The top rookie running backs are, in many cases, the key to having success in your fantasy league. For instance, those who paid the premium for a rookie running back in Jonathan Taylor, reaped the rewards in 2020. So let’s delve into the rookie running backs that are going to help you win your fantasy football league in 2021, and those you might want to avoid at their current ECR. In this piece, we are going to break down whether each impact rookie RB is overvalued or undervalued based on their current ECR. Let’s get into it!
Say what?! Your fantasy football league wasn’t hosted on Fantrax last season? Unthinkable! Check out all the features Fantrax has to offer, and we think you’ll be singing a different tune for next season.
Overvalued/Undervalued: Rookie Running Back Edition)
Najee Harris (PIT): ECR RB #14
Upon being drafted to Pittsburgh my initial thought was that Najee Harris was going to be completely over-drafted in fantasy football this year. But when you take a closer look at his current ECR #14 RB ranking, I would argue he is severely undervalued in 2021. Let’s dig into the numbers…
In 2020 Pittsburgh ranked 30th in the league in rushing attempts per game. But to be fair, James Connor and Benny Snell Jr ranked 30th and 50th in Y/A in 2020, so that didn’t really give Pittsburgh a real chance to change the game script towards a run-heavy offense.
There is a reason that Najee Harris was the first rookie running back drafted in 2021. He is a legitimate three-down back that can do it all. If Pittsburgh was going to continue their league-leading 42.3 passing attempts per game on the arm of a 39-year-old Ben Roethlisberger, they likely wouldn’t have spent first-round draft capital on Najee Harris. I expect a workhorse load for this bell-cow RB, and I firmly believe fantasy managers are going to be very happy with this selection.
ECR: RB #14
My Rank: RB #8
Travis Etienne (JAX) ECR RB# 25
This one is tough because I absolutely loved Etienne out of college, but man do I not love the landing spot. It’s not that I think that he is going to have a bad year, in fact, quite the opposite. But we can’t just negate the fact that James Robinson was fifth in the league with 1070 rushing yards, and scored seven touchdowns as well.
So my main concern with Etienne is the question marks. Will he be the goal-line back? Will he even take carries on first down? Will his pass-catching ability be enough to make up for the fact that he likely won’t be a bell-cow in this offense?
All of these are legitimate concerns if you are someone that is considering drafting Etienne in 2021. However, there are three things that should be pointed out: Given the fact that Trevor Lawrence is a rookie QB, there will likely be a lot of check-down passes to the running back. Secondly, considering Lawrence and Etienne played their college days together and had a great deal of success, there will be no adjustment period between the two. Lastly, no exaggeration, Etienne is one of the single best pass-catching running backs that we have ever seen out of college, so he will absolutely be of the most value in PPR leagues, but he could very well end up being the next Alvin Kamara in the NFL.
In conclusion, it’s hard to pinpoint whether he is overvalued or undervalued because of the unknowns’. Therefore, I would say his current ECR of #25 is pretty much nailing it right on the head.
ECR: RB #25
My Rank: RB #25
Conclusion: Valued Correctly
Javonte Williams (DEN) ECR RB #34
There were many analysts that thought Javonte Williams would end up being the best rookie running back of this entire draft class. After all, Williams did lead all of college football in missed tackles in 2020 with 76. Albeit, he did play at UNC and NFL defenders are surely a lot more dangerous in the open field. That being said, Denver clearly selected Williams to be the running back of the future for them. Therefore, Williams will see a big workload.
My biggest concern is that early on in the season, the Broncos are likely to ease Javonte into a role. Let’s not forget that they still have Melvin Gordon III, who all things considered, finished in the top-10 in rushing yards last season.
To me, this situation either plays out one of two ways. It will look similar to Jonathan Taylor last season where, through the first several weeks, he was caught up in a backfield committee, but stole the job late in the season and ran with it. The second scenario is a JK Dobbins outcome where he is steadily getting carries and producing, but never quite steals the job and earns bell-cow duties.
With that said, my gut tells me they will work every last drop out Melvin Gordon III, who is in the final year of his contract. But it still would not surprise me if Williams steals the job later on. I will likely be much higher on Javonte Williams in year two.
ECR: RB# 34
My Rank: RB# 37
Conclusion: Slightly Overvalued
Michael Carter (NYJ) ECR RB #38
Let me preface this by saying that I have a bias against the Jets backfield after being burned by Le’Veon Bell more than once. But for the sake of fairness, I am going to try to put my predispositions aside and be objective about this.
In 2020, the Jets backfield was nothing short of lackluster. They ranked 21st in total rushing attempts per game, and 22nd in total rushing yards per game. Now rostering Tevin Coleman, Ty Johnson, Michael Carter, and La’Mical Perine, your guess is as good as mine as to who is getting the majority of the carries. Which begs the question: Why on earth is Michael Carter the current ECR #38 RB?
This tells me that most experts believe that Carter is going to beat out Tevin Coleman for the job, but in reality, I don’t see that happening until much later in the season, if at all. There are guys I would much rather have as a later-round draft pick as far as running backs go. To me, while he may have the most upside in this Jets backfield, his ceiling in 2021-2022 is going to be rather mediocre.
ECR: RB #38
My Rank: #43
Trey Sermon (SF) ECR RB #45
This one right here, this Trey Sermon guy, is the rookie running back that I am most excited about this season. I have been saying it since before the draft, that he is the most underrated offensive player in this entire class. Not only that, but he finds himself on a team coached by the running back whisperer Kyle Shanahan!
The obvious negatives are that this backfield is awfully crowded. Raheem Mostert, Jeff Wilson Jr, and Wayne Gallman aren’t going anywhere. But I don’t think it is going to matter when Trey Sermon hits the ground running. Plus, San Francisco ranked 14th in the league in rushing attempts per game with a banged-up backfield. Whether it’s Jimmy Garropolo or Trey Lance at the helm, Shanahan will no doubt stick to his run-first approach.
After watching the film, the best comparison that I came up with is Nick Chubb. He is quick, but runs low and with power. He is about the same size as Chubb and is a good enough pass-catcher to be a three-down back eventually.
Early on, it is likely that Mostert handles the majority of the carries, but if he struggles early on or gets hurt, my gut tells me Sermon will take this job and not give it back.
ECR RB #45
My Rank: RB #34
Chubba Hubbard (CAR) ECR RB #72
Well, this one is completely weird to me. We all saw what Mike Davis did last season when CMC was forced to miss time due to injury. Hubbard is one of the most decorated college running backs in recent memory and is the clear-cut backup to McCaffrey. So why are guys like Mark Ingram II and Carlos Hyde Ranked ahead of him?
Hubbard will only be of value if Carolina decides to cut CMC’s workload or he gets hurt. Simple as that. The first option is a realistic scenario but it’s not likely. At the end of the day, when taking guys in the later rounds you want to select a guy that is the handcuff backup of a bell-cow RB. These guys tend to be league winners. Given that, Hubbard is criminally under-drafted at his current ECR due to the fact that there are third-string running backs ahead of him.
ECR RB #72
My Rank: RB #58
Kenneth Gainwell (PHI) ECR RB #58
Man, is there anything more frustrating than trying to figure out where the carries are going in Philadelphia’s backfield? Obviously, Miles Sanders holds down the starting job. Question is, if he goes down due to injury would they make Gainwell the three-down back, or would they lock him up into a committee with Kerryon Johnson, Boston Scott, and Jordan Howard?
The thing is when taking running backs late in drafts, a guy that is going to end up in a committee is not a huge boost for your fantasy team. Gainwell very well could be the superior RB to Chubba Hubbard, but the Eagles have a much more crowded running back room. This caps his upside tremendously, and thus in my eyes, he is being over-drafted.
ECR RB #58
My Rank: RB #64
For more great analysis, check out Mick Ciallela’s full 2021 Fantasy Football Rankings.
Fantrax was one of the fastest-growing fantasy sites of 2020, and we’re not stopping now. With multi-team trades, designated commissioner/league managers, and drag/drop easy click methods, Fantrax is sure to excite the serious fantasy sports fan – sign up now for a free year at Fantrax.com.