2021 RB Fantasy Football Rankings | Christian McCaffrey and Dalvin Cook top the list

In PFN's latest consensus fantasy RB rankings for 2021, which players are top 12 options, and which names provide upside from the RB2 region?

With the 2021 fantasy football season upon us, how do Pro Football Network’s consensus rankings at RB shape up? Which players do our fantasy analysts see as bonafide starters, and which players should you be looking to leave on the table when your drafts begin? Let’s take a look at the consensus 2021 RB rankings from our Senior Fantasy Analyst, Eric Moody, and our Fantasy Analyst, Tommy Garrett. 

2021 RB Fantasy Football Rankings | 1-12

Which 12 players make up the RB1 group in our 2021 fantasy football rankings?

Christian McCaffrey and Dalvin Cook head a list of familiar names

1) Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers
2) Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings
3) Saquon Barkley, New York Giants
4) Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans
5) Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints
6) Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys

When McCaffrey was on the field in 2020, he made sure fantasy owners got value for the money they paid for him. In his three games, McCaffrey posted 225 rushing yards, 149 receiving yards on 17 receptions, and totaled 6 touchdowns. That per-game production sees McCaffrey back atop the rankings again in 2021. Dalvin Cook sits second after once again playing 14 games. He set career-highs in rushing yards (1,557), rushing touchdowns (16), total yards (1,918), and total touchdowns (17).

Another player coming back off injury is Barkley, who has the upside to rival McCaffrey — if he can stay healthy. Barkley played in 29 games through his first two seasons, topping 1,000 rushing yards each season and going over 2,000 total yards as a rookie. It is hard to argue against Henry as a top fantasy option. Over the last two years, he has 681 carries, 3,567 rushing yards, and 33 touchdowns.

Kamara is an extremely potent dual-threat weapon but has never topped 200 carries in his NFL career. Nevertheless, he’s seen more than 80 receptions in each season and has averaged over 700 receiving yards over his four-year career. Elliott remains a top-six option in our 2021 fantasy RB rankings despite a somewhat down season. A major concern is the presence of Tony Pollard, which could limit Elliott to around 300 touches at his ceiling.

Jonathan Taylor, Cam Akers, and Antonio Gibson add a splash of youth to the RB1 picture

7) Jonathan Taylor, Indianapolis Colts
8) Nick Chubb, Cleveland Browns
9) Austin Ekeler, Los Angeles Chargers
10) Aaron Jones, Green Bay Packers
11) Antonio Gibson, Washington Football Team
12) Najee Harris, Pittsburgh Steelers

Taylor’s rookie campaign came with a ton of promise. However, the majority of his best performances came against weaker run defenses. Meanwhile, he had a tougher time against the better run defenses he faced. He will likely still have to split the workload with the other backs in Indianapolis, limiting his touches to a likely maximum of 300.

Chubb has all the talent required to lead the position and top our fantasy RB rankings for 2021. Yet, the presence of Kareem Hunt could mean we see Chubb struggling to get much above 275 touches this season. In Los Angeles, things look good for Ekeler. Had he been healthy all season, he would have been on pace for 185 carries and 86 receptions. Concerns over how many more touches he could receive limits his ceiling.

We know what Aaron Jones is at this point, with 225-250 carries and 55-60 receptions. Depending on the role A.J. Dillon plays, he could be a player that could even outperform this ranking. Finishing off the RB1 section of our 2021 rankings is Gibson. There are injury concerns, but there is a lack of top-end competition in that backfield, which could see him get to 275 or more touches this season.

2021 RB Rankings | 13-24

Which RBs in the RB2 group are bell-cow backs for their respective teams?

Joe Mixon and D’Andre Swift sit atop a group of potential bell-cow backs

13) Joe Mixon, Cincinnati Bengals
14) D’Andre Swift, Detroit Lions
15) J.K. Dobbins, Baltimore Ravens
16) Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Kansas City Chiefs
17) Darrell Henderson, Los Angeles Rams
18) Chris Carson, Seattle Seahawks

This area of the 2021 RB rankings has the potential to provide a great return. All six of these backs have the potential to lead their team in touches by a clear amount. The situations surrounding Mixon and Edwards-Helaire are especially good for their value. Those three have little in the way of serious competition for touches in either the run or passing game. Both have proven ability as pass catchers, and if they can secure 50 or more receptions, they could easily break into RB1 territory in 2021.

The injury to Cam Akers has really opened things up for Darrell Henderson’s fantasy value. From Weeks 2 through 7, Henderson had 15.5 touches per game, averaging 86 yards and 0.67 touches per game. However, this ranking could fall pretty quickly if the Rams bring in an experienced option to compete for touches.

The situations for Swift, Dobbins, and Carson are a little different. Swift has the presence of Jamaal Williams, who could steal valuable touches that Swift needs for that ultimate upside. Carson has a similar situation with former first-round selection Rashaad Penny. If Penny can stay healthy, he could take enough touches away to limit Carson’s ceiling. Dobbins is the really intriguing one and a player with bust potential in 2021. Gus Edwards is a very good running back, and Lamar Jackson will also steal carries from Dobbins’ workload.

Lots of value on offer at the back end of the RB2 group in our 2021 rankings

19) Miles Sanders, Philadelphia Eagles
20) David Montgomery, Chicago Bears
21) Josh Jacobs, Las Vegas Raiders
22) Myles Gaskin, Miami Dolphins
23) Kareem Hunt, Cleveland Browns
24) Travis Etienne, Jacksonville Jaguars

This is another area where there is potential for serious value. The question marks around Sanders and Montgomery never seem to abate, but both have proven that when given the opportunity, they can produce. The competition surrounding Montgomery likely limits his ceiling, but he should steal the majority of the carries. The arrival of Kenyan Drake really hampered the upside for Jacobs. Still, he has back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons and saw his targets go from 27 as a rookie to 45 in his second season.

Myles Gaskin has the potential to be the star of this group. The Dolphins have very little in the way of high-end competition for touches, and Gaskin provided solid returns on limited opportunities in 2020. The most impressive element may very well be turning 47 targets into 41 receptions, making him a potentially trusted weapon in the passing game.

The roles for Kareem Hunt and Travis Etienne are so hard to judge at this point. Both could see significant touches across the two elements of the offense, but it is hard to imagine them getting more than 250 touches without an injury to Chubb or James Robinson. Last season, Hunt had that opportunity and finished as RB10 in both formats. That is realistically the ceiling for both players. However, there should be a high enough floor to make them worthy of an RB2 position in our 2021 fantasy RB rankings.

2021 RB Rankings | 25-60

How does the rest of the RB position shape up as we head towards August and the real start of the draft season in redraft leagues?

2021 RB Fantasy Football Rankings | 25-36

25) Mike Davis, Atlanta Falcons
26) Chase Edmonds, Arizona Cardinals
27) Melvin Gordon III, Denver Broncos
28) Javonte Williams, Denver Broncos
29) Michael Carter, New York Jets
30) James Robinson, Jacksonville Jaguars
31) Ronald Jones II, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
32) Raheem Mostert, San Francisco 49ers
33) Damien Harris, New England Patriots
34) David Johnson, Houston Texans
35) Zack Moss, Buffalo Bills
36) Gus Edwards, Baltimore Ravens

2021 RB Rankings | 37-48

37) Tony Pollard, Dallas Cowboys
38) James Conner, Arizona Cardinals
39) Leonard Fournette, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
40) Trey Sermon, San Francisco 49ers
41) Jamaal Williams, Detroit Lions
42) Kenyan Drake, Las Vegas Raiders
43) A.J. Dillon, Green Bay Packers
44) Nyheim Hines, Indianapolis Colts
45) Latavius Murray, New Orleans Saints
46) Devin Singletary, Buffalo Bills
47) James White, New England Patriots
48) Rashaad Penny, Seattle Seahawks

2021 RB Rankings | 49-60

49) Phillip Lindsay, Houston Texans
50) J.D. McKissic, Washington Football Team
51) Tevin Coleman, New York Jets
52) Tarik Cohen, Chicago Bears
53) Salvon Ahmed, Miami Dolphins
54) Giovani Bernard, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
55) Chuba Hubbard, Carolina Panthers
56) Kenneth Gainwell, Philadelphia Eagles
57) Darrel Williams, Kansas City Chiefs
58) Benny Snell Jr., Pittsburgh Steelers
59) Damien Williams, Chicago Bears
60) Justin Jackson, Los Angeles Chargers

Want more fantasy football analysis and news?

Be sure to follow us on Twitter (@PFN365) to stay current with all things around the NFL and the upcoming 2021 fantasy football season. Also, continue to visit Pro Football Network for NFL news and in-depth analysis while also visiting our fantasy football section for more coverage.

Ben Rolfe is a Senior Managing Editor at Pro Football Network and is also a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA). You can find him on Twitter @BenRolfePFN.

Ben Rolfe is a Senior Managing Editor at Pro Football Network and is also a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA). You can find him on Twitter @BenRolfePFN.


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