(CBS Local)- The 2021 NFL season is on the horizon and that means it’s time to prepare for your fantasy football draft. After an offseason and summer of transactions and changes around the league, it can take a minute to refresh your memory before you’re on the clock.
With that in mind, we took a look at the CBSSports.com expert rankings for each position from Jamey Eisenberg, Dave Richard and Heath Cummings and have compiled top 10 lists for each based on what a player’s average ranking was across the three lists. Today it’s time to look at the most valuable position on your team, running backs.
1) Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers (Avg. Rank 1)
Projected Fantasy Points: 315, 18.5 per game
McCaffrey played in just three games in 2020 due to a high ankle sprain leaving fantasy owners that had him as their number one back scrambling to find a replacement. The good news is that he appears to be back to full health entering this season and in each of his first three seasons he proved plenty durable, playing in all 16 games each year.
Prior to his injury last season, CMC was on fire averaging 24 fantasy points per game in standard leagues which, over the full year, would have been the highest mark among backs by a solid margin. Now, he has a new quarterback under center in Sam Darnold. He’s projected to earn the most fantasy points of any back both in total and per game average making him the clear top guy in the rankings.
2) Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings (Avg. Rank 2.3)
Projected Fantasy Points: 283, 16.6 per game
The 25-year-old Cook is hoping to earn himself a contract extension this season which could mean he’s in for a big year. After finishing third in total points at the position last season (293), there’s little reason to expect much different from him this year. The big question is whether team owners can expect a full 17 games from Cook who has yet to play a full season in his first four years.
The projections have him as a bell cow back once again with 323 carries for 1,552 yards and 15 touchdowns adding another 58 receptions for 552 yards and a score in the passing game.
3) Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans (Avg. Rank 3)
Projected Fantasy Points: 258, 15.2 per game
Last year’s rushing leader remains the focal point of the offense in Tennessee which allowed him to finish first among backs with 313 total fantasy points and 19.6 per game last season as he put up over 2,000 yards rushing.
The bad news for fantasy owners? It’s unlikely he repeats that as there has never been a back-to-back 2,000 yard rusher. Granted, the 17th game certainly helps get him closer but, the Titans also picked up Julio Jones this offseason, likely increasing the number of passing plays with Jones and A.J. Brown in the fold. He’s projected to finish with 1,736 yards and 14 touchdowns and 184 yards and a score in the passing game.
4) Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints (Avg. Rank 4)
Projected Fantasy Points: 225, 13.2 per game
A new era in the Big Easy with Drew Brees now retired and a quarterback battle between Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill for the starting job. Regardless of who wins, it’s likely Kamara will keep his large role in the Saints offense. He had 270 total touches last season (187 carries, 83 receptions) and totaled the 2nd-most points among backs with 294.
Like McCaffrey and Cook, Kamara’s receiving ability increases his floor value as a fantasy option knowing that he will pick up several receptions per game that a back like Derrick Henry won’t. The projections have him at 1,040 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns with 85 receptions, 650 yards and three scores through the air.
5) Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys (Avg. Rank 5)
Projected Fantasy Points 201, 11.8 per game
Elliott is coming off the worst season of his pro career both on the field and in fantasy, as he totaled just 170 points (11.3 per game) and ranked 11th at the position. But, that happened largely with Dak Prescott not in the lineup after he suffered an injury in Week 5, allowing opposing defenses to key in more to Elliott and the running game.
Still, the projection systems aren’t quite as high on Elliott expecting him to total just 1,228 yards and 10 scores on the ground with 45 receptions, for 310 yards and two scores through the air.
6) Aaron Jones, Green Bay Packers (Avg. Rank 6)
Projected Fantasy Points: 218, 12.8 per game
Jones was the fifth-best back in fantasy last season by the total points, putting together 1,459 combined yards and 11 combined touchdowns on the year as the lead back in the Packers offense. He’s expected to check in right around those marks again this year based on the projections with 1,163 yards on the ground, 412 through the air and 14 total touchdowns.
7) Nick Chubb, Cleveland Browns (Avg. Rank 6.6)
Projected Fantasy Points: 221, 13 per game
Chubb cracked the Top 10 at the position last season despite missing four games due to an MCL injury. In 12 games, he still rushed for over 1,000 yards and 12 touchdowns, good for 191 points and a 15.9 per game average that ranked fourth among all backs.
With an extra game and assuming full health, the projection system at CBSSports.com is expecting another big year from Chubb with over 1,600 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns. Like Henry, Chubb’s passing game value is limited mainly because the Browns have Kareem Hunt to take those touches.
8) Jonathan Taylor, Indianapolis Colts (Avg. Rank 8)
Projected Fantasy Points: 225, 13.2 per game
As a rookie last season, Taylor broke out for over 1,100 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground for the Colts joining Edgerrin James and Marshall Faulk as one of just three rookies in franchise history to amass over 1,000 yards rushing. He finished with the fourth-most points (215) last season.
The projections look for him to eclipse the 1,300 yard mark this season with another 11 scores and possibly a bigger role in the passing game. He’s projected for 51 catches and 396 yards after snagging 36 for 299 a year ago.
9) Saquon Barkley, New York Giants (Avg. Rank 9)
Projected Fantasy Points: 217, 12.8 per game
Barkley is coming back from a major knee injury in 2020, so it remains to be seen how reliable he will be. He was limited in his effectiveness in the lone action he saw last season as the Giants offense struggled out of the gate. His status for the Week 1 game against the Broncos is unclear as he was placed on the physically unable to perform list (PUP) list to begin camp.
All that said, if Barkley is able to return to his 2019 form then fantasy owners are in for a treat. He totaled 191 fantasy points that season with over 1,400 combined yards and eight touchdowns. The 2021 projections seem him eclipsing that with an extra game (in theory) in hand with 1,751 combined yards and 12 touchdowns projected.
10) Najee Harris, Pittsburgh Steelers (Avg. Rank 10.6)
Projected Fantasy Points: 203, 11.9 per game
The lone rookie back on this list, Harris comes with impressive pedigree as a former five-star recruit who won the national championship at Alabama and was then selected by the Steelers in the first round. He showed the ability to be a factor both in the run and pass game at Alabama with over 3,800 yards rushing and 700 yards receiving across his four seasons in Tuscaloosa.
The projections expect him to put up the 10th-best fantasy season of the running backs this year slotting him in for over 1,000 rushing yards, 400+ receiving yards and 13 total touchdowns.