3 Rookie Running Backs That Will Be RB1s in 2021 (And 3 That Won’t)

By Alex Kurpeski (@3COAK_FF) & Angel Maldonado Tejada (@AngelTejadaFF)


When building our dynasty league teams, we often use the terms upside, potential, and ceiling to justify the selections we make. While those are all very relevant factors in selecting one player over another, there’s another term that holds much more weight: opportunity. Without opportunity, a player like J.K Dobbins will produce much worse than a player like James Robinson, even if the former has more potential or upside. Though the idea of a “bell cow” back is no longer a reality, being a “lead back” is a valuable trait for a player on your fantasy team. For this piece, my colleague Angel and I will be taking a look into our crystal ball (it was on sale on Cyber Monday) to determine which rookies from this year will and won’t be starting for their team next fall. 


Will: D’Andre Swift, Detroit Lions

Midseason Lions observations: D'Andre Swift deserves more – The Athletic

Swift has been impressive when called upon this season, and I have no reason to believe that will change next season. After all, D’Andre Swift was never expected to be a top rookie this season. His offensive rookie of the year odds have stayed fairly consistent all season, with his +3900 odds in September changing to +7500  by the end of November It took Matt Patricia far too long to make Swift the RB1 in Detroit but the next HC won’t make the same mistake. Swift is an explosive 3 down back and Detroit is going to bounce back big next season. Look for Swift to emerge as a top option next season.


Won’t: Jonathan Taylor, Indianapolis Colts

When the Colts took Taylor in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft, folks who’d seen him play at Wisconsin swooned over the idea of the bruising back running behind Indy’s top-rated offensive line. Following Marlon Mack’s season-ending injury in Week 1, it seemed as if Taylor would be positioned to light the league on fire. Instead, he’s struggled to hold onto his duties as the primary ball carrier, losing touches to holdovers like Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins. Given Hines’ performance this season, Taylor may be working behind him again next season. 


Will: Zack Moss, Buffalo Bills

Zack Moss out for Bills this weekend - ProFootballTalk

Moss has been siphoning touches away from Devin Singletary slowly throughout this season, looking more and more like “the guy” in Buffalo each game. Buffalo’s offense is slowly becoming one of the most explosive in the league and a top-end run game is the final step of the puzzle. Moss is a buy-low in any dynasty league and should be considered a steal in redraft leagues next season.


Won’t: James Robinson, Jacksonville Jaguars

James Robinson the latest example of NFL running backs not mattering

Robinson’s rookie campaign has been something special. An undrafted free agent out of Illinois State, Robinson’s story has been very inspiring. Unfortunately, the Jaguars are 1-11 and they will likely be bringing in a brand new front office team and a brand new coaching staff. As we’ve seen multiple times before, NFL teams are never married to their running back. I could see the Jaguars bringing in a veteran to platoon with Robinson, while also drafting a back. 


Will: Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Kansas City Chiefs

Has Clyde Edwards-Helaire been a disappointment thus far this season? It’d be hard to argue that he hasn’t been. Back in September, CEH looked prime to be a top contender for Offensive Rookie of the Year with +290 odds in September. It quickly became evident that this was a mistake and the odds reflected that in November (+6433 on November 17th.) As other rookies began establishing their roles on their respective teams, CEH watched as the Chiefs signed Bell. However, with a full offseason of preparation and with Bell unlikely to return, I expect CEH to bounce back big next season and be a high-end RB1.


Won’t: Cam Akers, Los Angeles Rams

. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Poor Cam Akers. We detailed the plight of Akers in a piece last week. He’s a talented back with a really well-rounded skill set, but he’s blocked by Darrell Henderson for the foreseeable future. Barring an injury to Henderson, Akers is destined to be a backup in 2021.

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