There are a limited number of run-heavy NFL offenses each season capable of supporting multiple relevant running backs for fantasy football. This article will prioritize offenses with running backs projected to have a large opportunity (rushing attempts plus targets) share in 2021.
Run-heavy NFL offenses with fantasy football value in 2021 | AFC
The Baltimore Ravens, Tennesee Titans, New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints, Cleveland Browns, and Arizona Cardinals are all projected to lean heavily on their running backs. Let’s begin with the AFC teams.
The Ravens ranked first in the NFL last season with 34.6 rushing attempts per game. Quarterback Lamar Jackson averaged a superb 10.6 rushing attempts while Baltimore’s running backs averaged 22.7 attempts. Baltimore’s backs only averaged 4 targets per game.
Over the last two seasons under offensive coordinator Greg Roman, the Ravens’ running backs have averaged 27.6 opportunities per game. This trend will continue in 2021.
J.K. Dobbins will lead Baltimore’s backfield this season. We have him projected for around 240 opportunities. Gus Edwards will remain a key contributor to the Ravens’ backfield. He projects for around 145 opportunities. If Dobbins were to miss an extended amount of time, Edwards would absorb his opportunity share behind the Ravens’ stout offensive line.
The Titans ranked second in the league with 32 rushing attempts per game. Tennessee’s running backs averaged 3.6 targets per game. Derrick Henry averaged 25.6 opportunities per game. He led all running backs in 2020 with 21 rushing attempts of 15+ yards.
Tennessee promoted tight ends coach Todd Downing to offensive coordinator. The last time the Titans made an internal promotion of a tight ends coach, it was Arthur Smith. Smith is now the head coach of the Falcons, but his offense ranked second in rushing yards per game. The Titans will likely continue to lean heavily on Henry and its running game.
Henry could receive 340+ opportunities in 2021. Darrynton Evans will operate as a change-of-pace option. As a reminder, the Titans drafted him No. 93 overall in the 2020 NFL Draft.
He was a two-time Sun Belt Championship Game Most Valuable Player and the Most Valuable Player in last year’s New Orleans Bowl. The 2019 Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Year finished his collegiate career ranked No. 9 all time with 2,884 rushing yards. Evans also owns the Appalachian State record for most career rushing attempts without a fumble (482) and the single-season rushing attempt record without a fumble (255 in 2019).
If Henry were ever to miss time, Evans would be a key beneficiary behind its solid offensive line.
New England Patriots
The Patriots ranked third in the NFL with an average of 31.4 rushing attempts last season. New England provided its running backs a healthy 7.6 targets per game last season.
New England’s offensive line has historically been solid. That will continue in 2021. The Patriots have solid starters at every position on the line.
Running back James White is expected to continue to operate as the team’s receiving back. We have him projected for around 45 rushing attempts and 65 targets.
Damien Harris is underrated. He got off to a slow start in 2020 because of an ankle injury. In 10 games played, Harris averaged nearly 14 rushing attempts and 69 rushing yards per game.
His floor in 2021 is a little over 200 rushing attempts, but it would not be a surprise if he is given a larger workload with Sony Michel being a likely cut candidate. Harris’ ceiling will be even higher if Mac Jones is named the Patriots’ starting quarterback.
The Browns averaged 30.4 rushing attempts per game, ranking fifth. Cleveland’s running backs averaged 5 targets per game and have one of the best offensive lines in the NFL.
Running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt will continue to share opportunities in 2021. Chubb averaged 15.8 rushing attempts and only 1.5 targets per game. He tied Jonathan Taylor (14) for the second-most rushing attempts of 15+ yards in 2020.
Hunt averaged 12.4 rushing attempts and 3.2 targets per game in 2020. We project Chubb to accumulate around 290+ opportunities in 2021, with Hunt stockpiling around 180. The Browns should continue to rely on its running game in 2021. We project quarterback Baker Mayfield to have around 510 pass attempts this season.
Run-heavy NFL offenses with fantasy football value in 2021 | NFC
The Cardinals and Saints are the run-heavy offenses from the NFC that provide significant value in fantasy football.
The Cardinals average 30 rushing attempts per game last season. Quarterback Kyler Murray averaged an astounding 8.3 rushing attempts per game. Arizona’s running backs averaged 21 attempts and 6.3 targets per game.
Arizona’s offensive line continues to improve. High-quality line play benefits the entire offense, especially a team’s run game. Offensive line coach Sean Kugler has done a tremendous job of improving the OL since arriving in the desert. General manager Steve Keim has also been proactive in trying to improve the unit — and it shows.
Pro Football Network’s NFL Insider Adam Beasley wrote in his Five At 5 column on July 7 that Cardinals running back Chase Edmonds is set to be the RB1 over free-agency addition James Conner. Edmonds is someone to target over Conner in fantasy football drafts.
New Orleans Saints
The Saints ranked fourth in rushing attempts per game (31) in 2020, and the cohort averaged 9 targets per game. The running backs in Sean Payton’s offense have historically been heavily used in the Saints’ offense since arriving in the Crescent City back in 2006.
New Orleans running backs have averaged 34 opportunities per game from 2006 to 2020. This trend will continue in 2021, even with Jameis Winston or Taysom Hill under center.
Over the last two seasons, Alvin Kamara has averaged 19.4 opportunities per game. Latavius Murray, on the other hand, has averaged 11.6 opportunities per game over that same time frame.
We have Kamara projected for 280+ opportunities and Murray for 155+ in 2021. Kamara is the running back to roster in New Orleans, but Murray can also fill his shoes if he misses time.
The Saints under Payton have typically invested premium capital in its offensive line, and that’s reflected statistically on the football field. This trend will also continue in 2021.
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Eric is a Senior Fantasy Analyst for Pro Football Network and a member of the FSWA (Fantasy Sports Writers Association). You can read more of his work here and follow Eric on Twitter @EricNMoody.