Top-12 Free-Agent Running Backs (2021 Fantasy Football)
It’s a new year, and with it comes a new class of free agents. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be breaking down the top free agents at multiple positions, beginning with everyone’s favorite – the RB. There are quite a few excellent options who will be hitting the open market, and where they land will have a significant impact on the fantasy landscape for years to come.
Here are my top-12 free agent running backs of 2021:
1. Aaron Jones (GB)
After another big season for Green Bay, Jones is poised to hit the open market as one of the NFL’s best available free agents at the position. Jones has piled up at least 1,000 rushing yards, 40 receptions, and double-digit touchdowns in consecutive seasons. He’s likely due for a big payday somewhere other than Green Bay, and it’s tough to envision a situation where he doesn’t open 2021 ranked as an RB1.
2. Chris Carson (SEA)
Carson missed out on a third straight 1,000-yard rushing season as injuries kept him off the field for five games and Russell Wilson aired the ball out a bit more than usual. When in the game, Carson logged six carries fewer per game than he did over his last two seasons, but he was still impressive with a 4.9 yards per carry average (the best of his career), and continued strides as a receiver. He’s a hard runner with a nose for the end zone (27 total touchdowns across his last three seasons), and he can be an RB1 wherever he signs.
3. Kenyan Drake (ARI)
Drake wasn’t the same dynamo we saw to conclude the 2019 campaign, but he was still plenty productive in his first full season with Arizona. He posted double-digit touchdowns for the first time in his career and went for over 1,000 scrimmage yard for third straight season. His work in the receiving game was disappointing, after he caught at least 50 balls in two straight, and Chase Edmonds capped Drake’s upside throughout the season. If Drake re-signs with the Cardinals, he should be an RB2 for the 2021 season, but a more prominent role on offense could boost his value if he signs elsewhere.
4. Leonard Fournette (TB)
Expectations were sky-high for Fournette when he signed with Tampa Bay, but he took a backseat to Ronald Jones in his first season as a Buccaneer. Fournette’s 600-yard season will probably ding his fantasy value in 2021 drafts, but he’s just 25 years old and has rushed for over 1,000 yards in two of his four seasons in the league. There’s a path to top-15 value in his future, but it’s likely outside of Tampa Bay.
5. Phillip Lindsay (DEN) (RFA)
Lindsay’s luster may have been dulled this season sharing work with Melvin Gordon, but his production as Denver’s lead back can’t be ignored. In his first two seasons, Lindsay rushed for 2,048 yards, caught 70 passes, and scored 17 times. If given the reigns of a team’s backfield, he could return easy top-25 fantasy value. Keep an eye on where he lands this offseason.
6. Marlon Mack (IND)
Mack averaged almost exactly 1,000 yards rushing from 2018-2019, playing behind the Colts’ elite offensive line. He suffered a torn Achilles in the first game of 2020 and was forced to miss the rest of the season. Mack coud look for another team in 2021, especially after Jonathan Taylor‘s big rookie year has surely cemented him as Indy’s lead back.
7. James Conner (PIT)
He’s been super productive when on the field, but actually staying on the field has been an issue. Conner has missed at least eight games across the last two seasons, but in 35 appearances across his last three campaigns, the Pittsburgh product has averaged 87.4 scrimmage yards and scored 26 total touchdowns along the way. He’s got the talent to produce top-12 value wherever he signs, but health will be an obvious concern no matter where that is.
8. Jeff Wilson (SF) (RFA)
Wilson was yet another SF running back who succumbed to injuries in 2020, and he appeared in just 12 games. He had several big performances and made the most of his opportunities, finishing with career-best stats across the board. Wilson capped off the year in style, totaling 204 scrimmage yards and a touchdown in Week 16 and 88 scrimmage yards and two touchdowns in Week 17. There’s real potential for fantasy-relevant production next season if he lands in the right situation.
9. Gus Edwards (BAL) (RFA)
Edwards went for a third straight 700-yard rushing season to open his career, and while Baltimore’s run-heavy scheme has likely contributed to his success, Edwards has been efficient with less than 150 carries in any season of his career thus far. He piled up career highs in carries, rushing yards, scrimmage yards, and touchdowns, and he should have no problem finding a new home in 2021 if he chooses not to return to Baltimore. Edwards’ lack of involvement as a receiver should concern fantasy managers, but where he signs will play a big part in his 2021 outlook.
10. Jamaal Williams (GB)
Williams played second fiddle to Aaron Jones again, but he still made some noise as a change-of-pace back, going for over 700 scrimmage yards and three total scores for the third time in his four-year career. The emergence of AJ Dillon in Week 16 should mean that Williams won’t be the lead back in 2021, even if Aaron Jones heads out the door.
11. Mike Davis (CAR)
Davis was the fantasy community’s waiver wire darling in 2020, guiding plenty of Christian McCaffrey managers through the season with over 1,000 scrimmage yards, eight touchdowns, and the third-most receptions among RBs. Excluding Week 17, Mike D was the RB12 in an unusual season, and he should be able to find a new home thanks to his abilities as a receiver out of the backfield. Those abilities should keep him on the fantasy map wherever he signs in 2021.
12. Wayne Gallman (NYG) (RFA)
Gallman excelled in a starting role with the G-Men in 2020, producing the best season of his career. From Weeks 8-16, Gallman was the RB12, showing what he could do with an expanded role. Saquon Barkley‘s 2021 return will relegate Gallman back to the bench, and he could be looking for a bigger role with a new team in free agency.
If you want to dive deeper into fantasy football, be sure to check out our award-winning slate of Fantasy Football Tools as you navigate your season. From our Start/Sit Assistant – which provides your optimal lineup, based on accurate consensus projections – to our Waiver Wire Assistant – which allows you to quickly see which available players will improve your team, and by how much – we’ve got you covered this fantasy football season.