June 10, 2021

2021 Fantasy Football RB Tiers

The 2021 NFL fantasy football season is closing in and our coverage never stops. We want you to feel so confident and comfortable entering your draft that you know you'll win your league and have bragging rights over your friends, family and coworkers. 

It all starts with ranking the fantasy football talent. Having a great plan starts with understanding the value of each position. Reaching on the wrong position or player can be devastating to your team.

Selecting the right running back is pivotal for roster construction — even if you're going zero-RB. The difference between a star and starter can be massive each week. You can't afford to start someone stuck in a committee.

We're breaking down every running back who matters into five tiers. Let's get into it.

Fantasy Football Tiers: QB | WR | TE

Tier 1: Transcendent Talents

Christian McCaffrey | Dalvin Cook | Derrick Henry | Saquon Barkley | Nick Chubb | Alvin Kamara

Welcome to the transcendent talents who will succeed no matter their situation. This is the elite crowd who are sure-things when it comes to volume and efficiency. These are the obvious names at the top of the draft.

The only thing that can stop these stars from producing is major injury — like what  Christian McCaffrey and Saquon Barkley dealt with last season. But thanks to recency bias, you might be able to get them at a discount this season. 

But we know Cook, Henry, Kamara, and Chubb are healthy and in excellent situations to put up monstrous numbers in their offense. Even McCaffrey and Barkley are worth the risk as they come back from injury because their earlier production was impossible to replace with a talent found later.

Tier 2: Dominant lead backs

Jonathan Taylor | Ezekiel Elliott | Aaron Jones | Joe Mixon | Clyde Edwards-Helaire

Some want to rush Taylor into the superstar crowd but I'm not quite there yet. Yes, Taylor is an elite athlete who's expected to have a great year. But his quarterback is a question, and he has competition when Marlon Mack returns and Nyheim Hines will steal catch opportunities. 

Take out his gigantic games against Las Vegas (150 yards and two touchdowns) and Jacksonville (253 yards and two touchdowns) and his season was good but nothing special. Don't get lost in those abnormal games at the end of the season against two bad teams.

However, this is still a great group to take from. Elliott is as consistent as they come even if he's not as explosive as he used to be. 

Aaron Jones has solid upside and consistency. I love his game, and think the Packers will continue to ride him fresh off their extension. 

The debatable names are Mixon and Edwards-Helaire. Mixon had poor efficiency in a bad situation last year but the Bengals rebuilt their offensive line well enough. With Gio Bernard gone, I think he'll feast with volume enough to justify this ranking.

Edwards-Helaire should break out in a big way. Kansas City is missing a clear No. 2 receiver, and Patrick Mahomes will utilize the sophomore back often. There's no Le'Veon Bell in position to steal carries, either. 

Tier 3: Ideal RB2s with Upside

Antonio Gibson | Cam Akers | Austin Ekeler | J.K. Dobbins | Najee Harris | Miles Sanders | David Montgomery | Josh Jacobs | D'Andre Swift | Myles Gaskin | Kareem Hunt 

The toughest tier of them all is the one where we have clear starters who could lose some production because there's enough flaws in their game for an offense to use another weapon instead. This is often pass-catching or pass-blocking. Losing third-down snaps is crucial and separates these guys from ascending.

However, there's some range in this group for ascension. We know Gibson, Ekeler, Harris, and Montgomery have the best situations of this group. But I love Gaskin's and Swift's ADP for their roles, too.

You must grab at least one of these guys to win your league. Going zero-RB means you need two. Getting a volume-diva such as Jacobs is fine, but consider someone like Hunt since his efficiency is more attractive even in a smaller role.

Tier 4: Great Flex Options

Raheem Mostert | Mike Davis | Ronald Jones | Chase Edmonds | James Robinson, Javonte Williams

We pretty much know the talent and roles within this group. The exception is Javonte Williams, who I'm betting on as a big winner as the season progresses. Denver moved up to jump Miami for him with the intentions of him being the bread-winner.

We'll see Davis and Edmonds step into bigger roles in 2021 and both have the chance to be great surprises. They're both big targets of mine in every draft because they're not well-known to casual players. James Conner isn't a big threat in Arizona, and Davis has no competition in Atlanta.

Robinson and Mostert are the most interesting two. Robinson is being drafted like a sure-starter but I could see Jacksonville giving Travis Etienne a ton of snaps over him. I downgraded his outlook but would roster him if he makes it to the fourth round. 

Mostert seems ripe for a trade to the Jets but for now, is a potential home run hitter. I do think he fades as the season goes on, so consider cuffing him with Trey Sermon

Tier 5: Priority Bench Depth

Chris Carson | David Johnson | Melvin Gordon | Zack Moss | A.J. Dillon | Michael Carter | Tony Pollard | Trey Sermon | Darrell Henderson | Travis Etienne | Leonard Fournette | Gus Edwards | Tarik Cohen

Everyone else belongs in this pile. There will be some big performers from this group but it's hard to predict who it'll be while their respective depth charts are muddied. An injury or a few hot games can completely change what this group looks like.

Our best educated guess is that the younger guys in this tier will emerge as their season progresses. I'd fade Johnson, Gordon and Fournette if you can help it. I think their team will prefer more well-rounded talents with more speed as the year goes on.

Having a backup who can step into a starter's role isn't uncommon. That's why we'd rather have the upside Pollard and Dillon bring even if they're unproven. Sermon would be an ideal upside play, too.

Try to roster two of these backs if you can get them without spending too much. 

Photo: Getty Images