The best Running Backs year-by-year is consistently a revolving door. It was only a couple of seasons ago when Todd Gurley was the unanimous best Running back in the NFL, and then he fell off the face of the earth. This is a prediction list of the best running backs going into the 2021-22 season.
#10 – Cam Akers
When determining the production of a running back, opportunity is the single most important thing. The door is open for Cam Akers to explode next season.
The Los Angeles Rams have one of the best defenses in the NFL going into next season and will continue to lean on the rushing attack. We saw the absolute domination of Todd Gurley under the Sean McVay offensive scheme, and now Cam Akers will be given the keys to the kingdom as their lead back behind one of the best offensive lines in the NFL.
You can’t look too much into last year as Cam Akers was part of a running back by committee for most of the shortened season. Late last season is when he started to go off.
Looking into next year I expect that same sort of production throughout the entire 16 games. He passes the eye text for me and this is a dream scenario with Malcolm Brown departing in free agency.
#9 – Jonathan Taylor
If you drafted Jonathan Taylor in fantasy football last season, you were not happy early in the season. Marlon Mack went down and many were expecting a massive season from the rookie. The problem was his vision was not there. If the goal was to run into the ass of Quenton Nelson, he was succeeding.
Later in the season, that all changed. We finally saw what the hype was all about. Jonathan Taylor is a freak athlete who ran a 4.39 40 yard dash at 225 pounds. His breakaway speed was on full display and he was starting to make people miss in the open field.
Looking into next season I expect him to carry that momentum. While Marlon Mack and Nyheim Hines are both back on the roster, Taylor looks to be the clear cut lead back behind a stacked offensive line. Expect another big season from the sophomore.
#8 – Aaron Jones
As long as Aaron Rodgers is at the helm for the Green Bay Packers, Aaron Jones will continue to eat. He didn’t replicate the 19 touchdowns he had in 2019, but was arguably even more impressive. In only 14 games he had 99 less yards from scrimmage while averaging a full yard per carry more with 5.5 Y/A.
With Jamaal Williams departing in free agency, Aaron Jones should expect the bulk of the pass catching downs. While you can be a little worried about A.J. Dillon expanding his role, I wouldn’t be too worried. The Packers are notoriously cheap with contracts, and they shockingly paid up for Aaron Jones to stay. They would not pay him a 48 million dollar deal if they didn’t have a big role in mind for the do it all back.
If Aaron Rodgers does get traded, Aaron Jones would drop out of my top 10 RBs. People underestimate how much a good passing attack can positively effect the rushing game.
#7 – Ezekiel Elliott
It’s wild to me how quickly the perception of a player can change. Ezekiel Elliott was viewed as arguably the best running back in the NFL to now being mocked by most fans. The Cowboys were plagued with injuries in 2020 and that vastly effected the production of Zeke who himself battled the injury bug. Easily the worst season of his career, I believe Ezekiel Elliott will bounce back along with the entire Cowboys team.
With Dak Prescott back and healthy, it completely changes this team. The offense will run more efficiently and the production of Zeke will follow. He is only 25 years old and still in his athletic prime.
While Tony Pollard does scare me a little for taking carries away, Zeke is still that guy. He will get the bulk of the carries especially in the redzone, so expect him to rise back into the elite conversation.
#6 – Nick Chubb
Nick Chubb suffered an injury in Week 4 that kept him out for 6 games. When he returned in Week 10, Chubb ran for 8 touchdowns over the remaining 8 games. While Kareem Hunt will handle the bulk of the receiving workload out of the backfield, Nick Chubb is the true RB1 on this team. His ability to break off big runs in between the tackles is one of the many reasons I consider him one of the best pure runners in the NFL.
While I do think he is the lead dog, Hunt taking away those opportunities in the passing game prevents him from rising to that Derrick Henry level. That being said, the Browns are one of the best rosters in the NFL and he will have a lot of chances to pad his rushing stats as the Browns play with a lead.
#5 – Alvin Kamara
There is a big question mark behind Kamara this upcoming season. No Quarterback targeted the Running Back more than Drew Brees. He was force fed out of the backfield and Kamara’s past production reflects that. I assume Jameis Winston will be the starting QB for this team and he does not target the RB nearly as much.
Granted, I’m still buying into the talent and explosiveness of Kamara. He will continue to show off his big play potential. While Jameis won’t dump it off nearly as much, I believe that he will stretch the field much more. That in turn forces defenses to respect the throws deep down the field which was something Brees lost these past couple of seasons. Sean Payton will know how to get Kamara involved on this offense and he will continue to be one of the premiere RBs in the league.
#4 – Dalvin Cook
Dalvin Cook is as talented as any running back in the league right now. Last season he would have surpassed 2,000 yards from scrimmage if he hadn’t missed 2 games due to injury. He is extremely explosive with a 70+ run in each of his last 3 seasons. The Vikings have a very good offense and Dalvin Cook is the one who keeps the wheels turning.
My biggest concern is about his health. He has yet to play a full 16 game season and the NFL extended it to 17 games. If he can manage to play all 17 games, he could very well be the best Running Back in the NFL.
Another concern of mine is the Vikings’ offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak has retired. That change is something that cannot be ignored.
All this being said, I’m all in on the talent of Cook and that is what I’m betting on with this ranking.
#3 – Saquon Barkley
I’m sure most will be shocked by this bullish ranking, but hear me out. Speaking strictly in terms of talent, Saquon Barkley is arguably the best running back in football when he is on the field. These past two seasons have been injury plagued for the superstar, but I believe in his mamba mentality. He is a freak of nature and will come back even stronger from his injury.
The New York Giants have made massive strides to become a competitive team which allows Saquon the ability to not have to do too much. If Wayne Gallman can average 4.6 yards per carry and score 6 touchdowns in only 10 games, Saquon’s ceiling to me is being the best running back in football. That’s a big if considering over the last two seasons, Barkley played a total of 15 games combined.
#2 – Derrick Henry
I’m sure there will be a lot of people questioning not having Derrick Henry first on this list, but I have reasoning. While I think Derrick Henry was the clear number one running back in the NFL last season, this is a prediction for next season.
I’m worried about his workload catching up to him. Derrick Henry became the second player in the past 20 seasons to lead the league in rushing yards two seasons in a row. He has been getting force fed the ball and rightfully so…. he has the build for it and the talent for it.
The problem is that running backs have historically lost a step after getting so many carries. I’m not saying he will fall off the map, but I don’t think he will be the clear #1 running back again next season.
#1 – Christian McCaffrey
Let me remind everyone that being injured over 1 season does not make someone injury prone. Leading up to last season, Christian McCaffrey played three straight 16 game seasons. Two seasons ago he was the unanimous best running back in the NFL. I’m not counting him out because of one injury plagued season.
To me, Christian McCaffrey is the best all-around running back in the NFL. There is no player that combines pass catching prowess and pure rushing ability like McCaffrey and his production reflects that. Even in the small 3 game sample size we saw last season, he was as good as ever.
Expect McCaffrey to continue being a target vacuum next season. I think the Panthers will be playing from behind a lot next season and with inexperienced quarterbacks they will be targeting McCaffrey a lot.
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