Dynasty Running Back Rankings: Top assets heading into 2021

Dynasty fantasy football rankings involve recency effect to a degree, but it’s a matter of appraising value within a player’s career arc. When is the best time to have that player on your roster, and when are they better trade targets? Who can you buy low and sell high? When it comes to running backs, the position is as volatile as ever — let’s dive into my 2021 dynasty RB rankings and evaluate the most desirable assets.

2021 Dynasty Running Back Rankings | 6-10

10) D’Andre Swift, Detroit Lions

Swift had just one game in which he ran for more than 81 yards and just one game that he eclipsed 60 receiving yards. In Swift’s 13 rookie year games, he only produced 878 yards from scrimmage. So why be so excited by Swift? He flashed. And he flashed in a big way. He also found the end zone 10 times.

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Swift already has proven to be quite capable in the passing game and is probably just at the tip of the iceberg in that phase. Hopefully, the Lions’ new coaching staff realizes this and expands Swift’s route tree and passing game responsibility in his second season. Hopefully, the Lions’ new coaching staff realizes that Swift should be where Detroit starts on offense. Based on Dan Campbell’s introductory press conference, physicality will be an emphasis.

Swift wasn’t a slam dunk for this final spot, and there were about a half a dozen candidates in contention.

9) Cam Akers, Los Angeles Rams

This is trusting Sean McVay to keep the Rams’ running game as the foundation of their offense, which is certainly Los Angeles’ best approach. And as he proved in his rookie year, that is all about Akers, the youngest running back on this list.

Akers tore it up in his two postseason games and clearly is Los Angeles’ lead back from now on. He only caught 14 passes in 15 total games including the playoffs, but Akers does have upside in this area, and we’ve seen lead running backs (think Todd Gurley) rack up big receiving numbers in McVay’s offense.

8) Nick Chubb, Cleveland Browns

Chubb was only available for a dozen games this year, but only Derrick Henry and Dalvin Cook averaged more rushing yards per game — even with Kareem Hunt very much in the mix for Cleveland. Chubb also scored 12 times. The Cleveland RB is as talented as any running back in these 2021 dynasty rankings.

Related | Biggest Offseason Needs for the Houston Texans, Cleveland Browns, and the rest of the AFC

The 1A in the Browns’ RB committee very well could be the NFL’s best pure ball carrier. Yet, like Henry, Chubb won’t be a force in the passing game. And Hunt isn’t going away soon. 

7) Miles Sanders, Philadelphia Eagles

This is a bet that Philadelphia’s new coaching staff, unlike the Doug Pederson era, will realize that Sanders absolutely has to be the foundation of this offense no matter who is quarterbacking the Eagles. Sanders has some similarities to Kamara in that he isn’t necessarily a bell-cow runner, but this is an immensely talented player that can do a lot with a little for his fantasy football managers. 

6) Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans

Henry is the oldest running back on this list and has taken an awful lot of punishment. However, he also isn’t like anyone else on this list. Henry led the NFL in rushing by nearly 500 yards in 2020. His 17 rushing touchdowns also led the league. Everyone understands exactly what Henry is. He won’t catch the ball, but he will rack up huge rushing days and tons of touchdowns.

How much longer can Henry keep it up? That’s the ultimate question. 

2021 Dynasty Running Back Rankings | 1-5

5) Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings

Cook missed two games this year but still was the NFL’s second-leading rusher and scored the league’s second-most rushing touchdowns. This is an elite NFL weapon and a special player. Cook has an injury history, though, and isn’t a young player anymore for this position. It might be a great time to trade Cook, who will be 26 years old when the 2021 season starts. Or just ride him and reap in a ton of fantasy production. 

4) Jonathan Taylor, Indianapolis Colts

Despite beginning his career in the NFL slowly, Taylor still ended up as the third-best rusher when it was all said and done this year. He also scored 11 times. Taylor is unlikely to ever be a major contributor in the passing game — that duty belongs to Nyheim Hines — but he should be a suitable dump-off option.

Yet, as a runner, Taylor can break long runs as well as handling all short-yardage duties. It would be nice if we knew how the Colts were going to address the quarterback and left tackle situation, but Taylor is set up for massive fantasy production for quite a while by running back standards. Over Taylor’s last six games, he averaged 123.5 rushing yards per game. It looks like a huge sign of things to come.

The Colts’ offensive identity likely leans on Taylor, and it’s possible the former Wisconsin Badgers RB should be even higher in these 2021 running back dynasty rankings.

3) Saquon Barkley, New York Giants

Much like Christian McCaffrey, Barkley gave his fantasy owners nothing this year. Also like McCaffrey, he is matchup and game script-proof. Injuries are a bigger concern for Barkley, though, but he has one less year of wear and tear on his body. The Giants’ offense isn’t an ideal spot for him to explode, but that situation could be improved over this offseason. And is there a more gifted running back on the planet than Barkley?

2) Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints

Only Derrick Henry found the end zone as a runner more often than Kamara this year, and running the ball is just a fraction of what this 25-year-old brings to the table. Kamara is an elite runner but is a remarkable receiver.

Kamara caught 81 passes in each of his first three years in the league and 83 balls in 2020. In total, Kamara found the end zone 21 times this year and had more receiving yards than any running back in the league. However, while this is no fault of Kamara’s, there is a concern with how the Saints’ offense will look without Drew Brees. Will the new quarterback feed Kamara the ball with as much regularity?

Here is betting that Sean Payton will make sure his best offensive player remains the foundation of New Orleans’ offensive attack in the future. You can make the case the Saints’ RB should be the top-rated running back in the 2021 dynasty rankings.

1) Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers

McCaffrey isn’t a slam dunk number one here, and, obviously, he gave his fantasy owners nothing this past year. Yet, he is only 24 years old, produced 2,392 yards from scrimmage and 19 touchdowns a year ago. McCaffrey has proven that he can be a massive workhorse and never missed a game before this year. If the Panthers are winning, it is probably because he carried the team towards victory. If they are losing, he gets peppered with targets. 

The versatility is stunning and, if healthy, the production will assuredly be there.

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