Last season was the breakout year for running backs such as Jonathan Taylor and Austin Ekeler. Their breakouts have them in my top two rankings this coming season for running backs. Usually, the first round of fantasy drafts is dominated by running backs, and I find it difficult to pass on one early on. Most of these running backs will be gone in drafts by the time the middle of the second round comes.
1) Jonathan Taylor, RB, Indianapolis Colts
This is an obvious one for me. Jonathan Taylor broke out in a big way last season. He rushed for 1811 yards on 332 attempts and 18 touchdowns. He added 40 receptions on 51 targets, catching two touchdowns. Taylor is a workhorse back and should be the top draft pick in every draft this coming season. The Colts added Matt Ryan as the quarterback who saw success with running backs such as Devonta Freeman and Todd Gurley who put up nine touchdowns in 2020. The Colts have Nyheim Hines to act as the pass-catching back, but he is not a threat to Taylor’s total. The Colts also saw Marlon Mack leave this offseason freeing up his 28 attempts.
2) Austin Ekeler, RB, Los Angeles Chargers
A personal favorite draft selection of mine last season, Austin Ekeler broke out in a big way. He rushed 206 times for 911 yards, scoring 12 touchdowns. He added 70 receptions on 94 receptions. 94 receptions for a running back is a heavy volume for a back, which is seeing wide receiver-type targets. The Chargers recently drafted Isaiah Spiller 123rd overall who is expected to be the complementary back. Austin Ekeler in the past has been injury-prone, but he managed to play 16 games last season and played through injuries. I’m drafting him in the top 3 in all formats this season without question.
3) Derrick Henry, RB, Tennesee Titans
Derrick Henry was on pace last season to have a monster season. 2,000 yards was the pace. Unfortunately, he suffered a foot injury, limiting him to eight games in the regular season. In those games, he rushed for 937 yards on 219 attempts and scored ten touchdowns. Just to give perspective, Austin Ekeler had 206 carries in 16 games! He also caught 18 receptions on 20 targets for 154 yards. On a 17-game season, that is on pace for over 2,000 yards and 20 touchdowns. He would be the top-ranked running back with those numbers. In the divisional round, he saw 20 rushing attempts, so clearly the Titans' offense goes through him. This offseason, the Titans traded AJ Brown to the Eagles and drafted Treylon Burks. They also drafted Hassan Haskins to back up Henry. Draft Henry with absolute confidence this season in the top five selections.
4) Najee Harris, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers
Najee Harris is my fourth-ranked running back. Reports this offseason show he reported 244 pounds from 232 last season, but Harris disputed that and said he was 240 pounds as a rookie. With Pittsburgh drafting Kenny Pickett and signing Mitch Trubisky, I expect them to rely on the run game a lot more this season. Last season he rushed for 1200 yards on 307 attempts and caught 74 passes on 94 targets for 467 yards and 3 touchdowns. Trubisky isn’t a typical check-down quarterback, but I wouldn’t put much stock in that. Harris should be drafted right now and should be right around the top five picks.
5) Christian McCaffrey, RB, Carolina Panthers
Christian McCaffrey comes in as my RB5, and it was close with Dalvin Cook. When he was healthy, the Panthers looked like a functioning offense, and people were calling the Sam Darnold trade a win for the Panthers. Once he was hurt, the offense struggled. McCaffrey rushed for 442 yards on 99 attempts and a touchdown. He also caught 37 passes on 41 attempts for 343 yards and a touchdown. This was all in 7 games. Reports show he has not hit any setbacks this offseason. If I had a top 10 pick in any format, I would feel comfortable taking CMC as his ceiling is the top overall pick. The injury risk is there, but this is a pick that could be a league winner inside the top ten.
6) Dalvin Cook, RB, Minnesota Vikings
Dalvin Cook comes in as my RB6. Cook only played 13 games, and his injury risk is there, but the ceiling is high when healthy. Last season Cook rushed 249 times for 1159 yards and 6 touchdowns. He added 34 receptions on 49 targets for 224 yards. Cook dislocated his shoulder last season but returned at the end of the season. It would be smart to draft Alexander Mattison as the backup at some point in your draft in the event Cook misses any time. I would be comfortable taking Cook right inside the top ten of any draft.
7) Joe Mixon, RB, Cincinnati Bengals
I actually would consider putting Mixon above Cook here. Mixon is coming off a great season where he carried the ball 292 times for 1205 yards and 13 touchdowns. He added 42 receptions on 48 targets for 314 yards and 3 touchdowns. The Bengals' offensive line was ranked in the bottom half of the league, and Mixon was still able to have a breakout season. This offseason, the Bengals added La’el Collins, Alex Cappa, and Ted Karras in free agency. Expect the line to be much better this season, which will benefit Mixon greatly. Mixon likely should be going in drafts towards the end of the first and is a perfect pick at the 10 or 12 turns.
8) D’Andre Swift, RB, Detroit Lions
If there is any running back who can be the dark horse for RB1 this season, I think Swift can do it. Last season Swift only played 13 games but carried the ball 151 times for 617 yards and 5 touchdowns. He added in 62 receptions on 78 targets for 452 yards and two touchdowns. While all the attention is on the WR room, Jameson Williams and Amon-Ra St. Brown, Swift is primed for a breakout. Jamaal Williams is his only threat to touches, but Swift is the true RB1 here. The injury risk is a concern, but the upside is there. Around the round one and two turns is the ideal spot for Swift right now.
9) Leonard Fournette, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Tom Brady is back in Tampa, and Leonard Fournette had a sneaky good season last year. People are going to fade him because of out-of-shape OTA news, and the arrival of Rachaad White, but I am all in on buying the fade, and getting great value. Last season, Fournette played in 14 games, carrying the ball 180 times for 812 yards and 8 touchdowns. He added in 69 receptions on 84 targets for 454 yards and two touchdowns. With Brady back, and Ronald Jones is gone, I would expect Fournette to equal, if not do better than in the 2021 season. He is an early second-round pick for me, and an ideal RB to target if you grab anything other than a running back in round one.
10) Javonte Williams, RB, Denver Broncos
Rounding out the top 10 is Javonte Williams. A big addition to quarterback Russell Wilson should help Williams out a ton. Melvin Gordon re-signed in Denver, which is a hit to William’s value, but I think he truly breaks out this season. Last season he played all 17 games, carrying 203 times for 903 yards and four touchdowns. He added in 43 receptions on 53 targets for 316 yards and three touchdowns. Melvin Gordon equaled the number of carries he saw with Williams at 203 carries, hence the panic among fantasy players. Right now, Williams is a late first-round pick, early second, and has top 5 potential if Gordon were to miss any time.
Check us out for more football content at Stack Attack. You can also find me on Twitter @nmimi and at FFFaceoff