Monday, April 5, 2021

Post-Free Agency 2021 Fantasy Football RB Rankings

FantasyPros tracks fantasy football rankings accuracy and Kevin Hanson's 2020 rankings were 9th-most accurate (among 149 experts tracked). Hanson has now finished top 20 in accuracy six times since 2011.

The majority of free-agent signings are now behind us with the 2021 NFL Draft next up on the NFL calendar.

With (most of) free agency behind us, I have updated my fantasy football rankings for the upcoming season and I'll update these rankings after the NFL Draft and throughout the summer.

[Note: Our fantasy running back rankings will be updated here.]

More way-too-early 2021 fantasy football rankings:

For now, here are our early fantasy running back rankings for 2021 season:

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 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

The clear favorite among the top six running backs in my rankings to finish last in receptions, 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.

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 (although Jameis Winston may be the early favorite), it would likely cap Kamara's upside and lead to more volatility in his weekly production. In the four-game span with Hill under center, 10 running backs scored more half-PPR fantasy points than Kamara. In the 12 games with Brees, Kamara was a top-10 weekly producer in all but one game. In four games with Hill, here were Kamara's weekly finishes: RB25, RB36, RB9 and RB9, respectively.

5. 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.

6. 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. Even with the league's best No. 2 back (Kareem Hunt), Chubb has averaged 18.05 touches per game since Hunt returned from his 2019 suspension.

7. 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.

8. 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 in 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.

9. 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. While Tony Pollard may have earned 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).

10. 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. Given his lead-back role and immense upside as a receiver, however, a healthy Ekeler is worth a late-first/early-second round pick in 2021.

11. 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 offensive line a common target for the Bengals in mock drafts, that would be a welcome sight for Joe Burrow, Mixon & Co.

12. Cam Akers, Los Angeles Rams

In his final six games played including the playoffs, Akers averaged 23.8 touches per game as the team's lead back. During that six-game span, the rookie averaged 118 yards from scrimmage per game. While the Rams will still try to sprinkle in reps for Darrell Henderson as a change-of-pace option, I'd expect Akers to handle in the range of 15-20 touches per game in 2021 as McVay recently described Akers as "an every-down back" and a "very special player." With the upgrade of Matthew Stafford over Jared Goff, the offense overall should be improved in 2021.

MORE: Cam Akers 2021 Fantasy Football Profile

13. Miles Sanders, Philadelphia Eagles

Vastly underperforming compared to his 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. Given the offense's general struggles in 2020, I'm inclined to bet on his skill set with better things to come in his third season in 2021.

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 his ideal landing spot. Even though the Seahawks let Russell Wilson "cook" in the first half of the year, Carson performed as fantasy's RB13 or better in four of the team's five games before their Week 6 bye. In fact, he was a top-five performer through Week 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. 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 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. It's possible that more competition (than Carlos Hyde) is added in 2021, but Robinson has shown that he can be highly effective as the featured back. Depending on who else is added (or not), Robinson could move up (or down) in these rankings.

16. D'Andre Swift, Detroit Lions

Swift was much more involved in the second half of the season and 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 outperform his spot in my rankings.

17. 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. Washington should have improved quarterback play in 2021 and Gibson has tremendous upside if drafted as a mid-RB2.

18. 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.

Dobbins emerged as the team's lead back down the stretch, however, as Mark Ingram was often a healthy scratch. With Ingram now in Houston, the Ravens will continue to roll with the 1-2 punch of Dobbins and Gus Edwards, who was tendered as an RFA and may eventually agree to a long-term deal. Either way, Dobbins is the clear lead (running) back. For a team that loves to run the ball as much as the Ravens do, Dobbins offers plenty of profit potential as a mid-RB2 type even if L-Jax may steal some carries at times.

19. Chase Edmonds, Arizona Cardinals

With Kenyan Drake now in Vegas, Edmonds' fantasy outlook for 2021 largely depends on what the Cardinals do (or don't do) in the 2021 NFL Draft. The Cardinals have only two picks inside the top 150 and most mocks project the Cardinals will draft a corner in the first round.

Over three seasons, the former fourth-round pick has averaged 4.4 yards per carry and 7.2 yards per reception. Meanwhile, coach Kliff Kingsbury has said that Edmonds has "played at a starting running back level" when given the opportunity.

20. Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Kansas City Chiefs

Given how productive a third-round rookie (Kareem Hunt) was 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 than he was as a rookie.

21. David Montgomery, Chicago Bears

Over the final six weeks of the season, Montgomery was absolutely dominant. The second-year back scored no less than 19.1 fantasy points and finished no worse than fantasy's 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 in 2021 may lead to a few less touches for Montgomery, but he'll be a high-upside RB2 in 2021 and you could easily make the case that he's too low in my rankings.

22. Josh Jacobs, Las Vegas Raiders

Jacobs was less efficient (4.26 yards per touch) compared to his rookie season (5.02) and was only slightly more involved as a receiver (2.2 receptions per game). That said, Jacobs missed only one game, scored 12 touchdowns (compared to seven in 2019) and only Derrick Henry and Dalvin Cook had more touches than Jacobs (306). Despite the drop in efficiency, Jacobs still finished eighth in fantasy scoring in 2020.

Aside from the drop in efficiency, that is the good news. The addition of Kenyan Drake should lead to fewer touches and likely even fewer targets. Unless we see a significant drop in Josh Jacobs' fantasy ADP, he will likely be a player that I avoid in drafts this summer.

23. Melvin Gordon, Denver Broncos

Only 14 yards shy of 1,000 rushing yards in his first season as a Bronco, Gordon was one of the better-performing fantasy running backs down the stretch. From Weeks 11-17, MG3 ranked seventh in touches (120), seventh in yards from scrimmage (618) and ninth in half-PPR scoring. Gordon had his DUI charge dismissed, but it's unclear if he'll face any league discipline.

With Phillip Lindsay now in Houston, MG3 will have an opportunity to build upon his end-of-season momentum and could turn out to be a draft-day bargain.

24. Najee Harris, Free Agent

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. Harris has been linked (mostly) to the Steelers, Dolphins or Jets in first-round mock drafts, but he should be off the board early on Day 2 if he doesn't hear his name called on Thursday night. With few holes in his game, Harris has a chance to step in as a Week 1 workhorse depending on the depth chart of the team that drafts him.

25. Travis Etienne, Free Agent

A two-time ACC Offensive Player of the Year, Etienne surprised many by returning to school for another season, but he's the top-ranked running back on our NFL Draft Big Board. Even if he's used in a secondary role as a rookie, he has a chance to perform as an RB2/flex due to his home-run ability.

26. 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.

27. Leonard Fournette, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Down the stretch in their Super Bowl run, the Buccaneers relied on Fournette as their lead back. In four playoff games, Fournette totalled 448 scrimmage yards and four total touchdowns on his 82 touches including 18 receptions. Going into 2021, Fournette should continue his role as the team's RB1.

28. 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). With career averages of 5.6 YPC and 10.0 Y/R, Mostert offers plenty of upside as a RB2/flex option if he can stay healthy in 2021.

29. 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, but the Dolphins are one of the teams most often associated with top running back draft prospects like Travis Etienne and Najee Harris in mock drafts.

30. Javonte Williams, Free Agent

Obviously, landing spots for rookies will impact their 2021 fantasy outlooks, but it wouldn't be a surprise if it's Williams -- not Najee Harris or Travis Etienne -- that finds himself sitting at RB1 among rookies in re-draft rankings for the upcoming season. The 20-year-old back is a tackle-breaking machine.

31. Ronald Jones, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Bucs re-signing Leonard Fournette likely slides Jones back into his secondary role behind Fournette. 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).

32. Mike Davis, Atlanta Falcons

As of today, Davis tops the team's depth chart and filling in for a mostly-injured Christian McCaffrey in 2020, Davis performed as a top-15 (half-PPR) fantasy running back last season. If the Falcons don't use an early pick on a running back, Davis will have flex appeal, especially with Arthur Smith (most recently OC in Tennessee) taking over as Atlanta's head coach.

33. Kenyan Drake, Las Vegas Raiders

Josh Jacobs and Drake combined for a total of 570 touches last season as lead backs of their respective teams and that combined number will (obviously!) drop significantly. The Raiders plan to use Drake in a variety of ways including at receiver, but Drake shouldn't be drafted as anything more than a flex option in 2021.

34. 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, Johnson was a more modest performer (when he was on the field), but he finished as a top-25 weekly running back in 10 of 12 games in 2020.

Especially if the Texans trade their franchise quarterback, they will be one of the league's worst teams in 2021. Given that, it wouldn't be a surprise if they cut Johnson, who's due more than $8.8 million in 2021. While the Texans released Duke Johnson, the additions Phillip Lindsay and Mark Ingram make DJ expendable.

35. Damien Harris, New England Patriots

Like Sony Michel, Harris is a non-factor as a receiver (five receptions in 2020). 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.

36. Darrell Henderson, Los Angeles Rams

Given that Malcolm Brown signed with the Dolphins, it's Akers-Henderson as the team's 1-2 punch. As opposed to last year's three-headed attack for parts of the season, Henderson will have some stand-alone value even with Akers as the primary back as I noted in our Darrell Henderson fantasy football outlook.

37. 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, 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.

38. Zack Moss, Buffalo Bills

39. Nyheim Hines, Indianapolis Colts

40. Devin Singletary, Buffalo Bills

41. Tony Pollard, Dallas Cowboys

42. Gus Edwards, Baltimore Ravens

43. James Conner, Free Agent

44. J.D. McKissic, Washington Football Team

45. Latavius Murray, New Orleans Saints

46. Tarik Cohen, Chicago Bears

47. Jamaal Williams, Detroit Lions

48. Phillip Lindsay, Free Agent

49. Tevin Coleman, New York Jets

50. Michael Carter, Free Agent

51. Jeff Wilson, San Francisco 49ers

52. Marlon Mack, Indianapolis Colts

53. Benny Snell, Pittsburgh Steelers

54. Todd Gurley, Free Agent

55. Rashaad Penny, Seattle Seahawks

56. Matt Breida, Buffalo Bills

57. Ke'Shawn Vaughn, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

58. Alexander Mattison, Minnesota Vikings

59. Carlos Hyde, Jacksonville Jaguars

60. Lynn Bowden Jr., Miami Dolphins

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