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2021 Fantasy Running Backs Tiers

Which running backs should you take in fantasy football this year? Last time it was the quarterbacks this week its the running back fantasy tiers.



Fantasy Football RB Rankings

The running back group as a whole is pretty thin this season. It is top-heavy and drops off fast. Due to this, the running back spot is one of the most important spots on your roster. Do not be surprised if running backs go early and often in your fantasy drafts. Grabbing at least one stud early in your draft is smart. You do not want to get stuck starting two mediocre backs the entire season.

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Tier 1 – Uber Elite

  • Christian McCaffrey – Carolina Panthers
  • Dalvin Cook – Minnesota Vikings
  • Alvin Kamara – New Orleans Saints

These three backs, are about as close to a sure thing at running back that you are going to get. McCaffrey is the focal point of the Panthers offseason and had over 1,000 yards, both rushing and receiving, in 2019. Yes, he was hurt for most of last season, but all signs indicate that he is fully healthy and ready to roll. ‘

Kamara fits into this tier because there really is not much else right now in New Orleans. Michael Thomas is hurt, their starting tight end from last season is gone, and with a big question mark at quarterback, Sean Payton will look to rely heavily on his best offensive weapon.

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Tier 2 – Elite

  • Saquon Barkley – New York Giants
  • Derrick Henry – Tennessee Titans
  • Zeke Elliott – Dallas Cowboys
  • Nick Chubb – Cleveland Browns

All four of these running backs have a case to be in tier one. Realistically, this could of been Tier 1B, but each one of these backs have some sort of issue hanging over their heads, potentially limiting their fantasy production.

Barkley is coming off an ACL injury and may not be ready for week one. Henry, no doubt, is an absolute beast who will score close to every game but is usually irrelevant in the passing game. Chubb, like Henry, is a beast. I think Chubb will end up leading the league in rushing yards. However, he does share the backfield with Kareem Hunt, who can steal carries and catches, hurting his PPR value.

That leaves Zeke, who in my opinion is on a top 5 offense. So why is he in tier 2? Well, we need to see if Dak is healthy. If Dak is in pre-injury form, and he has that passing game rolling, then Zeke will eat!

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Tier 3 – Oh So Close to Elite

  • Jonathan Taylor – Indianapolis Colts
  • Antonio Gibson – Washington Football Team
  • Austin Ekeler – Los Angeles Chargers
  • Aaron Jones – Green Bay Packers
  • Najee Harris – Pittsburgh Steelers
  • Joe Mixon – Cincinnati Bengals

Despite being Tier 3, I would be ok if any of the players in this group was my RB 1. Anyone of these back is capable of putting up huge numbers

If it was not for injuries to Carson Wentz and the offensive line in Indy, Jonathan Taylor would be much higher. However, with his best run blocking offensive linemen hurt, and Wentz down, the defense will stack the box and key in on Taylor.

Ekeler and Gibson are the two in this group that I think can win a team fantasy gold. Both of these backs catch a ton of balls, are super explosive and will get plenty of touches inside the red zone. Do not shy away from these two.

Harris is the last guy I want to touch on here. Harris was super productive at Alabama and was drafted into an ideal spot in Pittsburgh. There is little to no competition in the backfield for Harris. Mike Tomlin has publicly said that they plan to give Harris all that he can handle. His volume alone will make him a fantasy asset. Do not let the fact that he is a rookie scare you away. He is the real deal with elite speed, tackle-breaking ability, and a threat in the passing game.

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Tier 4 – The Future Is Bright

  • D’Andre Swift – Detroit Lions
  • Clyde Edwards-Helaire – Kansas City Chiefs
  • J.K. Dobbins – Baltimore Ravens

These second-year backs all have the chance to be successful this season in the fantasy realm. Swift, despite being in Detroit, should see a lot of touches. Like Kamara in New Orleans, there is not much in Detroit outside of TJ Hockenson, making Swift the main focus of the offense.

Dobbins worries me a little bit. He has a run first quarterback in Lamar Jackson and a productive running back behind him in the Gus Bus, Gus Edwards. Between Edwards and Jackson, the goal line touches may not be there for Dobbins.

CEH is the one I would target out of these three. He is in an elite offense. Last season, before the Chiefs signed Le’Veon Bell, CEH was actually third in the NFL in overall touches. Now in his second season, the Chiefs showed they trusted him even more by not bringing in any competition for him.

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Tier 5 – Your Steady RB 2

  • David Montgomery – Chicago Bears
  • Miles Sanders – Philadelphia Eagles
  • Darrell Henderson – Los Angeles Rams
  • Chris Carson – Seattle Seahawks
  • Kareem Hunt – Cleveland Browns
  • Josh Jacobs – Las Vegas Raiders
  • JaVonte Williams – Denver Broncos
  • Trey Sermon – San Francisco 49ers
  • Melvin Gordon – Denver Broncos
  • Travis Etienne – Jacksonville Jaguars
  • James Robinson – Jacksonville Jaguars

There is a lot going on in this group. Sanders, Montgomery, Carson and Henderson are the safest in this group. All four face little competition and should see the lions share of the carries. They also bring some upside in the passing game, making them higher end RB2s.

The rookies in this group all come with intrigue. Etienne is so explosive. A true threat to take to it to the house on every touch. He has a history with Trevor Lawerence, both playing at Clemson, so he could become a favorite target of his early. The knock is, James Robinson is still there and should vulture the goal line carries.

Both Williams and Sermon have the chops to be fantasy productive. Both are in very run-friendly, run-heavy offenses. They also both face the challenge of having vets in front of them. By mid-season, if not earlier, both Sermon and Williams should be the go-to guys of their respective backfields, with their talents winning out. I feel comfortable taking either and sitting them on my bench until they win the job. They are 100% both worth the wait.

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Tier 6 – RB 2 Potential

  • Myles Gaskin – Miami Dolphins
  • Mike Davis – Atlanta Falcons
  • Zack Moss – Buffalo Bills
  • Devin Singletary – Buffalo Bills
  • Chase Edmonds – Arizona Cardinals
  • Michael Carter – New York Jets
  • Raheem Mosert – San Francisco 49ers

Mike Davis is the lone wolf of this group that is almost guaranteed the majority of touches. He really showed his potential, filling in for CMC last season in Carolina. If he flashes that upside again, he could be a steal at his current ADP (average draft position).

Everyone else in this tier has upside, and brings potential to the table. It really just comes down to personal opinion. Grab a guy you like, trust your gut, and run with it. Heck, grab two of these guys, stash them on your bench and hope one pops off.

Unless you are a zero running back truther in which you wait till the later rounds to take a running back, grab at least one early. With the overall group thin and the elite few and far between, it is a good strategy to start your team off with at least one stud at the spot. Take one early, and then say in round three or four, take another, unless, of course, another stud falls to you in round two. If that is the case, start RB/RB and don’t worry about the position until later in the draft. At the end of the day, feel out the draft, take who you want to root for, and have fun with your fantasy draft.