Fantasy Football Projections For 2021 NFL Season—Running Backs

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It is truly a glorious time of year, and not just because the sun is shining, the sky is blue, and water is wet. But there is more to it than that, the 2021 NFL season is almost here. Along with the NFL season comes something even better– a new fantasy football season.

A new season brings new possibilities, new projections, and a renewed sense of hope for thousands of would-be fantasy football champions. For most championship fantasy football teams, it all starts with picking the right running backs. Running backs are the cornerstone of every championship-caliber fantasy football team.

However, since many teams use the running back by committee approach, it can be challenging to find a couple you can count on.

So—who should you target? To answer that question, let’s look at the three different categories fantasy football running backs can be grouped—the proven commodities, guys that will probably play well, and your longshots. For more fantasy football help, check out our top 15 quarterbacks and tight ends.

Proven Commodities

You do not need to know football or even understand fantasy football to know which running backs you should target. There are a handful of stud running backs that are the primary focus of their offense, guys that will get the opportunity to produce and can be counted on to do just that.

These guys will go first in most drafts. If you can get one, then you are off to a good start. But if you are lucky enough to get two—your team is in great shape:

  • Dalvin Cook: He will get the touches (carries and receptions), and he will produce. He was ESPN’s second-highest scoring running back last season and will be either first or second this season.
  • Alvin Kamara: Kamara was the top-scoring running back last season, and with Drew Brees no longer behind center, the Saints will turn to Kamara and the run game early and often.
  • Christian McCaffrey: When healthy, he is a force to be reckoned with and an easy decision for the No. 1 pick in every draft. But he has durability issues.
  • Derrick Henry: No one is the focus of their offense more so than Derrick Henry. His production the last two seasons makes him a no-brainer to go in the top three.
  • Saquon Barkley: When he was last healthy, he was a fantasy stud and is someone that can be counted on to get 20-25 touches a game

Most experts would say you should take McCaffrey first; if he stays healthy, that is not a bad decision. But the Panthers do not have much of an offensive line. Teams will focus on stopping McCaffrey and forcing Sam Darnold to make plays. Henry has been a beast the last two seasons. But guys that have carried the ball as much as he has, tend to suddenly decline drastically.

He might do just that this season or he might not…

As for Barkley, he is a tremendous and talented running back—but the Giants are terrible. Daniel Jones has failed to progress, and the offensive line is the worst in the NFL (according to PFF).

Probably Good Choices

These guys will probably be excellent choices, ones that you should not pass up if the proven commodities are gone. They could be as good as the proven commodities or better. But there may be a reason or two to exercise caution with them:

  • Ezekiel Elliot: He is a stud when healthy and running behind a healthy offensive line, but he is coming off a down year, and the Cowboys‘ o-line has durability issues.
  • Nick Chubb: He is one of eight backs to run for 1000+ yards last season despite only playing in 12 games; you will have to be concerned with him losing touches to Kareem Hunt.
  • Aaron Jones: He has produced like a top-five running back the last two seasons and could very well do so again this season. It helps that defenses will be more focused on stopping Aaron Rodgers than him.
  • Jonathan Taylor: When the Colts committed to him as the lead back in the final six games of the 2020 season, he produced like an RB1. But with Marlon Mack coming back, you have to wonder how many touches he will get each week.
  • Austin Ekeler: Do not expect big rushing totals out of Ekeler because you will not get them. You will, however, see him get plenty of work in the passing game, making him a good RB2.

Longshots

Calling some of these guys longshots may be a little extreme. But they have yet to produce at a high level, so it is hard to say what they will do. However, with what we have seen of them and based on the situation they are in, there is reason to believe they could be great picks this season:

  • Clyde Edwards-Helaire: As the lead back for the Chiefs, he has breakout potential this season. But the run game in KC will always be a decent second to Patrick Mahomes and the passing game.
  • David Montgomery: Many experts are projecting him to a bust this season. But he averaged a respectable 17.7 points/game last season, and the Bears have talked about getting him the ball more this season.
  • J.K. Dobbins: He did not get a ton of work last season (134 carries). But he produced like an RB1 when he did (6.0 yards/carry). If the Ravens are smart, they will run Lamar Jackson less and let Dobbins carry a heavier load. That way, they can save Jackson while Dobbins churns out fantasy points for your team.
  • Melvin Gordon III: He was a disappointment in his first season in Denver. But if the Broncos can find some stability at quarterback, he could have a breakout year this season.
  • Antonio Gibson: With some stability at quarterback and a more focused offensive gameplan, Gibson has the potential to explode. At the least, he will be an excellent RB2 and a great bye week replacement.

Guides like this can be helpful when drafting your team. But remember this—they are not a substitute for doing your own homework. That is, if you want to win your league.

About the Author

Travis Pulver

Travis Pulver is a lifelong football fan, something he says comes naturally having been born in the football-crazy state of Texas. Through the years, his love of sports has extended into baseball, basketball, golf, and rugby. Life currently finds him in Indiana with his wife and two kids.

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