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Top Running Backs Outside ECR Top 50 (Fantasy Football 2021)

by Josh Shepardson | @BChad50 | Featured Writer
Jul 24, 2021

If you’re rummaging around the running back bargain bin after the Expert Consensus Rankings (ECR) top-50 point-per-reception (PPR) options, then you’re selecting a back with drawbacks. However, there are some intriguing options among that group. Below, you’ll find a handful of backs that offer differing value to gamers. Some of the highlighted options have early-season value potential. Others possess the skills to make waves if they can carve out a larger role than they presently project to have.

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Tevin Coleman (RB – NYJ): RB53 ECR
What if I told you that you could select a potential starting running back outside of the ECR top-50 running backs; would you be interested? Coleman fits the bill. However, it comes with the caveat that the Jets are expected to utilize a running-back-by-committee approach.

The incoming coaching staff brought Coleman into the fold as a player experienced in the Kyle Shanahan system that new offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur will employ. Unfortunately, Coleman’s ceiling isn’t exciting. Further, rookie running back Michael Carter will carve out a role in the offense. Still, Coleman’s a viable target for early-season work for gamers utilizing a Zero RB or Anchor RB strategy while they comb over the waiver wire pickings for an improvement as the season marches along.

Kenneth Gainwell (RB – PHI): RB55 ECR
Gainwell slid to the fifth round of this year’s draft, and he’s not going to unseat Miles Sanders as the starter. Regardless, he was a highly productive college back. He opted out of the 2020 season, but he had an electric 2019 campaign in which he rushed for 1,459 yards and 13 touchdowns in 14 games, per Sports-Reference.

The rushing production is nice, and it could help him carve out a change-of-pace role behind Sanders or provide him a pathway to the field if Sanders is injured. However, it’s his excellence as a receiver that could net him an immediate role complementing Sanders. He hauled in 51 receptions for 610 yards and three touchdowns in his final college season.

Gainwell’s not a running back who gamers will be able to count on early. The talent’s immense enough for draft-and-stash consideration, though.

Matt Breida (RB – BUF): RB77 ECR
I’ve gushed about Breida a couple of times this offseason. In early June, I highlighted him as a must-have running back. In late June, I analyzed him as a best ball running back dart throw. I laid out why I believe he’s a great fit for Buffalo’s offense in those pieces. Rather than rehash those points, I suggest checking out both linked pieces.

However, I will provide another interesting statistical nugget. According to Stathead, among running backs with a minimum of 400 carries through their age-25 season since 2001, Breida’s 4.90 yards per rush attempt is the 10th-highest mark. Of course, it’s only one data point. Nonetheless, he shares good company on that list.

Neither Devin Singletary nor Zack Moss lit the world on fire last year. Regardless, they’re the top two options on the depth chart. However, neither’s a lock to run away with the feature gig. Breida adds a different element to the running back room with his breakaway speed. Although, that’s only if he makes the roster, and Marcel Louis-Jacques of speculates Breida could be on the roster bubble.

Breida doesn’t profile as a bell-cow back in even a best-case scenario. Still, he has home-run speed, would be tied to an elite offense, and has flashed adequate pass-catching chops.

Devontae Booker (RB – NYG): RB80 ECR
Saquon Barkley is rehabbing after surgery for a torn ACL, MCL, and meniscus suffered in Week 2 of last season. It won’t even be a full calendar year by Week 1, and there hasn’t been a definitive statement he’ll be a go for the opener.

The Giants signed Booker to replace departed Wayne Gallman as the club’s backup running back. Booker’s coming off of his best season as a runner. As a rookie, he rushed for 612 yards but did so at a paltry 3.5 yards per rush attempt. Last year, he rumbled for 423 yards at 4.5 yards per rush attempt with the Raiders.

Unfortunately, he was inefficient as a receiver. However, he flashed more competence in that department in previous seasons. If Barkley’s forced to miss any games, Booker profiles as an every-down back. Booker’s a reasonable target in the last round or two of fantasy drafts for gamers adhering to Zero RB or Anchor RB strategies if Barkley’s Week 1 status remains in doubt.

Jake Funk (RB – LAR): RB118 ECR
Second-year running back Cam Akers suffered a torn Achilles on Tuesday, ending his 2021 season before it started. Darrell Henderson is the next man up, and I’m enamored with him this year. The team could — and probably should — dip into the free-agent pool or trade market to bring in a veteran back, though.

However, if they don’t, Funk becomes a name to file away. The Rams spent a seventh-round pick in this year’s draft to add the redshirt senior to the club. Despite playing for parts of five seasons, Funk carried the ball only 135 times. He suffered two ACL injuries, yet he closed his college career on a high note, averaging a blistering 8.6 yards per rush attempt en route to 516 yards in five games.

NFL Analyst Lance Zierlein posited Funk could have a future as a third-down option in his prospect overview. He also mentioned Funk’s eye-catching measurables. Expanding on those further, according to Player Profiler, he has a 97th percentile agility score and 87th percentile SPARQ-x score.

I’m a sucker for traits, and Funk has them in spades. Add in being attached to an offense that profiles to be a high-scoring unit, and I can think of worse ways to spend a last-round pick in fantasy drafts.

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Josh Shepardson is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Josh, check out his archive and follow him @BChad50.

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