Every season there is a breakout player who comes out of nowhere
to be a fantasy darling. From the Rudi Johnsons of yesteryear to
the Phillip Lindsays and Chris Carsons of the past few seasons,
it seems as though almost every season, a player jumps out from
obscurity to lead teams to fantasy playoffs.
In 2020, that honor belonged to James Robinson, an undrafted
rookie from Illinois State who vaulted into the starting running
back for the Jaguars after Leonard Fournette was released. Although
Fournette would get the last laugh and a Super Bowl ring with
the Bucs, Robinson presumably secured the starting job for this
season and beyond with 1400 combined yards and ten total touchdowns.
There is a common adage that fantasy titles are not always won
in the draft - they are won by savvy owners who make the right
free agent moves throughout the season. Robinson was on very few
peopleís radars, with Devine Ozigbo the favorite to replace
Fournette. Those fortunate enough to put a waiver claim on Robinson
and not Ozigbo hit the lottery and likely rode the rookie to the
Who will be that unsung hero who emerges from the fog and leads
your team to victory? Only time will tell. In the meantime, here
are my way too early running back rankings for 2021. Keep in mind
that free agency, the NFL draft, injuries, and roster moves over
the next six months will significantly affect these rankings.
McCaffrey, CAR: 2020 was a rough year for CMC and
his fantasy managers. When he was on the field, he was fantastic,
averaging a league-best 24.4 fantasy points per game. The problem
is he was only on the field for three games and left his managers
in limbo with multiple injuries throughout the season.
Henry, TEN: King Henry proved those volume-naysayers
wrong again with a league-best 2,027 rushing yards on 378 carries.
Yes, I think he will break down eventually, and the volume is
a concern, but the upside is too significant to pass up, and the
Titan offense is built around him. He is a touchdown-scoring machine,
and his consistency is nearly unmatched.
Cook, MIN: I would be just as happy receiving the
third overall pick as the first, as I donít have a huge gap in
my ranking between CMC, King Henry, and Cook. With his first 300-carry
season of his career and a career-best 16 touchdowns, Cook was
a monster running the ball and posted his first season of averaging
5.0 yards per carry. If his receiving numbers jump back up to
what we saw in 2019, he could easily be the RB1 in 2021.
Kamara, NO: Although he finished second in total
points scored behind only King Henry, six of his 16 rushing touchdowns
came against a Minnesota Vikings team that was decimated by injuries
and free agency. Kamara is a stud. But if you take out that monster
53-point game, he was not great down the stretch, and he was not
the same pass-catcher without Brees. With so much of his value
coming in the passing game, I have some worry about his ability
to reached 80 receptions again without Brees under center.
Barkley, NYG: A season-ending knee injury in his
second game of the season ruined what could have been an excellent
year for Barkley. When you consider that Wayne
Gallman scored a rushing touchdown in each game between Week
7 and 12, one would assume Barkley could have matched that at
a minimum. The Giants had a rough start to the season, and Barkley
got injured early against the Bears. Donít sleep on his talent,
especially if the Giants add a big name wide receiver in free
agency and boost up their offensive line.
Taylor, IND: After a dreadfully slow start that included
a game against Detroit with 22 rushing yards on 11 carries, Taylor
exploded down the stretch, with seven rushing touchdowns in his
final four regular-season games. Hopefully, with Taylor showing
what he can do and the retirement of running backs coach Tom Rathman,
Taylor will get a workhorse role for the Colts in 2021.
Elliott, DAL: Many people will be turned off by Zeke
because of his disappointing production last season. The former
Buckeye posted the worst rushing average of his career and managed
just eight total touchdowns. Yes, Zeke did not look good and started
showing signs of slowing down, but keep in mind that before Dak
and three starters on the offensive line went down, Zeke was on
pace for this best year as a pro. If Dak returns along with those
offensive linemen, Zeke could be a massive value.
Jones, GB: This ranking is based on the assumption
that Jones will either return to the Packers or sign with the
Dolphins. If either of those two things happen, he should be ranked
in the top 12 at the position. If he signs with, say, the Jets,
I would not feel as comfortable ranking him this high.
Sanders, PHI: The Eagles were a dumpster fire in
2020 that resulted in Carson
Wentz getting shipped off to the Colts and head coach Doug
Pederson getting fired. The offensive line was dreadful and riddled
with injuries, and the geriatric receiving corps was one of the
worst in the league. Despite this, Sanders averaged 5.3 yards
per carry and scored six touchdowns in 12 games. If the new coaching
staff gives him a workhorse role and Jalen
Hurts continues to excel running the read-option, Sanders
could be in for a strong third season.
Jacobs, LV: If you owned Jacobs last season, you
likely were disappointed with his performance, even though he
technically finished the season as the No.7 RB. Jacobs managed
just two 100-yard rushing games and failed to score a single touchdown
in more than half of his games. To make matters worse, he did
not get much work at all in the passing game.
Akers, LAR: The final spot in my top-12 rankings
came down to a coin flip between J.K.
Dobbins and Akers, with the latter earning the spot based
on recent comments from head coach Sean McVay saying Akers is
a workhorse back. Both are great options, and both could be breakout
candidates this year, but I would lean Akers based on the fact
that Baltimore continues to use multiple backs and Dobbins did
not get more than 15 carries in a game.