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Top Dynasty RB Rankings for the 2021 NFL season

As dynasty fantasy football drafts continue to run as we move closer to the NFL season, here are the top 10 dynasty RB rankings for 2021.

Top Dynasty RB Rankings for the 2021 NFL season
Jan 9, 2021; Orchard Park, New York, USA; Indianapolis Colts running back Jonathan Taylor (28) scores a touchdown against the Buffalo Bills during the first half in the AFC Wild Card game at Bills Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

As dynasty fantasy football drafts continue to fire up for the 2021 season, differentiating between the elite players at each position can come down to the slimmest of margins. While factors such as age, production, and the supporting cast all play their part, we are here to help you disentangle all of that and make an informed decision. Here are the top 10 dynasty RB rankings for the 2021 season.

2021 Dynasty RB Rankings | 6-10

Who are the most consistent playmakers at the RB position? Let’s dive in.

RB10) Aaron Jones, Green Bay Packers

If there is one RB in 2021 dynasty rankings who could tumble in value, it’s Aaron Jones. His ranking is directly tied to the status of Aaron Rodgers and whether or not he is on the Packers. 

After finishing as an RB2 in 2019 (314.7 PPR), Jones followed this up with an RB5 performance in 2020 while averaging 18.5 ppg. One of the most efficient rushers in football, Jones was third in yards per attempt at 5.5 (minimum 130 carries). Because of this, he was rewarded with a four-year, $48 million contract to keep him with Green Bay. 

We simply have no context to what a non-Rodgers-led offense would look like and how much it would hurt production. Any player wearing a Packers jersey comes with a warning label until we have clarity on the situation. Could Jones still succeed? Absolutely, but are you willing to bet on it if Jordan Love or Blake Bortles (seriously) is under center? 

Over the last two seasons, Jones has averaged 1 pt/opp. That is not sustainable without Rodgers, even if he sees an increase in touches per game. Take Rodgers out of the offense, and Jones is more of a mid-RB2. I am not necessarily avoiding Jones in drafts, but he is not a target of mine either.

RB9) D’Andre Swift, Detroit Lions

When the Lions finally handed over the backfield to D’Andre Swift, he showed why he was one of the class’ best backs. The Georgia Bulldog played in 13 games (four starts) and rushed 114 times for 521 yards and 8 touchdowns. Additionally, he caught 46 passes for 357 yards and 2 scores. Swift recorded double-digit fantasy point games in 10 of his 13 games, including six above 15 PPR points.

One overlooked factor for Swift is the addition of Anthony Lynn. Since 2016, running backs in Lynn’s offense have averaged 28.3% of the team’s targets and never less than 24.1%. Just look at Austin Ekeler for evidence of how this can affect someone’s dynasty value. Swift was arguably the best pass catcher in last year’s class and should thrive in this offense.

However, it can’t all be positives for Swift’s outlooks. Unfortunately, he is tied to a bad team at the beginning of a rebuild. This will limit scoring opportunities.

For Swift to maintain his 2021 dynasty RB9 ranking, we are banking on the passing production to offset the lack of red-zone opportunities. I believe he can and will, as even bad football teams produce valuable fantasy assets. Do not let the team’s struggles deter you from selecting Swift in upcoming dynasty drafts.

RB8) Cam Akers, Los Angeles Rams

If not for the horrid Florida State offense, Cam Akers would have been in the running for the RB1 in rookie drafts last year. I don’t think people understood how truly skillful Akers is, and for a while last season, neither did the Rams despite the draft capital invested in him. 

Akers was stuck in a mind-numbing three-way split for touches with Malcolm Brown and Darrell Henderson. That will not be the case in 2021, as Sean McVay has stated that he views Akers as an “every-down back.” However, this process started last season — throw out the RB45 finish of 2020 — that is not how you should be valuing Akers in 2021 RB dynasty rankings.

Akers took control over the Rams’ backfield starting in Week 13 with 21.5 carries and 2.8 targets per game while playing over 60% of the snaps in his last four regular-season games. The lone downside was he scored just once during this stretch, which lowered his points per opportunity to 0.57. That threshold is his floor, especially in an offense that should score more with Matthew Stafford under center. If you took his 24.3 opportunities and extrapolated that to a 16-game pace, that’s 221.61 PPR points. That would have been the RB10 last season. 

Akers at RB8 in 2021 might be the lowest we see his dynasty ranking for the next several years. Take advantage of this potential value as he is going lower than this in current startups.

RB7) Nick Chubb, Cleveland Browns

Although he played in just 12 games last season, Nick Chubb remained one of the best pure rushers in the NFL. Chubb had 207.7 PPR points (17.3 ppg) with 1,067 rushing yards and 12 TDs. But did you know he was not even the highest-scoring RB on his team? That was Kareem Hunt with 218.5, although he was quite far behind in per game average with 13.7.

On the other hand, this is also the issue for Chubb, as he shares a backfield with an RB who would start for nearly every other team in the NFL. 

The topic that is not discussed enough is both Chubb and Hunt are free agents after the 2021 season. I doubt the Browns would be willing to meet the asking price of both RBs, so who do they value more? I believe it is Chubb, but the market will pounce should either Browns RB make it to the 2022 offseason.

RB6) Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans

At what point do the wheels fall off? If you can answer this, you can solve the riddle that is Derrick Henry’s dynasty value. We are asking questions about the back-to-back rushing leader and if you think he is worth the risk. How absurd is that? While slightly ridiculous, it is valid.

Over the last two seasons, he’s averaged 340 rushes for 1,783 yards and 16 rushing TDs. It’s the attempts that are the concern. Henry is coming off a season of 378 attempts and now heads into a 17-game schedule. Can he hold up to this workload?

There is also the unknown of a new offensive coordinator, with Todd Downing replacing Arthur Smith. Downing was the Titans’ TE coach for the previous two seasons.

If anyone could ever be an outlier when it comes to volume sustained over multiple years before a massive regression, it is Henry. However, if you are a team outside of contention, Henry’s value could be best utilized as a trade asset to help build your roster. He is still one of the highest-ranked RBs in dynasty for 2021, but will that be the case for 2022?

2021 Dynasty RB Rankings | 1-5

Getting a top-five RB on your dynasty squad can be easier said than done. If you are lucky enough to have an early draft pick, who should you target?

RB5) Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints

Strictly speaking on talent, Alvin Kamara is as good as it gets. His acceleration, top-end speed, agility, and receiving prowess are as good as anyone. But how far will that take him on a Saints team no longer led by Drew Brees?

In their 52 games together, Kamara averaged 22.36 ppg with a 16-game average of 173 rushes for 882 yards and 12 touchdowns with 90 receptions on 113 targets for 795 yards and 4 more touchdowns. 

In eight games without Brees, Kamara falls to 16.98 PPR points per game. Maybe not quite a plummet, but a substantial drop compared to other RBs in 2021 dynasty rankings. 

Right now, we speculate that Jameis Winston will be the starting QB in 2021 (keyword — speculating). We have never seen Kamara in an entire season without Brees. Nevertheless, if anyone can make it work given his supreme talent, it is Kamara.

RB4) Jonathan Taylor, Indianapolis Colts

Anyone that knows me also knows I have been about as big of a Jonathan Taylor believer as there is going back to his time at Wisconsin. As much as I want to move him as high as the RB2 in my 2021 dynasty rankings, I have to look at his season with a critical eye. That’s my job.

Taylor ended the season as the RB6 with 252.8 PPR points, averaging 16.9 per game. He led all rookies in both yards (1,169) and touchdowns (11) while adding 299 yards and a score through the air. But we also need to acknowledge the disparity between the first and second half of the season. 

From Weeks 1 through 10, Taylor was the RB19 (11.9 ppg and 0.78 pts/opp), even though Marlon Mack was out for the season with a torn Achilles. He saw 136 opportunities, which he turned into 631 yards and 4 touchdowns.

Then we get to Week 11, and we see the player we always knew was there. Taylor was the RB3 on the exact same 136 opportunities. This time, he recorded 837 yards (6.1 yards per touch) and scored 8 touchdowns, increasing his per game average to 24.3 and 1.07 pts/opp. 

So what changed? The quality of the opponent changed. He played against the Texans twice (31st vs. RBs in fantasy points), Packers (28th), Raiders (29th), Jaguars (30th), and the Steelers (2nd), who were dealing with a plethora of injuries. 

The Colts added a mobile QB in Carson Wentz, lost their left tackle, and brought Mack back for the 2021 season. I still love Taylor and his long-term value. But as I said in the beginning, we have to split hairs when comparing the elite options of this game. 

RB3) Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings

Speaking of players with health concerns that are always brought up, Dalvin Cook comes in as the RB3 in the 2021 dynasty RB rankings. Here’s the thing, E.V.E.R.Y. RB gets injured at some point. It’s the nature of running at fully grown men at full speed 220-plus times over 17 weeks. Just look at last season — only two of the top 12 and four of the top 24 RBs even played all 16 games. It is the severity of injuries that matters.

Yes, Cook tore his ACL. That was in 2017, not 2020. Over the last two seasons, Cook has played in 28 of 32 possible games and averaged 1,346 rushing yards, 440 receiving yards, and scored 30 touchdowns. He was the RB6 in 2019 with 20.9 ppg and 0.93 points per opportunity, and in 2020, Cook was the RB2 in PPR (24.1 ppg and 0.92 pts/opp). 

Over the past two years, no RB has scored more fantasy points than Cook (630.2). Although there are questions about what the offense will look like under Klint Kubiak, they are not enough to make anyone leery of Cook in dynasty formats.

RB2) Saquon Barkley, New York Giants

How quickly someone can go from “generational talent” to a buy-low. The fantasy community can be a fickle beast at times, that is for sure. 

Unfortunately, we have to throw out the 2020 season from a stats perspective due to his torn ACL. At the time of his injury, Barkley had 227 rushing yards and a TD in just two games. The last healthy season for Barkley was 2019, where he totaled 1,441 scrimmage yards and 8 touchdowns as the RB10. Even for that season, I use the term healthy loosely. Barkley suffered a high ankle sprain in Week 3 and even admitted that he came back too early. 

Still, even on one ankle for over half the season, Barkley was better than given credit. The recency effect combined with the lofty expectations placed on him after his breakout rookie season after he had 1,307 rushing yards, 721 receiving yards, and 15 total touchdowns have clouded the perception of Barkley.

In 2018, Barkley averaged 22 touches per game (second amongst RBs), 126.8 yards per game (second), 21.3 PPR ppg (second), and was 11th in fantasy points per opportunity (minimum 60 touches). Fast forward to 2019, those totals were 20.7 touches (seventh), 110.8 yards (sixth), 18.8 ppg (seventh), and was 23rd in points per opportunity at 0.84. The main difference in these data sets is the drop in targets from 121 to 73. 

If you knew you would have a healthy Barkley for 2021, there is no hesitation he is the RB2 in dynasty rankings. The RBs behind him also come with their own question marks. Personally, I am banking on the pure talent of Barkley winning out over time.

RB1) Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers

At this point, it would be a surprise to see any other RB listed atop 2021 dynasty RB rankings. Some decisions are better off not overthinking. Despite missing the majority of the season, McCaffrey is still the most valuable player in dynasty leagues outside of superflex formats, where a select few QBs vault him in rankings. Even in just three games last year, McCaffrey was still the RB54, averaging 30.1 PPR ppg. Simply absurd. 

McCaffrey’s 471.2 PPR points were the highest for an RB in his record-breaking season since LaDainian Tomlinson’s 481.1 in 2006. For context, the gap to the RB2 (Aaron Jones) was 156.4 points. This is the same gap Jones (RB2) had to Duke Johnson as the RB29. 

The Panthers saw upgrades on the offensive line (and hopefully at QB), making this an even more potent offense. Expect to see heavy usage again from the most versatile RB in the NFL, who is in his prime at 24 years old.

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 and up-to-date rankings.

Tommy Garrett is a writer for Pro Football Network covering the NFL and fantasy football. You can read more of his work here and follow him at @TommygarrettPFN on Twitter.

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