Fantasy Football RB Rankings 2021: Christian McCaffrey reigns supreme

After an offseason full of moves along with a new class of rookies, here are our current fantasy football RB rankings for the 2021 season.

As we push into Week 2 of the preseason, fantasy football drafts continue to fire off at a record pace. More and more people are jumping into the format for the first time or are getting back into it after several months removed from the previous season. After an offseason full of moves along with a new class of rookies set to take the stage, here are our current fantasy football RB rankings for the 2021 season.

2021 Fantasy Football RB Rankings | 1-10

Note: These consensus rankings were created by Senior Fantasy Analyst Eric Moody and Fantasy Analyst Tommy Garrett with 0.5 PPR scoring in mind and will fluctuate as we get closer to the season. Please check back regularly for any changes.

RB Rankings | 1-5

  • RB1 – Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers
  • RB2 – Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings
  • RB3 – Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans
  • RB4 – Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints
  • RB5 – Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys

The best of the best. In most drafts, these running backs will be the first five picks off the board. McCaffrey is the locked-in 1.01 in all non-superflex drafts, with Cook going second in 99% of leagues. Beyond that, there is room for debate on order based on format and what you like in a running back. Henry is coming off back-to-back rushing titles on an astonishing 718 touches. 

This season, Kamara could set a career-high in targets as the only real threat on the Saints’ offense, with Michael Thomas still working his way back from ankle surgery in June. Elliott is a combination of both Henry and Kamara in a way. In his five seasons, he’s finished as the RB2, RB12, RB5, RB3, and RB9, respectively, averaging 1,276 rushing yards, 391 receiving yards, and 11.2 total touchdowns per season.

Regardless of who you choose, there is no wrong answer when starting your fantasy football team with any RBs in this portion of rankings.

RB Rankings | 6-10

  • RB6 – Jonathan Taylor, Indianapolis Colts
  • RB7 – Saquon Barkley, New York Giants
  • RB8 – Aaron Jones, Green Bay Packers
  • RB9 – Nick Chubb, Cleveland Browns
  • RB10 – Austin Ekeler, Los Angeles Chargers

For as loaded as the top-five in RB rankings are, the latter half of the top 10 features backs equally talented and could be massive values in fantasy football.

There is no question at all — Taylor is special. In Weeks 13-17 last season, he was the RB1 in fantasy with 125.3 points, racking up 651 rushing yards and 8 total touchdowns.  However, the recent injury to QB Carson Wentz has the Colts’ offense in a very precarious place. Taylor has been slipping into the second round of drafts, but if Wentz’s timeline — along with G Quenton Nelson’s — is on the shorter side of 5 to 12 weeks, he has the chance to be a top-three fantasy football RB.

Barkley becoming a bargain in Round 2

Barkley in Round 2? Believe it or not, it’s happening more and more often. There have been concerns about his workload early on, but fantasy managers should be chomping at the bit on this potential steal.

Over the last two seasons, Jones has finished as the RB2 and RB5 while averaging 19.2 ppg (30 games). He finished as an RB1 in 43% of his games and as an RB2 or better in 76% of contests played. Aaron Rodgers is back in town, which should equal another RB1 season for Jones.

The argument could be made that Chubb is the best pure rusher in the NFL. It is not one you would see me try to argue either. Amongst RBs who have played 15+ games since 2018, Chubb is third in yards (3,557), sixth in touchdowns (28), and fourth in yards per game (80.8). He averaged 17.3 ppg and 1.01 points per opportunity, even with Kareem Hunt on the roster in 2020. 

Ekeler is a terrific second-round pick

Unless Taylor or Barkley slide into Round 2, Ekeler is the best second-round pick you can make in fantasy football drafts. Serving in the “Kamara” role in the Chargers’ offense now ran by Joe Lombardi (formerly of the Saints), Ekeler could be a massive steal and finish inside the top six.

2021 Fantasy Football RB Rankings | 11-20

A couple of second-year players could easily find themselves in the top 10 by the season’s end.

RB Rankings | 11-15

  • RB11 – Antonio Gibson, Washington Football Team
  • RB12 – Najee Harris, Pittsburgh Steelers
  • RB13 – Joe Mixon, Cincinnati Bengals
  • RB14 – Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Kansas City Chiefs
  • RB15 – D’Andre Swift, Detroit Lions

If you want to bet on a second-year breakout that could finish inside the top eight in RB fantasy football rankings in 2021, draft Gibson or Edwards-Helaire. Given their current ADP, you could even walk away with both.

Harris has 300-touch upside and a track record of success while in college. Even with a questionable offensive line, it’s hard to imagine (barring injury) how he does not return value.

RB Rankings | 16-20

  • RB16 – Chris Carson, Seattle Seahawks
  • RB17 – J.K. Dobbins, Baltimore Ravens
  • RB18 – David Montgomery, Chicago Bears
  • RB19 – Miles Sanders, Philadelphia Eagles
  • RB20 – Josh Jacobs, Las Vegas Raiders

At this point in RB rankings, we get to players with more question marks tied to their fantasy football value.

Over the last three years, Carson has averaged 19.1 opportunities, 92.1 total yards, 0.66 TDs, and 15.5 fantasy points per game. There’s the talk he is injury-prone. Yes, Carson has never played in 16 games. But, guess what? Very few running backs have. In the past three seasons, Carson has played in 41 total games. That is more than Cook, Mixon, McCaffrey, and Barkley.

Following Baltimore’s bye, Dobbins led the Ravens’ backfield in snaps (48%) while averaging 12.8 touches, 77.4 total yards, and .77 touchdowns per game. This includes a missed game due to NFL protocols. In that span, Dobbins totaled 109 carries for 651 yards and 7 touchdowns. But can Dobbins recreate his hyper-efficient 6.9 yards per carry and TD rate? Or is he too risky at his current place in 2021 RB rankings for fantasy football?

Montgomery’s 17.7 PPR average was sixth amongst RBs in 2020 (minimum 60 rushes), raising his points per game by seven from the year prior. 

There is no disputing Sanders’ skills, but will the committee approach of the Eagles’ offense allow him to outperform his current RB ranking?

Coming off a 306-touch season, it’s unlikely Jacobs hits that mark in 2021 following the addition of Kenyan Drake in the offseason. While still a mid-RB2 in fantasy football rankings, his chances of top-10 status are likely gone for 2021.

2021 Fantasy Football RB Rankings | 21-30

Fantasy Football RB Rankings 2021: Christian McCaffrey reigns supreme
Fantasy Football RB Rankings 2021: Christian McCaffrey reigns supreme

Which RBs currently have low-end RB2/high-end RB3 status?

RB Rankings | 21-25

  • RB21 – Myles Gaskin, Miami Dolphins
  • RB22 – Mike Davis, Atlanta Falcons
  • RB23 – Darrell Henderson, Los Angeles Rams
  • RB24 – Kareem Hunt, Cleveland Browns
  • RB25 – Travis Etienne, Jacksonville Jaguars

Gaskin was ninth in touches per game at 18.3, which was more than Kamara (18.0). He was tied for sixth in targets per game at 4.7 and on pace for 1,000 yards and 70 receptions. But the growing concern of a committee approach with Salvon Ahmed and Malcolm Brown is starting to concern me after being bullish on Gaskin all offseason.

At RB22, Davis could smash his current RB ranking and be a league-winning fantasy football RB in 2021. The volume will be there. The question is can he hold up to it?

After the unfortunate loss of Cam Akers (torn Achilles) for the season, Henderson’s fantasy football RB ranking shot up. From Weeks 2 through 7, Henderson served as the Rams’ RB1, averaging 16.2 opportunities, 85.9 yards, and 0.7 touchdowns per game. With Akers’ injury, the Rams have the fourth-highest percentage of vacated carries with 63.2% and are second in carries (299), behind only the Falcons. 

There is a narrative that if anything were to happen to Hunt, Chubb is a league-winner. The same logic can be said in reverse for Hunt, who would be a starter on 95% of NFL rosters.

While Etienne is the fresh face on the Jaguars, Robinson might still be the RB1 if the first preseason game is any indication. However, in PPR formats, Etienne could be the more valuable back given the scoring difference in carries vs. targets for fantasy football.

In 2020, the top 60 RBs averaged 0.67 points per rush (PPR scoring). Those same RBs averaged 1.88 fantasy points per target and a whopping 2.86 points per reception. Those are not insignificant numbers.

RB Rankings | 26-30

  • RB26 – Chase Edmonds, Arizona Cardinals
  • RB27 – Michael Carter, New York Jets
  • RB28 – Melvin Gordon, Denver Broncos
  • RB29 – Damien Harris, New England Patriots
  • RB30 – Javonte Williams, Denver Broncos

The high-end RB3 range in fantasy football features several RBs that are in committees in 2021. Both the Cardinals (Edmonds and Conner) and Broncos (Williams and Gordon) backs are all in a similar range. Many fantasy managers are choosing to opt for the better value on draft day, assuming end-of-season values will be relatively similar. 

RB Rankings | 31-40

  • RB31 – Raheem Mostert, San Francisco 49ers
  • RB32 – James Robinson, Jacksonville Jaguars
  • RB33 – Ronald Jones II, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
  • RB34 – Leonard Fournette, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
  • RB35 – James Conner, Arizona Cardinals
  • RB36 – Trey Sermon, San Francisco 49ers
  • RB37 – David Johnson, Houston Texans
  • RB38 – A.J. Dillon, Green Bay Packers
  • RB39 – Zack Moss, Buffalo Bills
  • RB40 – Gus Edwards, Baltimore Ravens

One of the best values in all of fantasy football, especially for RBs, in 2021 is Edwards. In his three seasons, Edwards has seen at least 130 carries for 700 yards each time. From Week 6 on, Edwards was the RB26 in PPR, scoring with 9.9 ppg. In fact, Dobbins was trailing him in fantasy points heading into Week 17 until the rookie went off for 160 yards and 2 touchdowns. The Ravens are enamored with Edwards and extended him with a two-year, $10 million contract in the offseason. Given their ADPs difference, I would rather draft Edwards and his 160-plus carry upside nearly seven rounds later.

RB Rankings | 41-50

  • RB41 – Nyheim Hines, Indianapolis Colts
  • RB42 – Tony Pollard, Dallas Cowboys
  • RB43 – Kenyan Drake, Las Vegas Raiders
  • RB44 – Jamaal Williams, Detroit Lions
  • RB45 – Latavius Murray, New Orleans Saints
  • RB46 – Devin Singletary, Buffalo Bills
  • RB47 – Alexander Mattison, Minnesota Vikings
  • RB48 – J.D. McKissic, Washington Football Team
  • RB49 – James White, New England Patriots
  • RB50 – Giovani Bernard, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Williams could be one of our favorite sleeper running backs for 2021. Knowing that this will be a committee approach, it is relatively easy to project Williams for 200+ touches. He is one of the better values amongst fantasy football RB rankings in 2021.

Bernard could have upside in PPR formats if he finds himself in the “James White” role for Tom Brady and the Buccaneers. Clearly, they brought him in for a reason.

RB Rankings | 51-60

  • RB51 – Rashaad Penny, Seattle Seahawks
  • RB52 – Phillip Lindsay, Houston Texans
  • RB53 – Tevin Coleman, New York Jets
  • RB54 – Tarik Cohen, Chicago Bears
  • RB55 – Joshua Kelley, Los Angeles Chargers
  • RB56 – Sony Michel, New England Patriots
  • RB57 – Salvon Ahmed, Miami Dolphins
  • RB58 – Devontae Booker, New York Giants
  • RB59 – Malcolm Brown, Miami Dolphins
  • RB60 – Marlon Mack, Indianapolis Colts

Lindsay, who was selected to the Pro Bowl in his rookie season in 2018, ran for more than 1,000 yards in 2018 and 2019 but dealt with injuries in 2020. Are we sure we can trust Johnson to be the Texans’ RB1? If not, Lindsay could be an incredible value based on his current spot in RB rankings for fantasy football in 2021. 

RB Rankings | 61-80

  • RB61 – Damien Williams, Chicago Bears
  • RB62 – Samaje Perine, Cincinnati Bengals
  • RB63 – Chuba Hubbard, Carolina Panthers
  • RB64 – Boston Scott, Philadelphia Eagles
  • RB65 – Mark Ingram II, Houston Texans
  • RB66 – Darrel Williams, Kansas City Chiefs
  • RB67 – Kenneth Gainwell, Philadelphia Eagles
  • RB68 – Darrynton Evans, Tennessee Titans
  • RB69 – Jeff Wilson Jr., San Francisco 49ers
  • RB70 – Jerick McKinnon, Kansas City Chiefs

When targeting RB sleepers in the bottom part of fantasy football rankings, take a hard look at Gainwell for 2021. Both HC Nick Sirianni (32) and OC Shane Steichen’s (34) backfields were in the top 10 in RB opportunities per game last season. More importantly, they both featured the RB in the passing game, something Sanders struggled with last season (13.5% drop rate). 

In the fifth round of the 2021 NFL Draft, the Eagles drafted Gainwell out of Memphis, the best pass-catching back in the class. Do not be shocked if Gainwell nears flex consideration rather quickly.

  • RB71 – Benny Snell Jr., Pittsburgh Steelers
  • RB72 – Carlos Hyde, Jacksonville Jaguars
  • RB73 – Larry Rountree III, Los Angeles Chargers
  • RB74 – Kalen Ballage, Pittsburgh Steelers
  • RB75 – Justin Jackson, Los Angeles Chargers
  • RB76 – Ty Johnson, New York Jets
  • RB77 – Wayne Gallman, San Francisco 49ers
  • RB78 – Rhamondre Stevenson, New England Patriots
  • RB79 – Justice Hill, Baltimore Ravens
  • RB80 – Matt Breida, Buffalo Bills

Who will be the RB2 for the Chargers behind Ekeler in 2021? If you guess correctly, one of these RBs will be a home run. Draft the lottery ticket and see what happens.

Tommy Garrett is a writer for Pro Football Network covering the NFL and fantasy football and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA). You can read more of his work here and follow him at @TommygarrettPFN on Twitter.

Tommy Garrett is a Fantasy Analyst for Pro Football Network and is a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA). You can read all of Tommy’s work here and give him a follow on Twitter: @TommyGarrettPFN.

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