If you’re a fantasy football player who believes in Zero RB or any similar strategy, then you could find yourself looking to Melvin Gordon or Damien Harris as your top running back. Both players are being drafted in the territories traditionally known as RB3, RB4, or Flex. Gordon’s average draft position (ADP) on Sleeper places him as the RB29. Harris, meanwhile, is even lower at RB34 in PPR leagues. Which player should you value higher, and who should you draft? We look at the case for both fantasy football RBs.
The case for Melvin Gordon over Damien Harris
Denver Broncos RB Melvin Gordon hasn’t been the most efficient rusher during his time in the NFL. He’s averaged just 4.1 yards per carry and has only hit 1,000 rushing yards once in six seasons — surprising for a player with his reputation. He’s come close on two other occasions, but he’s not a player who you should be drafting and expecting significant yardage.
Gordon will get you fantasy points by finding the end zone. After inexplicably not scoring a touchdown in his rookie season, Gordon has 57 TDs in his last 68 games in the five seasons that have followed. In fact, there has only been one season since his rookie year that he’s had fewer than 10 touchdowns. That was 2019 when a contract holdout caused him to miss the team’s first four games of the season. Upon his return, he scored 9 touchdowns in 12 games.
Will Melvin Gordon or Javonte Williams be the starting running back?
Denver’s running back room is barely recognizable from last season. Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman, the two other running backs in the committee, are no longer on the team. However, that doesn’t mean that Gordon has the backfield to himself.
In the second round of the 2021 NFL Draft, the Broncos traded up to select Javonte Williams out of North Carolina. The expectation is that he has a significant role in the offense, and he’s currently being taken before Gordon in fantasy drafts. The team also signed former Vikings running back Mike Boone in free agency. Boone will begin the season on short-term injured reserve but should feature upon his return.
Is Melvin Gordon a good PPR option?
Gordon’s receiving production dropped significantly in his first season with the Broncos. He posted career-low numbers for receptions and receiving yards while only narrowly being targeted more than his rookie season. With the Broncos naming Teddy Bridgewater the team’s starting quarterback, the arrow is pointing upwards.
Bridgewater targeted Christian McCaffrey and Mike Davis heavily last year for the Carolina Panthers. Alvin Kamara was also a crucial part of the passing game when Bridgewater started for the Saints. Whether Gordon becomes the primary receiver out of the backfield or not, being on the field with Bridgewater gives him a better chance than the same situation with Drew Lock at QB.
Why you should draft Damien Harris in 2021 fantasy football leagues
Damien Harris is the latest fantasy football RB to find himself thrust to the forefront of the New England Patriots’ unpredictable committee. He had a solid rookie season, carrying the ball 137 times and racking up 691 yards in just 10 games.
Trading Sony Michel to the Los Angeles Rams could be interpreted as the team showing faith in Harris, or it could be a byproduct of how impressive rookie Rhamondre Stevenson looked in the preseason. Stevenson was a fourth-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. He had 216 rushing yards and 5 touchdowns on just 30 carries in the preseason.
Harris should score more touchdowns this season
Harris should see more scoring opportunities in 2021. Cam Newton is one of the best short-yardage and goal-line runners in football. He proved that again last season, despite his inconsistencies in throwing the ball. Newton had 42 carries in the red zone, while Harris had just 6. Furthermore, Newton generated 12 red-zone rushing touchdowns compared to Harris’ 2.
That number is alarming. And yet, Rex Burkhead is the only player still on the roster who had more (3). He should still have a role, but Harris will too.
Damien Harris won’t be a big part of the passing game but should see more targets
Harris had just 5 receptions in the 2020 season, but Mac Jones likes to stand in the pocket far more than Newton does. As we saw with Najee Harris at Alabama, when the play looks like it’s breaking down, Jones is more likely to check down and look for his running back. Thus, more opportunities should open up for Harris, although he’ll primarily be used on early downs.
As with most Patriots running backs in recent years, Harris is more appealing in standard leagues. And that’s because of one reason: James White.
The last time White wasn’t targeted 50+ times was his rookie season in 2014, even though that number has fluctuated over the years. For example, in 2018, he was targeted 123 times — while last year, he only saw 62. Nevertheless, when the Patriots want to pass the ball, he’s the RB who will be on the field.
Listen to the PFN Fantasy Podcast
Listen to the PFN Fantasy Podcast! Click the embedded player below to listen, or you can find the PFN Fantasy Podcast on iTunes, Spotify, and all major podcast platforms. Be sure to subscribe and leave us a five-star review! Rather watch instead? Check out the PFN Fantasy Podcast on our Fantasy YouTube channel.