It's draft season and that means you are scrambling to collect every shred of information in order to make the 15 most important decisions of your life. 15 choices provide the foundation of your self-worth for an entire year. 15 choices determine whether your significant other will leave you OR tolerate your addiction for another season. Every draft pick counts. But have no fear. I have assembled the most perfect tiered fantasy rankings that you will ever see in your entire life. These tiers are derived from a projection model that implements all the necessary factors of fantasy evaluation: Coaching Tendencies, Career Efficiency Data, Injury Risk, Strength of Schedule, Calf & Thigh Girth, and Astronomical Analysis. Behold, the 100% accurate 2021 Running Back Projections.
Christian McCaffrey is the untouchable Alpha of this group. The others are perennial mainstay RB1 contenders. Expect a strong bounce back season for CMC after the Panthers were surprisingly good enough to make Mike Davis fantasy relevant.
Alvin Kamara should carry a similar workload with Jameis Winston starting under center. Sean Payton is not going to sacrifice touches to his most dynamic player just to give Taysom Hill the ball. Latavius Murray will lose out the most in that offense.
Dalvin Cook is the popular RB2 at the moment, but at this point, his missed games are inevitable. When he's on the field he's an absolute stud, and the expected missed time keeps him a bit lower for me.
2015 (Demarco Murray) was the last time anyone had to worry about the "Curse of 370," and it seems to be a forgotten factor in Derrick Henry's value. It's difficult to place Henry any lower after his 378 carry 2027 yard campaign. He's got the monster build and the light early career workload that keeps any 370 Curse alarm down to a whisper. In 1QB drafts, I'm happy to take any of these Elite Tier backs. In Superflex, I manage their injury risk by prioritizing QB as soon as McCaffrey is off the board.
Austin Ekeler is about to go off. The fit with former New Orleans coordinator Joe Lombardi is too juicy. Franchise QB, offensive line improvement, and a play caller who knows how to use his talent. All the pieces are in place for a Kamara-esque performance. Would be ecstatic to land Ekeler near the 1st/2nd round turn.
Aaron Jones' rushing efficiency might take a hit as Pro Bowl tackle David Bakhtiari recovers from a postseason ACL tear. FTN's Splits Tool shows that 4 games without Bakhtiari, saw Jones' rushing productivity drop-off by 30%. (Get a discount to their amazing tools using our promo code: ASTRO)
But Jones is such a talented receiver that he'll be able to make up any dropoff with his receiving game. RB6 is fair value for one of the most versatile weapons in the league.
If the Cowboys offensive line is ready to bounce back after a brutal season where 4 of 5 starters missed significant time, then so is Ezekiel Elliott. Dak Prescott's 2020 passing volume was mind-numbing (50 attempts per game), but Zeke handled plenty of carries in those games as well (17.8 carries per game). Head Coach Mike McCarthy doesn't typically force feed his backs. Looking back to the days of Eddie Lacy/James Starks might give us a picture of an Elliott/Pollard platoon. I expect Zeke's return to the fantasy pinnacle will be related to a revival of efficiency rather than volume.
I've got Saquon Barkley and Joe Mixon behind Clyde Edwards-Helaire due to projected missed games. On his own merit, Clyde should be ready to light up PPR leagues behind a totally revamped offensive line. The improvements are substantial and this team is ready to return to the Super Bowl. From a film standpoint, Clyde had a solid rookie year. His quick processing and vision were on display and with the new hogs up front, he'll be maximizing their effort. The TD efficiency that Damien Williams saw during 2019 is going to be there for Clyde this season, I'm buying his RB14 ADP all day.
Saquon Barkley is still the best running back in the league in my mind. My projections are down on him because I'm committed to sticking with my injury model (Saquon gets 2 missed games), but I'm not too concerned about missed time. I am concerned about this weak offensive line, which Gettleman failed to upgrade. They were nothing short of disastrous the last time Barkley took the field, but he's only got a handful of truly tough DL matchups this season (DEN, TB, WSH x2), so he should even out across the season. Barkley's fantasy value will be bolstered by heavy receiving game involvement, and his ADP at RB7 is more than fair.
Joe Mixon's make-or-break fantasy season is here. Yeah, the Bengals dropped the number 5 overall pick on another receiver, but no one is talking about the real reason. OL Coach Frank Pollack is back, baby! Who cares who's blocking, Frank will fix 'em. I'm not quite sure which idiot fired him the first time around, but Frank was responsible for helping Mixon hit 4.9 yards per carry in 2018 despite similarly weak offensive line talent. Subtract Giovani Bernard from the equation and Mixon feels finally ready for his top 5 RB season. He's an ultra talented receiver, hopefully they make him the Clyde Edwards-Helaire of this LSU aerial attack.
This is the RB1 Tier because all of the top 10 backs on this list are going to get hurt and these guys will be the real ones that win you that fantasy title. Nick Chubb and Jonathan Taylor are identical twins: sledgehammer play style, dominant offensive lines, and talented backfield teammates. I flip-flop their ranking pretty consistently, but my latest jam has been to draft Taylor ahead of Chubb because the defenses in the AFC South are much weaker than Ravens/Steelers.
Najee Harris is likely to struggle behind a wilting Pittsburgh offensive line. He's one of the only players I have averaging under 4.0 yards per carry, but it's apparent that he's going to be a volume monster. Already one of the better receiving backs in the league, I'm excited for Najee's future and expect him to develop into a Matt Forte caliber fantasy asset.
If you're still fading James Robinson, whose ADP is somehow still down at RB22, you're just a hater. My man can flat-out ball and he was clearly the best rookie running back last season. Doubters will say Travis Etienne was coming for his job, but anyone who had been paying attention, knew that JRob has clearly been the starting RB this entire time. With Etienne out for an extended period of time, Robinson is capable of another top 7 season as he takes care of business alongside Trevor Lawrence.
Antonio Gibson, D'Andre Swift, David Montgomery, and Chris Carson should all feel like excellent values this year. They're low risk assets, and I prefer to pick up my second RB instead of taking the wide receivers available there (Mike Evans, Cooper Kupp, Julio Jones, etc).
ALL ABOARD THE GUS BUS! Who cares if they add a vet? Whoever the Ravens decide to add is no match for Big Truss Gus. Whoo whoo. My guy has averaged over 5.0 yards per carry every season of his career. He should collect JK Dobbins rushing reps without much of a drop-off in ground productivity.
There's not much separating the backs in this tier, but I do want to make sure I grab at least one of these players. Mike Davis' gargantuan thighs have a shot to hit 300 opportunities. Kenyan Drake and Jalen Richard are likely to sap the upside from Josh Jacobs. Kareem Hunt carries the highest ceiling (in the event of a Nick Chubb injury).
I fully expect Melvin Gordon to lead the backfield in opportunities per game. Javonte Williams will need to develop some more polish before taking over, but I expect Gordon to get injured (already dealing with a groin strain) leaving room for Javonte to step in to do some damage before 2022.
Michael Carter is one of FFA's favorite prospects, but he was a better buy as a sleeper. Carter's current price at RB32 is a bit inflated, there's no reason not to expect a heavy rotation in New York this season, so most of my overall optimism for Carter is built around next season.
I still have Raheem Mostert over Trey Sermon, but it's not by much, especially in PPR. Sermon should lead 49ers RBs in targets. Trey Lance is going to mix into the run game more than people want so this backfield is a bestball group, not a bunch that I'll be targeting in normal formats.
Damien Harris is going to get torpedoed by Rhamondre Stevenson. Neither have the receiving upside needed for a big fantasy impact. If Aaron Jones goes down, AJ Dillon is a monster. If Ezekiel Elliott or D'Andre Swift miss time, then Tony Pollard and Jamaal Williams will be riding high on that 2020 Mike Davis energy. But if Harris or Rhamondre miss time, they've still got two layers of satellite backs to compete with for passing reps.
It's not hard to imagine Giovani Bernard James White-ing the Tampa Bay backfield to oblivion. After all the positive chatter from Bruce Arians, Bernard is one of my favorite draft day dart throws.