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Running Backs to Avoid in 2021 Fantasy Football

The staff lets you know which running backs you should be avoiding this year in fantasy football.

As we close out RB Week, here are the running backs our staff is avoiding this year in fantasy football (ADP via FF Calculator).

Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings (Clark)

ADP: RB3, 1.03

Dalvin Cook is my RB10, and so he’ll just not end up on any of my teams.

The arguments for Cook are exceptionally solid in 2021. While Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak has retired, Clint Kubiak will take over. Clint is expected, largely, to continue running the inside/outside zone rushing and play action scheme made famous by Mike Shanahan and Gary Kubiak.

The negative here, really the only negative at all is injury concern. Dr. Edwin Porras tweeted:

Objectively speaking: without surgery Cook’s left shoulder has a 50% chance of re-dislocating. His right one about 25%. With each re-injury, more damage is done. With more damage done, the more likely surgery is. Surgery to repair either side is a 9 month layoff.

That tweet was written on June 8th, 2020, a year before Dalvin Cook both put up career numbers and re-injured his shoulder. 

I will not spend any energy talking someone out of drafting Dalvin Cook at the 1.02, but the compounding nature of his injury history makes him too risky for me at current cost.

Najee Harris, Pittsburgh Steelers (Paddi)

ADP: RB14, 2.06

This is a case of loving the player but not loving the situation. It’s all about the completely overhauled offensive line and the impact that will have on Harris’ production as a rookie. The old offensive line was one of the worst run blocking squads in the league last year (per PFF), and their performance was a major factor in the Steelers’ poor run game numbers, which I had ranked dead last in the NFL per my NEFF ratings.

Looking ahead and the new line the Steelers have put together, I just can’t bank on Harris’ talent overcoming the potential issues of all those moving parts. I have a fourth round grade on Harris for 2020 so I’m comfortable accepting that he will not be on any of my redraft teams in 2020.

J.K. Dobbins, Baltimore Ravens (Nic)

ADP: RB15, 2.11

The case against J.K. Dobbins is relatively simple. Although he’s the lead back in Baltimore’s potent rushing attack, he’s unlikely to see serious work in the passing game and does not have a clear path to monopolizing the red zone rushing work.

One might be intrigued by the Ravens’ lopsided first-half early-down Run:Pass ratio (54%:46% in 2020, the third-highest run rate in the league per Sharp Football), Dobbins’ role might be limited to 15-ish weekly carries between the 20s. Just 20% of the team’s first-half early-down pass attempts were sent to the running back group last year, 10th lowest in the league. Making matters worse, Dobbins’ 29 red zone rushing attempts led Lamar Jackson (28) and Gus Edwards (26) by the thinnest of margins. The Ravens’ overall ability to move the ball may lead to a high-floor rushing yard season from Dobbins but with those two usage limitations firmly in place, the second-year back looks to have a weekly ceiling of just 10-12 points.

Josh Jacobs, Las Vegas Raiders (Pete)

ADP: RB16, 3.04

I’m not really going out on a limb here as clearly the rest of the fantasy community is low on Jacobs this year given his depressed ADP. After all, Jacobs is coming off a season in which he finished the RB8 in .5PPR. Still, there’s a lot to be worried about his situation for 2021.

First off, the Raiders pillaged their offensive line this offseason. They traded veteran center Rodney Hudson to the Arizona Cardinals, guard Gabe Jackson to the Seattle Seahawks, and tackle Trent Brown back to the New England Patriots. All told they are returning just two starters from last year. Continuity is king when it comes to O-lines success and the Raiders don’t have any of it.

Jacobs famously also has incredible win/loss splits. In games the Raiders win, Jacobs averages 22 carries for 95 yards and 1.3 touchdowns. In losses, Jacobs averages 15 carries for 64 yards and 0.1 touchdowns. Yes, Jacobs has only scored two touchdowns in his career in games Las Vegas lost. With the Raiders boasting the third-hardest schedule per Sharp Football, we might be in store for a lot more bad Josh Jacobs than good Josh Jacobs.