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4 Running Backs Expected to Receive Fewer Carries (2021 Fantasy Football)

Jun 22, 2021

Last week, I examined four NFL running backs set to GAIN carries in 2021. The opposite is true of the four running backs below. With the new season on the horizon, backfields have shifted negatively for some 2020 fantasy-relevant rushers. Tempering expectations for these ball carriers is a must, and investing your fantasy draft picks in the volume risers is wiser than these players who are headed in the wrong direction.

FantasyPros Expert Consensus Rankings and Average Draft Positions are as of June 20, 2021. 

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James Robinson (RB – JAX) ECR 78 | ADP 43

JAX 240 178 62

James Robinson was a 2020 fantasy football MVP candidate. Undrafted in most leagues, Robinson finished as the RB6 in half-PPR fantasy points per game at 16.1 points. He dominated the carries in Jacksonville, securing 71% of the total volume (240 of 337 attempts) in just 14 games.

Now, the competition for handoffs has drastically increased, with the Jaguars investing a first-round selection in Clemson running back Travis Etienne. Etienne arrives as a familiar face to fellow rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence, too, which has led most fantasy analysts to ascribe the majority of backfield playing time to the first-year tailback. Even Robinson’s staunchest supporters cannot deny Etienne’s presence will reduce his 2020 carry total in 2021. The real question is if he can produce enough in his diminished role to warrant consideration at FLEX.

Josh Jacobs (RB – LV) ECR 41 | ADP 24

LV 273 253 20

As a team, Las Vegas rushed the ball 29 times per game in 2020, besting the league average by about two per contest. Josh Jacobs commanded 18 of those rushes per week. Derrick Henry and Dalvin Cook were the only two running backs to carry the rock more often than the young Raider.

Yet Jacobs underperformed between the 20s, averaging only 3.9 YPC. However, he got the job done around the goal line — he scored 12 touchdowns on the ground for the silver and black. Now, coming off his own 239-carry season, Kenyan Drake reports to camp as a second option for Greg Olson and Jon Gruden. Devontae Booker was the only Las Vegas running back to garner more than 25 carries besides Jacobs last year, snagging 93 opportunities from the starter. The simple existence of a minimally successful NFL running back in Drake will mean more in-game rest for Jacobs in 2021. It isn’t a timeshare in Sin City, but projecting Jacobs for another high-volume campaign is a bad bet.

Less Obvious Candidates for Fewer Carries in 2021

Jacobs and Robinson are the most probable 2020 high-volume rushers to see a reduced workload in 2021. The following two backs aren’t as obvious, but I believe they are in danger of being on the short end of a running back by committee situation this year.

David Johnson (RB – HOU) ECR 91 | ADP 79

HOU 147 145 2

Deshaun Watson’s fallout will impact every Texans offensive player’s expectations in 2021, and David Johnson will be among the most affected. Last year was a good one for those who selected Johnson as one of their later running back picks. He scored 11 or more half-PPR points eight times in twelve starts.

However, from Weeks 9-14, Johnson only saw the field once as he battled a concussion. Staying healthy has never been his strongest attribute. Whether it was a stubborn back, an MCL sprain, a nagging ankle, or a dislocated wrist, the Texans’ rusher has frequently missed time. Also, Houston collected veteran running backs this offseason by signing Mark Ingram II, Phillip Lindsay, and Rex Burkhead.

There is too much uncertainty surrounding Johnson’s potential role, his quarterback, and his health to project another top-25 finish in carries this season. Without projecting an injury, Johnson’s carry total may still be in the 140-range — but over 17 games instead of the 12 he played in 2020.

Melvin Gordon III (RB – DEN) ECR 66 | ADP 59

DEN 215 210 5

Joe Pisapia addressed his concerns with projecting Melvin Gordon as a 200-carry running back in 2021 on the “RB & QB Fades” episode of the FantasyPros Fantasy Football Podcast. I am in agreement with Joe on many points.

First, Javonte Williams is a younger back with a similar skillset to Gordon, who Denver traded up to take in the 2021 NFL Draft. Next, Pat Shurmur prefers to use a workhorse in the backfield. Melvin Gordon’s legs have over 1200 carries in six NFL seasons on them, and at 28, he has reached the backside of the prime production age for running backs. Shurmur could opt for Williams’ fresh tread tires over his elder’s white walls. Lastly, Gordon carries suspension question marks after a DUI arrest back in October, which the NFL has yet to levy an opinion on. If he were to miss the first week or two, the door could open enough for the rookie to steal the lead role.

All things considered, even if Gordon remains in good health and isn’t suspended, the per-game carries will be fewer in 2021 than 2020 for this Broncos veteran.

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Aaron Pags is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Aaron, check out his archive and follow him @FantasyTriage.

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