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Running Backs to Avoid (2021 Fantasy Football)

by Zachary Hanshew | @ZaktheMonster | Featured Writer
May 15, 2021

It’s only May, but I’m already looking ahead to my 2021 fantasy drafts, and that means taking an earnest look at everyone’s favorite position – running back. I’ve got a short list of guys I’ll make it a point to draft, but I also know who I don’t want. Based on increased competition in the backfield, poor team situation, or overinflated value relative to potential production, here are six running backs to avoid.

Check out our Consensus Dynasty Rankings here >>

David Montgomery (CHI)
Montgomery’s huge 2021 season was propped up by a tremendous string of games to close out the season and the absence of Tarik Cohen. In his second season, Monty saw a huge uptick in the passing game and ended the year as fantasy’s RB2 from Weeks 11 to 17 thanks to highly favorable matchups. Chicago gets another favorable end-of-season draw in 2021, but Montgomery won’t be the only back in town for this run. The team signed Damien Williams in the offseason for depth, and Tarik Cohen should be fully healthy to start the season. With Cohen healthy in 2019, Monty piled up 25 receptions on 35 targets compared to 79 receptions on 104 targets for Cohen. Monty’s jump in targets and receptions (54 on 68 targets in 2020) is no surprise and not a trend I expect to continue. Right now, Cohen is ranked as a value (RB48) while Montgomery is still a back-end RB2 (RB20).

Josh Jacobs (LV)
I’ve already written so many disparaging comments about Jacobs for FantasyPros, and we’re only midway through May. I can’t help it. The new competition between him and Kenyan Drake throws a wrench into Jacobs’ outlook moving forward, and I’m especially out on him with his ranking as RB19. Jacobs has put up some big numbers through his first two NFL seasons, but his fantasy value was buoyed by double-digit touchdowns and increased work as a receiver. Drake will diminish his value in both areas, and Las Vegas has one of the most difficult schedules for running backs this season. Drake is currently ranked RB31 compared to RB19 for Jacobs. That’s a whole round difference in draft capital, and that matters a lot.

Raheem Mostert (SF)
Despite sprinting to the two fastest recorded speeds among NFL players last season per Next Gen Stats, Mostert could find himself stuck at the starting block in 2021. After another injury-hampered campaign, Mostert lost some ground to the electric Jeff Wilson, who made some noise over the last two games of the season. The Niners also invested a third round pick into Trey Sermon, the talented back out of Ohio State. San Francisco’s backfield is seemingly always crowded and always injured, so taking a chance on Mostert all the way up at RB28 just seems ludicrous. Mostert is a fine back to have on your fantasy team if you can get him for a song. In this case, the prices of Wilson (RB50) and Sermon (RB54) are far more attractive.

Chase Edmonds (ARI)
In a backfield that may form a mostly even timeshare, I’m always more intrigued by the back that costs less to draft. Edmonds’ ECR is RB32, just a few spots higher than James Conner‘s RB36. I’d rather take Conner at his current price and hope for the best, but in all honesty, I’m not into either of these guys. Edmonds’ “breakout” 2020 (850 scrimmage yards, five total touchdowns, 53 receptions) was overshadowed by his affect on Kenyan Drake’s value, and the timeshare storyline will once again pervade fantasy discussion centered around the Cardinals. The team had a year of Edmonds in a more featured role and opted to sign Conner, who should be more of a 1a or 1b rather than a backup. There’s no telling how this timeshare will break down, but I’m not overspending for Edmonds.

Melvin Gordon (DEN)
Gordon is coming off a strong season with the Broncos, but his production wasn’t nearly as strong as his prime years with the Chargers. The team let Phillip Lindsay walk in free agency but turned around and spent a high second-round pick on Javonte Williams. Lindsay missed five games last season, but he logged just over 11 touches per game when healthy compared to Gordon’s 16. Williams can certainly push for a similar workload and even more if he has a good training camp. Denver has the second easiest schedule for running backs in 2021, and though Gordon will still maintain some value this year, I’m not sure enough of his workload to take him at RB23 where he’s currently ranked. I’d much rather take a chance on Williams, currently ranked as RB38. In the final year of his contract with Denver and given the draft capital used to select Williams, Gordon’s usage seems far from secure.

David Johnson (HOU)
Johnson’s days as a prized fantasy pick are long behind him. In his first season with Houston as the only quality back available, he logged just 15 touches per game, missed four contests, and just barely eked out 1,000 scrimmage yards. To show their confidence in him, Houston signed Phillip Lindsay and Mark Ingram in the offseason. This backfield is much too crowded for my liking, and to make matters worse, the Texans’ quarterback situation is up in the air, and the offensive line still stinks. Johnson is a hard pass. I want nothing to do with him on any of my fantasy football teams this year.

Check out our Consensus Dynasty Rankings here >>

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Zachary Hanshew is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Zachary, check out his archive and follow him @zakthemonster.