Must-Have Running Backs (2021 Fantasy Football)
The NFL Draft is behind us, and it’s time to set our sights on the upcoming season. Every year, there are players who, for one reason or another, stand out amongst their peers. This may be because those players are undervalued due to an injury or poor performance. Maybe there’s perceived competition for touches, or maybe those players have recently burned fantasy managers but are due for a bounce-back. Maybe those players’ situations have gotten a whole lot better. Whatever the case, there are always guys who find their way onto the “must have” list because of the price. Here are a few, based on our expert consensus rankings.
Nick Chubb (CLE): ECR RB7
This dude is so underrated it’s not even funny. Chubb missed four games last season and still finished the year as one of just eight running backs to eclipse 1,000 yards on the ground. Of those backs, he was the only one to do so with less than 200 carries. He finished with a career-high 5.6 yards per carry and ran for at least 5.0 yards per carry for the third consecutive season. He also scored a career-best 12 touchdowns in the process. Chubb has averaged 1,378 total yards and 10 total touchdowns in three NFL seasons, and he remains a focal point of the Cleveland offense. The Browns’ newfound success in 2020 stemmed from a run-heavy approach, and Kevin Stefanski isn’t likely to rock the boat in 2021. A full, healthy season could easily put Chubb in the top-5 conversation at his position, and taking him at RB7 comes with a high floor, high ceiling, and a reasonable cost. He’s the absolute definition of a “must-have.”
Ezekiel Elliott (DAL): ECR RB8
Never has an elite player fallen farther from grace than Ezekiel Elliott, as he took fantasy managers through the gauntlet of emotions in 2020 with his rocky campaign. Drafted on average as a top-3 to top-5 back, he finished as the RB11 behind the likes of James Robinson, Jonathan Taylor, and David Montgomery, who required far less draft capital to acquire. Despite the tumultuous season, he found a way to provide RB1 numbers thanks to involvement in the receiving game and a continued feature role in the run game. There are obvious risks associated with drafting Zeke in 2021, but he’s got overall RB1 upside with a healthy Dak Prescott and an upgraded defense that should provide more positive gamescripts.
Austin Ekeler (LAC): ECR RB16
Last season was a big disappointment for Ekeler managers, as he played in just 10 games and finished the year as the RB29. Still, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic after the down year. In those 10 appearances, Ekeler racked up 5.4 receptions and 93.3 scrimmage yards per game, not far off his 5.8 receptions and 96.9 scrimmage yards from the season prior. His touchdowns fell from 11 to three, but if he can find similar success from a production standpoint and find positive touchdown regression, Ekeler can easily outperform his current ECR.
Myles Gaskin (MIA): ECR RB25
One of the biggest winners of the NFL Draft was Gaskin, as Miami opted not to draft a running back until the seventh round. Gaskin broke out in 2020, piling up nearly 1,000 scrimmage yards in just 10 games. He far exceeded expectations by surpassing Matt Breida and Jordan Howard on the depth chart from the jump. If not for an early exit due to injury, he could have finished the year in even more impressive fashion. Gaskin has little competition for carries in Miami’s backfield, and he if he’s fully healthy, he should be a no-brainer to outperform his current ECR ranking.
Damien Harris (NE): ECR RB26
According to Next Gen Stats, Harris faced eight men in the box on 39.42% of his attempts in 2020 – third most in the NFL. Could that have been due to New England’s putrid passing offense by chance? The Pats were one of three teams to throw for less than 3,000 yards last season (run-heavy Ravens, laughable Jets), but that could change in 2021. The additions of Kendrick Bourne, Nelson Agholor, Jonnu Smith, and Hunter Henry and a healthy Cam Newton are great signs that New England’s passing attack can improve this season. If that’s the case, Harris should find some running room. Sony Michel did not have his fifth-year option picked up, and the Patriots drafted Rhamondre Stevenson in this year’s draft. Michel’s days are drawing to a close for the team that drafted him, and Harris should be in for a featured backfield role.
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 – that 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.