Fantasy Football Busts: Running Backs (2021)
Many fantasy managers build their teams around running back. That’s why 13 of the top 20 players in our Expert Consensus Rankings (ECR) are running backs. If you don’t have at least a couple of solid backs, you will have difficulty competing for a title. Because of this, you can’t afford to draft an early-round back who fails to live up to his ADP. This article will examine a few of the highest-ranked running backs that could disappoint relative to their ECR and end up busting. Let’s dive in!
Rankings provided using FantasyPros Experts Consensus Rankings for Half PPR formats.
Derrick Henry (RB – TEN): RB4 ECR
Derrick Henry is one of the most entertaining players to watch in the NFL. He should have another excellent season on the ground. He plays on an offense that looked great last year, and the team just added Julio Jones. So why on Earth is he on this list?
It’s three main reasons: Derrick Henry is coming off a career year, and his current ADP is closer to his ceiling than his floor, Derrick Henry brings very little to the table in the passing game, and the Tennessee Titans have a new offensive coordinator, Todd Downing.
Derrick Henry just had a season where he carried the ball 378 times for 2,027 rushing yards and 17 rushing touchdowns. Considering he was just the eighth running back in NFL history to ever record 2,000-plus rushing yards, it seems unlikely that he will be able to replicate that performance -- especially considering all of the other running backs who managed to hit the 2000-plus rushing mark failed to reach 1500 rushing yards the next season.
RB Rushing Totals The Season After Posting 2000+ Rushing Yards
O.J. Simpson - 1125
Eric Dickerson - 1234
Barry Sanders - 1491
Terrell Davis - 211
Jamal Lewis - 1006
Chris Johnson - 1364
Adrian Peterson - 1266
How many rushing yards will Derrick Henry put up in 2021?
— Eli Grabanski (@3li_handles) August 5, 2021
So we are likely looking at a drop in the rushing totals. This wouldn't be as big of an issue if Henry was useful in the passing game. Henry hasn’t seen much usage through the air, as he finished just one season with 30-plus targets. Also, he has yet to catch 20 passes in a single season. Not being a factor in the passing game will make him less valuable in PPR formats and puts a ton of pressure on him to perform on the ground.
The last aspect that could lead Henry to disappoint in fantasy leagues is the change in offensive play-caller from Arthur Smith to Todd Downing. In the two years that Smith was the offensive coordinator, the Titans gave their running backs 25.97 carries per game. Meanwhile, in Downing’s one season as the Raiders' offensive coordinator in 2017, the team ranked 30th in rushing attempts. They ranked 11th the year before, with Bill Musgrave calling plays.
A look at the number of carries per game Atlanta Falcons HC Arthur Smith has provided his RB room each year (as an OC/HC)
— Eli Grabanski (@3li_handles) March 7, 2021
With Downing calling the shots, Henry's workload could get scaled back from the 397 touches he had last year. Henry is a great player, but it's more likely that he'll finish as a mid-to-low-end RB1 than a top-five overall player -- which you need him to do at his current ADP.
Chris Carson (RB - SEA): RB15 ECR
Carson has been an effective running back in the past, but a couple of aspects in his fantasy profile are pretty concerning. The first is his injury history, which includes an ankle fracture (2017), hip sprain (2018), shoulder sprain (2019), hip fracture (2019), MCL sprain (2020), and a mid-foot sprain (2020). He has yet to play in a full regular season, and he will probably miss some time this year if his track record is any indication.
The other big concern with Chris Carson is his red-zone usage. Last season, Carson carried the ball inside the twenty-yard line just 18 times, fewer than running backs like Joshua Kelley, Kalen Ballage, and Giovani Bernard.
Chris Carson had just 18 carries inside the 20-yard line last year.
While he only played in 12 games, it's worth noting that this was less than...
— Eli Grabanski (@3li_handles) August 24, 2021
Chris Carson is a solid player when he is healthy and on the field, but you can't count on him to stay healthy all year. Ultimately, his upside doesn't outweigh his risk at his current draft price.
Darrell Henderson (RB - LAR): RB21 ECR
Henderson's draft stock has been all over the place this offseason. He began the draft season as an appealing handcuff, but his draft price skyrocketed following Cam Akers's injury. Afterward, the Rams surrendered a 2022 sixth-round pick and a 2023 fourth-rounder to acquire Sony Michel, making a committee approach the likely scenario in Los Angeles. Despite this, Henderson is going in roughly the same spot as he was before the trade.
Besides the concerns of a committee backfield, Henderson also hasn't really proven himself as a pass-catching back. He caught just 16 passes on 24 targets for 159 receiving yards and one receiving touchdown (15 games) in 2020. If this is indeed a committee, and Henderson doesn't get much pass-catching work, he will struggle to live up to his current ADP.
Gus Edwards (RB - BAL): RB22 ECR
Like Henderson, Edwards has seen his fantasy draft stock soar. It's gone up all the way to RB22 (Half PPR) after the unfortunate injury that J.K. Dobbins suffered in the preseason. While his fantasy value has certainly improved, he may not live up to the hype at his new draft price.
First, he doesn't really work in the passing game. Edwards’s best season as a receiver came last year, and he caught nine passes on 13 targets for 129 receiving yards the entire season. Also, Baltimore's offensive coordinator, Greg Roman, doesn't utilize running backs as pass-catchers very much. Over the course of Greg Roman’s 114-game career as an offensive play-caller, his tailbacks have averaged 2.38 receptions on 3.35 targets for 19.66 receiving yards and 0.11 receiving touchdowns per game.
A look at the number of targets per game Baltimore Ravens OC Greg Roman has provided his RB room every year (as an OC/HC)
*Roman was fired 2 games into the 2016 NFL Season pic.twitter.com/YJRBBd8X0D
— Eli Grabanski (@3li_handles) February 23, 2021
2021 Offensive-Minded #NFL Head Coaches/OC's whose offenses average the fewest HB targets per game (career)
38. Kevin Stefanski (5.31) - CLE HC
39. Tim Kelly (5.25) - HOU OC
40. Brian Daboll (5.18) - BUF OC
41. Arthur Smith (3.44) - ATL HC
42. Greg Roman (3.35) - BAL OC
— Eli Grabanski (@3li_handles) April 28, 2021
A lack of receptions will severely limit Edwards' fantasy upside, and it puts considerable pressure on him to produce on the ground. And if the Ravens decide to continue employing the committee approach they've been so successful with recently, it could spell disaster for fantasy players rostering Gus Edwards.
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