As I drove by KFC earlier this week I was reminded that I still need to watch the Lifetime Original about Colonel Sanders, A Recipe for Seduction, starring Mario Lopez. Colonel Sanders got me to thinking about how I wanted to sneak Miles Sanders into my top 10 running back rankings this preseason. Then a squirrel ran by and I chased it around for 30 minutes. Later that night I sat down to compose my 2021 running back rankings with both Mario Lopez and Miles Sanders as a distant memory. As much as I wanted to squeeze them into the list below, both Mario Lopez and Miles Sanders narrowly missed the top 10 cut. Anyway, here’s my top 10 running backs for 2021 PPR fantasy football with projections:
Find all 2021 Positional Rankings here.
*Note: These rankings are geared toward half PPR scoring. Projections provided in this season’s rankings are NOT my own, they come from Rudy Gamble’s World Renowned 2021 Fantasy Football Projections. These preseason projections are available free of charge, while Rudy’s in season weekly projection subscription is currently available until July 31st at an early bird discounted price of only $17.99 for the entire season! These are the same weekly projections which have won Rudy Gamble the FantasyPros designation of “Best Bold Ranker” for the years 2017-2019 (and likely 2020!).
1. Christian McCaffrey – You might have noticed I’m not a fan of group think, but it’s hard to disagree with the consensus here. 2020 did show the first chink in McCaffrey’s armor, missing 13 of 16 games after an Ironman stint in his first three seasons. It’s possible his smaller frame is already wearing down after handling over 900 touches in his first three years in the league. But one season of injuries isn’t enough of a sample to scare me off a 25-year old back who boasts the most dynamic skillset and consistent fantasy production in the NFL. However, it is enough to keep me from placing CMC into a tier of his own.
Rudy’s 2021 Projection: 280 Rush Attempts, 1,236 Rushing Yards, 82 Receptions, 11 Total Touchdowns
2. Jonathan Taylor – Something from the depths of my soul says JT will finish the 2021 season as the #1 running back. Of course I had that same feeling about Miles Sanders last year, Kerryon Johnson the year before and last week after I ate a 10 day old burrito. Hmmm maybe that isn’t my soul. Either way, Taylor was my favorite back from last year’s stacked draft class and he finished the season on a tear with 84 carries for 560 yards and 7 touchdowns over the final four weeks. And Carson Wentz now has a chip on his shoulder in Indy; the quality of this 2021 Colts offense might surprise some people.
Rudy’s 2021 Projection: 226 Rush Attempts, 1,104 Rushing Yards, 47 Receptions, 9 Total Touchdowns
3. Dalvin Cook – When The Chef is in the kitchen, or on the field, he produces 5-star fantasy food. But can we trust him to stay on the field? His 28 games played over the last two seasons say yes, but his 659 touches over those two seasons gives us reason for pause. That workload could start to take a toll on Cook’s body in the near future. It’s not a reason to avoid drafting the Vikings stud back, in my opinion, but certainly a risk factor to keep in mind.
Rudy’s 2021 Projection: 314 Rush Attempts, 1,591 Rushing Yards, 50 Receptions, 11 Total Touchdowns
4. Saquon Barkley – After watching the Saquon ACL rehab video (below) I’m thinking an Adrian Peterson type freak recovery may be in the cards. Coming off his ACL surgery, less than 12 months prior, AP returned in week one of 2012; a season in which he handled 348 carries for 2,097 yards and 12 touchdowns. Peterson did that at age 27 as well, so no reason to think Barkley isn’t capable of similar things at the spry age of 24. That’s assuming the Giants can somehow get their act together on offense.
Rudy’s 2021 Projection: 245 Rush Attempts, 1,060 Rushing Yards, 55 Receptions, 10 Total Touchdowns
5. Derrick Henry – I was on the fence regarding Henry in 2020 due to the massive 2019 workload he handled between the regular season and the playoffs. I did speculate that Henry might be another AP type back: immune to the standard wear and tear normal human bodies experience. It’s looking like that might be the case after yet another monster season where he played all 16 games while handling 378 carries and exploding for over 2,000 rushing yards. The only concern for me at this point is whether the Titans start to lean a little heavier on the passing game in 2021 with the addition of Julio Jones across from A.J. Brown. A minimal concern to be sure.
Rudy’s 2021 Projection: 332 Rush Attempts, 1,740 Rushing Yards, 29 Receptions, 12 Total Touchdowns
6. Alvin Kamara – I’ll be honest, I wrote up this top 10 post and didn’t even realize I had omitted Kamara until minutes prior to publishing. That’s how excited I am about him with Taysom Hill at the helm. And I do strongly believe it will be Hill at QB in New Orleans, not Jameis Winston. But it’s impossible to move Kamara any lower than this based on talent and workload. Many will already say I’ve gone overboard here—and it’s quite possible they’re correct—but his upside is capped big time with Taysom vulturing goal line carries. And maybe even more concerning was Kamara’s erratic usage through the air during Hill’s five game stretch as starter from week 10-14. Of course if Winston ends up behind center then Kamara shoots back up into tier one for me.
Rudy’s 2021 Projection: 216 Rush Attempts, 1,047 Rushing Yards, 86 Receptions, 10 Total Touchdowns
7. Nick Chubb – The concerns over Kareem Hunt thieving work were way overblown heading into 2020. Hunt will no doubt get his work just like last year, but the Stefanski offense runs enough to feed both dogs and Chubb will always be the top dog with his elite ground attack; he might be the best pure runner in the league. Just don’t expect Chubb to accumulate many receptions, that’s where Hunt puts a cap his PPR upside.
Rudy’s 2021 Projection: 267 Rush Attempts, 1,345 Rushing Yards, 25 Receptions, 10 Total Touchdowns
8. Antonio Gibson – The foot injury last year came at the absolute worst time for several of my fantasy teams. The silver lining is that the injury depressed Gibson’s 2021 draft stock to the point where he has now become a steal in the mid to late second round. Remember, prior to the injury he had just rattled off eight touchdowns in the previous five games while averaging nearly 100 total yards per game. The Football Team’s rookie back had emerged as a workhorse and was well on his way to becoming a consensus 2021 first rounder. Now he’ll benefit from a real man at QB: Ryan Fitzpatrick. Grab the discount in the second round and take it all the way to the crypto exchange.
Rudy’s 2021 Projection: 233 Rush Attempts, 1,097 Rushing Yards, 60 Receptions, 9 Total Touchdowns
9. Austin Ekeler – I expected to be much higher than consensus on Ekeler, but was surprised to see he’s actually the 10th RB off the board in early NFFC drafts. Granted those are full PPR leagues—these are half PPR rankings if you missed it. Regardless, that’s more respect for Ekeler than anticipated after an injured and disappointing 2020. I think the herd is getting this one right. Ekeler’s receiving production is locked in which gives him a rock solid floor even in half PPR. I don’t see Joshua Kelley, Justin Jackson nor Larry Rountree capping his upside all that much either. Justin Herbert’s sophomore season should bring the added benefit of a flurry of goal line opportunities too.
Rudy’s 2021 Projection: 197 Rush Attempts, 924 Rushing Yards, 65 Receptions, 6 Total Touchdowns
10. Cam Akers – The cherry on top of Akers’ late season emergence as a workhorse in L.A. was his 46 playoff carries in two games, which he took for 221 yards and two touchdowns. Teams tend to show their true colors in the playoffs with everything on the line, so there’s no reason to think Akers won’t be the man in 2021. It should be noted that Matthew Stafford has never supported an elite fantasy running back, but I’d speculate that was a more about the curse of Barry Sanders in Detroit and less about Stafford. Still, it’s something worth considering as we debate Akers versus the other backs in this tier. Update 7/22/21: Out for the season (Achilles)
Rudy’s 2021 Projection: 262 Rush Attempts, 1,182 Rushing Yards, 30 Receptions, 10 Total Touchdowns