It would be a running back regression article if we didn't talk about Alvin Kamara, so let's start with the player who finds his way into this article seemingly every year.
After his rookie year, Kamara found his way into this article because of his 6.1 yards per carry and his 10.2 yards per reception. I wrote that there was no way he could repeat that efficiency. The next year those numbers fell to 4.6 and 8.8, but he was still a Fantasy stud because he scored 18 touchdowns on 275 total touches. Of course, I doubled down and wrote there was no way he could repeat that touchdown rate. The following season Kamara's touchdowns cratered, with him scoring just six times, and he was a Fantasy bust. Being consistent, I wrote there was no reason to believe his touchdowns would be that low again in 2020. He responded with his best season to date, with a career-best 1,688 total yards and 21 touchdowns in 15 games. Can you guess what is coming next?
We now have enough of a sample size to see that Alvin Kamara (at least with Drew Brees) is one of the most efficient backs in the NFL. His 5.0 career yards per carry and 8.7 yards per reception are both outstanding. But, as the above paragraph illustrates, his touchdowns have not been predictive. His career rushing touchdown is 6.3%, last year he scored on 8.6% of his carries. His career receiving touchdown rate is 3.7%, last year he scored on 4.7% of his targets. Combined, that's six additional touchdowns Kamara scored in 2020 that you shouldn't expect in 2021 with the same circumstances.
Of course, the circumstances won't be the same without Drew Brees. Whether Tayson Hill or Jameis Winston wins the Saints starting job, we should probably expect at least a small decrease in receiving efficiency this year, maybe even a decrease in total targets. And if Hill wins, it wouldn't be surprising at all if he lowers Kamra's rushing TD rate as well, because of his red zone usage.
None of this is to say you shouldn't draft Alvin Kamara in the first round. You just have to think long and hard about using a top-5 pick on him where catches don't count.
Here are six more backs primed for 2021 regression:
Nick Chubb RB
CLE Cleveland • #24
Age: 25 • Experience: 4 yrs.
Like Kamara, Chubb has proven himself to be one of the most efficient backs in the league. But because he doesn't work in the passing game like Kamara, he relies on good efficiency to be worth a second-round pick (in PPR) and needs incredible efficiency to justify the first-round pick. He got it last year, scoring on 6.3% of his carries and averaging 5.6 yards per carry. He scored four more touchdowns in 2020 than he did in 2019, on 108 fewer carries. Those fewer carries came at least partially because Kareem Hunt played a full season. If Hunt stays healthy and their roles stay the same, Chubb's coming regression makes him a better bet at the end of the second round than the first.
J.K. Dobbins RB
BAL Baltimore • #27
Age: 22 • Experience: Rookie
J.K. Dobbins is a bit of a poor man's Chubb. Like Chubb, he shares carries and he doesn't do much in the passing game. But he also has to share with Lamar Jackson, who generally accounts for near a third of his team's rush attempts. That means Dobbins needs elite efficiency just to get into second round consideration. Last year he got it, averaging 6.0 yards per carry and scoring on 6.7% of his attempts. It's possible, due to scheme, Dobbins comes close to those numbers again at some point in the next few seasons. But in full PPR he needs those numbers to justify his current ADP, meaning there's very little upside and a lot of regression downside in Round 2.
IND Indianapolis • #28
Age: 22 • Experience: Rookie
I don't want to question Taylor too much, but he may be closer to Chubb and Dobbins' passing game numbers than we expect. Nyheim Hines is still there and Carson Wentz hasn't targeted his backs at near the rate Philip Rivers did. Even if Taylor's targets remain the same, you shouldn't expect him to match last year's 92.3% catch rate, so his receptions should decrease. Taylor may have the offensive line and talent to put together a Derrick Henry like season without a big role in the passing game, but I wouldn't want to bet a top six PPR pick on it.
Kareem Hunt RB
CLE Cleveland • #27
Age: 25 • Experience: 5 yrs.
I was a huge Kareem Hunt backer last year, and it worked out great. But we got a bit lucky, and not just because Chubb missed four games. Hunt scored five touchdowns on 51 targets after scoring just once on 44 targets the year before. You shouldn't expect more than two or three receiving touchdowns for Hunt this year, which is a bigger problem if Chubb stays healthy and their second half touch split carries over.
DAL Dallas • #21
Age: 26 • Experience: 6 yrs.
It's possible Elliott hit the wall as a 25-year-old last year. If not, he may regress in just about every way possible. He posted career lows in yards per carry and yards per reception while posting his second worst touchdown rate and catch rate. Considering that this coincided with his offensive line falling apart and his quarterback missing nearly three-quarters of the year, it's probably best to bet on regression.
KC Kansas City • #25
Age: 22 • Experience: 2 yrs.
As a rookie Edwards-Helaire scored five times on 217 touches. Unless he's just a bust, you should expect that rate to improve, possibly drastically, in 2021. Considering the lack of talent the Chiefs brought in to compete, it appears the Chiefs do not believe he's a bust. Hopefully he's not for Fantasy Football either.