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Top 60 Running Backs for 2021 Fantasy Football

Ranking the top 60 running backs for 2021 fantasy football.

It’s Running Back Week here at NerdBall! From studs to starters, murky backfields to pure handcuffs, these are the top-60 running backs of the 2021 NFL season.

Known names like Christian McCaffrey and Nick Chubb dominate the top end but savvy drafters can still find value from the depths of the position. Young rushers like A.J. Dillon and Darrell Henderson would be in for monstrous workloads should either of their team’s expected starters miss time.

I’ve also compared my rankings to our staff consensus rankings and FF Calculator’s current RB ADP.

Top 60 Running Backs for 2021 Fantasy Football
RankPlayerTeamvs NerdBallvs FF Calc
1Christian McCaffreyCAR00
2Derrick HenryTEN0↑ 1
3Ezekiel ElliottDAL↑ 1↑ 3
4Austin EkelerLAC↑ 6↑ 6
5Nick ChubbCLE↑ 1↑ 2
6Saquon BarkleyNYG↓ 1↓ 1
7Alvin KamaraNO↓ 4↓ 3
8Jonathan TaylorIND↑ 10
9Dalvin CookMIN↓ 2↓ 7
10Aaron JonesGB↓ 2↓ 1
11Cam AkersLAR↑ 30
12Clyde Edwards-HelaireKC↓ 1↑ 2
13Joe MixonCIN00
14Antonio GibsonWAS↓ 2↓ 2
15Chris CarsonSEA↑ 1↑ 4
16Mike DavisATL↑ 4↑ 9
17Najee HarrisPIT↓ 2↓ 2
18Miles SandersPHI↑ 3↑ 3
19Trey SermonSF↑ 8↑ 26
20Kareem HuntCLE↑ 3↑ 4
21Raheem MostertSF↑ 10↑ 5
22David MontgomeryCHI↓ 3↓ 2
23J.K. DobbinsBAL↓ 5↓ 7
24D'Andre SwiftDET↓ 2↓ 6
25Josh JacobsLV↓ 8↓ 8
26Michael CarterNYJ↑ 2↑ 16
27James RobinsonJAX↓ 3↓ 5
28Myles GaskinMIA↓ 2↓ 5
29Gus EdwardsBAL↑ 1↑ 10
30Travis EtienneJAX↑ 2↓ 2
31Damien HarrisNE↓ 20
32Melvin Gordon IIIDEN↓ 8↓ 3
33Javonte WilliamsDEN↑ 1↓ 3
34Zack MossBUF↑ 4↑ 3
35Jamaal WilliamsDET↑ 5↑ 9
36Nyheim HinesIND↓ 3↑ 11
37Giovani BernardTB0↑ 19
38Chase EdmondsARI↓ 3↓ 11
39Latavius MurrayNO↑ 5↑ 11
40Leonard FournetteTB↑ 3↓ 7
41Kenyan DrakeLV0↓ 3
42Ty JohnsonNYJ
43Salvon AhmedMIA↑ 20
44Alexander MattisonMIN↑ 5
45Tony PollardDAL↓ 3↓ 4
46Javian HawkinsATL↑ 21
47David JohnsonHOU↓ 8↓ 13
48James ConnerARI↓ 12↓ 13
49Devin SingletaryBUF↓ 2↓ 9
50A.J. DillonGB↓ 2↓ 14
51Ronald Jones IITB↓ 5↓ 19
52Darrell HendersonLAR↓ 7↓ 4
53J.D. McKissicWAS↓ 7
54Sony MichelNE↓ 12
55Samaje PerineCIN
56Kenneth GainwellPHI↑ 3
57Phillip LindsayHOU↓ 14
58Jeff WilsonSF↓ 6
59Gerrid DoaksMIA
60Darrel WilliamsKC↑ 9

I’ve pulled out five backs where my rankings are currently different to the fantasy consensus found at FF Calculator, and have done more of a deep dive to explain why I’ve ranked them where I have.

Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, Cleveland Browns (My Rank RB3/RB20, Consensus RB7/RB24)

As chronicled here by the inimitable Dwain McFarland, Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt have etched-in-stone roles: Chubb has a high-volume rusher with a few targets sprinkled on top, Hunt as the passing game dynamo yet still receiving 34% of the teams’ rushing attempts. Both see plenty of opportunities inside the opponent’s five-yard line to boot.

The key to a fantasy-friendly two-back backfield though is overall touch volume, and this duo should see plenty. We can safely expect Cleveland to rely heavily on their running backs this year as projects them to face the second-softest overall strength of schedule this year. The slate is highlighted by a slough of mediocre passing offenses and the worst expected group of rushing offenses, indicating a consistent inability to push the pace from the Browns’ 2021 opposition. The smattering of defenses expected to slow the Chubb-Hunt 1-2 punch? A compilation of the fourth least efficient run defenses this league has to offer. Draft Chubb (1.07, RB7) and Hunt (4.09, RB24) confidently at their respective ADPs.

Trey Sermon and Raheem Mostert, San Francisco 49ers (My Rank RB19/RB21, Consensus RB45/RB26)

Over the last four year, Kyle Shanahan’s 49ers have had five different running backs record 140 or more combined carries and targets in a single season, with Matt Breida repeating the feat in 2017 and 2018. Their 26% running back target rate on first-half early-downs even ranks third in the league during that span. It’s safe to say the running back position, whether through the air or on the ground, is the focal point of San Francisco’s offensive scheme. Although injuries have plagued the talented Raheem Mostert, his depressed 5.03, RB26 ADP allows drafters to safely select him in the RB2/flex territory. Stud rookie Trey Sermon—the preferred back of film guru Matt Waldman in this year’s draft class—can be had even later, circa the Round 9/10 turn. Both Mostert and Sermon carry rock-solid floors with week-winning upside.

Jamaal Williams, Detroit Lions ( My Rank RB35, Consensus RB44)

Lions’ offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn made waves in late May when he called free agent signee, running back Jamaal Williams, an “A back” but rather than focusing on the Williams’ side of things, the fantasy world went bananas over the 2021 implications for the previously presumed bellcow, D’Andre Swift. If Lynn’s time in Los Angeles where he served as head coach and offensive mAsTeRmInD tells us anything, it’s that the man loves a two-back backfield.

During the three-year stint streak that epitomized the A-Back/B-Back scheme, both Melvin Gordon (A-Back) and Austin Ekeler (B-Back) operated as dual threats out of the backfield, with Gordon doing more of the run game dirty work and Ekeler specializing as a pass catcher. It’s important to note though that both men saw heavy helpings of both carries and targets though. Fast forward to 2021, with Williams declared the “A”, we can infer that Swift gets the “B”. If both Williams and Swift are going to see featured rolls in Detroit this year, taking Williams at his 9.08, RB44 ADP is far more desirable than taking Swift at his undeserved 3.05, RB18 spot.

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