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Running Backs to Avoid (2021 Fantasy Football)

Jul 23, 2021


There are many ways to win a fantasy football championship, but the safest and most consistent method is to draft a stable of stud RBs.

For good reason, too. Some positions offer players with league-winning upside in the mid-to-late rounds. Consider that Stefon Diggs consistently went in the sixth round in 2020 drafts and finished as the WR3 overall. In 2019, Lamar Jackson was the 16th-ranked QB, often undrafted, and he finished the year as the QB1.

Comparatively, the RB position rarely offers monster upside in the later rounds, so you need to load up on talent early and often. It’s also an oft-injured position. In 2020, only three of the top-25 RBs played in all 16 regular-season games. That means depth is perhaps most vital among running backs, which are easier to stream.

With all this in mind, it’s important to identify which RBs you want and which ones you desperately need to avoid. Here are some names to consider for the latter.

Note: Expert Consensus Rankings (ECR) and fantasy scoring data are for half-PPR formats.

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Joe Mixon (CIN): RB12 ECR
Mixon’s best season was as the RB9, and that was before Cincinnati drafted Joe Burrow. He’s only once played in all 16 games once and had a meager 3.6 yards per carry in 2020. Mixon spent most of last year being two to three weeks away from returning but was done after Week 6.

The whole Joe Mixon experience screamed mismanagement in 2020, but so does everything else the Bengals do.

The issue is that Mixon is ranked at his ceiling. At RB12, you can find better value. All ranked after him, Austin Ekeler, Najee Harris, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, and Chris Carson have more season-long upside.

Mixon was on pace for a decent year before suffering a foot injury in October. His 71.3 rushing yards per game put him at a 16-game pace for 1,140. He was in line to set a career-high in receptions and scored four touchdowns in six games. However, the details matter.

Taking a closer look at Mixon’s 2020, he had only one big game. In Week 4, he compiled 151 rushing yards and three touchdowns. His next closest total was 69 rushing yards. He had one amazing week but didn’t significantly contribute in any of the other five games before missing the final 10.

The Bengals will also probably trail often and need to throw late, so I’d rather take an RB with a better supporting cast and fewer injury concerns. I’m happy to grab Mixon at a better value if he falls, but avoid him at his current ranking.

David Johnson (HOU): RB25 ECR
Poor David Johnson is on arguably the worst team that will ever exist. I’m genuinely excited for this season when I’ll see the Texans are playing and then not watch any of that game. So much free time. Seriously, if you’re in a Survivor league, just pick whatever team is playing the Texans.

Johnson deserves better, but the Texans can’t help but make a bad thing worse. This offseason, they brought in Mark Ingram, Phillip Lindsay, and Rex Burkhead. All three signings signaled that they want to be creative in how pathetic they are this year.

Beyond playing for an incompetent organization, other concerns should steer you clear of Johnson. The offensive line, besides Laremy Tunsil, may be the worst in the league. And that’s not just me hating on the Texans. That’s metrics. Pro Football Focus rated them as the 30th Run-Blocking unit in 2020. Deshaun Watson is unlikely to play this season (at least for the Texans). Things are pointing to a really down year with the combination of a new coaching staff, no star QB, and an O-Line that did little to nothing to improve. Oh yeah, Will Fuller walked in free agency, so Brandin Cooks is the only weapon drawing attention. Gross. Defenses may stack the box on every play.

If there’s any good to say, it’s that Johnson somehow managed to net 1,005 scrimmage yards and eight total touchdowns over only 12 games in 2020. He won’t come close to those numbers this year. He’s simply in the worst imaginable scenario for an RB, and he’s ranked like he’s not. Hard pass.

Melvin Gordon (DEN): RB29 ECR
If you look back at any of the previous “RBs to Avoid” articles, you’ll notice Melvin Gordon is on all of them. ALL OF THEM. On the off chance this is the first time you’re seeing him mentioned as a player to fade, well, welcome to the hate train.

Gordon is on the outs in Denver, with rookie Javonte Williams emerging as a likely candidate to start. Williams is a three-down back with the right amount of draft capital invested in him to take and hold the starting job for years to come.

Even if Williams were a non-factor, we can’t trust Gordon to hold a starting job anymore. He’s injury-prone and has off-the-field concerns. Furthermore, the numbers he put up last year were anomalous from a team unable to trust its quarterbacks and force-feeding the ball to a lackluster rusher. Don’t let his RB29 ranking trick you into thinking you’re getting a deal. Gordon’s ranking is in-flux and will continue to fall. Take literally anyone else in whatever range he’s in, and you’ll have a more enjoyable season.

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Timothy Metzler is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Timothy, check out his archive or follow him @timmy_the_metz.

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