1. Christian McCaffrey
This is a no-brainer. While run CMC had a frustrating string of injuries in 2020, when he was healthy he gave fantasy owners exactly what they drafted as its clear: the Panthers view him as their everything back and the focal point of their offense. No other RB gets the volume of touches McCaffrey does, and his catches rack up points in PPR. Case and point: the fewest targets he had in a game in 2020 was 3, and he accrued 10 in his final game.
Even if he gets hurt again in 2021, you can count on Carolina’s backup to have a Mike Davis-esque 8-20 points (most of the time 8 for all you 2020 Mike Davis owners) in McCaffrey’s absence as the Panthers have proved their offense relies on using the RB position in a versatile manner. Since 2017, McCaffrey leads all running backs in catches of 15+ yards with 47, ahead of Alvin Kamara with 43.
2. Dalvin Cook
A similar argument to McCaffrey, Dalvin is an obvious top three back due to his involvement in the offense, his unique talent, and his involvement in the receiving game. Despite missing two games, Cook put together a stellar 2020 campaign, finishing a career-best second among fantasy RBs in points. In 2020, Cook ranked 2nd amongst RBs in carries, touches, scrimmage yards and TDs. His 22 carries inside opponents’ 5-yard lines led the league.
Cook finished top-three in fantasy points per game each of the past two seasons, but durability remains an issue. He’s missed at least two games in all four of his NFL seasons. His talent is unignorable though, check out a sample below where he shows off his razor-sharp cuts, incredible vision, and speed as he accelerates to the end zone:
3. Derrick Henry
In all honesty, I would take Derrick Henry over Dalvin purely because of Dalvin’s injury history. Henry is an absolute mammoth of a human being, and someone who will likely defy the usual RB shelf-life. Although, I was afraid everyone would think this list was cracked out if they saw Henry in the #2 slot. “But DHen doesn’t get any catches! At least not as much as Kamara or Dalvin or Saquon!”
NEWS FLASH: You don’t need catches if you run for over 100 yards or score least two TDs. Derrick Henry did that in 10 of 16 games, that’s pretty hard to beat. Henry ran for over 200 yards three times and scored at least two TDs in six outings. Last season, he exploded to the top of Pro Football Focus’ rankings, earning the highest grade of any RB.
4. Alvin Kamara
Kamara’s value will take a slight hit with Drew Brees’ retirement, but he is critical to the Saints offense, as involved in the passing game as any RB, and is obviously one of the top five most talented RBs today if you see him play. The top-scoring back of 2020 (in terms of fantasy points), Kamara finished a position-best 80% of his outings a top-10 RB. Kamara’s role in Sean Payton’s game plans is crystal-clear: he’s finished with between 171 and 194 carries each of the past three seasons while posting reception totals of 81, 81, 81 and 83 throughout his four NFL campaigns. He’s definitely among the top RBs with the most opportunities to receive the ball.
Kamara has not finished a season lower than 5th among RBs in targets, receptions, or receiving yards and has finished top-two in total TDs during three of four seasons. If you’re even remotely concerned about drafting Kamara, check out the below play to put those concerns at ease as you’ll catch yourself believing it can’t end in a TD the whole time:
5. Saquon Barkley
When you take into account his size/speed combination and his overall athleticism, Saquon might be the best RB in the NFL. The only reason he’s not higher is because of he’s coming off an ACL tear and because I trust the Giants to use their talent correctly about as much as I trust Adam Silver. The Giants added Kenny Golladay and drafted a talented WR in the first-round of the 2021 NFL draft.
Hopefully, the Giants offense will be able to open up the field and take some pressure off Barkley. Its worth noting Barkley led all RBs in yardage and fantasy points as a rookie in 2018. Additionally, he ranked third in yardage and fourth in fantasy points during his 12 full games in 2019.
6. Ezekiel Elliott
This is tough because I owned Zeke last year and lemme tell ya… not great, not great at all. The hope is with Dak coming back this offense becomes balanced again and Zeke will find more running room, but he looked slow and unathletic at times throughout the year. He ranks inside the top ten purely due to his role in the offense as he’s the Cowboy’s everything back much like Kamara/McCaffrey.
Despite not breaking 1,000 yards and only rushing for six TDs all year, Zeke did net 71 targets on the season and was targeted four or more times in half his games. He was also targeted 6 or more times in five games which is hard to come by for any RB. Prior to his 2020 skid, Zeke was on a tear and led all RBs in PRR points per game from 2016-2018 with 21.4.
7. Nick Chubb
“What the hell? First Derrick Henry at 3 and now this shit?” You bet your ass. If you know anything about the Browns, you would know I’m telling the truth when I say their offense is built on running the ball. The Browns need to run the ball to win games, and it shows up in the stats. There was a portion of last season where the Browns where the the #1 rushing team in the NFL in terms of yards with Chubb and Kareem Hunt pounding the rock (and were on a winning streak because of it).
One of the younger RBs on this list, the 25-year old Chubb will have arguably the best offensive line in the league to work with in 2021. In 11 regular season games, Chubb racked up 184 carries and 19 targets while only three RBs scored more fantasy points during the span. Putting a rough Week 1 aside, Chubb finished the other 10 full games he played as a top-22 fantasy back. Chubb is obviously a phenomenal rusher as he frequently displays the power to blast through tacklers and the shake to elude defenders in the open field. Chubb’s career 5.23 YPC and 2.28 YAC both rank second among qualified RBs. Furthermore, we saw a promising boost in targets down the stretch last season (16 in his final four games).
Tackling @nickchubb21 is hard, we get it.
— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) November 22, 2020
8. Austin Ekeler
Ekeler owners know he’s absolute money when healthy. A lock-it-in RB1 floor. The Chargers are throwing passes to anyone with hands with Justin Herbert seemingly attempting 40+ passes a game. Although Ekeler missed six games last year, he was his usual productive self when healthy. During 10 active weeks, he racked up 933 yards and was fantasy’s No. 8-scoring RB.
Even including the weeks he was sidelined, Ekeler finished 5th among backs in receptions and receiving yards for the 2nd-consecutive season as he received SEVEN or more targets in half his games. Ekeler is on the low-end of the top 10 because he has yet to get more than 140 carries in a single season, but his volume and efficiency as a receiver makes the 26-year-old a mouth-watering RB1 if he falls to you in your fantasy draft.
9. Aaron Jones
First of all, Jones coming in at #9 is completely dependent on Aaron Rodgers staying in Green Bay. Kiss this slot goodbye if Rodgers leaves. Aaron Jones doesn’t get the volume or goal line work that many of these other top-10 RBs receive, but at the end of the day he’s the RB1 for one of the NFL’s best offenses (if Rodgers stays).
This means plenty of scoring opportunities and efficiency, both of which Jones displayed in spades last season. He cracked 1,000 yards averaging an impressive 5.6 yards per carry (second-best YPC behind only J.K. Dobbins), scored a 11 total TDs, and accrued 52 catches on 71 targets. He also had at least three catches or more in a whopping 10 of his 16 games.
FREE AARON JONES pic.twitter.com/Qk6sEhoU6f
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) June 24, 2019
10. Miles Sanders
Sanders coming in at #10 likely brings a few questions, “Where’s D’Andre Swift? What about Jonathan Taylor?” All you Taylor owners can have fun, I’m not even close to high on him. Watch Colts games, even when Taylor is healthy the coaching staff loves Nyheim Hines like the Cardinals love Chase Edmonds. They design plays that are clearly specifically for Hines in the receiving game, and there were plenty of games where Hines out-carried Taylor even when Taylor was healthy. Swift I actually like and could have easily came in at this spot.
I think Sanders slightly edges Swift in terms of his talent level, NFL ball-carrier vision, and speed. As long as the Eagles actually run the ball consistently for once, Sanders will be productive and the Eagles will win games. The 2019 second-round pick missed nearly five full games in 2020, but averaged 14.1 carries and 4.6 targets per game during the 11 weeks he was healthy. He was RB11 in fantasy points those weeks and his 5.3 YPC was 5th-best among RBs. Sanders also has youth on his side at only 24 years old. He can be a dependable receiver as he ranked 7th in receiving yards and 2nd in yards per target among RBs as a rookie. Doubt his speed, his explosiveness, his talent level, or the idea that the Eagles need to give him the ball more? Check out what happened when the Eagles called this draw on third and nine against the Steelers: