2021 Running Back Ranks

Happy Hour – Music City Drive-In

We’re rapidly approaching the 2021 NFL Season. In fact, we got our first pre-season game last night. If you tuned into this week’s Happy Hour Podcast, you know we went over our Running Back rankings for the 2021 season. In today’s post, I’ll be looking at the Top 48 running backs on my list, what would be traditionally the end of RB4 scoring.

As a reminder, you can view my full rankings, along with those of Ricky Valero and Timmy Rever for all positions season long, and week-to-week throughout the season here. If you want to catch the discussion Ricky and I had on this week’s Happy Hour, you can subscribe here, and follow the show on Twitter here.

Without further ado, let’s look at my RBs heading into the 2021 season. The takeaway for me is if you don’t get a top running back, you’re going to need some luck. It gets dicey early with running backs.

Top 5

  • 1. Christian McCaffrey, Panthers
  • 2. Dalvin Cook, Vikings
  • 3. Jonathan Taylor, Colts
  • 4. Alvin Kamara, Saints
  • 5. Saquon Barkley, Giants

About: I get some of the concerns, but this is a group of running backs that I think separate themselves. I’m not worried about Wentz for Taylor, as I think he’ll be a massive force. Barkley may well start slow, but he’s so talented that I think he’s in the Top 5 by the end of the season.

RB1

  • 6. Nick Chubb, Browns
  • 7. Derrick Henry, Titans
  • 8. Aaron Jones, Packers
  • 9. Ezekiel Elliott, Cowboys
  • 10. Joe Mixon, Bengals
  • 11. Austin Ekeler, Chargers
  • 12. Antonio Gibson, Washington

About: This is the rest of my RB1 group, and I like these guys a lot. This combined with the next group of top-end RB2s represents my comfort level heading into the season. Chubb and Henry aren’t big receivers, but their rushing is incredible. Ekeler isn’t a big runner, but he’s a prolific pass-catcher. I expect Elliott to be better in 2021, Gibson to take a step forward and Mixon to be healthier.

Fringe RB1

  • 13. Najee Harris, Steelers
  • 14. D’Andre Swift, Lions
  • 15. Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Chiefs
  • 16. David Montgomery, Bears
  • 17. J.K. Dobbins, Ravens
  • 18. Chris Carson, Seahawks

About: This represents, for me, the cutoff of where I feel set with my top RB. These six all have potential to vault into the Top 12 and be RB1s, but I feel like each has more questions than the guys above them. Harris is a rookie with an iffy line, Swift is on a possibly bad offense, Edwards-Helaire may be the third or fourth option in the offense, Montgomery can’t trust his coach to give him the ball, Dobbins is sharing carries with Gus Edwards and Lamar Jackson, and Carson has battled health. But I like this group, and if any of these guys is my top back, I still feel like I’m in decent shape.

RB2

  • 19. Josh Jacobs, Raiders
  • 20. Javonte Williams, Broncos
  • 21. Miles Sanders, Eagles
  • 22. Mike Davis, Falcons
  • 23. Darrell Henderson, Jr., Rams
  • 24. Myles Gaskin, Dolphins

About: This is a group that I think should be decent, but the questions start to mount. For the first three—Jacobs, Williams, Sanders—it’s about the competition. All seem to be in committees with potentially inefficient offenses. I love Williams, but Melvin Gordon is there. Jacobs is a banger, but Kenyan Drake is no slouch. And who knows about the Eagles, and if Sanders can play more than 11 games. With the last three, it’s questions about the team and volume. Davis is the guy in Atlanta, but what does that mean? Henderson is the best guy in Los Angeles, but I still suspect competition is coming. And Gaskin might have a lot of upside but the biggest set of questions. If this group contains my top RB, I’m nervous.

RB3

  • 25. Chase Edmonds, Cardinals
  • 26. Kareem Hunt, Browns
  • 27. James Robinson, Jaguars
  • 28. James Conner, Cardinals
  • 29. Michael Carter, Jets
  • 30. Travis Etienne, Jaguars
  • 31. Kenyan Drake, Raiders
  • 32. Zack Moss, Bills
  • 33. Ronald Jones, Buccaneers
  • 34. Damien Harris, Patriots
  • 35. Jamaal Williams, Lions
  • 36. A.J. Dillon, Packers

About: Here we get into a curious range. Some of these guys might pop, but if one of these 12 is your top RB, likely you’ll need some big performances at other positions to help pace your team. Most of these guys are in committees, and some are guys we hope lead that committee, or take a step forward. A couple here (Hunt, Williams, Drake, Dillon) are support guys that we figure will settle into roles that provide a week-to-week floor but limited ceiling. The biggest question for me is Edmonds and Conner. The Cardinals say that Edmonds will take a step forward, but he’s never had more than 97 carries in a season. I feel like Conner is the banger, and both are competing for touches with Kyler Murray. So, I have them both in the RB3 range.

RB4

  • 37. Raheem Mostert, 49ers
  • 38. Melvin Gordon, Broncos
  • 39. David Johnson, Texans
  • 40. Trey Sermon, 49ers
  • 41. Latavius Murray, Saints
  • 42. Devin Singletary, Bills
  • 43. Giovanni Bernard, Buccaneers
  • 44. Nyheim Hines, Colts
  • 45. Philip Lindsay, Texans
  • 46. J.D. McKissic, Washington
  • 47. Tarik Cohen, Bears
  • 48. James White, Patriots

About: If you’re in this range, we’ll need you to play somewhere, possibly even weekly. But I don’t have lofty expectations. For the Texans, it’s because I think the offense will struggle and Johnson and Lindsay split time. For the 49ers, it’s because they rotate backs and Mostert and Sermon probably won’t be the only guys to play. Most of the rest of this group are supporting backs that aren’t the dominate player in their backfield. Hines and McKissic had great performances as receivers cleaning up on dump off passes in 2020, but I think that scales back in 2021. The biggest question here for me is Gordon. I’m bullish on Williams, and I think he takes off and Gordon steps back. If that doesn’t happen, they’ll be much closer and probably both in the RB3 range.

Matthew Fox is a graduate of the Radio, Television and Film program at Biola University, and a giant nerd. He spends his free time watching movies, TV, and obsessing about football. He is a member of the FSWA. You can find him @knighthawk7734 on Twitter and as co-host of the Fantasy Football Roundtable Podcast.

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