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Must-Have Running Backs (2021 Fantasy Football)

by Bonnie Robinson | @FantasyQueenB | Featured Writer
Mar 20, 2021

 
In my first article on this topic, I outlined my top early-round running back targets. For this installment, I’m digging a little deeper. These are the must-have backs at their current draft price, factoring in talent and expected workloads.

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Travis Etienne ADP 34 and Najee Harris: ADP 35
If you’re searching for this year’s version of Jonathan Taylor or J.K. Dobbins, look no further than draft prospects Najee Harris and Travis Etienne. Both of them project to make an immediate splash in the league.

Etienne has elite contact balance, exceptional burst, and is a home-run hitter when he gets on the perimeter. To better withstand hits from defenders at the NFL level, he bulked up in the short time since the end of last season. Despite the added weight, he clocked consecutive 4.40 40-yard dash times at Clemson’s Pro Day.

Harris has a size and strength advantage that will translate to the NFL. He has excellent vision and can shake off or run through defenders. With a gigantic catch radius for a running back, he is the equivalent of a passing game cheat code. Speed is his Achilles heel, so it will be interesting to see how he fares at his Pro Day on March 23.

Landing spots will ultimately determine how much the two play their rookie year. As the more prototypical back, Harris is a plug-and-play option at the NFL level, but Etienne is the most dynamic in this class. If you want upside and the obvious names at running back have dried up, both are quality picks in this range.

Kareem Hunt (CLE): ADP 47
Kareem Hunt finished as the RB10 in fantasy despite the timeshare in Cleveland. Nick Chubb did miss four games last season, but this endorsement banks on Hunt’s talent and his nose for the end zone. On 32 total attempts inside the 20, Hunt scored seven touchdowns, four of them coming on six receptions. In comparison, Chubb was more efficient in the red zone, with five scores on fewer attempts. What is notable for Hunt is that inside the 20, Chubb saw 19 fewer opportunities and not a single passing target. This doesn’t mean Chubb isn’t a beast but instead signals Hunt’s value in this backfield, particularly in the passing game.

The variation in Hunt’s stats based on Chubb’s availability is minuscule. Hunt’s average is 13.62 fantasy points per game versus 13.24 when they share the field – less than a half-point differential. As a player who can put up RB1 numbers, Hunt’s a great value at his current ADP of 47. Not to mention he’s one of the best backups in the league.

Raheem Mostert (SF): ADP 80
No one can deny Raheem Mostert’s talent. What has crushed his value is his inability to stay on the field and the 49ers’ running back carousel. It helps that the herd thins out by Tevin Coleman and Jerick McKinnon hitting free agency, leaving mainly Jeff Wilson to contend for snaps on a run-friendly offense. It’s also easy to envision San Francisco squeezing as much as they can out of Mostert this season with just the year left on his contract. At nearly 29-years-old, he’s not a spring chicken but has proven to be a quality RB2 when healthy. That’s the caveat-when healthy. If you’re not risk-averse, Mostert could be a steal in drafts if he sees more touches and is a virtual must-have in Best Balls, where you can absorb the injury-risk.

Jamaal Williams (DET): ADP 133
The Lions are signing Jamaal Williams, formerly of the Packers, to a two-year deal worth $7.5 million. As a poor man’s D’Andre Swift, this is deflating for the fantasy outlooks of both running backs. A genuine dual-threat halfback, Williams should be in the mix on passing downs. He has proven his mettle in this area by catching 25-plus passes in four straight seasons. As Swift’s backup last season, Adrian Peterson finished as the RB40 on 168 touches. If Williams outpaces that, he will yield RB3 numbers. In the event of a Swift injury, Williams could be a league-winner.

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Whether you’re new to fantasy football or a seasoned pro, our Fantasy Football 101: Strategy Tips & Advice page is for you. You can get started with Starting Your Own Fantasy Football League or head to more advanced strategy – like What is the Right Amount of Risk to Absorb on Draft Day? – to learn more.

Bonnie Robinson is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Bonnie, follow her @FantasyQueenB.

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