Which sleeper RBs could be stars in 2021?
By: Zach Owen
Before jumping into the players, I want to address a pretty big change for the upcoming season. The 2021 NFL season will have 17 games this year. One game might not sound like much but it will impact all kinds of statistics this year. The obvious takeaway is that more games means more yards, passes, receptions, touchdowns, etc. for everyone. Don’t get too excited though; it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. Football is a tough sport and most teams aren’t going to run their big money players into the ground, especially if they are playoff hopefuls. Expect some amount of snap management from coaches, especially for RBs. More NFL teams are already starting to move towards a RBBC setup anyways. Now with an extra game, I only expect that type of usage to go up. You can also expect some more injuries with an extra game. That could happen to anyone at any time though so trying to predict them will be very difficult. With those notes, let’s look at some players.
Bottom line up front, I expect all rookies to get used more often this year due to the extra game. They are younger, fresher, and generally have had less injuries than the vets. So, despite joining Melvin Gordon, a strong veteran RB, Javonte Williams is in a position to break the 1,000 yard mark this year. They will definitely start off in a timeshare but I expect the ball will get spread out enough for him to get there. I am also a pretty big fan of Williams in general and expect him to take over a majority of the snaps as the season goes on. This isn’t so much a knock on Gordon as it is praise for Williams. Gordon performed well last year, coming in at 986 rushing yards while missing a game. The return of Courtland Sutton should also open up the Denver offense which helps. So the opportunity is there for the Denver RBs to get a lot of yards in.
On the other end of the age spectrum is Mike Davis. In games where he started last year when Christian McCaffrey was injured, Davis averaged 53 yards per game. Now that is short of what he would need this year to break the 1,000 yard mark (59 is the number to get) but he’s on a team to do it. First, the Falcons have one of the most dangerous passing games in the league. Matt Ryan is still a great QB and his receiving weapons are insane with Julio, Ridley, Pitts, Gage, and Hurst. Teams are going to have to defend the pass or get torched. That leaves the running game wide open for Mike Davis to pump out some extra yards each game. The Falcons new head coach Arthur Smith, previous OC of the Titans, also knows how to use a RB. Derrick Henry ran for 2,000 yards last year under Smith. While Davis is obviously not Henry, Smith will take advantage of Davis’ skills. Davis will get a lot of receiving work in, which he excelled at last year, but he’ll be a solid threat on the ground as well.
Chris Carson is another veteran that I could see taking advantage of a hopeful situation. Not counting the game he got injured, Carson averaged 58 yards per game last year. This was right on the cusp of where he would need to be this year to break the 1,000 mark. He’s another RB in a strong passing game offense with Wilson, Metcalf, Lockett, and the newly added Eskridge and Everett. Also, Pete Carroll (their head coach) said he wants to run the ball more which is good news for Carson. Now the return of Rashaad Penny could be good news or bad news for Carson but I see it as a positive. Penny has dealt with injuries for most of his career. So despite his abilities, I don’t expect him to take the reins away from Carson. Carson got paid $10M over the next two years which to me is not backup money. So Penny, if he plays, should actually help Carson out to help keep them both fresh and hopefully injury free.