2021 Fantasy Football PPR Running Back Rankings

The running back has become one of the most sought after positions in fantasy football. It’s a race to grab the top talent at running back, especially in PPR leagues where dual threat running backs have a competitive advantage. In this ranking, we’ll break down the tiers of running back from the elite you want on your team to young potential to the ones you should avoid.

Tier 1: Elite

  1. Saquon Barkley – New York Giants
  2. Christian McCaffrey – Carolina Panthers
  3. Derrick Henry – Tennessee Titans
  4. Dalvin Cook – Minnesota Vikings
  5. Alvin Kamara – New Orleans Saints

The elite group is led by Saquon Barkley who narrowly edges out Christian McCaffrey for the top spot. Both players have been the best in the NFL when healthy, but remaining healthy consistently for both has been the problem. The New York Giants significantly improved their offensive core in the offseason allowing for less opportunities for Barkley to get hurt as others around him can get the job done as well. This put Barkley in a better position for success as Mike Davis is out of Carolina making CMC even more of a workhorse for the team. Nonetheless, CMC, Barkley and the rest of the crew who round out the top 5 should be drafted at the top of your draft easily. 

Tier 2: Top-Tier

  1. Jonathan Taylor – Indianapolis Colts
  2. Ezekiel Elliot – Dallas Cowboys
  3. Antonio Gibson – Washington Football Team
  4. Aaron Jones – Green Bay Packers
  5. Nick Chubb – Cleveland Browns
  6. David Montgomery – Chicago Bears
  7. Clyde Edwards-Helaire – Kansas City Chiefs
  8. Austin Ekeler – Los Angeles Chargers

In a loaded running back class, if you don’t land one of the elite, you are still given a chance to draft 2 top-tier running backs in back to back picks late in the 1st and in the 2nd round. We would be happy with any 2 of these running backs on our fantasy team and would feel confident that a playoff spot is within reach. Taylor and Gibson are the most likely pairing to jump into the top 5 after the season is over as one of the elite is likely to slide. 

Tier 3: Solid Starters

  1. D’Andre Swift – Detroit Lions
  2. Josh Jacobs – Las Vegas Raiders
  3. Miles Sanders – Philadelphia Eagles
  4. Myles Gaskin – Miami Dolphins
  5. Chris Carson – Seattle Seahawks
  6. Joe Mixon – Cincinnati Bengals

The solid starters are exactly as they sound. All 6 guys in this tier are solid starting running backs for their teams, they will get the job done, but they aren’t going to blow you away. A couple of these players are on the rise such as Swift and Gaskin while others like Jacobs and Mixon have regressed over the last season. If you land one of the elite running backs, pairing them up with a solid starter should help get your team in a good place to succeed. 

Tier 4: Strong Flex

  1. Najee Harris – Pittsburgh Steelers
  2. Kareem Hunt – Cleveland Browns
  3. JK Dobbins – Baltimore Ravens
  4. Mike Davis – Atlanta Falcons
  5. Chase Edmonds – Arizona Cardinals

With many running backs and wide receivers competing for our flex slot, this section is candidates who would be a strong flex option in your PPR league. Featuring 3 running backs from the AFC North alone, the strong flex backs are worth an early-mid round pick. Harris has the most potential to have his stock rise of the bunch if the Steelers offensive line wasn’t as disappointing as it was last season for James Conner. Despite being the 2nd running back on his own team, Hunt is still worth drafting over many starting running backs in the NFL as the Browns have the best 1-2 rushing punch in the NFL. 

Tier 5: Flex

  1. James Robinson – Jacksonville Jaguars
  2. Travis Etienne – Jacksonville Jaguars
  3. Darrell Henderson – Los Angeles Rams
  4. Michael Carter – New York Jets
  5. Javonte Williams – Denver Broncos
  6. Raheem Mostert – San Francisco 49ers
  7. Leonard Fournette – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
  8. JD McKissic – Washington Football Team
  9. Ronald Jones – Tampa Bay Buccaneers

If you missed out one of the better options at flex, don’t worry, there are still some options left with plenty of potential. This section is primarily boom or bust this season as young players are trying to live up to the hype and veterans are trying to prove they still have it in them to succeed. The most disappointing player to see in this section is James Robinson after the remarkable rookie season he put together. The Jaguars drafted Etienne which hurts the fantasy value of Robinson and ultimately Etienne as if he was on another team in need of a running back, it’s likely he would be higher than this as Robinson is going to be tough competition for Etienne for touches. Other backs in this section are in the same boat with multiple running backs on the team making it tougher to thrive as the lead back. 

Tier 6: Quality Backups

  1. Melvin Gordon – Denver Broncos
  2. Damien Harris – New England Patriots
  3. David Johnson – Houston Texans
  4. James Conner – Arizona Cardinals
  5. Devin Singletary – Buffalo Bills
  6. Phillip Lindsay – Houston Texans
  7. Nyheim Hines – Indianapolis Colts
  8. Zack Moss – Buffalo Bills
  9. Tarik Cohen – Chicago Bears

When your starting running back or two are on a bye week or dealing with injury, the frantic search for a replacement can be worrisome. This group of players will help put some of your nerves at ease in that scenario as they can still manage some respectable points to have some value if needed in a pinch. We’d recommend using a later round draft pick to snag one of these players.

Tier 7: Decent Handcuffs

  1. Latavius Murray – New Orleans Saints
  2. Trey Sermon – San Francisco 49ers
  3. Kenyan Drake – Las Vegas Raiders
  4. Tevin Coleman – New York Jets
  5. James White – New England Patriots
  6. Jamaal Williams – Detroit Lions
  7. Malcolm Brown – Miami Dolphins
  8. Kenneth Gainwell – Philadelphia Eagles
  9. Darrel Williams – Kansas City Chiefs
  10. Gus Edwards – Baltimore Ravens
  11. Rashaad Penny – Seattle Seahawks
  12. AJ Dillon – Green Bay Packers

One of the worst things that can happen in fantasy is losing your starting running back for a significant period of time. Having a good backup for NFL teams has become more crucial as injuries have become more frequent over the years. This group features former starters who performed well and turned into quality backup running backs. These are all good players to stash as handcuffs on your team or pick up from free agency if you have a good waiver wire position. 

Tier 8: Best of the Rest

  1. Justin Jackson – Los Angeles Chargers
  2. Alexander Mattison – Minnesota Vikings
  3. Benny Snell Jr. – Pittsburgh Steelers
  4. Kerryon Johnson – Philadelphia Eagles
  5. Marlon Mack – Indianapolis Colts
  6. Tony Pollard – Dallas Cowboys
  7. Devontae Booker – New York Giants
  8. Chuba Hubbard – Carolina Panthers
  9. Cordarrelle Patterson – Atlanta Falcons
  10. Mark Ingram – Houston Texans
  11. Joshua Kelley – Los Angeles Chargers

The best of the rest are players that could potentially be worth drafting in deeper leagues or picking up later in the season depending on the performance of the guy ahead of them. Most in this category will not see a spot in the starting lineup at all during the season, but a couple could be used as deep flexes given the situation.

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