If you hope to compete in your fantasy football championship, drafting well at the running back position is pivotal.
Typically, the game's top running backs are taken off the draft board in a hurry since it's arguably the most important position in fantasy football. Having multiple top running backs on your roster could separate you from the pack and lead you to and through the playoffs.
Just ask managers who rostered Derrick Henry, Alvin Kamara and Dalvin Cook last year about the importance of snagging a top running back. The trio ranked first, second and third respectively in total RB fantasy points last season while averaging about 20 points per game. Those lofty numbers surely led to a fair share of fantasy football trophies.
So, which running backs could lead you to the promised land in 2021? Here are our rankings of the top 25 RBs in fantasy heading into this season.
1. Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers (Bye Week: 13)
The excitement of drafting fantasy football superstar Christian McCaffrey with the first overall pick didn't last long in 2020. The dual-threat running back played in only three games due to nagging injuries. Don't overthink it at this year's draft, though. McCaffrey once again is a no-brainer for the top pick as long as he's healthy.
2. Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings (Bye Week: 7)
Dalvin Cook was a workhorse last season racking up 356 touches in 14 games. He certainly made the most of his opportunities as he set career-highs in rushing yards (1,557) and touchdowns (17). Expect more excellence out of the Vikings RB in 2021 and don't be the fool who passes on him at No. 2 or 3 overall in your draft.
3. Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans (Bye Week: 13)
Derrick Henry doesn't have the same value as McCaffrey and Cook in PPR leagues, but he's the best rusher in the NFL over the last two seasons. Regardless of his lack of receptions, the Titans behemoth should be a top-three selection in all formats. Thoughts and prayers to opposing defenses that now have to worry about Henry, A.J. Brown, and Julio Jones.
4. Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints (Bye Week: 6)
The big question with Alvin Kamara this year is whether he'll be able to continue his outstanding production without Drew Brees. That said, the 25-year-old is an elite talent who should be an RB1 no matter the situation under center. Just don't expect a whopping 21 trips to the end zone again.
5. Saquon Barkley, New York Giants (Bye Week: 10)
Drafting Saquon Barkley comes with a ton of risk as he's played in only 15 of 32 games due to injuries. When he's on the field, he's unquestionably among the game's best. It's simply too much of a gamble at this point to take Barkley at the top of your draft, regardless of his insane talent. Fantasy owners from the last two seasons can attest to that.
6. Aaron Jones, Green Bay Packers (Bye Week: 13)
Aaron Jones should once again be one of the most reliable running backs in fantasy football this season after re-signing with Green Bay. His value in PPR formats should increase as well with Jamaal Williams taking his talents to Detroit. You can do far worse than Jones as your RB1.
7. Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys (Bye Week: 7)
Ezekiel Elliott was one of the biggest disappointments of the 2020 fantasy football season. Much of those struggles correlated with Cowboys QB Dak Prescott's season-ending injury. With Prescott back at the helm this year, we should expect Elliott to return to form as an elite fantasy option.
8. Austin Ekeler, Los Angeles Chargers (Bye Week: 7)
Austin Ekeler is a clear-cut RB1 when healthy, particularly in PPR formats. While you'd like to see his touchdown total increase (3 in 10 games last season), his receiving ability makes up for his lack of goal-line work. You can draft the dynamic Chargers RB with confidence, but don't reach for him in standard leagues.
9. Jonathan Taylor, Indianapolis Colts (Bye Week: 14)
Jonathan Taylor overcame a less-than-stellar start to his rookie campaign to finish as the RB6. The Wisconsin product could be a league-winner if he can pick up where he left off in 2020.
10. Nick Chubb, Cleveland Browns (Bye Week: 9)
There's no denying Chubb is one of the best running backs in the NFL. If you're looking for a safe RB1, there aren't many better choices than the former Georgia star. The problem is Kareem Hunt will be around again to steal some carries and most of the receiving work. If it weren't for Hunt, Chubb would be a top-five RB this season.
11. Joe Mixon, Cincinnati Bengals (Bye Week: 10)
Fantasy owners regretted taking Joe Mixon last season, but they may regret not drafting him this time around. If he's healthy, Mixon will be the heart of a Bengals offense that should improve as long as QB Joe Burrow returns to action. Let's not forget Mixon finished 2018 and 2019 as the RB10 and RB13 in PPR leagues.
12. Najee Harris, Pittsburgh Steelers (Bye Week: 7)
The Steelers said goodbye to James Conner and invested in Alabama standout Najee Harris with a first-round draft pick. We'll see Pittsburgh use Harris heavily right away, which automatically should make him an RB1 or high-end RB2 in Year 1 of his promising career.
13. Antonio Gibson, Washington Football Team (Bye Week: 9)
We should see Antonio Gibson more in the passing game this season, which obviously would greatly increase his value in PPR formats. If Gibson jells with new Washington QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, we could be looking at a legit RB1.
14. D'Andre Swift, Detroit Lions (Bye Week: 9)
Keep an eye on the Lions running back situation heading into 2021. Jamaal Williams is in the mix with D'Andre Swift, plus Detroit reportedly was considering signing veteran Todd Gurley earlier this summer. Swift deserves a chance to be the bell cow, but we could be looking at another timeshare. If Swift indeed is the Lions' workhorse, he has RB1 upside.
15. Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Kansas City Chiefs (Bye Week: 12)
The upside is there for Clyde Edwards-Helaire in Kansas City's elite offense. That said, the results were a bit disappointing in 2020. He'll look to make the jump to RB1 territory in Year 2 of his career, and he could end up being the steal of the draft if that happens.
16. Chris Carson, Seattle Seahawks (Bye Week: 9)
Chris Carson is back with the Seahawks on a two-year and once again should be a rock-solid RB2 in all formats. As long as he can stay on the field, he sets up to be the primary back in one of the game's top offenses.
17. David Montgomery, Chicago Bears (Bye Week: 10)
Montgomery went nuts in the second half of the 2020 season and shocked everyone when he finished as a top-five RB. Will there be some regression this year? Probably. But Montgomery showed he shouldn't be slept on in drafts and he can thrive if given a chance to be the Bears' workhorse.
18. Josh Jacobs, Las Vegas Raiders (Bye Week: 8)
Josh Jacobs has been the Raiders' bell cow back but that could change a bit in 2021 with Kenyan Drake now in the mix. Las Vegas needs Jacob to be more efficient with his carries (3.9 YPC in 2020), but the upside is there considering Jacob's high usage.
19. Miles Sanders, Philadelphia Eagles (Bye Week: 7)
Will Miles Sanders be given the opportunity to be the Eagles' workhorse RB now that Nick Sirianni has taken over for Doug Pederson? Fantasy owners will hope so. Sanders hasn't lived up to expectations so far, but he has shown flashes of excellence when given a chance to shine. For now, he's a decent RB2.
20. Myles Gaskin, Miami Dolphins (Bye Week: 14)
Many expected the Dolphins to draft a running back, but instead it looks like they've committed to Myles Gaskin as the go-to guy. Gaskin actually was a pleasant surprise for Miami last year, especially as a back who can make big plays in the passing game. It'll be interesting to see what Gaskin can do as the workhorse for a full season.
21. Kareem Hunt, Cleveland Browns (Bye Week: 7)
Kareem Hunt is one of the toughest players to project heading into the new season. He's already proven himself as one of the most talented backs in the game, but fantasy football is a game of opportunities. Will Hunt get enough opportunities next to Nick Chubb to warrant a high draft selection? It's hard to say.
22. James Robinson, Jacksonville Jaguars (Bye Week: 7)
Travis Etienne's season-ending injury means Robinson again is the clear-cut workhorse in Jacksonville. Carlos Hyde could steal some touches, but Robinson rushed for over 1,000 yards and seven touchdowns as a rookie and looks poised to make another big impact in 2021.
23. Mike Davis, Atlanta Falcons (Bye Week: 7)
Mike Davis took over for the injured Christian McCaffrey as the Panthers' feature back and was outstanding. Now, he has a chance to shine as the Falcons' clear-cut No. 1 RB. Add in the fact Arthur Smith is taking over as Atlanta's head coach and loves to run the ball, and Davis could be set up for more fantasy heroics in 2021.
24. Chase Edmonds, Arizona Cardinals (Bye Week: 12)
Edmonds caught 53 passes for 402 yards out of the Cardinals' backfield last season and could see more work in the running game alongside offseason signing James Conner, who has missed at least three games in each of the last three seasons. Edmonds could be a nice flex option, especially in PPR leagues.
25. Javonte Williams, Denver Broncos (Bye Week: 11)
Williams will split carries with veteran running back Melvin Gordon, at least to start the season, but the North Carolina product rightfully will be among the first rookie RBs off the board. With Williams' ability to make an impact both on the ground and through the air, the upside at his current ADP of 55 is huge. The 220-pounder rushed for 19 touchdowns and caught three last year as part of a two-back committee with UNC.
Honorable mention: Damien Harris, New England Patriots
Damien Harris clearly was the Patriots' top running back when healthy last season. The Alabama product played in 10 games, tallying 691 yards on 137 carries. And now that Cam Newton (12 rushing touchdowns in 2020), Harris should see more goal-line chances.
He isn't much of a threat in the passing game, but Harris is the running back you want if you're set on drafting someone out of the Patriots backfield. James White should provide some value in PPR leagues, but that's about it.
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