Here it is, the most important position in all of fantasy football. Running back. As I always say, value is king in drafting. You should never sacrifice great value for the sake of getting a certain position filled on your roster. But, a running back is naturally more valuable than any other position. Great ones are so rare, and yet so valuable. RBs provide consistent production that no other position can match. As a rule of thumb, I like to try and come out of the first three rounds with two RBs, and I don’t mind having three. Here are the rankings.
The Top 6
1.) Christian McCaffrey, Panthers (FantasyPros: 1st)
2.) Dalvin Cook, Vikings (FantasyPros: 2nd)
3.) Derrick Henry, Titans (FantasyPros: 3rd)
4.) Ezekiel Elliott, Cowboys (FantasyPros: 5th)
5.) Alvin Kamara, Saints (FantasyPros: 4th)
6.) Saquon Barkley, Giants (FantasyPros: 7th)
You can choose to order these six guys any way you want, but in my mind they are the undisputed top 6. If you like Henry more than Cook, fine, I get it. If you like Saquon more than Zeke, awesome, take Saquon. I do think there is a gap between spots 3 and 4, meaning I wouldn’t rank anyone in spots 4-6 above anyone in spots 1-3. But, I think you can easily shuffle the players in spots 1-3 and 4-6 around without ruffling any feathers.
There’s not much to say about these guys, they’re all amazing players and invaluable fantasy football assets. This was pretty much the same top-6 from last year, which should only reinforce the fact that they should go top 6 this year. If they don’t, somebody made a mistake. For more analysis check out my early top-12 rankings article.
7.) Joe Mixon, Bengals (FantasyPros: 10th)
I’m so high on Joe Mixon this year. I think he’s gonna have a breakout year as the Bengals surprise a lot of people with a competitive season. I gave an in-depth breakdown in my first draft steals article, but here’s a quick summary of why Mixon needs to be on your radar.
He’s been a workhorse running back ever since becoming the full time starter in 2018. Last year with Joe Burrow he was on pace for a career season before getting hurt. Now, he has a better offensive line around him, elite receiving weapons to shift defensive focus to the passing game, and Gio Bernard is finally off the team. That means Mixon’s touches, efficiency, and TD production should all increase.
8.) Nick Chubb, Browns (FantasyPros: 6th)
I’ve talked a lot about Chubb so I don’t want to say too much. But in a nutshell, he’s part of one of the most run-heavy offenses in the league, he runs behind the best O-line in football, and is a lock for being top-5 in carries if he stays healthy. This is all despite Kareem Hunt also being involved in the offense. Chubb may be a less valuable running back in PPR leagues since he doesn’t catch the ball, but his elite rushing production is undisputable.
9.) Jonathan Taylor, Colts (FantasyPros: 8th)
I still like Taylor a lot after the injuries the Colts have suffered, but you’ve got to bump him down at least a little. Jacob Eason figures to open the season at QB. Yeah, I don’t know who the hell he is either. The loss of Quenton Nelson makes this O-line closer to average than elite. That’s gonna hurt Taylor for sure.
But Wentz going down will likely translate to a more run-heavy approach, and thus more touches for Taylor. It will also translate to more short, check-down passes when they do throw. That also equals more touches for Taylor. Efficiency takes a big hit, but opportunity gets a boost.
10.) Najee Harris, Steelers (FantasyPros: 13th)
Now that draft season has picked up, Harris is flying up draft boards, and for good reason. The Steelers spent a first round draft pick on this guy, and it wasn’t so he could sit on the bench. And before you say “What about CEH last year” just stop it. The Chiefs are a pass-heavy offense that traditionally uses a committee running back system. The Steelers are a run-heavy offense that traditionally uses a workhorse running back system.
I would not be surprised if Harris led the league in total touches at running back. I genuinely believe he is going to get the Le’Veon Bell treatment in Pittsburgh (over 85% snap share). He’s an incredible player, and if you don’t believe me, just look at his stats and highlights from his Alabama days. The O-line is terrible, which is the only reason he’s not higher on my board. But, because the Steelers have a terrific receiving corp I expect Harris to have an easier time finding space than most people think. I can’t wait to watch him play.
11.) Aaron Jones, Packers (FantasyPros: 9th)
Every year I worry about Aaron Jones having to share touches in the backfield. And every year he puts together a great season while touching the ball more than I expected him to. How does he do it? He gets a good amount of receiving work, averages an impressive YPC, and he scores a lot. Can he do all that this year? I’m not so sure.
I do not believe A.J. Dillon will seriously threaten Jones’s touches. In each of the past two seasons, Jones has opportunity and snap shares slightly over 60%, and that was with Jamaal Williams, who has been exiled to Detroit. If anything, Jones should see his snaps and touches increase slightly. I still think he’ll score a lot now that Aaron Rodgers has returned. In his past two seasons as the RB1, Jones has scored 30 TDs combined. He’ll easily reach double digit TDs again if he stays healthy.
What I worry about is his efficiency. He averaged 5.5 YPC last year and came in as RB5 in fantasy scoring. Since then, the O-line has been weakened significantly. For someone who is not going to see 20+ carries in games, efficiency is necessary for fantasy production. I have some doubts about Jones, but the worst case scenario for him is still a solid season.
12.) Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Chiefs (FantasyPros: 13th)
This is another guy I’ve talked about previously, so I encourage you to check out my analysis. I really like CEH this year because the backfield appears to be his alone. He had a workhorse role for the first six games of last season and was RB6 in fantasy scoring during that time. I expect him to have that role for the entire 2021 season, making him a running back with incredibly high upside. But, we saw him reach his floor last season and it wasn’t pretty. There’s always that risk with CEH, but I’m more optimistic.
13.) Miles Sanders, Eagles (FantasyPros: 19th)
Again, I’ve talked Sanders in a previous article. As you can see, that talk was a very positive one. I don’t have any concerns about his workload, especially considering he sported a top 6 snap and opportunity share last season (when healthy). His 5.3 YPC in 2020 was also incredibly impressive considering the weak O-line play. He may not have a true bell cow role, but in a Nick Sirianni offense there should be plenty of running back touches to go around, especially with a young QB that struggles in the passing game. Even if other backs get touches, Sanders is the RB1 and should easily see around 20 touches every game. Given his efficiency, that sort of workload makes him a solid RB2 to me.
14.) David Montgomery, Bears (FantasyPros: 17th)
I mean the guy was RB4 in fantasy scoring last year (PPR), and yet he’s somehow become a mid-RB2 in the eyes of the fantasy consensus. I mean C’mon, y’all are really gonna rank Antonio Gibson and JK Dobbins over this guy? What? Montgomery’s value is insane in drafts right now. I think he’s worth a second round pick, but he’s being drafted as a third rounder. Check out my analysis of him here.
15.) Austin Ekeler, Chargers (FantasyPros: 12th)
Another player who I have talked about before, Ekeler made it onto my “Do Not Draft” list article. I see the appeal with him, he’s an elite pass-catching back with the RB1 role in a strong offense. My issue with him comes from a lack of rushing work and consistency. In 10 games last season, he had only a 53.9% opportunity share. Despite his work as a receiver, he still only got around 50% of the running back touches last season (when healthy). His 11.6 carries per game in 2020 was shockingly low. Despite averaging 5.4 receptions per game, this still puts him at only 17 touches per game. Targets and receptions are much less reliable than carries, and Ekeler is impoverished in the ground game. He’s not a reliable RB1, and is still a risky RB2.
16.) Antonio Gibson, Washington (FantasyPros: 11th)
Gibson was both inconsistent and touchdown dependent in 2020. His workload and efficiency greatly varied game-to-game, and he was carried by a few big performances and a 7th best 11 total touchdowns (among RBs). Last season Gibson handled less than 50% of the snaps and touches for Washington RBs. JD McKissic, who is still on the roster, handled over 60% of the snaps and had the #1 most targets for any running back in the NFL. McKissic’s presence means Gibson will see little to no work in the receiving game and will constantly be battling for touches.
His role as the early-down and primary goal-line back is safe, but I don’t trust his ability to be efficient. He was RB16 in terms of fantasy PPG last season and his situation has not changed. He’s not a workhorse back and he’s not in a strong offense, I don’t see him as anything better than a mid-back end RB2.
17.) Chris Carson, Seahawks (FantasyPros: 16th)
Carson’s best season to date was 2019 when he was RB12 in fantasy football scoring. That season saw Seattle run the ball the 6th most in the NFL. Carson finished with the 5th most carries and enjoyed an over 70% opportunity and snap share. He had 8 games with 20+ carries and 7 games with at least one touchdown. In 2020, Carson’s snap and opportunity shares dropped to 53% and 58%, respectively. He carried the ball only 12 times a game and the maximum amount of carries he got in a single game was 17.
His 9 touchdowns are what kept him fantasy relevant. Carson’s peak was RB12 in fantasy, and the Seahawks seem to be trending away from the run and away from utilizing Carson as a workhorse. After such a shaky 2020, I have trouble trusting him, but I see the upside for the starting RB in a Pete Carroll offense.
18.) D’Andre Swift, Lions (FantasyPros: 18th)
We’re very on brand here because Swift is yet another player I have previously discussed. He’s a true workhorse in a Detroit backfield that is his alone. He’ll see plenty of touches both as a runner and pass-catcher, but efficiency is a big concern. The Lions offense is just about as bad as it gets, so defenses will be queued in on stopping Swift. This will make it difficult for him to have an above average YPC, and touchdowns will be an extremely finite resource. The quality of the offensive line should keep him as a solid fantasy starter though.
19.) J.K. Dobbins, Ravens (FantasyPros: 15th)
Dobbins led the league in YPC last year with over 6 and showed off his explosiveness. His talent is undeniable, and in the Ravens offense he is guaranteed to be an efficient runner. But he’s also guaranteed to split carries with Gus Edwards and Lamar Jackson. He’s also guaranteed to get very little work in the receiving game. In 2020, Dobbins eclipsed 100 scrimmage yards in a game only twice. He averaged only 9 carries per game and had a max of 15 in a single contest. He had double digit fantasy points in each of the last six games last season, but that was due to the fact that he scored a TD in each of those games. He’s locked in a committee backfield with little passing-game work so I don’t see the appeal of drafting him so early.
20.) Josh Jacobs, Raiders (FantasyPros: 20th)
Talked about him in a previous article? Check. Still have the same opinion of him? Check. Jacobs is such a risky pick. There’s no way to know how the backfield is going to shape up with Kenyan Drake in the mix. But, they didn’t give Drake $11 million guaranteed over two years to not use him. I see Drake as a constant nuisance for Jacobs, and there’s no way he can get the workload he did last year, when he had the 3rd most carries in the NFL. A player notorious for being inefficient cannot recover if they lose their top-tier workload, but that appears to have happened to Jacobs. Proceed with caution when considering drafting him.