The NFC East (or more commonly referred to as the NFC ‘Least’ this past season), has been an interesting division over the years. With each of its four teams seemingly battling for the lowest record to win the division in 2020, it was apparent there would be some changes coming for these teams. Many of them have already begun with some splashes in the free agent market this off-season. However, one position should serve each of these four teams with some comfort: their running backs. Here’s where the fantasy value of their star backfield players lie going into 2021.
NFC East Running Backs: 2021 NFL Fantasy Rankings
Antonio Gibson, Washington Football Team
One of the more intriguing second-year backs going into 2021 is Antonio Gibson of the Washington Football Team. Coming off a solid rookie year running the ball (170/795/11), Gibson ended as the RB12 in 2020. Even after missing a few games in December due to an injury, and giving up quite a few targets out of the backfield to PPR-hero J.D. McKissic, Gibson’s ceiling seems even higher this year, as the Football Team continues to make moves to improve their offense.
While the signing of speedy dual-threat wide receiver Curtis Samuel in free agency may seem like a negative impact on some of Gibson’s touches, expect Washington to rely heavily on their second-year back in a Ron Rivera-led system looking to grind out some tough wins in 2021 that they couldn’t put their final stamp on this past season. Gibson comes out as a low-range RB1 again this year, possibly jumping a few spots in the rankings as he adds to his stats in the passing game from last year (36/247/0).
Highest-graded rookie RBs in 2020
💥 Jonathan Taylor – 83.9
💥 Antonio Gibson – 80.9
💥 Clyde Edwards-Helaire – 75.3
💥 James Robinson – 72.9 pic.twitter.com/2gyFGg2ww0
— PFF Fantasy Football (@PFF_Fantasy) March 20, 2021
Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys
After a disappointing year for the entire Dallas Cowboys organization after seeing their star quarterback exit with a season-ending injury just five games into the 2020 season, Ezekiel Elliott had quite a back and forth year himself. Normally one of the league’s premier fantasy running backs, Elliott struggled mightily in the early onset of Dak Prescott’s absence, along with dealing with his own lingering injury issues throughout the season. After accumulating six total touchdowns in the first five games of the season (when Prescott was on the field), he finished the season with only two additional scores. Elliott’s fantasy value plummeted to RB11 on the year (salvaged slightly by yards and receptions thanks to a struggling Cowboys deep-threat game) after going in the top three-to-five in most drafts leading into the 2020 season.
As long as Prescott is healthy in 2021, Elliott’s value should be back on the rise. But it is still to be seen how the Cowboys struggling offensive line will operate. And while Dallas has made a few moves on defense during free agency this off-season, a pass-heavy outlook with a lot of mouths to feed may result in less touches for Elliott if the Cowboys are constantly playing ‘keep up’ in games. His value should still increase from last year, but only to a mid-range RB1 due to other competition in the league and Dallas’s offensive play-calling.
Saquon Barkley, New York Giants
After suffering a season-ending ACL injury just two weeks into the 2020 regular season, Saquon Barkley’s third year with the New York Giants came to an abrupt end. After winning Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2018, he had a slight slump in production in 2019. But with a hopeful resurgence with the addition of one of the biggest names in free agency at the wide receiver position last week, Barkley looks to jump right back into his workhorse role and help get the Giants offense get back on track.
While signal-caller Daniel Jones has had his share of disappointments in his first two seasons, with the aerial weapons around him, and his star running back lined up behind him, expect New York to move the ball more efficiently in 2021. Even in years where they had nothing else going for them on offense, Barkley’s raw talent shined through. Anticipate a big come-back year from the Giants stud as the offense continues to ride his talents, putting him right back in the top five mix as a high-end RB1 next season.
.@MichaelFFlorio's got his top 10 fantasy players for next season! Y'all remember Saquon Barkley 🧐
— NFL Fantasy Football (@NFLFantasy) March 25, 2021
Miles Sanders, Philadelphia Eagles
Miles Sanders is an interesting topic of discussion surrounding the Philadelphia Eagles offense. He is an explosive playmaker and at many points over the past two seasons, the best weapon on the field (both on the ground and through the air). However, he has been quite underutilized thus far throughout his career. While the 2020 season consisted of him missing four games due to injuries, his usage was still quite low, especially considering Philadelphia’s offensive struggles getting the ball down the field.
With a new head coach, young and ever-changing wide receivers, and a different quarterback regime underway in Philadelphia, the Eagles offense could benefit extremely from the reliability of their young tailback. Locking in at RB23 last season, look for Sanders’s value to jump slightly to a mid-range RB2 as the Eagles need to find a way to get one of their biggest offensive weapons more touches to compete in 2021.
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