Running back is consistently the most important position in NFL fantasy football year over year, and it looks particularly interesting in 2021. Unlike wide receiver, NFL teams generally play with one running back on the field. With fantasy points correlating strongly with opportunity, finding featured backs is extremely important. Separating running backs into tiers creates an inherent way to rank and value players. With that said, here are the fantasy football tier rankings for running backs in half-PPR leagues on Yahoo, ESPN, CBS leagues and more.
Fantasy Football Tiers: 2021 Running Back Rankings
This tier of running backs features the elite bell cows. These backs rarely leave the field, they have strong pass-catching upside and/or receive immense volume as rusher. All have roles on the goal line as well. They are the biggest difference makers in all of fantasy football.
Christian McCaffrey — RB1
Limited to three games in 2020, McCaffrey is still the consensus top running back after his historic 2019 season. McCaffrey eclipsed 1,000 yards rushing and receiving on his way to the second-best fantasy season all time. Carolina let Mike Davis walk in free agency without adding a replacement of consequence.
Dalvin Cook — RB2
Last year Cook rushed for a career-high 1,557 yards and 16 touchdowns. He also caught 54 passes, giving him one of the best workloads in the NFL. Minnesota runs the ball at a top-six rate, giving Cook less pass-catching upside. However, he still has the second-best workload in football.
Alvin Kamara — RB3
Kamara has at least 81 receptions and 700 yards rushing in each of his four seasons. Last year he improved his rushing totals to 932 yards and 16 touchdowns. He will split time with Latavius Murray while undergoing a quarterback change. However, Kamara’s role and efficiency keep him in the top tier.
Derrick Henry — RB4
Last year’s rushing leader, Henry racked up 2,027 yards rushing and 17 touchdowns. He lacks the pass-catching chops, but he plays on an efficient offense with an enormous red zone role.
Running backs in Tier 2 have previously commanded three-down workloads. Injuries or declining efficiency raises questions this year, but these backs have a great shot at finishing in Tier 1.
Ezekiel Elliott — RB5
Elliott is coming of a career-worst year with 979 yards rushing and five touchdowns. He also turned 52 receptions in to just 338 yards receiving. Elliott fell behind Tony Pollard in terms of efficiency. A healthy offensive line and Dak Prescott‘s return bode well for Elliott, but a potential time share raises concerns.
Saquon Barkley — RB6
Barkley tore his ACL in Week 2 last year after two straight 1,000-yard seasons. He is rumored to start the season limited in a questionable offense to begin with. However, he has a workload on par with McCaffrey when completely healthy.
Tier 3 running backs have a path to a three-down workload but have not shown it to this point in their career. This could be due to size limitations, backfield competition or experience. All have more uncertainty than the backs listed above.
Joe Mixon — RB7
While injury derailed Mixon in 2020, he had back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons in 2018 and 2019. Now Giovani Bernard left in free agency, opening a potential three-down role for Mixon.
Austin Ekeler — RB8
One of the top pass catchers in the NFL, Ekeler had 993 yards receiving in 2019 before playing in just 10 games last year. Ekeler splits time with Justin Jackson and Joshua Kelley to some degree, but he should handle much of the work in an emerging offense.
Jonathan Taylor — RB9
Last year, Taylor finished as the NFL’s third-leading rusher with 1,169 yards as a rookie. Taylor still lacks upside as a pass catcher with Nyheim Hines in the picture. However, he plays behind an elite offensive line and catches the ball well himself when asked. Last year he caught 39 of 36 targets for 299 yards.
Nick Chubb — RB10
One of the most efficient rushers in the NFL, Chubb has at least 996 yards in every season. He has gone over 1,000 in his last two, and only the presence of Kareem Hunt keeps Chubb out of the top five backs.
Aaron Jones — RB11
Jones has back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons with at least 47 receptions. This year the Packers lost Jamaal Williams, but A.J. Dillon projects to rotate in to some degree. The biggest question is Aaron Rodgers, who drives the efficiency of the Green Bay offense. Jones is the most volatile back in Tier 3 for this reason.
Clyde Edwards-Helaire — RB12
Edwards-Helaire eclipsed 1,000 all-purpose yards last year while playing in 13 games. This year the Chiefs let Le’Veon Bell walk in free agency, opening more opportunity.
Najee Harris — RB13
Harris enters a situation with all the volume and none of the efficiency. Pittsburgh looks likely to put increased focus on the run this year despite losing nearly their entire offensive line. With only Benny Snell to compete with, Harris should walk into a full-time role.
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Tier 4 running backs have slightly more volatile roles than Tier 3 backs. Some lack pass-catching roles, some lack early-down roles, and some just play in crowded or poor situations.
Miles Sanders — RB14
Sanders has at least 818 yards rushing in back-to-back seasons. He caught just 28 passes in 2020 after catching 50 as a rookie. Philadelphia still has Boston Scott, but they also invested in Kerryon Johnson and Kenny Gainwell this offseason. Perhaps the Eagles plan to reduce Sanders’ volume.
Chris Carson — RB15
After back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons, Carson battled injury in 2020. He finished with 681 yards in 12 games while catching 37 passes. Carson does not have much competition in Seattle outside of Rashaad Penny. Still, Seattle’s lack of pass-game involvement with their running backs keeps Carson in Tier 4.
Antonio Gibson — RB16
Gibson will look to improve on his 795-rushing yard season as a rookie. After playing receiver in college, Gibson caught only 36 passes last year due to the presence of J.D. McKissic. McKissic is still in place, but Gibson’s talent may be too difficult to keep off the field.
D’Andre Swift — RB17
Detroit let go of Johnson and Adrian Peterson but signed Jamaal Williams as a complement. On top of the time share, Detroit projects to finish as one of the worst teams in football. Swift’s role as a pass catcher keeps him in Tier 4.
Myles Gaskin — RB18
Gaskin emerged as the Dolphins’ lead back down the stretch in 2020. He finished with 584 yards rushing and 388 receiving. The Dolphins have essentially nothing invested in Gaskin. However, they only added Malcolm Brown this offseason, making Gaskin the frontrunner for a three-down role.
David Montgomery — RB19
Montgomery emerged as Chicago’s three-down back last year due to injury. He finished with 1,070 yards and 54 receptions. This year his three-down workload is clouded by the return of Tarik Cohen and the signing of Damien Williams.
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Running backs in Tier 5 all play a specific role in their offense. Most face competition to a full workload but have a path to an every-down role with an injury. Their standalone value provides Flex appeal on a weekly basis.
Darrell Henderson — RB20
After Cam Akers’ season-ending injury, Henderson vaulted all the way to RB20. Last year he rushed for 624 yards as a complement to Akers. With Brown also out of the picture, Henderson has a path to a three-down workload. However, the Rams could still sign a veteran, making Henderson somewhat risky.
J.K. Dobbins — RB21
Dobbins rushed for 805 yards as a rookie. While Baltimore does not throw to running backs often, Dobbins is the preferred pass catcher over Gus Edwards. This will be a timeshare, with Dobbins holding a slight edge.
Mike Davis — RB22
Filling in for McCaffrey last year, Davis rushed for 642 yards and caught 59 passes. Moving to Atlanta, Davis faces little competition after the Falcons purged their running back room.
Kareem Hunt RB23
Hunt rushed for 841 yards last year and added 38 receptions. Hunt is the preferred third-down back in Cleveland, but both he and Chubb play a consistent role. An injury to Chubb would immediately vault Hunt into the top five running backs.
Josh Jacobs — RB24
Jacobs has 1,000 yards rushing in back-to-back seasons. Unfortunately, he has battled injury in both years and lacks a role on third downs. This offseason the Raiders brought in Kenyan Drake to complement Jacobs in an already inefficient offense.
Travis Etienne — RB25
Etienne enters a peculiar situation in Jacksonville. He was rumored to be playing receiver at points this offseason and will compete with 1,000-yard rusher James Robinson at the very least.
Javonte Williams — RB26
Williams faces competition from Melvin Gordon in Denver. Williams likely sees more work as the season progresses, but he can play on all three downs.
Raheem Mostert — RB27
Mostert played in just eight games last year, but he finished with 521 yards rushing. Jeff Wilson already went down this offseason, making this a two-man committee to start the year with Trey Sermon. San Francisco beat writers believe he will lead the committee.
Trey Sermon — RB28
Sermon will complement Mostert in San Francisco. San Francisco historically utilizes committees under Kyle Shanahan, but they also run at one of the highest rates in the league. This makes both backs valuable and gives them league-winning potential in the event of injury.
Running backs in Tier 6 are firmly entrenched in time shares. Without injury, these backs look unlikely to receive a full workload at any point in 2021. However, unlike other time-share backs, they have the ability to step into a full workload in the event of injury.
Zack Moss — RB29
A second-year pro out of Utah, Moss will continue to split time with Devin Singletary. Moss pulled away from Singletary towards the latter half of 2020, but both look likely to be involved.
Chase Edmonds — RB30
The Cardinals let Drake walk in free agency but signed James Conner as a replacement. Edmonds has never rushed for more than 448 yards in a season, but he caught 53 passes for 402 yards last year.
Leonard Fournette — RB31
Fournette will split Tampa Bay’s backfield with Ronald Jones and Giovani Bernard. Fournette and Jones continually traded big games last year, but Bernard likely will siphon a majority of the pass-catching work.
James Conner — RB32
Conner left Pittsburgh for Arizona. Edmonds is the favorite for pass-catching duties, but Conner has at least 34 catches in three straight years. Conner likely will handle more of the early-down work.
Michael Carter — RB33
Carter faces little competition, with the Jets only bringing in Tevin Coleman. However, fourth-round rookies do not have a strong history of NFL success. This is a bet on talent situation.
James Robinson — RB34
After rushing for over 1,000 yards and catching 49 passes last year, Jacksonville drafted Etienne in the first round. This saps Robinson of his pass-catching role at the very least.
Gus Edwards — RB35
Edwards complements Dobbins in Baltimore, but he lacks any semblance of a pass-catching role. Edwards has at least 711 yards in each of his first three year, but he will rely on touchdowns for fantasy production.
Melvin Gordon — RB36
Gordon will share a backfield with rookie Javonte Williams. Both backs can catch passes and play on all three downs. Denver still does not have competent quarterback play, and the workload split has yet to be determined.
Tier 7 begins the handcuff tier. These running backs provide change-of-pace complements to an offense or share a backfield with multiple teammates. They generally require injury to reach fantasy viability.
Tony Pollard — RB37
After back-to-back seasons of 400 yards rushing, Pollard has proven to be efficient at the NFL level. With Elliott in place, Pollard is the change-of-pace back. However, an Elliott injury could vault Elliott into the top 10 running backs.
Latavius Murray — RB38
Murray complements Kamara in New Orleans. He occasionally pops up for a big game, but his best weeks come with Kamara off the field.
Alexander Mattison — RB39
Mattison is the handcuff and change-of-pace back to Cook.
A.J. Dillon — RB40
Dillon is the theoretical change-of-pace back and handcuff to Aaron Jones. He offers some goal line upside because of his size.
Ronald Jones — RB41
Jones will split time with Fournette and Bernard. With Bernard siphoning the pass-catching work, Jones needs two injuries to earn a full workload.
Tevin Coleman — RB42
The Jets signed Coleman and brought in rookie Michael Carter to bolster the run game. Carter looks to be the frontrunner for now, but Coleman’s veteran presence likely will lead to a complementary role.
Damien Harris — RB43
Harris is the projected front runner of a potential four-man committee. James White, Sony Michel and rookie Rhamondre Stevenson should all mix into this backfield.
Nyheim Hines — RB44
Hines is the pass-catching complement to Taylor in Indianapolis. Even with injury, he may split time with Marlon Mack.
David Johnson — RB45
The Texans brought in Phillip Lindsay and Mark Ingram during free agency. This is now a three-man committee in the worst offense in football.
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Running backs in Tier 8 are generally specialists in their respective backfields. Even with injuries to starters in front of them, they are unlikely to command a full workload.
Kenyan Drake — RB46
Drake will play a third-down role behind Josh Jacobs. Jalen Richard is also on the team, but Drake should play ahead of him.
Darrynton Evans — RB47
Evans only played in five games last year, but the Titans insist on using a third-down back. He has not proven anything yet, but he looks like the ideal complement to Henry in the run game.
Darrel Williams — RB48
Williams provides a change-of-pace to Edwards-Helaire in Kansas City. Jerick McKinnon also joined the team this offseason, but William already has a role in place.
Rashaad Penny — RB49
Penny had his last two seasons derailed due to injury. Fortunately, Seattle is a barren wasteland behind Carson.
Justin Jackson — RB50
After Joshua Kelley failed in a small sample last year, Jackson should be the preferred change of pace behind Ekeler.
Devin Singletary — RB51
Singletary failed in a limited sample when Moss went down last year, but he projects to play a change-of-pace role.
James White — RB52
White only plays on third downs no matter what. He needs three injuries or more to earn a full workload.
J.D. McKissic — RB53
McKissic is a third down back in danger of losing additional work to Gibson.
Jamaal Williams — RB54
Williams replaces Adrian Peterson and Kerryon Johnson on a woefully inefficient Lions team. He should cede pass game work to Swift.
Devontae Booker — RB55
Booker projects to be the primary handcuff behind Barkley. Because of Barkley’s injury status, Booker may have additional value this year.
Chuba Hubbard — RB56
Carolina let Mike Davis walk in free agency. Hubbard is the logical replacement and handcuff to McCaffrey.
Samaje Perine — RB57
Cincinnati let Bernard walk in free agency, leaving Perine as the only back with legitimate experience behind Mixon.
Malcolm Brown — RB58
Miami signed Brown as the only running back of consequence behind Gaskin.
Running backs here are handcuffs in bad offenses or limited timeshare backs with little upside.
|60||Benny Snell Jr.|
Tarik Cohen — RB59
Wildly inefficient when healthy, Cohen is at best the pass-catching back for Chicago.
Benny Snell Jr. — RB60
Snell is the potential handcuff to Najee Harris but likely will cede pass-catching duties.
Kerryon Johnson — RB61
Johnson will battle Kenny Gainwell and Boston Scott for change-of-pace duties.
Kenny Gainwell — RB62
Gainwell will battle Kerryon Johnson and Boston Scott for change-of-pace duties
Mark Ingram — RB63
Ingram will battle Phillip Lindsay and David Johnson for carries in the NFL’s least efficient offense.
Phillip Lindsay — RB64
Lindsay will battle Mark Ingram and David Johnson for carries in the NFL’s least efficient offense.
Joshua Kelley — RB65
Kelley needs injuries to Ekeler and Jackson for fantasy relevance.
Jerick McKinnon — RB66
McKinnon enters Kansas City and will push Darrel Williams for a change-of-pace role.
Rhamondre Stevenson — RB67
Stevenson looks unlikely to usurp James White or Damien Williams. He needs multiple injuries to receive a notable workload.
Jeff Wilson — RB68
Wilson projects to miss the beginning of the season after suffering an injury in May. When healthy, he should play a change-of-pace role for the 49ers.
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