RB3s with RB1 Potential (2021 Fantasy Football)
Every year fantasy managers discover a hidden gem in their drafts that pays huge dividends. This year should be no exception, as there are a handful of players who could be had after the top-25 at the position that could turn into RB1’s. I’m not projecting these guys to have top-12 performances, rather I’m identifying those who have that outcome as a ceiling.
I won’t be peering into a crystal ball and predicting which backs will get injured, either. There are plenty of backups who could produce huge numbers if the starters ahead of them miss time, but that’s not what we’re here for today. Instead, I’ll name guys whose ceiling and path to RB1 production doesn’t rely on a starter’s injury or some other unpredictable event. These guys have RB1 potential right now. Here are four RB3s with RB1 potential and three guys who just missed the cut.
Theirs for the Taking
Mike Davis (ATL): ECR RB26
Davis is currently ranked as the RB26 in our ECR, but I’m not entirely sure why that’s the case. He became the bell of the waiver wire ball last season, finishing the year as the overall RB15 thanks to huge numbers after Christian McCaffrey got injured. The journeyman veteran rolled for 165/642/6 on the ground but really made his bones as a receiver, finishing with 59/373/2 receiving on 70 targets.
Mike D signed with the Falcons in the offseason, and boy should he be in for an expanded workload. Atlanta’s backfield should be dominated by Davis, who can be a true three-down back with his new team. His only competition for targets comes in the form of converted wideout Cordarrelle Patterson and perennial backup Qadree Ollison.
The Falcons were the sixth-worst rushing team in the NFL last season, averaging a pathetic 95.8 yards per game on the ground. Matt Ryan also targeted his RBs 91 times. Both of those stats indicate that Davis was brought in to contribute meaningfully as a runner and receiver. He’s got plenty of RB1 upside and is one of the best values at his position right now.
Michael Carter (NYJ): ECR RB39
This isn’t an article about which players will finish the year as an RB1, rather, this article is focused on backs with RB1 potential. I won’t count on Tevin Coleman to win the starting job outright based on talent, and none of the other backs on the Jets’ roster are likely to compete for that position. Carter should be the man for Gang Green, and if you can land a starting running back in RB4 territory, you’re in for a ton of value!
According to the FantasyPros Strength of Schedule tool, the Jets have the sixth-easiest schedule for running backs in the NFL. Coleman (ECR RB54) has some upside too, but he’s never been more than a complementary back throughout his six-year career. Coleman may have a leg up on the lead back role to start the season based primarily on his familiarity with the offensive system, but if we’re talking ceiling and RB1 potential, he just ain’t it. In four seasons with North Carolina, Carter proved himself as a talented runner and capable receiver, so he should have no problem landing the starting gig pretty quickly. If you want top-12 upside, Carter is your man.
Trey Sermon (SF): ECR RB46
San Fran’s running back carousel is constantly a turnin,’ and I’m looking to capitalize on the RB most likely to finish inside the top-12 at his position. After an electric finish to the 2020 season, Jeff Wilson will start the season on the PUP list due to a torn meniscus suffered in the offseason during weight training. Raheem Mostert is coming off a season-ending ankle injury suffered in Week 15 of 2020, and he can’t stay healthy for a prolonged period of time. In six NFL seasons, Mostert has missed 38 games and played a full 16-game season just once. As mentioned above, I’m not here to predict a Mostert injury, but I think Sermon can win the job outright if the competition is between he and Mostert. The Niners added Wayne Gallman in the offseason, but he profiles as more of a depth piece than a guy who will be asked to make meaningful contributions right away.
Sermon is the guy who I want on my roster and the 49ers RB who offers RB1 upside. After four strong seasons at Oklahoma and Ohio State, Sermon should be ready to contribute immediately for a Kyle Shanahan-led team – a boon for backs.
Missed the Cut
Gus Edwards (BAL): ECR RB41
Edwards put together a strong 2020 season and was rewarded handsomely with a two-year, $10M contract extension just last week. He’s a powerful runner and has done well in his short tenure with the Ravens. Still, he has just 18 career receptions to his credit, and lack of work in the receiving game keeps him out of the RB1 discussion. He could certainly be an RB2 if everything goes right this season, but even if J.K. Dobbins misses time, “Bus” isn’t driving to a top-12 finish at his position.
Damien Harris (NE): ECR RB31
I’ve talked up Harris as a 2021 sleeper, and I still believe that he can be a useful RB2. Just like Edwards above, Harris is not involved in the passing game, and that caps his ceiling. He doesn’t have RB1 potential, but you can bet your sweet little bippy he can exceed his current ranking!
Javonte Williams (DEN): ECR RB34
He’s a better value than Melvin Gordon (ECR RB26), but that doesn’t give him RB1 upside right now. Denver’s backfield will likely be a timeshare similar to the Gordon/Phillip Lindsay backfield we saw in 2020. Williams is a guy I’m targeting in drafts, but I certainly won’t be expecting top-12 numbers.
Darrell Henderson (LAR): ECR RB47
Henderson is in a situation similar to Williams.’ He’s got tremendous upside if Cam Akers is forced to miss time, but otherwise, the Rams’ backfield will likely be a timeshare with Hendo on the lesser end of the workload. He’s a great homerun swing, but don’t expect RB1 production while Akers is around.
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