By: Andrew Metcalfe (@drewmet_FF)
Unbelievable Talent Throughout the Class
Let me start this article by saying that ALL the running backs discussed here are huge talents in my eyes and I’m happy to draft any of them onto my fantasy rosters. With that being said, I like some more than others. In this article, I give my thoughts on the dynasty value for each of the top backs. Keep in mind this is strictly dynasty-based, so I weigh talent over current team situation-as the latter often changes from year to year in the NFL. These are my rankings based on who I prefer to roster for the next 2-3+ years.
1. Jonathan Taylor
So, which side of the Jonathon Taylor vs. Clyde Edwards-Helaire debate were you on? If you sided with Taylor, it was an uncomfortable first few weeks as CEH got off to a hot start while Taylor struggled with inconsistencies. By the end of the season though, Taylor cemented himself as the top RB of the class. From weeks 11-17, only David Montgomery and Derrick Henry scored more fantasy points than him.
After Phillip Rivers’ retirement, the Colts brought in Carson Wentz to takeover at QB. Other than that, this will pretty much be the same offensive unit that supported Taylor to an RB6 finish in 2020. Marlon Mack is expected to be healthy for the start of the season but running backs do not have a good track record of returning from an Achilles tear. Hines will also have his role as a receiving threat out of the backfield, but he was averaging ten touches per game while Taylor was breaking out, so he shouldn’t impede on Taylor’s RB1 aspirations going forward.
2. D’Andre Swift
Swift was widely considered as the top RB prospect in the 2020 class, but after the Lions drafted him his fantasy stock took a dive. Many associate him with the bad history of Detroit RBs since Barry Sanders, but that is a mistake. He’s already shown more than most of the recent Detroit RBs by putting up 878 total yards in just 13 games. Through the first 10 weeks, even though Swift had only played more than half of the team’s snaps twice, he was still the RB13. He missed several weeks afterward, due to a concussion, then finished the year strong with double-digit fantasy performances in three out of the final four weeks.
The 2021 season brings new concerns around Swift, including an expected poor offense and the addition of Jamaal Williams. Both of these concerns have been overblown, in my opinion. As far as bad offenses go, players like James Robinson, Christian McCaffrey, and Saquon Barkley have shown us that poor offenses can produce high-end fantasy RBs. Now, I’m not putting Swift in the same tier as them (especially CMC and Saquon), but when an RB can account for a high percentage of a team’s total offense, they have a chance to finish as an RB1 regardless of how unproductive the unit is as a whole. For those concerned about Williams cutting into Swift’s targets, look at his history as a receiver. His best season was 262 receiving yards, which is barely half the 521 receiving yards Swift produced in 13 games as a rookie. Williams’ best trait is his blocking abilities, and Swift will quickly prove to be the superior pass-catching back.
3. Cam Akers
Akers has to be one of, if not the most controversial player on Fantasy Twitter. Any mention of him is sure to invite “spirited” debates. It’s hard to accept top-10 RB ADP for a player with only one 100+ yard rushing game during the regular season and was RB37 in PPG, but I believe we saw a clear shift towards Akers as the backfield leader towards the end of the season and into the playoffs.
Those that are hesitant to buy in on Akers, fear that Darrell Henderson will have a big role and cut into Akers’ production. After Akers had a week 12 breakout game against SF, the carry counts over the next three games between him and Darrell Henderson were 65-6 in Akers’ favor. Akers missed week 16 due to an injury and Henderson ended up missing week 17 and the playoffs due to his own injury, so that was the last time we saw them both healthy. There is also a common notion that Henderson was better than Akers, but I’m not sure of that. Akers had more yards created per touch, a better juke rate, and evaded tackles at a higher rate. Akers faced a stacked defensive front on 35.9% of his carries (eight-highest in 2020). The QB upgrade of Matt Stafford should allow him to see lighter fronts and take another step forward in 2021.
4. Clyde Edwards-Helaire
If you were on the CEH side of the rookie 1.01 debate, the season was off to a great start for you. Through week 7, CEH was the RB10. The first RB taken in the 2020 draft was seeing double-digit carries every week and also averaged five targets per game, up until that point. For some reason, Andy Reid decided to get Le’Veon Bell involved more through the rest of the season, causing CEH’s volume to take a major hit. For the second half of 2020, his usage was inconsistent and led to a lot of frustrated fantasy managers as they watched the Chiefs turn into a full-blown RBBC.
Going into 2021, all signs are pointing to a resurgence for Edwards-Helaire. First of all, Bell is no longer in town. The Chiefs did pick up free agent Jerick McKinnon, but his body has been failing him for several years now. He hasn’t seen over 100 carries in a season since 2015 and should not be viewed as a threat to take on a significant role. Second, the Chiefs addressed their offensive line woes. In addition to the return of 2020 opt-out, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, KC also added former all-pro Joe Thuney at Guard and traded for pro-bowl tackle Orlando Brown Jr. With less backfield competition for touches and an improved offensive line, CEH has a good chance to return to the RB1 days that we experienced at the start of 2020.
This all sounds great, so why is he fourth in my rankings? I don’t view his ceiling as high as the first three RBs. This offense will always run through Patrick Mahomes, primarily via Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill. Clyde’s TD upside and overall production will be capped because of this.
5. J.K. Dobbins
Ohio State has been producing some high-quality fantasy players over the past few years, including Ezekiel Elliot, Michael Thomas, and Terry McLaurin. J.K. Dobbins was expected to be the next Buckeye NFL superstar and he made a solid case in his debut: 925 total yards and nine TDs on just 152 touches made him one of the most efficient backs on the season. He led the league with 6.1 yards per rush and was Top 5 in yards after contact per attempt, yards per touch, and breakaway runs (carries of 15+ yards).
If this list was only based on talent, Dobbins would be near the top. Despite his effectiveness as a runner, his fantasy upside is limited compared to the other RBs. The Ravens lead the league in team rushing attempts over the past three seasons (by a wide margin) but Lamar Jackson is going to take a good chunk of them, especially in the red zone. Jackson had 26 carries inside the twenty-yard line last season, which was one-fourth of the teams’ total attempts. Not to mention the recently extended Gus Edwards who had 28 red zone carries of his own and accounts for 10-12 rushes each week. Competing with both Edwards and Jackson means that Dobbins would have to maintain an extremely high TD rate and level of efficiency to consistently finish in the Top 12.
6. Antonio Gibson
I know that Gibson stans are not going to like this, please don’t come after me with pitchforks! Like I said in the intro, all these guys are extremely talented-but someone has to be ranked at the bottom. With Gibson transitioning from college WR to NFL RB, he had his fair share of doubters. He quickly proved that he was a Pro-level tailback though, producing over 1,000 total yards and finding the endzone 11 times in his rookie campaign. He was one of the most elusive backs, with the 2nd highest broken tackle rate and 8th best juke rate among RBs. A rookie that finished as the 13th best fantasy RB in only 14 games should be vaulted into the RB1 conversation for everyone, right? While I still view Gibson as a Top 20 RB, I’m hesitant to rank above any of the previously mentioned players.
The first concern is that nearly 40-percent of his total fantasy production came from three monster games against terrible defenses (Bengals and Cowboys twice). Even though he performed well above expectations, he is raw as a runner and needs time to develop at the position. Gibson trailed all the other RBs on this list except for Swift in yards after contact and was only better than CEH in rushing yards over expected per attempt (measures how well a runner gains yards compared to an average running back). I’m also not convinced that J.D. McKissic will be phased out like most of the community is. McKissic was a big part of this offense and even though Ryan Fitzpatrick won’t check down as much as Alex Smith, he will still have a passing down role and will limit Gibson’s ceiling.