Way Too Early 2021 RB Rankings: 1-25

Keith Allison from Hanover, MD, USA, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons, Cropped

1-25| 26-50

Well it feels like fantasy championships were just a week ago, but as the old adage goes, “there ain’t no rest for the wicked.” With 2020 and a whole lot of recency bias still ripe on my mind, I aim for these positional rankings to give you a premature preview of 2021, a season hopefully devoid of COVID complications among other things. 

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RB Rankings

  1. Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers
  2. Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints
  3. Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings
  4. Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans
  5. Saquon Barkley, New York Giants
  6. Nick Chubb, Cleveland Browns
  7. Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys
  8. Jonathan Taylor, Indianapolis Colts
  9. James Robinson, Jacksonville Jaguars
  10. Austin Ekeler, Los Angeles Chargers
  11. D’Andre Swift, Detroit Lions
  12. Josh Jacobs, Las Vegas Raiders
  13. Miles Sanders, Philadelphia Eagles
  14. Aaron Jones, Green Bay Packers
  15. Cam Akers, Los Angeles Rams
  16. Chris Carson, Seattle Seahawks
  17. David Montgomery, Chicago Bears
  18. Myles Gaskin, Miami Dolphins
  19. Antonio Gibson, Washington Football Team
  20. J.K. Dobbins, Baltimore Ravens
  21. Raheem Mostert, San Francisco 49ers
  22. Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Kansas City Chiefs
  23. Kareem Hunt, Cleveland Browns
  24. Joe Mixon, Cincinnati Bengals
  25. James Conner, Pittsburgh Steelers

Well, there are the  7 running backs that give you the most confidence heading into 2021, and then there’s everybody else. Before you jump down my throat for CMC listed at #1, his 24.5 points per game average was high and above the best for running backs, and he hadn’t had any injury problems prior to this season. There’s no signs that point to him having a smaller share in the offense, so I can’t really see why you’d doubt a bounce back year. McCaffrey should be your #1 pick but barring a crazy act, you should be happy with the production of all seven of these running backs. 

Alvin Kamara slots in as the favorite for me to play second fiddle, largely due to his six touchdown performance against the Vikings, but it very well could be any of these other backs listed. Drew Brees’ off season will be a huge factor in deciding whether or not I keep Kamara there. Life after the hall of famer gave owners a pang of fear when we watched him log ten catches over a four game stretch with Taysom Hill, 7 of which came from one game. I’d rather project a healthy Saquon Barkley and Zeke Elliott bounce back than try to predict how many catches Kamara will log with a new quarterback, seeing as he caught 75+ balls his past 3 seasons.

Potentially ranked too high, Nick Chubb is one of the smallest receiving threats in this tier, on account of Kareem Hunt having a resurgence in Cleveland post-suspension. To put things into perspective, Saquon Barkley put up only ten fewer catches than him on the season. On the other hand, Chubb was RB10 despite missing 4 games; had he played these games and put up his average score, Chubb would have been RB4, between Derrick Henry and James Robinson. If Kareem Hunt does indeed find himself headlining another offense and Chubb stays healthy, he could make a run at the top. 

 I know, feel good story of the year, especially in a time that was unprecedentedly difficult for undrafted free agents, James Robinson was an incredible asset and a steal in many dynasty leagues. When it comes to redrafts, the situation becomes hazy. You’ll have to pay a pretty penny for 2020’s RB4 for good reason. In an anemic offense he accrued 1400 yards and 10+ touchdowns in his rookie year which has only been done by Saquon Barkley, Kareem Hunt, Alvin Kamara, and Ezekiel Elliott.. Not bad.

He most likely met expectations as a low-end RB1 for you, but more often than not, Josh Jacobs may have sunk your ship instead of breaking the game in your favor. He logged three games over 20 fantasy points, but also six games under 10; not the consistency you’d like out of your lead back. I know, I fell in love with his receiving goal of 60 catches, too, and it still may be possible. However, 33 catches through 16 games is not close enough to sell me. I do love his situation, seeing as he has to compete with Devontae Booker and Jalen Richard for touches, not exactly world beaters. If he fixes his efficiency and re-establishes his big-play potential, Jacobs will be a valuable asset for 2021. 

I usually don’t care for efficiency stats as much as I do volume as it pertains to fantasy; too often I’ll get stuck in situations like 2019 where I was pitching for Ronald Jones over Peyton Barber. However, Miles Sanders had the fourth highest yards per carry among running backs. With Jalen Hurts, he was RB6 in the small three-game sample size and somehow finished as RB18 in half-PPR formats. One has to believe the future is brighter in Philly after a dumpster fire of a season, which should bode well for Sanders eclipsing 2020’s mark. 

Alright, he’s SUPER high, but I have to have some bold choices here and there to spice things up. I also usually don’t buy into small sample sizes, but it is no coincidence that Cam Akers got 29 carries in a game, while Darrell Henderson and Malcolm Brown were perfectly healthy. That mark is the 7th-highest single game total in the league (Josh Jacobs, David Montgomery, and Derrick Henry once, Dalvin Cook three times) and was only stopped on account of the injury he suffered against the Jets. That sort of volume just doesn’t come around often in the NFL; Akers has emerged as the lead back, yet comes with some considerable risk as I have him ranked above steadier options. 

Austin Ekeler did not log a single game over 20 carries, but for what he has lacked in the rushing game, he more than made up for in the passing game. In 8 games (plus a few snaps in the Week 4 in which he was sidelined with his injury, Ekeler finished week 16 with 48 receptions, or 8th best in the league. That would have been 96 if he kept the pace over a full 16 which would have trumped Alvin Kamara by 13. The sky is truly the limit with Justin Herbert in town to stay. 

When I tell you, I was shocked to find out he was only a year older than me, David Montgomery is the target of some potential disrespect on this list. He had one game over 20 fantasy points before his week 11 bye, and then ripped off four in a row and a near fifth to propel many managers who kept the faith straight into the playoffs. Like Jacobs, he benefited from having the lion’s share of the work, especially with Tarik Cohen suffering a season ending injury early on. I predict the Bears to get some offensive line help; this should deal with the oft-forgotten period of inadequacy where the Bears looked like a JV team on offense as they fell from atop the NFC North. I’ll be honest, he scares the crap out of me, and I can’t imagine him getting 45 receptions again if the Bears field a healthy scat back. Mitch Trubisky is also a free agent which adds extra uncertainty; I’m staying away for now, and if the situation evolves favorably, Ill bump him up. 

One of my favorite dynasty targets, I’m buying fewer shares of J.K. Dobbins in re-draft leagues. The former Buckeye was one of the most efficient backs, tallying over 5 yards per carry this season while adding an extra dimension with exceptional passing usage. He passes the eye-test for me, clearly being the top dog in Baltimore, but what will happen to Gus Edwards next season and his 132 carries? If he’s out, Dobbins is boosted to RB1 status without question. If he’s in, which seems to be the more likely option, how do you project Dobbins who was on the field for less than 50% of the snaps. Going down the stretch the numbers improved, and this could very well look like Mark Ingram did in 2019 if the Ravens return to form. 

Another common 1.01 last year, Clyde Edwards-Helaire seemed to catch flack right out of the gate, especially with Le’veon Bell coming to town. The former LSU product didn’t do a whole lot wrong from what I watched on tape, but he also wasn’t incredibly eye-popping. I’ll have to see where Bell ends up at the start of 2021, but there’s nothing to say that CEH can’t be very serviceable. Anytime you’re on a prolific offense such as Kansas City’s you almost fall into fantasy points. CEH was top 20 in carries within the 20, 10, and 5-yard lines. I like both his safety and upside for 2021. 

Well, James Conner looked like an RB1 steal for the first few weeks of 2020, to looking like an RB4 dud post-COVID, to having a flash of brilliance against the Colts to end the season and leave managers scratching their heads. Literally, he showed flashes of vintage Le’veon Bell in that second half when Big Ben was calling the plays, but man are there a lot of question marks. Is Big Ben staying? Is Conner staying? Is JuJu Smith-Schuster staying? All these questions will impact Conner’s involvement next year and for that reason I can’t trust him beyond a speculatory flex choice. 

Chris Cioffi

Chris "Chof" Cioffi is the Chief Editor at FGB. A 7-year fantasy veteran, Chof hails from Northeastern University, got a degree in mathematics, and will talk for hours about how Ronald Jones should have gotten more carries than Peyton Barber if the Buccaneers cared about advanced analytics at all in 2019. Repping all teams New England, he definitely embellishes his accent when talking about tha B’s, tha C’s, tha Pats, or the Sawx. When he’s not writing fantasy blogs, Chof is a southpaw pitcher, Club baseball hall of famer, and still is good for giving up a 400-foot homerun every year to some guy in his men’s league.

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