The day you’ve been waiting your entire life for has finally arrived. No, not nudie magazine day. Better. It’s RazzBowl Day!!! That’s right, by the time you’re reading this, RazzBowl drafts will have likely kicked off as 63 lucky fans face off against 189 of the world’s top fantasy football analysts in the most exclusive pros vs. joes fantasy competition in the universe. If you missed out on this year’s RazzBowl, don’t fret, all is not lost. Our RazzBowl Qualifier leagues are now filling over at the NFFC. Join a FREE RazzBowl Qualifier League now and win your way into next year’s RazzBowl—be sure to review all RazzBowl Qualifier Rules and Settings before your draft starts. Anyway, here’s my top 25 running backs for 2021 fantasy football:
Click here to see all 2021 Fantasy Football Rankings.
*Note: These rankings are geared toward half PPR leagues. 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!).
11. 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
11. Ezekiel Elliott – My heart wants me to rank Miles Sanders or Najee Harris here. But I’m going to give Zeke the benefit of the doubt for one more season with Dak back. That said, I expressed some major concerns regarding Elliott’s rapidly accumulating career carries heading into last season and we can tack another 244 carries onto that career total—he now has 1,413 carries in five seasons. I won’t be surprised if Zeke’s body starts to breakdown this year and definitely won’t be drafting him in the middle of the first round where he’s currently going off the board.
Rudy’s 2021 Projection: 228 Rush Attempts, 1,023 Rushing Yards, 53 Receptions, 11 Total Touchdowns
12. Miles Sanders – As a huge fan of Colonel Sanders, I was tempted to sneak this tasty piece of chicken into my top 10 as a statement ranking. But then the Eagles went and signed my ex-lover Kerryon Johnson, throwing a wrench into my master plans. Now my ex and my current sugar daddy are sitting down for fried chicken together and it’s getting awkward. The Eagles also drafted Kenneth Gainwell who some analysts love; I don’t expect the kid to be more than an afterthought. All this to say, I anticipate Sanders handles a large workload and finishes the season as a fantasy RB1; he’s one of my top draft targets at RB, going off the board between picks 35 and 40.
Rudy’s 2021 Projection: 221 Rush Attempts, 1,086 Rushing Yards, 46 Receptions, 6 Total Touchdowns
13. J.K. Dobbins – The Ravens second year star is one of those third round fantasy picks who could be drafted at the top half of the first round in 2021 if things break right this season. Yes, Gus Edwards will still steal some touches and Lamar Jackson will steal some touchdowns. But think back to 2019, a year in which Edwards and LJax both took their fair share of the work and a 30-year old Mark Ingram still posted over 1,200 total yards while scoring 15 touchdowns. Dobbins is way better than that aging Ingram, and might be way better than Ingram ever was in his prime. Take the home run swing on Dobbins.
Rudy’s 2021 Projection: 198 Rush Attempts, 986 Rushing Yards, 33 Receptions, 8 Total Touchdowns
14. Najee Harris – This year’s top rookie running back landed in a great spot. Here’s what I said about Najee in my top 10 rookies for 2021 dynasty football when I gave his short term landing spot an A- grade, “For now Big Ben is the man for another season and his running backs have always been plus fantasy assets ever since the Jerome Bettis and Willie Parker days. Benny Snell and Anthony McFarland will steal some touches, but first round draft capital seems to be a meaningful metric when predicting running back usage. Look for Harris to get the ball early and often.” So in short, I’m alright with taking a shot on this year’s top rookie RB in the early second round, but beware: the Steelers offensive line is far from what it used to be.
Rudy’s 2021 Projection: 219 Rush Attempts, 986 Rushing Yards, 41 Receptions, 8 Total Touchdowns
15. D’Andre Swift – I’m torn on this Swift ranking. I understand the reasons why some analysts are advocating for him in their top 10 RBs; he’s a super talented, young, multidimensional player and both AP and Kerryon are now gone. But Stafford also gone and I’m far from excited about this offense with Goff at the helm and one of the ugliest receiving corps in the league. Also, how many times do we need to be burned by the Lions backfield before we learn? It’s taken me a full decade of suffering, but I think I’m finally ready to just avoid this cursed run game.
Rudy’s 2021 Projection: 206 Rush Attempts, 957 Rushing Yards, 53 Receptions, 8 Total Touchdowns
16. David Montgomery – Imagine if I told you the #4 fantasy running back from last year was in the same offense this season, with the same coach and no major competition incoming at running back. What draft pick would you expect to have to spend on such a player? Late first? Maybe early second? David Montgomery just so happens to check all those boxes and you can draft him at the backend of the third round! Yes, please and thank you.
Rudy’s 2021 Projection: 241 Rush Attempts, 1,096 Rushing Yards, 44 Receptions, 9 Total Touchdowns
17. Clyde Edwards-Helaire – The hype was real for CEH after his 25 carries during the Chiefs primetime week 1 game last year. But he saw 20 carries in only two games after that and neither of those games came after week 6. Will this change in 2021? It’s possible, but really a coin flip at best. Not something I’m willing to wager a second round pick on. Although the RB2 floor Clyde provides isn’t the worst investment you could make there either. What is the worst investment? Probably those digital dragon eggs I just bought.
Rudy’s 2021 Projection: 201 Rush Attempts, 927 Rushing Yards, 52 Receptions, 9 Total Touchdowns
18. Chris Carson – Last preseason I was hesitant to draft Carson coming off the hip injury which ended his 2019 campaign. Through five games I felt like an even bigger idiot than normal as CC looked the part of a dominate RB1. A Lisfranc injury derailed him in week six and upon his return the Seahawks offense was no longer the same powerhouse it had been early. After being resigned on a two year deal, Carson is sure to be a huge part of the 2021 gameplan. The only question is whether we see the fast paced high scoring offense from early 2020 or the more reserved, cautious offense we saw down the stretch. I’m guessing we see something in between, making Carson is solid RB2 with upside.
Rudy’s 2021 Projection: 182 Rush Attempts, 871 Rushing Yards, 46 Receptions, 7 Total Touchdowns
19. Josh Jacobs – I hate ranking the Jinglehammer this low. It seems silly after his 19 total touchdowns and two 1,000 yard season to start his career. But the signing of Kenyan Drake to a two-year, $14.5 million contract has me (and many others) spooked. I’m not saying Drake will come in spitting rhymes and take half the workload, but a significant role wouldn’t surprise me at all. Don’t forget, Drake is only 27 years old and can contribute both on the ground and through the air.
Rudy’s 2021 Projection: 211 Rush Attempts, 924 Rushing Yards, 40 Receptions, 8 Total Touchdowns
20. Joe Mixon – Listen, I don’t hate Joe Mixon as a person. I mean there is that whole video of him knocking out that woman in college; not the best look. But my fading of Mixon in my rankings each of the past three seasons isn’t personal. He’s a good NFL running back. Some people think he’s a great NFL running back. I haven’t seen anything that makes me think he’s special. While Joe Burrow has brought hope to the entire Bengals offense, it remains to be seen how comfortable the young QB is on that repaired knee in 2021. And the Cincy offense line, while slightly improved, is still ranked near the bottom of the league. I’m running as fast as I can (not very fast) from Mixon at his current second round ADP.
Rudy’s 2021 Projection: 236 Rush Attempts, 1,029 Rushing Yards, 54 Receptions, 8 Total Touchdowns
21. James Robinson – Can we pump the breaks on the Travis Etienne hype? I love a shiny rookie as much as the next guy, but has everyone really forgotten how great James Robinson was in his rookie season? This kid handled 240 carries—the 6th most in the league—on his way to 1,000 rushing yards. Behind a poor offensive line to boot. If that’s not enough, he chipped in 49 receptions and 10 total touchdowns. New head coach Urban Meyer is the only reason Robinson isn’t 10 spots higher in my rankings, but he’s still one of my top draft targets in the 5th or 6th round. Don’t doubt Robinson, he’s out to prove everyone wrong and he’s already done it once.
Rudy’s 2021 Projection: 2173 Rush Attempts, 820 Rushing Yards, 36 Receptions, 6 Total Touchdowns
22. Melvin Gordon – Our man Bobby Lamarco wrote a great piece about Pat Shurmur’s Historical Running Back Usage. In short, Bobby highlighted that Broncos’ OC Pat Shurmur has a long history of leaning heavily on one running back (15+ carries per game on average) ever since his days with Stephen Jackson and the Rams. Will rookie Javonte Williams be that guy? The youngster out of UNC is certainly talented, but my money’s on the veteran who’s in the last year of his contract and already knows the offense. Thinking we see Gordon dominate this backfield to start the season with the workload ultimately shaping up as a 60/40 split in Melvin’s favor during the second half of the year. If that turns out to be the case then Gordon’s a great RB2 value currently going off the board after pick 80.
Rudy’s 2021 Projection: 162 Rush Attempts, 754 Rushing Yards, 25 Receptions, 6 Total Touchdowns
23. Myles Gaskin – We don’t have a ton to go off of with the Dolphins backfield other than the fact that Gaskin was looking like a fringe RB1 from weeks 3-7 last year prior to his knee injury. He came back in week 13 to handle 21 carries before immediately hitting the COVID reserve list. Miami chose not to spend a draft pick on another RB, instead bringing in the mediocre Malcolm Brown for depth. That sounds like a vote of confidence to me.
Rudy’s 2021 Projection: 212 Rush Attempts, 948 Rushing Yards, 52 Receptions, 8 Total Touchdowns
24. Darrell Henderson – RIP Cam Akers Achilles. Unfortunate break for Akers and the Rams, but when one door slams shut on your dong another door opens. I think that’s how the old saying goes. Anyway, I was big on Henderson coming out of Memphis when the Rams traded up to take him in the 3rd round. When Akers was hurt last season Henderson did flash a little of the potential I’d been dreaming on. We’ll see if the Rams bring anyone else to compete for touches, but as of today Hendy is a great RB2 gamble behind a very solid offensive line in LA.
Rudy’s 2021 Projection: 220 Rush Attempts, 1,050 Rushing Yards, 35 Receptions, 9 Total Touchdowns
25. Kareem Hunt – It’s a well known fact: Kevin Stefanski likes to run. I mean, the guy’s obviously in good shape. I wouldn’t be surprised if he does marathons and whatnot. But he also likes to run the football. A lot. That’s why there’s room for Nick Chubb in my top 10 as well as Kareem Hunt in my top 25. Truth be told, there’s a good chance Hunt finishes the season higher than this ranking in terms of total half PPR points scored, but the reason he lands in the back end RB2 territory is simply consistency—or rather, lack thereof. In certain game scripts it could be all Nick Chubb.
Rudy’s 2021 Projection: 170 Rush Attempts, 774 Rushing Yards, 39 Receptions, 8 Total Touchdowns