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RB3s That Could Finish As RB1s (2021 Fantasy Football)

by Jared Lese | @JaredL_FF | Featured Writer
Mar 4, 2021

We already know that in a standard league (1QB, some form of PPR), RBs are king; the teams with the strongest RB corps usually come out on top, while managers whose RBs underperformed generally underwhelm. However, simply targeting the RB position early in drafts doesn’t necessarily equate to having a robust corps. Every season, some RBs come out of nowhere to return huge upside for managers at negligible costs. In 2018, Steelers RB James Conner, filling in for Le’Veon Bell during his infamous holdout, finished as the RB6 in 0.5 PPR, while James White came in at RB8 due to his immense receiving prowess and touchdown efficiency. In 2019, Austin Ekeler, capitalizing on Melvin Gordon III’s four-game holdout and generally greater utilization – was the RB6. Mark Ingram II, in his first season with the Ravens, finished as the RB8. Last season, David Montgomery won championships with his amazing final five-game (or six if you play Week 17) stretch to finish as the RB4. And we all know about the impressive season from the undrafted rookie, James Robinson, who finished as the RB7.

So as we enter the 2021 season, which RB3s at FantasyPros’ current consensus ranks can return RB1 value? I think managers can capitalize on the market uncertainty of these players, generally getting them for relatively cheap value compared to what may transpire over the coming months.

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Ronald Jones II (TB): RB25
Currently ranked as the RB25, Ronald Jones II offers a ton of upside at such a depreciated cost. I anticipate this ranking reflects analysts’ beliefs that the Buccaneers may re-sign Leonard “Lombardi Lenny” Fournette – who was utilized greatly throughout the playoffs – or Bruce Arians may still refuse to give Jones II a consistent workload. With all RB3s, there are risks; however, we want to target those on elite offenses and/or have a clear path to bell-cow work; Jones II has both. Jones II rushed the ball extremely well last season, ranking as PFF’s sixth-highest graded rusher in the league among 63 qualified RBs with at least 75 carries. Per PFF, he finished seventh in yards per attempt (5.1) and third in yards after contact per attempt (3.7) – one of the better indicators of how much the RB fared “on his own” – only behind Nick Chubb and Derrick Henry. Jones II can be that RB1 league winner with a minor investment to get him if he gets more consistent work or improves his receiving skills.

A.J. Dillon (GB): RB30
The consensus RB30 heading into 2021 drafts, AJ Dillon’s cost may be as cheap as he’ll ever be – or at least until we know whether Aaron Jones (and Jamaal Williams to a lesser extent) re-signs with the Packers. We already know the fantasy upside of the lead back in this system, as Jones finished as the RB4 and RB5 in 0.5 PPR points-per-game among qualified RBs, per FantasyPros, in each of the last two seasons, despite sharing the backfield with Williams. If both Jones and Williams were to leave in free agency, leading to a clear path for touches for Dillon, we can easily project RB2 numbers with RB1 upside. He showed flashes of his elite fantasy upside in the Week 16 snow-bowl this past season against the Titans, rushing 21 times for 124 yards (5.9 YPA) – and a monstrous 4.4 yards after contact per attempt (would have easily led the league last year, beating Chubb’s 4.1) – with two touchdowns. Although we probably shouldn’t expect Dillon to be as effective as a dual-threat runner and receiver like Jones, I think he could easily return low-end RB1 value at his current ADP. This outlook may change greatly in the coming weeks once free agency heats up and we know more about the Packers’ backfield for 2021.

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Zack Moss (BUF): RB31 and Devin Singletary (BUF): RB32
I’ll go a bit outside the box and highlight the two primary RBs in the Bills backfield: Zack Moss (consensus rank RB31) and Devin Singletary (RB32). As I wrote in another article where I dissected the fantasy prospects for the 2021 season of each team in the AFC East, if there was a 70%/30% backfield split in 2020, the lead back in this system would have finished as the RB9 in 0.5 PPR leagues. The problem is, Head Coach Doug McDermott and Offensive Coordinator Brian Daboll employed an extremely pass-heavy approach last season, and even when they did “run the ball,” it was star QB, Josh Allen, leading the way with designed runs and scrambles. Furthermore, neither RB was excellent, generally speaking, when McDermott and Daboll did lean on the running game. Specifically, Moss and Singletary were graded as PFF’s 30th, and 45th ranked RBs, respectively, in 2020 and finished as the 31st and 15th best, respectively, in yards after contact per attempt.

Due to his greater utilization in the receiving game, Singletary would be my bet as the more valuable piece in this backfield, as I assume there’ll continue being a 50/50 split with Allen being the “goal-line back.” However, Moss may actually offer the greater RB1 upside because he showed dual-threat ability with 28 catches for 387 yards in his senior season at Utah – which is presumably a big reason why the Bills selected him in the 3rd round of this past year’s draft -and is much larger than Singletary, allowing him to handle a heavier workload. If Moss is given the reins in 2021, we could definitely see a league winner.

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Jared Lese is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Jared, check out his archive and follow him @JaredL_FF.

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