One of the best things about training camp and the preseason are the guys who emerge seemingly out of nowhere to earn jobs in the NFL. The most famous case in 2020 was James Robinson, which has led to a host of proclamations this year about who could be "the next James Robinson".
Before we get any further into this article, we should clarify that there is almost certainly not going to be a James Robinson in 2021. But there could be a running back on your Dynasty waiver wire who turns himself into a flexworthy back or more in the next month. In fact, I added six guys to the top-100 at running back who may very well fit that mold. Now would be a good time to make sure they're rostered in your league.
Xavier Jones, Rams
Jones currently slots in as the most likely back to share with Darrell Henderson now that Cam Akers has been lost for the year. He had 1,366 total yards and 25 touchdowns in his final year at SMU but didn't see a touch in his rookie year with the Rams. Now that Akers and Malcolm Brown are no longer part of the equation, that should change. In fact, Jones may just be one injury to Henderson away from leading a committee. Considering the Rams have averaged 18 running back touchdowns per year over the last three years, that could make Jones close to a must-start running back if he gets the role.
Javian Hawkins, Falcons
Hawkins ranks higher in the rankings below not so much because of his 2021 prospects but because he's still just 21 years old. But for 2021, he does have a lot going for him. Outside of Mike Davis there is no proven running back on the Falcons roster. Hawkins has good speed and great agility, and he produced more than 1,500 rushing yards as a 20-year-old at Louisville. His size makes it unlikely he's a three-down back but a receiving role and big plays could make up for a lack of runs between the tackles if he gets the opportunity.
Chris Evans, Bengals
Evans may just have the best athleticism of any back on this list and the Bengals have been raving about him all summer long. There's even some talk Evans could slide into the Giovani Bernard role, crushing Joe Mixon's upside yet again. What holds Evans back is the fact that Mixon and Samaje Perine would probably both have to suffer injuries for Evans to be someone you could start in 2021. Well, that and the fact that he never delivered even 700 rushing yards or 200 receiving yards in four seasons at Michigan.
Larry Rountree, Chargers
Someone has to play the thunder role in the Chargers' offense opposite Austin Ekeler's lightning. Joshua Kelley seems to be the early favorite, but he was awful as a rookie. Justin Jackson could be in danger of getting cut according to some reports. Rountree doesn't have a great athletic profile, but he scored 34 touchdowns in his final 35 games at Missouri and his style could fit opposite Ekeler if the other guys falter.
Jake Funk, Rams
Funk hasn't played more than five games in a season since 2017 but he was still selected in the seventh round of the draft by the Rams this year. He's a better athlete than Jones and did average more than 100 yards per game in his final year at Maryland. He also averaged 8.6 yards per carry for his college career. Funk's not as good of a bet as Jones to earn a role, but he probably has more short-term upside if he finds touches.
Qadree Ollison, Falcons
Currently, I actually have Ollison projected higher than everyone on this list but Jones for 2021. But he's 25 years old and the past two years the Falcons have treated him like he was worse than Todd Gurley, Brian Hill and Ito Smith. And we saw how good those guys were. On the positive side, Ollison appears to have a pretty firm grip on the RB2 role in Atlanta right now and Davis has never had even 180 carries in a season. If you're looking for short-term opportunity, Ollison may have the most on the list.