Fantasy Football RB Rankings 2021: Best running backs to draft, sleepers to know
Running back is the most important position in fantasy football. You should draft the top players early, the handcuffs late, and the sleepers everywhere in between…and then you should be constantly working the waiver wire to find new ones. We put a lot of care in these 2021 preseason RB rankings, but we all know someone who isn’t even on the list below will probably wind up starting for fantasy teams by midseason. It’s just the way it goes.
While many fantasy owners focus on the top of the rankings, the middle tier is just as important. You can debate Derrick Henry vs. Christian McCaffrey vs. Dalvin Cook at No. 1 all day (for what it’s worth, McCaffrey is No. 1 in our PPR rankings), but ultimately, if you get a chance to draft any of them, you should be in great shape. It’s the RBs further down the list that could make or break your season. If you get an RB2 who produces like an RB1 in the fourth round, you’re immediately ahead of the game. Conversely, if you reach for your favorite sleeper and he busts, you could be playing catch-up all year.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take some chances. The difference between whoever is No. 16 and No. 26 might not be that drastic interms of real production, but it could mean a difference of two or three rounds during the draft. Once you get past the “starters,” the summary outlook for all the rest of the RBs is similar: Could have a big year if there’s an injury to a teammate or they earn more playing time. You might have a better feeling about one or two, like Javonte Williams or Phillip Lindsay, but you’re at the mercy of the injury gods and coaching decisions (up to you which is less reliable).
Draft-day decision making is never easy, especially if you’re operating under false pretenses. The running back position has changed a lot in recent years, which is shown by the fact just eight RBs last year had over 1,000 rushing yards — down from 15 the season before. To be fair, the 15 1,000-yard rushers in 2019 is more of an outlier over the past half-dozen years than the eight last season, but it still shows why you need to heavily factor in receiving stats and scoring, even in non-PPR leagues.
However, with scoring up in general, there are more touchdown opportunities across the board. Last year, eight RBs had at least 10 rushing touchdowns. Compare that to 2018 when six RBs hit that mark and ’17 when just two backs scored 10 or more times on the ground. That would seem to indicate that it’s smarter to target the likely goal-line backs in a committee (Zack Moss over Devin Singletary? James Robinson over Travis Etienne?), but even then — are you sure you know who’s going to get goal-line carries?
There’s no “right” strategy for drafting RBs. Some prefer to use three of their top four picks on backs; others wait until the fifth round for their first and stock up on rookies and handcuffs. Regardless of you stance on targeting quality, you should definitely focus on quantity. After one of the best rookie RB seasons in recent memory, it’s likely many owners will try to recreate that magic. There’s nothing wrong that, but veterans have value, too. Getting a good mix gives you the most options — and you will need options.
We’ll be adjusting these RB rankings and providing further analysis from now until Week 1. Check back for updates!
2021 Fantasy RB Rankings
Rankings are based on standard, non-PPR scoring formats
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