Top Dynasty RB Rankings for the 2021 NFL season

2021 Dynasty RB Rankings | 1-5

5) Dalvin Cook
4) Alvin Kamara
3) Jonathan Taylor
2) Saquon Barkley
1) Christian McCaffrey

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) Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings

After spending some time as the RB3 in our 2021 dynasty RB rankings, Dalvin Cook dips slightly to RB5. Questions about what the offense will look like under Klint Kubiak and the popularity of at least one running back now ahead of him are the reasons for the slight dip in 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+ 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. But 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 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). 

In fact, over the past two years, no RB has scored more fantasy points than Cook (630.2). How long he can maintain this kind of volume remains to be seen, but Cook absolutely belongs in the top five of RB dynasty rankings.

RB4) Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints

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 fell 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 Saints’ starting QB in 2021 (keyword — speculate). 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.

RB3) Jonathan Taylor, Indianapolis Colts

Jonathan Taylor ended the 2020 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. At just 22, Taylor deserves his top-three spot in our 2021 dynasty RB rankings. His long-term value with the Colts is something worth getting excited about, but we can not yet rank him ahead of the next two players. 

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, Saquon 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 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 in 2019 were the highest for an RB since LaDainian Tomlinson’s 481.1 in 2006. For context, the gap to the RB2 (Aaron Jones — 314.8) 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.

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