The start of the 2021 NFL season is roughly a month away, and that means another year of my seasonal Running Back Rankings!
If you’re unaware of how I do my rankings, here are a few things to know…
I split them up into tiers. I like to avoid doing the typical linear rankings because they don’t give you a clear picture of the different talent levels and abilities. I might see my 7th and 8th ranked players as equals, but linear rankings might lead you to think that I see one player as better. On the flip side, my 9th and 10th ranked players might be farther apart than their listings would let on. The players within each tier are interchangeable, and I even listed them in alphabetical order to avoid any suspicion otherwise.
These are projection-based, meaning I’m ranking these players based on whom I’d take heading into/for the 2021 season. As a result, what a player has done in the past may not matter a whole lot if I see them declining or hitting the downturn of their career. This also enables me to include rookies on my list. The whole “You can’t rank rookies on here! They haven’t played yet!” argument can be thrown out the window.
I rank these players based on their talent and ability (which includes durability) and exclude their team and situation. You may find a certain running back higher on the list than you’d expect despite not having stellar statistics. You may also find someone lower on the list than you’d expect despite having good production. I’m not a “box score scout” who bases evaluations solely on a player’s numbers. I go by what I see on film.
When it comes to my personal running back evaluations, I tend to put a higher value on a player’s passing down skills as a receiver and/or blocker. When it comes to today’s game, versatility and the ability to contribute in ways outside of just running the ball is what helps separate many of the special running backs from the ordinary ones.
We all need to remember that doing rankings, while a ton of fun, can sometimes be irrelevant. There are so many circumstances that can alter how well or poorly a player will perform, such as scheme and supporting cast. Splitting them into tiers does help account for some of that, but not all.
Without further ado, my 2021 Tiered RB Projection Rankings!
= Tier 1 =
If you were to force me to rank these players, my top 2 would most likely be Christian McCaffrey and Saquon Barkley.
I’ve made it no secret that I view Barkley as the most talented running back in the NFL. The issue with him is durability. He must show he can stay healthy.
Where would you rank Saquon Barkley amongst NFL RBs right now? And do you think he’ll have a bounce back season in 2021?
Part 1 of my Summer Spotlight Series is on the New York Giants’ star RB and includes my film breakdown of him.https://t.co/ovomMXr7nd
— Charles “Chux” Maranan (@ChuxMaranan) July 9, 2021
McCaffrey was also hurt for most of last season, but his injury history isn’t as concerning moving forward as Barkley’s. That’s why he’d still be my RB1. He’s can do it all.
I once made the mistake of saying Derrick Henry wasn’t elite because he wasn’t a good receiver. I’ll never make that mistake again. He may not have the versatility I prefer in a running back, but he’s just so dominant as a ball carrier.
Alvin Kamara isn’t a volume runner who will carry the ball 25 times a game week to week. However, that doesn’t take away from his greatness. The way Head Coach Sean Payton uses Kamara (as well as how CMC is used in Carolina) as a runner and a receiver is a perfect example of how a dual-threat running back in today’s game should be used.
I truly believe you can make at least a solid argument for each of these 5 running backs as being the best running back in the NFL right now, and that’s why they’re all in Tier 1.
= Tier 2 =
When it comes to purely running the ball, Nick Chubb is the best in the business. I always wonder how much better he’d be had he not gotten seriously hurt in college. Oh, and congrats to him on his contract extension!
If you haven’t seen Zeke Elliott lately, look up pictures. He slimmed down and looks to be in great shape for the first time in years. The fumbling issues will always be a big knock against him in my rankings, but I do believe he’ll have a bounce-back year in 2021.
Just another reminder that Kareem Hunt never stopped being one of the best running backs in the league. He just went from being the main guy in Kansas City to being a co-star in Cleveland.
I’m honestly surprised Aaron Jones re-signed with the Green Bay Packers, but if this is Aaron Rodgers’ last hoorah with the team then maybe it’ll turn out to be the right decision.
= Tier 3 =
Except for Joe Mixon, this tier turned out to be my “Young guys who are about to break out” tier. I love the talent that each of them possesses, and I wouldn’t be shocked if we start to see some of these names in my Tier 1 years from now. This tier is definitely my favorite.
= Tier 4 =
Some of the players in this tier were in consideration for Tier 3, but in the end, I had too many concerns about them.
Jonathan Taylor is an immensely talented runner, there’s no denying that. However, I still have major questions about his passing-down ability. His being too one-dimensional puts him lower on my list compared to his peers.
David Montgomery had a terrific stretch of games to end the year last season, but I want to see him perform like that consistently against good defenses. He’s had issues with being too dramatic with his footwork and movement in the past, but he has made strides to be more efficient.
I hated that Phillip Lindsay signed with the Houston Texans. That was one of the worst places he could have gone. He’s the most underrated running back in the NFL.
Trey Sermon is going to be an absolute monster in Kyle Shanahan’s system.
= Tier 5 =
I’m eager to see what long-time Philadelphia Eagles assistant coach and now Detroit Lions RB Coach Duce Staley can do with D’Andre Swift. I’m confident Staley will get the most out of him. The question is, how high is Swift’s ceiling? I’m not so sure it’s as high as some are making it out to be.
I know the Jacksonville Jaguars drafted Travis Etienne in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft, but something tells me that we shouldn’t write off James Robinson just yet. I believe both will have significant roles in that offense moving forward.
I’m very intrigued by the potential of the Jaguars’ backfield. Here’s my latest article on the duo of James Robinson and Travis Etienne.https://t.co/P1IGkJWRok
— Charles “Chux” Maranan (@ChuxMaranan) July 15, 2021