Backs… to the future: Projecting Top 20 RBs of 2021

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - SEPTEMBER 8: Dalvin Cook #33 of the Minnesota Vikings points to the crowd after scoring a touchdown in the third quarter of the game against the Atlanta Falcons at U.S. Bank Stadium on September 8, 2019 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)

This article is a first of its kind as it includes Matt and Jacob’s rankings alongside the infamous Austin and Derek.  What follows is each of our top 20 RBs for the 2021 season and a short explanation.  It’s our toast if you will to the upcoming season and to the expansion of the 365 team.  Scroll to the end for our tiered-out consensus top 20. Enjoy!

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RB20.

  • Derek – Josh Jacobs

Worried about the Drake impact in terms of a competent back taking relevant snaps in the passing games and potentially spelling drives.  Also, a little leery of injury risk.

  • Austin – JK Dobbins

I love the talent but hate the situation.  Too many mouths to feed in this offense.  There’s also turn-over at LT.

  • Matt – Miles Sanders:

Another bold take, I expect him to bounce back now that the team looks a little more stable than it did going into last year.  If Hurts can play well for this team next year, that will open up a ton for Sanders. We saw what Sanders did last year when Hurts was at his best and so there’s no reason to think he can’t continue that as long as the QB continues to improve.

  • Jacob – Josh Jacobs:

Remember when Matt Ryan was going every other year in the top 10 QB finish, this could be Josh Jacobs as well, the O-line was atrocious in 2020 and got gutted this offseason, let’s see if they can pull something together in 2021.  No worries about Drake for me.

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RB19.

  • Derek – Miles Sanders

There’s upside here but I’m uncertain of role moving forward, not terribly worried about Jalen Hurts impact.

  • Austin – Joe Mixon

It’s hard to find guaranteed workload these days, and he should actually have more of it with the departure of Giovanni Bernard.

  • Matt – Cam Akers:

Okay, as far as talent goes, he’s probably one of the best but the problem is he’s competing for touches with a guy that’s pretty darn good too.  I really don’t see one of these guys pulling away by the end of the season, I see them getting a pretty even split as long as they’re both healthy with Akers edging out Henderson for points because of his talent.

  • Jacob – Miles Sanders:

He edges out Josh Jacobs from the 2019 class given the massive overhaul on the O-line in LV.  Sanders was efficient on a bad team – I’m not worried about Gainwell. 

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RB18.

  • Derek – Austin Ekeler

As Austin said, he can’t take the workload so he’s going to have to share the work.  Kind of want to move him down actually.

  • Austin – Trey Sermon

I think he earns a role very early in the season and doesn’t let it go.  The guys are around him are just guys and getting older.

  • Matt – Chase Edmonds:

Chase will be the #1 option for the Cardinals this year because he’s more talented and more durable and just a better RB.  We’ve seen what he can do when they feature him and now he doesn’t have Drake in his way.  He should put up some nice numbers in that offense this year.

  • Jacob – Joe Mixon:

Agree with the team regarding health and his every down role.  Not great YPC early going, but plenty of volume.  It will be interesting to see how it plays out on a team with so much change.

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RB17.

  • Derek – Clyde Edwards-Helaire:   

Feel like the break-out year is going to be 2022, where in 2021 you see increased passing down role, and potential for TD increase, but 2022 it booms.

  • Austin – Josh Jacobs

Agree somewhat that Drake’s role will take away looks, but also just have a feeling that he’ll again disappoint on his ADP. 

  • Matt – Chris Carson:

I see a big year from Carson this year just because I think they will want to run the ball more than they did last year.  They saw what happened when they tried to throw it excessively and it almost ran their QB out of town so they will try to take some pressure off of him and give the ball to Carson more.  The talent is there, the opportunity is there, it’s up to him to make the most of it.

  • Jacob – Myles Gaskin:

The big winner from draft night cracks the top 20, he was very productive when healthy, so it really comes down to that for me.  The team likes him, and I can see why. 

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RB16.

  • Derek – Chris Carson

If it weren’t for his injury-proneness, he’d be a top 5 back, but it’s hard to see him finishing another full season.  Penny starting the season healthy could also lead to more of a time share.

  • Austin – Clyde Edwards-Helaire

Upgrades on O-Line have CEH moving back up despite a disappointing 2020 campaign.

  • Matt – David Montgomery:

Monty will still get his volume, but I do see Williams eating into it a bit and he won’t get as many touches as he did last year.  But now with a new QB on the team and an improved o-line, I still see him producing because teams will have to respect the pass more than they have in the past.

  • Jacob – Cam Akers:

Both his volume and efficiency improved in the second half of the season which may give him a nice edge over Henderson.  The team struggled to get it going against their NFC west opponents all year though, so there may be some 10 for 30 weeks mixed in, which caps his upside.  He also battled through an ankle at the end of the season. 

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RB15.

  • Derek – Ezekiel Elliott

Tony Pollard is going to be out there for 35% of the snaps, and he should be pretty efficient in that.  Zeke is also regressing based on the mileage he’s been subjected to… well into 1000 factoring college as well.  This will be his last year as a lead back.  Fifteen feels more like his ceiling than his floor.

  • Austin – Ezekiel Elliott

The offense seems to be working towards the transition to Pollard. With decrease opportunities, and improved passing game, the fantasy points can’t be there.

  • Matt – JK Dobbins:

This dude is probably top-5 in terms of RB talent.  The problem is he play’s for a team where he’s competing with his QB for rush attempts.  I don’t see him falling outside the top-15 this year just because of the talent and I see him getting more volume because the coaches will want that talent on the field as much as possible.

  • Jacob – D’Andre Swift:

It’s about the passing volume for Swift, there’s still a good chance the team stinks and there’s not a ton of opportunity for the ground game.  He’ll disappoint folks drafting him as their RB1.

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RB14.

  • Derek – Cam Akers

Even though he and Henderson had similar production in 2020, Akers should get 75% of opportunities and could be a top back in this league.

  • Austin – Cam Akers

I agree and would like to have him higher, but he’s dealt with his own injuries.  But because the offense should improve overall moving from Goff to Stafford increasing the TD potential, I like his chance of a good finish.

  • Matt – Austin Ekeler:

If this dude can stay healthy he would be in the top-10 for fantasy (see 2019).  He scores when he’s on the field the problem is he missed 6 games last year, and missed a couple games in 2018 and this team is becoming more pass happy with the big arm of their franchise QB.  Not as many checkdowns now that Rivers is gone.

  • Jacob – Clyde Edwards-Helaire:

He’s just on the best offense in the league and the lead running back without much talent to compete with him for snaps.  This is a floor/ceiling spot for me given the team’s pass-proclivity.

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RB13.

  • Derek – David Montgomery

D-Mont won’t be 4 like he finished out last season, but he will still be involved in the passing game, and he has a really secure roll on the first two downs, his floor and ceiling are right around the same.  He has a higher ceiling of the O-line gets sured up.

  • Austin – Chris Carson

Signed to a new deal which should get him opportunities, especially with more involvement in the passing game in 2020.  Injury is always a concern but he’s an X-factor for opening up the offense.  (Derek: game splits for SEA with and without Carson are staggering)

  • Matt – Joe Mixon:

He should bounce back and barring any injury, he will get the volume and should produce.  The only thing with him is, I see this team becoming more pass happy and they just continue adding receiving weapons.

  • Jacob – Antonio Gibson:

Keep an eye on Jaret Patterson who signed via UDFA but the backfield is his, and with the strength of the defense, they should be looking to slow games down.  Love the talent – passing game upside all day as Derek mentioned.

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RB12.

  • Derek – Najee Harris

Najee will be a bell cow in this offense.  With no competition for carries I think he’s going to excel.  Only question is whether they use him in the passing game.

  • Austin – David Montgomery

I’m definitely more concerned with Cohen back this year, but he has that fringe RB1 finish week after week whether it’s by a couple catches or a TD; that’s what you’ll see 13-15 points, won’t win or lose you weeks.  It’ll frustrate you if you’re drafting him for that end of 2020 upside.

  • Matt – Clyde Edwards-Helaire:

Now a lot of people might think this is a bold take but hear me out.  The guy will now have an offseason and training camp to work with the offense and get things figured out so he can stay on the field on third downs.  Once he gets more incorporated in the passing game, he can start to get 20 touches a game because let’s face it, KC wants to use their 500-million-dollar arm. Oh, and their o-line will be much improved going into next season.

  • Jacob – Austin Ekeler:

They didn’t go RB in the draft, and he remains the talent on the squad.  The team should see an improved defense with Staley coming from LAR which could add game script opportunity.  Health is the only concern, and at this point it’s a realistic concern.    

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RB11.

  • Derek – Joe Mixon

I think he has top 6 potential with an O-line, which CIN somewhat addressed in draft.  Outside of Chris Evans and Samaje Perine there’s no one behind him.  He’s one of like four backs who have like 100% of their team’s volume *when healthy, that damn foot.

  • Austin – Najee Harris

It’s all about the volume and opportunity, the reason he’s only at 11 the struggles PIT has had in recent years running the ball behind that O-line.

  • Matt – Ezekiel Elliott:

Zeke should have a bounce back year as long as Dak is healthy the entire season.  I think his regression will continue and we will see more of Tony Pollard as the season goes on.  This has become a passing team, but Zeke should still get his touches and goal line work.

  • Jacob – J.K. Dobbins:

The roof is the ceiling!  I don’t even know what that means, but Dobbins is exceptional and in a 3000-yard rushing offense.  He’ll break 1000 before breaking a sweat.

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RB10.

  • Derek – Antonio Gibson

He’s a fringe top 10 guys, even in his come-up year 2.  I think we need to wait for 2022 to see him unleashed.  Rivera is going to start using him the passing game and is looking to plug him into that CMC role.

  • Austin – Antonio Gibson

Totally agree with Derek, the volume is going to be and the offense with Fitzpatrick should mean more scoring opportunities.

  • Matt – Aaron Jones:

I so wanted to rank him higher, but I think he will lose a lot of goal line work to AJ Dillon.  I was really surprised the Packers paid him this offseason, but they must believe in the talent and so do I.  I still see him getting the volume but I’m just not sure the TDs will be there this year.

  • Jacob – Jonathan Taylor:

This isn’t a knock on Taylor, where the top 10 are all pretty high likely guys to see plenty of volume and success.  For me, add back in Marlon Mack, see a change from Rivers to Wentz and there’s enough pause for me to keep him here. 

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RB9.

  • Derek – Nick Chubb

I love Nick Chubb, don’t get me wrong.  It’s just a simple math equation – Hunt is going to continue to eat into his workload.  If there is a separation with Hunt, I think he’ll be launched into Dalvin Cook territory. 

  • Austin – D’Andre Swift

I think we have him here at his ceiling, but Detroit is very needy at WR so Swift is going to be utilized in the passing game.  There’s some injury hesitation, but the opportunity bumps him up to here.

  • Matt – Derrick Henry:

I almost wanted to keep him out of the Top-10 because I know the regression will come eventually but the dudes a beast and barring an injury, there’s no reason to think he won’t get a ton of touches again this season.

  • Jacob – Najee Harris:

Pittsburgh rushing situation has been deteriorating adding only a 3rd round interior lineman in the draft.  But we know with aging Ben, the team wants to ground and pound and he’s one of those unicorn type talents combining size, knack, and athleticism. 

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RB8.

  • Derek – D’Andre Swift

It’s just volume for me.  We know the talent is there, but the team is not great, the O-Line is not great and Swift is not Barry Sanders, he’s not going to exceed his situation. 

  • Austin – Aaron Jones

He’s been pretty healthy, has tons of work in the passing game and has been efficient.  I think the offense in general improves and looking at the decision, they should have six wins locked up so lots of positive game script. 

  • Matt – D’Andre Swift:

Think Ekeler but more durable.  If Austin Ekeler could stay healthy for a full season, he would be right here but now his offense is in Detroit, where Swift is the talent on offense.  They will find ways to get the ball in his hands in space and let him do his thing and if he can avg 20 touches a game this season, he will easily find a way to finish here.

  • Jacob – Aaron Jones:

Jones returns to reclaim the backfield from AJ Dillon, who will take on the Jamaal Williams role.  There is uncertainty with the team because of Rodgers but I think LaFleur knows what he wants to do on the ground. 

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RB7.

  • Derek – Aaron Jones

I almost had him higher and think difference in the next four guys is small.  So it’s not a knock. 

  • Austin – Jonathan Taylor

Once he got healthy (ankle) was every bit as good as advertised, they also get an upgrade on offense with Wentz taking over for Rivers, and that should all be volume for Jonathan Taylor.

  • Matt – Antonio Gibson:

The dude has talent and I see him taking on the CMC role in Rivera’s offense.  I’m not saying he’s CMC but he has the talent to handle the role and can score big this year if they give him that opportunity.  The team improved with guys that can stretch the D which means more room for Gibson to run!

  • Jacob – Alvin Kamara:

We saw what he could do, when he was given the opportunity in 2020, but a lot of game script/opportunities dried up with Taysom Hill.  Even Winston will be a downgrade at QB who is not exactly prone to check-downs or known for his touch.  The skill is there, the situation is concerning.

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RB6.

  • Derek – Jonathan Taylor

If he can get involved in the passing game, he should crack the top 4.  Behind that offensive line the production is endless. Period.

  • Austin – Nick Chubb

He’s a top 5 back save for Kareem Hunt.  Kareem Hunt is going to regress the from weekly starter category he was in in 2020 but he’ll still be a flex play and there still will be a goal to limit the overall snaps for Chubb throughout the season to keep him fresh for the playoffs.  This offense is predicated on the run though and Chubb has a really high floor.  

  • Matt – Jonathan Taylor:

The first of last year’s rookie RBs should not regress going into next year.  He should get more work and have more opportunities to score points.  I would have had him improving his rank from last year but with the return of CMC and Barkley, it looks like Taylor’s rank will stay the same.

  • Jacob – Saquon Barkley:

Injury shortened seasons in back to back years – but he has the quads to be the 1.01.  The uncertainty is what his ceiling is under the new regime and with turn-over at QB.  Stats with Danny in 2019 were down compared with Eli – makes sense. 

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RB5.

  • Derek – Saquon Barkley

He’s healed!  Gallman is gone.  Golladay is going to take the safety out of the box, which is going to open things up.  It should be open season for him.

  • Austin – Alvin Kamara

He has a guaranteed workload, and an elite skillset.  Last years RB1, but it’s really tough to repeat.  With Jameis being productive in passing game, they won’t need to rely as heavily on Kamara.  Less chain moving, more big plays.

  • Matt – Nick Chubb:

I expect a BIG year from him this year.  He was accumulating points at a massive rate when healthy last year and I don’t expect that to change this year. He missed four and a half games and still finished as RB11!  If he can make it through a full season, the sky is the limit! (Also I don’t see Hunt there the whole year…Bold take: Traded to the Falcons)

  • Jacob – Ezekiel Elliott:

He’s 25 years old and has 1400 NFL carries.  But the wheels didn’t come off Zeke in 2020 they came off the Cowboys.  He’s got the bag – so Jerry will make him earn it. He’s still hungry – just peep the offseason workout videos.  With Dak healthy, and the defense having nowhere to go but up, he’s a comeback player in 2021. 

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RB4.

  • Derek – Alvin Kamara

Agree with Austin in terms of regression from RB1 with Winston at the helm.  Kamara won’t be running go routes, it will be more delays and swing passes – not the vertical passing game. 

  • Austin – Saquon Barkley

Increased scoring opportunities with a totally rebounding offense.  All the moves have been good for the offense, and Saquon is back.  He’s going to have plenty of chances. 

  • Matt – Alvin Kamara:

I expect a little bit of a drop off with Kamara this year because of the change of the offense.  We’ve seen that they don’t have to rely on him as much when Brees isn’t running the offense.  He will still get his plays and still get around 20 touches a game, but I just don’t see them relying on him quite as much.

  • Jacob – Nick Chubb:

For me and PFF he’s the best runner in the NFL.  I agree with Derek that we start to see the workload shift back to a healthy and younger Nick Chubb a little bit, but on a top rushing offense with Stefanski, he’s been just fine in the situation as is. 

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RB3.

  • Derek – Christian McCaffrey

He’s going to do CMC things even with Darnold. 

  • Austin – Christian McCaffrey

Agreed, I see Darnold as an upgrade from Teddy, so takes a little bit away from the ground game, but still should be plenty of meat on the bone for the workhorse.

  • Matt – Saquon Barkley:

The only reason why I put Cook in front of Saquon is because I think he will start slow.  I expect they will ease him into the action and rely on the passing game more with all of the weapons they’ve added in the offseason.  By the end of the year I expect them to lean on Barkley more and I still see anywhere from 7-10 touchdowns this year.

  • Jacob – Derrick Henry:

In life, when you’re given a unicorn, you squeeze it for the skittles.  I’m convinced he does more damage to defense than they do to him and I see his continued production (little WR or RB competition added) to roll on.  I’ll let him tell me when he’s finished.  

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RB2.

  • Derek – Derrick Henry

Especially if he starts to get involved in the passing game, he’d move up to number one.  He’s becoming a favorite of mine, just doesn’t seem to be missing any tread even after back to back workhorse years.

  • Austin – Dalvin Cook

He’s one of those guys who has 95% of his teams rushing work when healthy, and is involved in a healthy amount in the passing game.  No concerns. 

  • Matt – Dalvin Cook:

He has the same things going for him as CMC with a little better team around him.  This offense will still depend on him to keep them going and getting in the end zone.  I still expect plenty of touches both on the ground and through the air.

  • Jacob – Dalvin Cook:

Justin Jefferson has only opened things up further for Cook who also got paid last offseason.  He’s another PFF darling and should stay hot off his best statistical year.  He is this year’s Dalvin Cook.

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RB1.

  • Derek – Dalvin Cook

I’ve moved Dalvin off of the injury prone-ness category, he’s been healthy for two years since the knee injury and has not re-injured anything serious.  The reason he missed two games at the end of last season was because of the playoffs.  It was more a veteran day off.  He runs hard – maybe he and Derrick Henry as the hardest runners in the NFL. 

  • Austin – Derrick Henry

For me it’s the rumors of more work in the passing game, and he’s hands down the number one asset in fantasy football.  Run the backs into the ground seems to be the model.  He’s not going down if he’s in space, and easiest way to get him open in space is a quick swing pass.    

  • Matt – Christian McCaffrey:

This offense will look a little different in 2021 but it will still go as he goes.  He will still get anywhere from 20-25 touches a game and will have plenty of work inside the 5 yard line.  As long as he stays healthy, he’s still #1.

  • Jacob – Christian McCaffrey:

The 33 FPPG man.  The only reason he didn’t get more run when healthy at the end of last season was because of the lost season.  Fully recovered, I expect little drop off from Chuba, Darnold, or Dyami. 

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365 Guys Consensus Top 20 RB’s of 2021

That’s it, below is our consensus ranks.  Check back in next week for our Top 20 WR’s of 2021. In parentheses is our delta from the FantasyPros.com consensus rankings.

1.         Dalvin Cook (+1)

2.         Christian McCaffrey (-1)

======= tier =======

3.         Derrick Henry (–)

4.         Saquon Barkley (–)

5.         Alvin Kamara (–)

6.         Nick Chubb (+2)

7.         Jonathan Taylor (-1)

8.         Aaron Jones (+1)

======= tier =======

9.         Antonio Gibson (+4)

10.       D’Andre Swift (+5)

11.       Ezekiel Elliott (-4)

12.       Najee Harris (+4)

13.       Clyde Edwards-Helaire (+5)

======= tier =======

14.       Joe Mixon (-2)

15.       David Montgomery (+4)

16.       Cam Akers (-5)

17.       Austin Ekeler (-7)

18.       J.K. Dobbins (-1)

19.       Chris Carson (+1)

======= tier =======

20.       Miles Sanders (-6)

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Rest of the above ranked: Josh Jacobs, Trey Sermon, Myles Gaskin, Chase Edmonds