RB3s with RB1 Potential (2021 Fantasy Football)
The running back position in fantasy football is headed by studs like Christian McCaffrey, Dalvin Cook, and Saquon Barkley. Along with taking the elite options at running back, finding running backs who may not have a definitive starter role that can produce at a high level can be the difference between having bragging rights over your league mates or not.
With the busiest portion of free agency behind us, we now have a better – not complete – grasp of what teams are doing at the running back position. The 2021 NFL Draft is later this month, and the outlook on certain players can be altered drastically. Until the draft causes me to question everything I thought I knew, these are some RB3s that have the potential to finish as an RB1 in 2021. Since it wouldn’t help anyone, I avoided listing rookie running backs as they will inevitably see their values amended once the draft concludes.
Damien Harris (NE)
Last offseason, one of my favorite late-round running backs to target in fantasy football was Damien Harris of the New England Patriots. Harris was entering his second season with the Patriots and was given a chance to prove that he could be the long-term starter – and he did just that. Following an early-season injury to Sony Michel, Harris would start in 10 games, rushing for 691 yards and two touchdowns in that span.
The Alabama product would produce a broken tackle every 11.4 rushing attempts, which was the 13th most among running backs in 2020. While Harris showed that he was a more explosive option on the ground than Michel, his lack of receiving work is one of the only things preventing him from being a popular commodity in fantasy football. In an offense that didn’t throw the ball often, Harris ran only 44 routes and caught five passes last season.
The Patriots brought back James White, and Michel is still a member of the organization as he enters the final year of his rookie contract. White will probably limit Harris’ ceiling as a receiver again, but the majority of the rushing work should be given to Harris. Also, with the offensive additions of Jonnu Smith, Hunter Henry, Nelson Agholor, and Kendrick Bourne, Harris should see fewer stacked boxes (saw eight or more defenders in the box on 42.3 percent of his carries in 2020, which was second-most in the league). The third-year back has a prime opportunity to seize the starting role in New England’s backfield entering the 2021 campaign.
Jeff Wilson (SF)
Kyle Shanahan has proven that he’s content with using everyone available in his running back room since becoming the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers. Amid the injuries to Raheem Mostert and Tevin Coleman, along with the trade of Matt Breida, Jeff Wilson saw an expanded role with the 49ers in 2020.
Wilson saw a team-high 126 carries in 2020 as he turned those carries into 600 rushing yards and seven rushing touchdowns. After dealing with an injury himself, the undrafted North Texas alumn finished the regular season strong, concluding Weeks 12-17 with 13.2 fantasy points per game (16th most among running backs in that span).
Some would agree that Wilson should be the starting running back for San Francisco in Week 1 over Mostert, regardless of who is under center. And if Wilson sees more passing-down work for the 49ers next season (produced a mere 7.4 percent target share in 2020), there aren’t many running backs in the later rounds you can take that have higher upsides than Wilson does.
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