Labor Day Weekend may signify the end of summer for most, but it has also cemented itself as the beginning of the glorious fantasy football season for fantasy managers everywhere. Through various off-season ADP variance and some unfortunate preseason injuries, value really tends to be narrowed down at the start of September. However, there are still some wildly underrated players each year that fantasy participants hope to snag up at an amazing discount during their drafts. Here are running back values for the 2021 fantasy football season.
Best 2021 Fantasy Football Running Back Draft Values
Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Kansas City Chiefs
Rewind to this time last year. Clyde Edwards-Helaire, the Kansas City Chiefs first pick of the 2020 NFL Draft (32nd overall), was being hyped as an instant first-round fantasy running back inserting himself into the defending Super Bowl champions’ phenomenal offense. Managers who drafted him with their coveted first-round draft slot were impressed after his Week 1 statline of 25/138/1. Unfortunately, after his promising rookie debut, his usage and production were both lacking – for a first-round fantasy draft pick. This was followed by an injury that sidelined him the last few games of the season and into the playoffs.
The biggest concern surrounding CEH going into 2021 has been his lack of goal-line usage. As often as the Chiefs were in the red zone last year (59 times), they continued to spread the ball around to their array of weapons, providing slim pickings for the first-year back. Outside of that, he scored a mere five total touchdowns to close out his rookie campaign. So going as a high-to-mid-range RB2 in most current fantasy landscapes, what makes Edwards-Helaire a value draft slot after the season he had last year?
Two words: lowered expectations. Sure he did not match the late-season explosions fellow rookies Jonathan Taylor, Cam Akers, and J.K. Dobbins had last year; but he was plenty productive in the 13 games he played in, totalling 803 rushing yards on 181 touches, and bringing in 36 catches for 297 additional yards to finish as the RB22 in half-PPR formats. So was he a first-round worthy running back in 2020? Definitely not. But with a healthy start to his sophomore campaign with a complete season and ‘regular’ off-season under his belt, he is set to be a true three-down back in Andy Reid’s explosive top-ranked offense with no real threat in competition behind him. With mid-season addition Le’Veon Bell out the door, expect any and all backfield touches of significance to go through the Chiefs second year tailback. He can easily jump into back-end RB1 conversation; from previously overhyped, to potentially overlooked in just a calendar year.
Clyde Edwards-Helaire tallied 1,100 scrimmage yards in his rookie year, in 13 games, behind the 29th ranked run blocking o-line
If I had to bet on anyone having an insane breakout year, it would be Clyde without question.
— Dirk (@ChiefsDirk) July 18, 2021
Javonte Williams, Denver Broncos
Second-round rookie selection Javonte Williams was drafted this year by the Denver Broncos. While Melvin Gordon still looks to sit atop the two-back committee, the explosiveness and sheer power Williams has shown throughout his college career should thrust him into a vital role sooner rather than later. While Gordon has been a solid producer over the course of his career, coming into the latter part of it at age 28, there is much more potential upside to a young, powerful back. Especially down the stretch in an offense that has an arsenal of passing options. Denver, being amongst the middle of the pack in rushing yards and attempts last season (ranked 13th in each category), definitely likes to move the ball on the ground. With the anticipated ‘safer’ quarterback play of newly appointed starter Teddy Bridgewater, the run game may be more balanced and effective this season, with less turnovers and a stout defense to back up the offensive play.
At his current ADP in the backend RB2/RB3 range, Williams can be considered a great middle-round steal with the potential to be a top-20 back before season-end. A lot of what is at play with drafting Williams is the hope that he starts getting increased touches per game as soon as possible in the season. However, even if this does not happen as soon as fantasy managers hope, the draft capital alone signifies the Broncos anticipate using their power back throughout the season.
With Phillip Lindsay over on the Houston Texans this season, there are 118 rushing attempts on the table. That is arguably the minimum number of carries, if Gordon’s production can stay steady/be valuable enough for Denver. With Lindsay coming off one of the less impressive years he has had, look for Williams to see greater quantity and potentially more effective gamescript touches based on his skill set.
With backs such as Raheem Mostert, Chase Edmonds, and Myles Gaskin going in the same area as Williams in drafts, the Broncos back shows the most upside for potential amongst these middle-round backs coming off the board; especially down in the red zone. Whether he fully leads the committee down the stretch, or he is used evenly with Gordon, his touches should only increase throughout the year. He may not be the ideal running back to start at first, but he could provide impeccable value in the back-half of the season to help hoist fantasy teams to that championship trophy come January.
Javonte Williams is not playing around when it comes to blocking 😤 @Broncos
— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) August 25, 2021
Nyheim Hines, Indianapolis Colts
Concluding the list of running backs who are a value at their current draft positions is the Indianapolis Colts Nyheim Hines. Finishing as the RB20 last season in half-PPR formats, Hines was an incredible asset, particularly through the air, with 63 receptions, which was third amongst running backs in 2020. The value here: he is being drafted in the RB40-range across all platforms.
Now the argument made against Hines is that Jonathan Taylor, the Colts primary stud in the backfield, did not come on until late in the year last season so that will take away some of Hines’ work. And Marlon Mack, who was re-signed this off-season to a one-year deal after a season-ending Achilles injury at the beginning of 2020, may sit ahead of him in the carries department which could take away from Hines’ general playing time. But the value is hard to ignore.
Even in the last six games of the regular season, when Taylor really picked up his stride and established himself as one of the NFL’s elite backs, Hines still accounted for 30 catches and 44 rushing attempts equating to 420 total yards. With a different quarterback at the helm, and a team that loves to utilize their running backs on the ground and through the air, Hines is a genuine steal as a late-round bench stash with incredibly productive consistency. While his ceiling may be limited barring any injuries on the depth chart, there are not many backs going in this range that are guaranteed more consistent touches and efficiency for a nice, bye-week fill-in or late-season FLEX play for a fantasy roster.
The top 7 RBs at commanding targets (48 RBs with 125+ touches)
1. Alvin Kamara (29.86%)
2. JD Mckissic (26.57%)
3. Nyheim Hines (28.41%)
4. Austin Ekeler (25.53%)
5. Swift (24.78%) 👀
6. Aaron Jones (24.11%)
7. Antonio Gibson (23.63%)👀
Measured by Targets/Routes Run
— Corey Buschlen (@FootballStock) August 30, 2021