Fantasy Football: Four Best RB2s for 2021

By: Andrew Metcalfe (@drewmet_FF)

Running Backs Galore! 

I want to talk Running Backs!  The position is as deep as it’s been in years with so many potential RB1 candidates.  Each of the RBs discussed here have either flashed Top 12 RB potential or actually finished as an RB1 at some point in the past.  I want to focus on a few of my favorite targets that are currently being drafted as RB2s, but I believe will return major value this upcoming season. Average Draft Position (ADP) was pulled from UnderDog/FTN:   

Miles Sanders (ADP: RB16)

While many of the young RBs that we love (or used to love) for Fantasy has been gaining competition for carries this off-season via Free Agency, Miles Sanders has dodged any major hits to his value. Philadelphia will bring Jordan Howard back but his 1.7 YPC last season isn’t a threat. Boston Scott will continue his complementary role as well, but this looks like this will clearly be Sanders’ backfield in 2021.

2020 was an overall disappointment for Sanders, but I’ve seen a lot of overreactions regarding his value. The knee injury that he suffered in Week 6 caused him to miss the next two weeks and seemed to hinder him for several weeks when he returned. In the first 6 weeks, Sanders was averaging 6.1 YPC. He returned after the Eagles’ bye, in Week 10 and from that point, he dropped to 4.6 yards per carry.  

Sanders still showed the efficiency that we saw from him in his rookie season, as he was top 10 in True Yards per carry (YPC minus big plays), yards created per touch, and yards per touch. In the 3 games that he played with Hurts, his average production was 15.3 carries for 78.6 rushing yards and scored 3 TDs. Granted the extremely small sample size, that’s a pace of over 1200 rushing yards and double-digit TDs which would easily put him into RB1 territory.  

Joe Mixon (ADP: RB15)

Joe Mixon has been a popular topic of discussion on Twitter. The recent release of Gio Bernard doesn’t provide a huge boost for Mixon, but the 59 targets that he vacates from last year certainly won’t hurt.  Cincinnati could be on the market to find a replacement for Bernard in the rookie draft, but after the recent 4-year, $48 Million extension that Mixon signed and the emergence of Samaje Perine as a decent number 2, I don’t expect them to spend any significant draft capital on the RB position.  

The gripe against Mixon was his subpar performances every week, outside of the Week 4 blow-up against Jacksonville. It was also extremely frustrating to watch the team string along his foot injury week-to-week before finally placing him on IR in November. Although I would have liked to see more consistency from him, I love the volume that he was getting. He was 3rd behind only Derrick Henry and Dalvin Cook in carries/game and even more exciting, on pace for his best receiving season. If he maintained his receptions rate for the full season, he would have ended with 56 receptions, putting him in the top 5 among RBs for that category.  

One of the main obstacles for Mixon was offensive line play. PFF graded the Cincinnati unit as the 30th best and both Mixon and Bernard were bottom 10 in yards before contact. The Bengals will be in a great position to improve their line, holding a top 5 pick currently. Mixon will also get his favorite O-line coach back, Frank Pollack. Pollack was on the staff during Mixon’s best season, in 2018, so I’m expecting a major bounce back for the 25-year-old RB.  

D’Andre Swift (ADP: RB13)

I enjoy any chance to talk up the 2020 RB class. While Jonathan Taylor had the best performance out of the bunch, don’t forget that Swift was widely considered the top RB prospect going into the draft.  The Lions drafted the Georgia Bulldog early in the 2nd round and he didn’t take long to get involved in the passing game, seeing 10 targets over his first two weeks combined. Up until Week 10, Swift was the RB13 despite only playing more than half of the snaps twice. Unfortunately, he sustained a concussion and missed Weeks 11-13. Once his Week 14 return, he finished strong with double-digit Fantasy points in 3 out of the 4 remaining games.  

The signing of Jamaal Williams has some concerned about Swift’s future workload, but not me. I mentioned earlier how effective he was with very limited touches. He showed off a high level of efficiency having the 6th most yards per route run, 14th most yards per touch and 13th highest Breakaway Run Rate (source: Player Profiler). Many expect Williams to take a chunk of Swift’s receiving looks, but I wouldn’t count on it. Williams’ career-high in receiving yards for a season is 262 yards which is barely half the 521 receiving yards Swift put up in 13 games. Jamaal was on the field mostly because of his blocking abilities, which is something he can do while both RBs are on the field together.  

David Montgomery (ADP: RB21)

My favorite RB from the 2019 class, pre-draft, was David Montgomery. It was nice to see him breakout with a top 5 RB Fantasy finish after an unimpressive rookie campaign. Monty tied Antonio Gibson for the 2nd best broken tackle rate of 8.5 attempts per broken tackle (Mike Davis led the league). He was the only RB with both 200+ carries and a top 5 broken tackle rate, meaning he was more elusive than Fantasy darlings like Dalvin Cook and Alvin Kamara. He also had the 5th most rushing yards after contact in 2020.

Monty certainly improved as a runner in his second year, but the big question is what happens once Tarik Cohen returns. Cohen went down with a season-ending ACL tear in Week 3. Montgomery’s snap counts received a major boost once Cohen was out of the picture, going from 50-60% to upwards of 80%+ in most weeks. While this is a clear sign of regression, I think we might be pushing Monty too far down in 2021 ADP. Even though he saw a spike in snaps, Monty only had 5 more carries in 2020 than he did the previous year. A major component of his success was his improved efficiency, going from 3.67 YPC to 4.33, it wasn’t only about the increased in volume.

Now, I’ll address the boost in receiving work. Cohen will return to have a role in the receiving game, but I believe that Monty showed the Chicago staff that he’s a much better receiver than they thought. While Cohen has been towards the bottom of the league in Yards Per Target for the past two seasons, Monty showed major improvement in this department. His 6.4 yards per target was the ninth best among RBs with 30+ targets, which was above guys like D’Andre Swift, Nyheim Hines and Austin Ekeler. I’m not so certain that HC Matt Nagy will look at his performance and continue to heavily favor Cohen as the 3rd down back.  Just to envision a “worst-case scenario” for Monty, I switched his 2020 receiving totals with 2019 and paired them with his 2020 rushing production: He still would have finished as the RB13.  While I doubt Monty will see another Top 5 RB season, don’t fade him too much because of Cohen’s return.    

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