As we look forward to the Super Bowl, Justin Johnson is looking ahead to the 2021 NFL season as he takes a fresh look at his Dynasty Running Back Rankings.
It seems like there are only two types of fantasy football managers when drafting running backs every year. On one side, there are the “draft running backs early and often” crowd. These managers swear by drafting running backs early since the market seemingly falls off a cliff after the early rounds. Then there is the “zero running back” crowd. Those that won’t touch a running back early because of the volatility at the position. Whichever side you fall on, the community as a whole can agree, rostering the correct running backs will make or break your fantasy season.
In dynasty leagues, this brings in an entirely new aspect to how owners value the position. The short life-span that the average running back survives in the league makes this the most difficult position to predict. It is a running backs job to run into players that are typically 30 to 100 pounds heavier. They repeatedly have their force violently halted 10 to 20 times a game. That plays a toll quickly on their bodies. Even the best of all-time typically don’t make it past 30-years-old. That gives the position a unique outlook in dynasty leagues.
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Here I am to provide my own unique outlook at running back with the dynasty running back rankings. Below are running backs to buy and sell in dynasty leagues, followed by the Top 100 players at the position heading into the 2021 NFL Draft.
NOTE: 2021 NFL Draft-eligible players are included in the rankings. All 2021 rookies were assigned a ceiling and floor range of outcomes, and then assigned a middle-range outcome for the initial ranking. These will vary after the draft.
Dynasty Running Backs to Buy
Cam Akers, Los Angeles Rams
Cam Akers had his owners worried to start the season. After not scoring more than 10 points in a game in the first 11 weeks, Akers was looking to be a major bust in his rookie season. Finally in Week 12, the breakout began to happen. After ripping off a 61-yard scamper, Akers began getting fed the ball every proceeding week.
Across his six games including the playoffs, Akers averaged 24.3 opportunities per game. That is an elite number that would put him in the top five running backs in the league if that trend continues. And I believe firmly that he will be given those opportunities in 2021. We know what Sean McVay and company can do with running backs after Todd Gurley was the best player in fantasy for several seasons. Cam Akers has that upside. Don’t miss the chance to buy the Rams star in the making while his window is open.
Damien Harris, New England Patriots
Perhaps there isn’t a more intriguing running back in all of football to me than Damien Harris. He is the perfect blend of size, speed, agility, and explosiveness, yet the former Alabama Crimson Tide star still hasn’t broke out. Part of that is due to opportunity, and the other part is due to being in a bad offense. Now that Harris is the lead back in New England, we have the opportunity part out of the way. With Cam Newton likely out as the Patriots quarterback, the offense should only trend up, especially for Harris.
In 2020, Harris was one of the most efficient runners in all of football.
According to https://t.co/4ZSZrZkVnr, Damien Harris was an elite back in 2020.
#16 Breakaway Run Rate (15+ yd rushes)
#8 Juke Rate
#6 True YPC (discounts rushes > 10 yds)
This means he is consistently picking up big chunk plays, while also avoiding short gains.
DYNASTY BUY! pic.twitter.com/Ofent5K5CH
— Justin Johnson (@JJ_Stats) January 30, 2021
Simply put, he’s a great talent. While Cam Newton likely helped him be one of the more efficient runners in all of football, Newton also took ample touchdown opportunities away. With 12 rushing touchdowns, Newton capped Harris’s upside vastly. Heading into 2021, a majority of those touchdown chances will likely fall to Harris. I expect Harris to be given more opportunities to showcase his talents in 2021, as he could quickly find himself flirting with RB1 status before season’s end.
A.J. Dillon, Green Bay Packers
A.J. Dillon at the time of his draft pick was another head-scratching selection to most. The Packers needed a wide receiver to help Aaron Rodgers to get to the Super Bowl. While that wound up becoming true, the selection of Dillon in the 2nd round is becoming more clear as to why it was made. The Packers don’t want to pay Aaron Jones what he wants. With Jones likely out, that means Dillon is in as the starting running back.
AJ DILLON LEGS OF STEEL 💪 pic.twitter.com/VrsJXKqiTo
— PFF Fantasy Football (@PFF_Fantasy) January 24, 2021
Jamaal Williams almost would assuredly be resigned if Aaron Jones departs, but he wouldn’t take the starting role from Dillon. Williams has shown to be nothing more than a spot starter, and a 3rd down back. That means Dillon is left to fill the void of 200+ carries left behind by Jones. While he isn’t the athlete of Jones, he has every bit the touchdown upside (33 rushing touchdowns the last three years).
The ceiling of Dillon is entirely dependent on how much work he receives in the passing game. If he doesn’t catch many passes, then he is a high-volume RB2. If he can get 3+ targets a game, then the 6-foot-0, 247-pound “Quadfather” has a ceiling as high as nearly any running back in the game. Either way, he is a dynasty buy heading into 2021.
Dynasty Running Backs to Sell
NOTE: Selling these players is purely dependent on where a team is at with their roster construction. Selling these players does potentially make your team worse in 2021. If you are looking for multiple 1st rounders without getting immediate impact player(s), your team will likely get worse in the short term.
Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints
First, before the critics come in with their flaming hot takes, Alvin Kamara is an elite player. Do not sell him just to sell him. Do not interpret this as Kamara is about to drastically fall off a cliff in terms of fantasy value. I believe he has two to three elite seasons left. If an owner prefers to hold, that is completely understandable.
Alvin Kamara has 6 touchdowns today — tying the NFL record for most rushing touchdowns in a game.
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) December 26, 2020
However, there are a multitude of reasons behind selling Kamara heading into 2021. First is the uncertainty surrounding the New Orleans Saints offense. While Kamara will still be their lead back, the ultimate question becomes, does he get the number of targets he has under Drew Brees? While it shouldn’t be enough of a decline to hinder his elite production, if it does drop, will we ever value Kamara higher than the overall RB1 season he is currently coming off of? The answer is no. That combination of uncertainty and peak-value is enough alone for me to consider selling.
Now factor in Kamara turning 26 at the start of the 2021 season. While that isn’t old in normal terms, for a running back, it is a year or two away from typical decline age. When running backs fall from grace, they fall hard. If you can potentially receive a huge return from someone willing to buy Kamara’s stock at an all-time high, I would trade the stud running back.
Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans
Another player I just don’t feel right calling a sell, and yet, here we are. I have been a huge Derrick Henry advocate for a few years, telling everyone to buy the season before his breakout year. Although Derrick Henry is a rare genetic freak who can take and dish out hits with the best, he isn’t superhuman (at least I don’t think so, don’t hurt me Derrick).
Derrick Henry with the MEAN stiff arm! 👑
— Tennessee Titans (@Titans) December 20, 2020
Henry is at the running back peak age of 27, typically an indicator that a running back’s career is trending downward. Following a monster 378 carries, and 2,027 rushing yards in 2020, Henry is now approaching 1,200 carries in his NFL career. It is only a matter of time before the Titans superstar begins to slow down.
There is no denying that Henry’s outlook for 2021 is that of a top 5 running back. But after 2021, I am beginning to get nervous about how much more his body can handle. Yes, all 6-foot-3, 247-pounds of it. Like Kamara, owners should sell high on Henry while the market is hot.
Myles Gaskin, Miami Dolphins
Myles Gaskin seemingly came out of nowhere to take over the lead back role for the Miami Dolphins. The former 7th round pick out of Washington enjoyed himself a consistent bell-cow back role in 2020. When Gaskin was healthy, he never saw less than 12 opportunities in a game. He scored over 10 PPR points in nine out of ten games. And to cap it off, he had a 30+ point outburst in championship week that won leagues for some teams. Quite the season for what was expected to be the 3rd string running back heading into 2020.
MYLES GASKIN ARE YOU KIDDING ME pic.twitter.com/rVBhjMXUce
— PFF Fantasy Football (@PFF_Fantasy) December 27, 2020
So why should we sell? After all, he’s only heading into his age-24 season, and he’s on a team-friendly contract. The answer to that is simple, I’m not sure Gaskin is talented enough to remain the starting running back in Miami beyond 2021. This is not meant to slight Gaskin. He’s capable of staying on an NFL roster. However, on a team that is stocking up talent at all positions, you have to think the possibility they draft an early-round running back is strong.
While the Miami Dolphins offensive line didn’t block well in the run game, Gaskin didn’t show many flashes in the run game, averaging a poor 4.1 yards per carry. What really boosted his value was his receiving production in his final three games. He caught 11 passes for 190 yards and three touchdowns. In his prior seven games, he caught 30 passes for 198 yards and zero touchdowns. I believe the larger sample to be more accurate, as I do not suddenly see Gaskin being a big-play threat. For those reasons, sell Gaskin while he has decent value.
Dynasty Running Back Rankings for Fantasy Football
|53||Anthony McFarland Jr.||PIT||22|
|86||Lynn Bowden Jr.||MIA||23|
Also check out Meng Song’s latest Overall Dynasty Rankings!
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