From time to time we like to feature fresh voices and strong content. With permission of the author, please enjoy Inhale Sports original article here | By: Kyle Radimer
The fantasy football season is readily approaching! Inhale Sports will be updating consistently up to your draft with rankings and major news around the league. Be sure to follow the Inhale Fantasy Football Instagram account if you don’t want to miss an article.
How Our Rankings Work
Up next are the running back rankings for the upcoming fantasy season. These rankings go by a traditional 12-team, PPR (points per reception) league setting. As described in the quarterback rankings article, these rankings will employ a floor and ceiling prediction along with a traditional numerical ranking. This will reveal which players are more risky and which are safer with a higher floor. This provides some extra information to determine who to select when you’re on the clock. For more information on how the floor and ceiling predictions work, head over to our quarterback rankings in the fantasy category of our site.
There may also be asterisks next to certain players’ names that mean there are factors which may impact their production, namely injury and suspension. When these asterisks appear on this ranking and future rankings, I will explain why they are there. They may impact where the player falls in the ranking.
How Running Back Rankings Differ From Other Positions
Unlike the quarterback rankings, not all the running backs on this list will be firmly at the top of their team’s depth chart. Many will be in a committee, or simply be a backup to a clear-cut starter. It is because of this that even more information than floor and ceiling predictions is necessary. This ranking will employ a new symbol next to a player’s name, a carrot “^”. The carrot means that the player has potential upside if another running back on the depth chart were to go down with an injury.
Running backs incur the most injuries among any position in football, so this denomination is necessary to understand why the backs fall where they do. Players can get multiple carrots depending on how much upside they have if running backs above them go down. As a general rule, you can attribute one carrot to being about a rise in 12 running back spots for both the floor and the ceiling of a particular player. For example, A.J. Dillon has a ceiling of mid RB2 and a floor of high RB3 with one carrot. If Aaron Jones were to go down, I would expect Dillon to vault into a territory with around a mid RB1 ceiling and a high RB2 floor.
It is also important to note that upside from injuries taking place to the other running backs does not factor into the floor and ceiling predictions. Those predictions come solely from how I expect players to perform with all running backs healthy on their depth charts. Now, we’re on to the rankings.
Running Back Rankings
- Jonathan Taylor | Ceiling: HRB1 | Floor: HRB1
- Christian McCaffrey | Ceiling: HRB1 | Floor: HRB1
- Austin Ekeler | Ceiling: HRB1 | Floor: MRB1
- Derrick Henry | Ceiling: HRB1 | Floor: MRB1
- Najee Harris | Ceiling: HRB1 | Floor: MRB1
- Dalvin Cook | Ceiling: HRB1 | Floor: MRB1
- Joe Mixon | Ceiling: HRB1 | Floor: LRB1
- D’Andre Swift | Ceiling: HRB1 | Floor: LRB1
- Leonard Fournette | Ceiling: HRB1 | Floor: HRB2
- Aaron Jones | Ceiling: HRB1 | Floor: HRB2
- Saquon Barkley | Ceiling: HRB1 | Floor: HRB2
- James Conner | Ceiling: HRB1 | Floor: HRB2
- Ezekiel Elliott | Ceiling: MRB1 | Floor: HRB2
- Nick Chubb | Ceiling: MRB1 | Floor: MRB2
- Alvin Kamara* | Ceiling: HRB1 | Floor: LRB1
- Javonte Williams | Ceiling: LRB1 | Floor: MRB2^
- Breece Hall | Ceiling: HRB1 | Floor: LRB2
- David Montgomery | Ceiling: LRB1 | Floor: MRB2
- Travis Etienne | Ceiling: MRB1 | Floor: LRB2
- Josh Jacobs | Ceiling: LRB1 | Floor: MRB2
- Cam Akers | Ceiling: LRB1 | Floor: LRB2
- Miles Sanders | Ceiling: LRB1 | Floor: HRB3
- Elijah Mitchell | Ceiling: LRB1 | Floor: HRB3
- J.K. Dobbins | Ceiling: LRB1 | Floor: HRB3
- Antonio Gibson | Ceiling: LRB1 | Floor: HRB3
- A.J. Dillon | Ceiling: MRB2 | Floor: HRB3^
- Tony Pollard | Ceiling: MRB2 | Floor: HRB3^
- Kareem Hunt | Ceiling: MRB2 | Floor: MRB3^
- Rashaad Penny | Ceiling: HRB2 | Floor: LRB3
- Chase Edmonds | Ceiling: HRB2 | Floor: LRB3
- Melvin Gordon | Ceiling: LRB2 | Floor: MRB3^
- Cordarrelle Patterson | Ceiling: MRB2 | Floor: LRB3
- Clyde Edwards-Helaire | Ceiling: MRB2 | Floor: HRB4^
- James Cook | Ceiling: LRB2 | Floor: LRB3^
- Damien Harris | Ceiling: MRB2 | Floor: LRB3
- Devin Singletary | Ceiling: MRB2 | Floor: LRB3
- Rhamondre Stevenson | Ceiling: LRB2 | Floor: HRB4
- Kenneth Walker III | Ceiling: HRB3 | Floor: LRB4^
- Ronald Jones | Ceiling: HRB3 | Floor: LRB4^
- Tyler Allgeier | Ceiling: HRB3 | Floor: HRB4^
- Dameon Pierce | Ceiling: MRB3 | Floor: LRB4^
- Alexander Mattison | Ceiling: LRB3 | Floor: MRB5^^^
- Darrell Henderson | Ceiling: HRB3 | Floor: HRB5^^
- Gus Edwards* | Ceiling: HRB3 | Floor: MRB4^
- Jamaal Williams | Ceiling: MRB3 | Floor: HRB4^
- Michael Carter | Ceiling: HRB3 | Floor: LRB4^
- Isaiah Spiller | Ceiling: LRB3 | Floor: LRB4^^
- Nyheim Hines | Ceiling: HRB3 | Floor: LRB4
- J.D. McKissic | Ceiling: MRB3 | Floor: MRB4
- James Robinson* | Ceiling: HRB3 | Floor: LRB4^
- Kenyan Drake | Ceiling: LRB3 | Floor: LRB4^
- Chuba Hubbard | Ceiling: MRB4 | Floor: LRB5^^
- Kenneth Gainwell | Ceiling: MRB3 | Floor: HRB5
- Mark Ingram* | Ceiling: HRB4 | Floor: LRB5^
- Rachaad White | Ceiling: HRB4 | Floor: MRB5^
- Khalil Herbert | Ceiling: HRB4 | Floor: LRB5^
- Marlon Mack | Ceiling: HRB4 | Floor: MRB5^
- Sony Michel | Ceiling: LRB3 | Floor: LRB5^
- Raheem Mostert | Ceiling: LRB3 | Floor: LRB5^
- Chris Evans | Ceiling: HRB4 | Floor: LRB5^
The Top Backs
Jonathan Taylor and Christian McCaffrey are easily my 1 and 2 picks overall. Both will have elite per game production assuming they can stay healthy, as evidenced by their past fantasy success. The next four running backs (Ekeler, Henry, Harris, Cook) are also elite options. Any one of these backs can be ranked above each other in my opinion. These four have slight question marks about their workloads, but all signs point to them still producing high weekly point totals. I would love to pick up Mixon or Swift late in round 1. Both have the potential to be truly elite running backs, with safe RB1 floors. Mixon was amazing last year and Swift was as well before his injury. They could both easily push their way into the elite RB1 conversation again this season.
Any of my 9-12 backs have a shot to be an elite RB1 on the season, and I particularly like Barkley and Conner among that group thanks to their high ceilings with rather low prices attached to them. If you can grab either late in the second or early in the third, that would be great value.
Other High-End Options
Ezekiel Elliott is a great middle ground if you miss out on the top 12 and he falls into the third round. He has been an elite fantasy producer since he entered the league, having ranked as a top 10 RB every single year besides 2017, when he only played in ten games and finished as the RB13. Though I like Tony Pollard as well, do not be mistaken into thinking Zeke isn’t the clear top back on this depth chart. He has one of the safest floors you can find in a running back and is great value here.
Kamara is the first RB with an asterisk because he is likely getting a six game suspension for a February arrest. He is an elite RB1 when healthy, however, so if you feel like you can get by six games without him and compete, he’s worth the pickup. That likely should not happen before round three. Otherwise, one of your elite picks is going to be out for a decent early stretch of the year. Ideally, I would set myself up with a good RB-WR combo before taking Kamara, but if that happens he can be a great pick.
Breece Hall is another running back I really like going into the year. Rookie running backs have an extremely good track record, and with him being the only clear-cut starter among the backs selected in the latest NFL Draft, I’m more than willing to take the risk on him producing. I think he has elite potential in his rookie season.
The RB2 Tier
Running backs 18-25 in my rankings all have concerns of some sort, but are also all proven fantasy producers. This is a range that I’m not a huge fan of, but these are the last of the clear-cut starters in the league, so it is an important range to find value in. Montgomery and Sanders are my favorite picks from this section, but any one of these backs could pan out well. Although, Mitchell, Dobbins, Jacobs, and Gibson particularly concern me. While all have had success in the past, they have significant committee concerns, but have to be drafted as though they are the starters.
Dillon, Pollard, and Hunt are all FLEX worthy backups with loads of upside if their starters go down. That is great RB3 value, even if they are second on a depth chart. Penny and Edmonds are the presumed starters on their teams, and both offer good upside. However, they come with pretty hefty risk because they could lose their starting jobs at any point throughout the year.
Melvin Gordon is one of my favorite sleeper picks at the moment. Gordon played in 16 games while Javonte Williams played in 17. Minus the one game he missed, Gordon outscored Javonte Williams in fantasy points. While I do expect Williams to take a bit of a larger workload this year, the offense has improved and Gordon should still easily offer FLEX numbers, so he is a great RB3 pick. Plus, if Williams were to go down, Gordon would immediately vault into borderline RB1 territory in a potent Broncos offense.
The RB3 Tier
I am also not a huge fan of the 32-43 range. There isn’t much value to be had with many of these running backs. They are high risk with only moderate reward, barring injury to a starter. Still, there is value to be had and you may feel the need to take a running back in this tier.
The backs I would go for are Cook, Singletary, Stevenson, and Allgeier. Cook will likely be the pass-catching back to Singletary being the downhill runner. I think both will be fantasy relevant. Stevenson should take a sophomore leap, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he overtakes Damien Harris at some point this year. Allgeier is more of an upside pick. He will provide value if he overtakes Cordarrelle Patterson as the primary back in Atlanta, which is entirely possible. Patterson was a terrible runner down the stretch, averaging just 2.7 yards per carry over the final 5 weeks of the season on 47 carries. He had a career year in his age 31 season, and his production should only decline from here.
The RB4 Tier
I love running backs 44-51. These are mostly backups who have the potential to produce solid RB3 value with potential for even more if their starters were hurt. You can’t go too wrong in this zone, but Jamaal Williams and Gus Edwards are definitely my favorite picks.
The Lions have not employed Williams as a backup, but rather in a tandem with D’Andre Swift. In the games he played last year, Williams averaged a healthy 9.1 points per game. That places him on borderline RB3 territory for the price of a boarderline RB4, with higher potential if Swift gets injured.
Gus Edwards is still working himself back from an ACL injury that he sustained before the season last year. He is currently questionable for week 1, but that doesn’t matter much anyways. You can easily pick him up as an RB4, so hopefully you wouldn’t have to play him for the first few weeks of the season. Dobbins was the Ravens’ top running back starting from their week 7 bye in 2020. Edwards produced very well over that time, scoring 8+ points in 8 out of 10 games during that span. He averaged 10 points per game and was the RB20 over that time period. It is reasonable to expect he has that same role upon his return, and should put up borderline RB3 numbers at minimum. He may be my favorite late-round RB, and his ADP might fall even further thanks to his injury.
The RB5 Tier
James Robinson is also important to touch on because of his injury status. He sustained a torn achilles last season and is still working his way back. This is a notoriously detrimental injury for running backs and the same one Cam Akers is working back from. However, news recently came out that Robinson was not placed on the PUP list, which is a very positive sign for his week 1 status. If he’s active, he could put up RB3 numbers in a tandem with Travis Etienne.
Mark Ingram also has an asterisk due to Kamara’s likely suspension. It is possible that Ingram provides FLEX value with Kamara out, though I think RB3 value is much more likely. It is also possible the Saints sign or trade for another running back to fulfill the top RB spot while Kamara is out, making Ingram a meaningless fantasy pickup. Regardless, he should only be relevant while Kamara is out, so he’s a fine upside pick for the time Kamara is suspended.
The rest of the running back rankings are basically dart throws. Michel or Mostert could carve out a role without an injury in Miami’s offense, but it is difficult to predict which they will favor. My best bet is Michel since he has successfully handled a large workload in the past. I see Edmonds as the pass-catching back in this offense and one of these two putting up borderline RB3 numbers. Chuba Hubbard is a fine pickup because he is McCaffrey’s backup and will be great if McCaffrey goes down. While both are playing though, Hubbard will be irrelevant so he is nothing more than a handcuff. The other running backs from 53-on are backups with limited potential even if a starter goes down.
Running back is the toughest position to sort out in fantasy. There are few quality ones that you can plug in as weekly starters. And on top of that, injuries hit at every point in the season. The strategy I would employ is first, get two running backs you feel confident in, hopefully before the FLEX tier. Then get one safe producer, likely in the 44-51 range, and two upside picks at any other points in the draft. This will give you enough security to get you through a bust or injuries, and enough risk that hopefully you get a running back that can start if one of your top two go down.
Hopefully these running back rankings give you a good feeling about the fantasy offseason. This likely won’t be my final ranking before the season as news comes out about these offenses and injuries take place. Expect another ranking to come out closer to the season as training camps wrap up. If you have any questions or would like more information on any rankings, feel free to leave a comment on the Inhale Fantasy Football Instagram account and we will get back soon after.
For more fantasy football articles and positional rankings, head to the “fantasy” category on our site here.