a receiver (and likely increased target share), there will likely be much fewer opportunities for McKissic in 2021.

48. Tarik Cohen, Chicago Bears

Cohen missed all but three games in 2020, but The Human Joystick is one of the league's best receiving backs. In his first three NFL seasons (2017-19), Cohen had a total of 203 receptions, 2,561 scrimmage yards and 14 touchdowns. A QB transition from Andy Dalton to Justin Fields could lead to fewer targets for Cohen, however, as Fields could be more inclined to use his elite athleticism than check it down to Cohen when a play breaks down.

49. Nyheim Hines, Indianapolis Colts

One of the better receiving backs in the league, Hines finished as a top-24 running back across all scoring formats (RB15 in PPR, RB20 in half-PPR and RB24 in standard) in 2020. Only Alvin Kamara (83) and J.D. McKissic (80) had more receptions than Hines (63) last season.

50. Tevin Coleman, New York Jets

Injuries have limited Coleman during his two seasons with the 49ers as he has played only 36% and 6% of the offensive snaps in 2019 and 2020, respectively. That said, he brings with him knowledge of the system and familiarity with the coaches that Robert Saleh brought with him from San Francisco.

51. James White, New England Patriots

52. Rashaad Penny, Seattle Seahawks

53. Alexander Mattison, Minnesota Vikings

54. Salvon Ahmed, Miami Dolphins

55. Giovani Bernard, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

56. Darrel Williams, Kansas City Chiefs

57. Darrynton Evans, Tennessee Titans

58. Qadree Ollison, Atlanta Falcons

59. Xavier Jones, Los Angeles Rams

60. Kerryon Johnson, Philadelphia Eagles

61. Justin Jackson, Los Angeles Chargers

62. Sony Michel, New England Patriots

63. Devontae Booker, New York Giants

64. Malcolm Brown, Miami Dolphins

65. Samaje Perine, Cincinnati Bengals

66. Marlon Mack, Indianapolis Colts

67. Chuba Hubbard, Carolina Panthers

68. Damien Williams, Chicago Bears

69. Jake Funk, Los Angeles Rams

70. Mike Boone, Denver Broncos

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