Running back is arguably the most crucial position in fantasy football. It is also the most volatile position in dynasty leagues, due to how quickly running backs can lose their value. When it comes to running back, two factors determine how valuable they are for fantasy: talent and opportunity. Age is a significant factor, as well. Let’s dive into the top ten dynasty fantasy football running backs going into the 2021 NFL off-season.
Dynasty Fantasy Football Running Backs: Tier One
RB1 | Christian McCaffery
McCaffery still comes in as the overall RB1 on our list of dynasty fantasy football running backs. Despite having an injury-plagued season last year, McCaffery presents everything an owner would want in one of your dynasty fantasy football running backs. When it comes to usage in both the receiving and ground games, McCaffery is unrivaled.
He has seen over 100 targets each of his last two fully healthy seasons and over 200 touches on the ground. Between all of 2019 and his three games in 2020, McCaffery has scored less than 19 half PPR fantasy points only twice. The kind of consistency McCaffery provides is unrivaled, and, with him still being 24, he has plenty left in the tank for dynasty.
RB2 | Saquon Barkley
Another 24-year-old running back coming off an injury comes in here at number two. Barkley may be down on some analysts’ rankings due to his back-to-back injury seasons, but his talent and opportunity still rank him as one of the best dynasty fantasy football running backs. In his first two seasons, Barkley topped 1000 yards on the ground and averaged over 4.8 yards per carry in each.
His second season was a bit disappointing due to his regression in targets. This decrease in passing work brought down the ceiling Barkley presented in his rookie year. Coming into the 2021 season, we should get our first year of Barkley and Daniel Jones together. Barkley will perform on the ground as he has shown in his first two seasons. What will determine if he is worthy of this spot is his work in the passing game.
Even if Barkley is used sparingly in the passing game, he should see 350 plus touches if healthy as he did his rookie year and was on pace for in year two. Barkley provides fantasy teams a solid floor when given this volume, and his talent gives owners the ceiling you look for in an elite running back.
RB3 | Dalvin Cook
Dalvin Cook has shown over the past two years that he can handle a significant workload and be a dominant running back for fantasy. Cook had 312 carries and 44 receptions last year, which puts him above that sweet 350 touchmark that provides possibly the highest “floor” of any of these top-ten dynasty fantasy football running backs.
Cook showed this consistency for fantasy owners last year when he scored 15 or more half PPR fantasy points in all but two games. Cook is still young at 25 as well, and the team has invested in him with a new contract locking him up through 2025. For the next four years, he is locked into one of the run heaviest offenses in football which sets Cook up for success in fantasy football.
RB4 | Alvin Kamara
Unlike the top three backs on this list of the best dynasty fantasy football running backs, Alvin Kamara is not the type of back that will get 350 plus touches in a season. Kamara’s value comes in his efficiency with his touches and his work through the passing game. With Drew Brees retiring, Kamara’s work in the passing game will surely take a hit. Depending on who is the starting quarterback for the Saints, Kamara’s ranking could drop.
If Taysom Hill enters the season as the starter, Kamara will lose some of his value. We saw last year when Hill took over that Kamara was not used the same. In three of Hill’s four starts, Kamara saw three targets or less. The fourth game was encouraging, where Kamara saw ten targets against Philadelphia. Even with Hill as the starter, Kamara’s explosiveness and efficiency with every touch make him a great running back for the near future.
Dynasty Fantasy Football Running Backs: Tier Two
RB5 | Aaron Jones
Much like Kamara, Aaron Jones has been producing due to his efficiency with his touches. In 2019 when Jones finished as the RB2 in half-PPR fantasy, he averaged 4.6 yards per carry and 9.7 yards per receptions and showed his ability to score with 19 touchdowns. Coming into 2020, it was important to see if Jones could maintain his efficiency; the touchdowns were going to regress, but if he could maintain that efficiency, he would continue to be an elite option for fantasy.
Jones was able to average 5.5 yards per carry and 7.6 yards per reception. He was able to show that he could continue to be explosive even if he was not receiving 20 plus touches per game. Jones was continuing to split work with Jamaal Williams and AJ Dillion, which limited the opportunities he received.
However, now that Jones is a free agent, he could join a team that gives him more touches each game. If Jones does near the 20 touches per game mark and maintains his efficiency from the past two years, he could challenge for the overall RB1 these dynasty fantasy football running backs rankings.
RB6 | Jonathan Taylor
The first of the second-year running backs to make this list, Jonathan Taylor is set up for fantasy success for years to come. Taylor started last year slowly, only topping 70 yards once in the first ten weeks. However, late in the year, he finally took over the backfield. Over his last six games, Taylor averaged 20 carries per game, 123.5 yards per game with one game of 253 yards, and 6.05 yards per carry.
If he can continue to get 20 carries per game, he will be a top ten back. He is running behind one of the strongest lines in football and showed the ability to break away from defenders. The one downside for Taylor is his lack of work in the passing game. Taylor only saw four or more targets twice last year, and Nyheim Hines will continue to hold the passing game role in Indianapolis. Despite that, Taylor’s work on the ground and his explosiveness earn him a top-six spot on our dynasty fantasy football running backs rankings
RB7 | Nick Chubb
Nick Chubb is one of the best running backs in the NFL when it comes to finding the hole in the defense and gaining large chunks of yards on the ground. Over his first three seasons, he has averaged over five yards per carry every year. Chubb has also shown the ability to handle a larger workload when he received just under 300 carries back in 2019.
Kareem Hunt is still in Cleveland and will receive work in the passing game, but Chubb is the preferred back for early-down work. The lack of passing game work prevents Chubb from being higher on this list, but much like Derrick Henry, he does not need much work in the passing game. As long as Chubb is getting a large volume of carries, he will continue producing top ten seasons for fantasy.
RB8 | Derrick Henry
Henry is the oldest running back on this list at 27, which is essential to note for dynasty; however, he is coming off a 2000 yard rushing season and has the potential to put up large rushing numbers any year. Despite being the oldest back on this list, Henry only has three seasons of heavy work in the NFL. Henry’s first two seasons were both under 200 carriers, and his third was just over 200.
To put it into perspective, while Henry is two years older than Ezekiel Elliott and both have been in the NFL for five years, Henry has 300 fewer carries in his career than Elliott. While he has gained a lot of tread on his tires over the past two years, this light start to his career means he will be able to carry a larger workload longer into his career, even over a younger back like Elliott.
Henry is not a back who will give you much in the receiving game, he has never had more than 20 receptions in a year, but Henry makes up for his lack of receiving work with the sheer volume of carriers he can handle. The size and speed combination Henry presents allows for him not to wear down throughout the season, which provides consistent fantasy value every game. Henry still has good years ahead of him but could fall down most dynasty fantasy football running backs rankings if he fails to produce as a pass-catcher.
Dynasty Fantasy Football Running Backs: Tier Three
RB9 | Ezekiel Elliott
Elliott is coming off of the worst season in his career. In 2020 Elliott had his lowest rushing yards in a season in his career, had fewer rushing attempts than all seasons except his ten-game season in 2017, tied for his lowest touchdown total in his career, and averaged less per attempt than any other season.
Elliott and the Cowboys as a whole struggled; however, he still has good years left in him at only 25 years old and has the talent once again to be one of the best backs in fantasy football. Elliott has had over 350 touches in three out of his five seasons. That 350 touch-mark is the sweet spot for fantasy. If a back can get over 350 touches, the volume alone gives them top ten fantasy value.
Elliott does not just rely on the volume; he has the talent and explosiveness to dominate with those touches. Elliott is lower on the list due to last season, where we saw the struggles he had with a lackluster offensive line and missing his starting quarterback. Dak is expected to be back but how much the offensive line improves and how Elliott does behind that line is the question moving forward for his dynasty value.
RB10 | J.K. Dobbins
Another 2nd year running back who came on late last season in Dobbins comes in here at seven. Much like Taylor, Dobbins was not utilized heavily in the early season. However, over his last six games, Dobbins showed the potential he has in fantasy. Dobbins finished off the season with touchdowns in 6 straight games and showed his efficiency on the ground averaging 6.5 yards per carry.
There are two main issues when it comes to Dobbins, which could hold him back from achieving true elite status in fantasy. First, since Dobbins will continue to split carries with Gus Edwards, who is expected to be brought back to Baltimore, he will need to continue the efficiency shown in the final six games. Volume is more reliable when it comes to fantasy production, but as Jones and Kamara have shown if the back is efficient enough, they still can provide value.
The second big issue with Dobbins, which caps his upside is his lack of use in the passing game. Dobbins only saw 24 targets all of last year, and over those final six games where he came on, he only saw four targets. If Dobbins is not utilized more in the passing game and continues to split work on the ground, he will start to fall in dynasty rankings, but as of now, the upside he showed on the ground makes him a top ten back in dynasty leagues.
Dynasty Fantasy Football Running Backs: Honorable Mentions
Just missing the top ten in dynasty rankings are a group of second-year backs and an incoming rookie. D’Andre Swift, Cam Akers, Antonio Gibson, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, and Najee Harris come in right behind the top ten. The second-year players all showed flashes of brilliance last year and look to be valuable fantasy assets moving forward. Harris coming in as a rookie still needs to show he can perform on an NFL field but has the talent to be on our list of dynasty fantasy football running backs if given an opportunity.