Nick's America 2021 Fantasy Football Rankings - Running Backs

Nick's America 2021 Fantasy Football Rankings - Running Backs
26th Aug, 2021 8:38pm

Since a good portion of the NFL, especially when it comes to the league as a whole, displays their "wokeness" at an ever-increasing level, I don't really give a crap about who wins the Super Bowl or even gets into the playoffs -- unless the Chicago Bears somehow go all the way to the big game.

But, I love playing fantasy football, because they're my team that I'm in charge of that can actually win me something instead of the empty feeling once the season is over.

Running back is perhaps the most important position in any fantasy football format when you take into consideration that you need anywhere from three to five at the position to field at least a decent fantasy team. Plus, the running back position is thinner than other positions, because there are few who you would consider "top tier," whereas you can field a winning team without a "top tier" wide receiver because of the depth at that position.

That's why I'm doing fantasy rankings for RBs first. I might do a rankings list for other positions, but a list for this position was a must.

You don't have to agree with my rankings, but this is more for debate. As someone who has played fantasy football for over 15 years, and as someone who more times than not makes the playoffs most seasons -- and even wins a championship or two here and there -- I'd like to think you could look at these rankings and use your own judgment to field a pretty good backfield, depending on where your position is in your drafts.

You're not going to see any Patriots or Texans running backs on this list, because there's simply too much confusion in those offenses as to who "the man" will be on a week-to-week basis.

So without further ado, here are my top 20 running backs for points-per-reception (PPR) leagues. (Note: All pictures are screenshots taken from YouTube videos.)

1. Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers (Bye Week: 13)


Duh. There can be an argument for selecting either Dalvin Cook or Alvin Kamara ahead of McCaffrey. But, the Carolina Panthers offense begins and ends with CMC. Sure, the Panthers don't have the best offensive line in the league (they're ranked 26th, according to the Sporting News). However, CMC is the type of running back where he's so good that having a subpar O-Line doesn't make that much of a difference. He won't lead the league in rushing yards, but with the prospect of catching 100 balls in the backfield it doesn't matter. Can you imagine if he did have a great front five?

2. Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings (Bye Week: 7)


As I mentioned in CMC's summary, there IS an argument for picking Cook first in your fantasy draft. He most likely will rush for more yards than CMC, but with pass catching options like wideouts Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen and rising tight end Irv Smith Jr., Cook is slated to catch anywhere from 45 to 70 passes depending on the Vikings gameplan. That being said, Cook is more than a safe bet at number two in any draft regardless of format.

3. Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints (Bye Week: 6)


There's possibly no one more important to their team this season than Kamara. With the retirement of future Hall of Fame QB Drew Brees and questions surrounding the standing with the team of star wide receiver Michael Thomas, the offense appears to be going through Kamara this year. After two weeks of preseason football, it looks as though Jameis Winston has the edge at QB. So, expect a lot of throws to keep coming Kamara's way on top of the possibility of 1,000 rushing yards.

4. Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans (Bye Week: 13)


You know the beast that is Derrick Henry isn't going to catch a ton of balls out of the backfield, but he has the ability -- both speed and power wise -- to break a big run at any moment. While it's highly unlikely Henry rushes for 2,000 yards again, the addition of Julio Jones to the passing game makes it almost a lock to allow Henry to gain at least 1,500 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns, if he remains healthy. His heavy workload over the past couple of seasons causes slight concern, but no other "top tier" running back is built quite like Henry.

5. Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys (Bye Week: 7)


The return of Dak Prescott, whether he's 100% or not, is huge for Elliott's game. Nothing against the guys who filled in for the Cowboys at QB last year, but the chemistry between Prescott and Elliott is undeniable. Elliott struglled at times without Prescott. With the return of Prescott, combined with the wide receiver trio of Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb and Michael Gallup, the running game is wide open for Elliott to thrive in. Expect double digit total touchdowns and the possibility of 2,000 total yards.

6. Aaron Jones, Green Bay Packers (Bye Week: 13)


With QB Aaron Rodgers firmly back in the fold, for this season at least, Jones is slated to have a great year. A very good pass catching running back, Jones can leap into the "top tier" if he can stay healthy. While he hasn't missed a terrible amount of time over the past few years, Jones has only played in all 16 games one time. If Jones does stay healthy, he has 15-plus touchdown potential this season.

7. Nick Chubb, Cleveland Browns (Bye Week: 13)


With the Brows possessing perhaps the NFL's best offensive line, if healthy, Chubb is a lock to rush for at least 1,100 yards and nine touchdowns -- and that's just ground numbers. Of course, with Kareem Hunt being the primary backfield pass catcher, don't expect much in terms of catches and air yards. Expect Chubb to receive a heavy workload in the running game.

8. Austin Ekeler, Los Angeles Chargers (Bye Week: 7)


For PPR leagues, Ekeler is definitely a top-10 running back. Even though he's pretty good getting handed the ball, he's probably even better catching it and creating yards after the catch. The Chargers have three other viable running backs, especially after drafting Missouri's all-time rushing leader in Larry Rountree III in the 6th round this year. Despite that, Ekeler seems to have been one of young QB Justin Herbert's favorite targets, so expect the 26-year-old to get at least 12-15 touches a game. That doesn't sound like a lot, but with Ekeler's ability to open field run and move, it only takes a couple of those touches to make his selection worth the pick early in the 2nd round of drafts, possibly even late in the first.

9. Najee Harris, Pittsburgh Steelers (Bye Week: 7)


Of course, we all know Harris is an unproven rookie, but NFL teams don't take running backs in the first round anymore unless they're sure they can be workhorses. And that's exactly what it looks like the Steelers think Harris can be. He doesn't have much competition for touches out of the backfield, so you can be comfortable taking Harris in the mid-to-late second round of your draft. Harris seems to have also have a knack for catching the ball, so that's an added bonus to his rushing ability.

10. Antonio Gibson, Washington Football Team (Bye Week: 9)


Gibson's progression during his rookie season was stifled slightly by inconsistent play at quarterback. With veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick taking the snaps behind center this year, Gibson has a real shot to take a huge jump in fantasy. He looks like the number one option in a much improved offense, although improving over last year isn't saying that much.

11. Saquon Barkley, New York Giants (Bye Week: 10)


Oh what a difference a year makes. Barkley's number 11 spot here is half because we don't exactly how healthy he is heading into the season and half because I drafted him number two overall last year only to get burned by his season ending injury -- so I'm a little biased, sue me. Although, Barkley's ranking has fallen in all projections this preseason, so I'm not far off, if at all. When healthy, Barkley can be as good as anyone, but it remains to be seen when he'll be back completely healthy.

12. Jonathan Taylor, Indianapolis Colts (Bye Week: 14)


Taylor's position at number 12 could be undervaluing the back. Most have dropped him in the rankings because of injuries to QB Carson Wentz and standout guard Quenton Nelson. However, reports now say that both Wentz and Nelson could be miraculously ready for week one despite both undergoing surgery just three weeks ago. If both of those players are healthy, Taylor could be as good as number seven on this list, possibly higher if he outpaces expectations. With his increasing ability to catch the ball as well as run it, Taylor could be a steal in the second round of drafts.

13. Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Kansas City Chiefs (Bye Week: 12)


A lot of players who underperformed in their first year seem to make big strides in their second seasons. Perhaps it could be that the "Fresh Prince of Helaire needed some time to learn his place in the high-powered Chiefs offense. He has all the intagibles you want in a PPR back -- speed, vision and great hands. The job is his to lose this year, so you could get a great value with Edwards-Helaire in the mid second to the middle of the third round.

14. Joe Mixon, Cincinnati Bengals (Bye Week: 10)


Health, health, health. That's the key for Mixon, who has always had the potential to be a "top tier" running back, but injuries have slowed his progression as well as overall fantasy numbers and consistency. Joe Burrow coming back from his devastating knee injury should help, but the Bengals don't seem to look too promising so far this preseason, so Mixon could be a gamble if you're still looking for a tride-and-true RB1 in the mid second to early in the third round.

15. David Montgomery, Chicago Bears (Bye Week: 10)


A middling, injury prone offensive line raises questions as to whether Montgomery's second half was a fluke or signs of things to come. Montgomery has all the tools to succeed, but an ever-changing quarterback position -- which could be solidifed if rookie Justin Fields takes over by mid-season, if not earlier -- might hinder Montgomery in developing a rapport with a consistent QB. I'm lucky enough to have him as a keeper in the 6th round of one of my leagues, but look to target him in the middle of the third.

16. James Robinson, Jacksonville Jaguars (Bye Week: 7)


Robinson has been greatly disrespected in mock drafts so far this preseason. But with the season-ending injury to rookie Travis Etienne Jr., Robinson looks to be the man in Jacksonville behind rookie number one draft pick, quarterback Trevor Lawrence.  Injuries look to have given Robinson clear reign atop the Jaguars running back depth chart. Robinson should see his draft stock rise from as late as the fifth round to the middle of the third with the Etienne injury.

17. Miles Sanders, Philadelphia Eagles (Bye Week: 14)


Sanders is interesting, because he has top 10 potential, but his floor is lower than most other running backs on this list because of the inconsistent play combined with injuries on the Eagles offense. Possibly having a full season of young QB Jalen Hurts could aid in Sanders reaching said potential, but for me, it's more of a wait-and-see. Sanders still has value in the mid to late third round.

18. Chris Carson, Seattle Seahawks (Bye Week: 9)


Much like with Mixon, health is the key for Carson. He could be a workhorse back, if he could only stay off the sidelines. The Seahawks have other backs that might take touches away from Carson, but Carson once again appears to be the guy in Seattle. If he stays healthy, Carson could be a safety valve for star quarterback Russell Wilson when under pressure. There is a possiblity of getting Carson in the fourth round, but mid to late third round seems more appropriate.

19. Josh Jacobs, Las Vegas Raiders (Bye Week: 8)


While the Raiders offensive line seems to have taken a step back from last year, which hurt Jacobs -- both figuratively and literally -- Jacobs has the talent to rise into a consistent top 15 fantasy back. He's not going to come near the top of the leaderboard in catches among running backs, but he's more than serviceable at running the back between the tackles and sees the endzone a decent amount as well.

20. J.K. Dobbins, Baltimore Ravens (Bye Week: 8)


Update (8/29/2021): Reports out of Ravens camp indicate that Dobbins tore his ACL during Saturday's preseason game against Washington, effectively ending his season. Tough break for a promising young running back.)

looks to be main back in slightly less crowded Ravens backfield with Mark Ingram II now in Houston. He should definitely be able to improve upon his 134 carries, as well as his 18 catches from his rookie season. But, don't expect Dobbins to set the world on fire in receptions. Gus "The Bus" Edwards is really the only other back that would take work away from Dobbins, but it shouldn't affect his overall numbers. A 1,000 yard, 10 touchdown season isn't out of the question for this back.

Top 10 Honorable Mentions Just Left Off The List:

Mike Davis, Atlanta Falcons
D'Andre Swift, Detroit Lions
Raheem Mostert, San Francisco 49ers
Javonte Williams, Denver Broncos
Myles Gaskin, Miami Dolphins
Michael Carter, New York Jets
Damien Harris, New England Patriots
Darrell Henderson Jr., Los Angeles Rams
Chase Edmonds, Arizona Cardinals
Kareem Hunt, Cleveland Browns