We've finally reached August and that means Fantasy Football draft preparation is kicking into full gear. We won't go another Thursday without football from this point on until the end of Thursday Night Football, so we've got that going for us, which is nice. We'll be tackling different position groups in the coming weeks, and this week we are focusing on the running back position -- arguably the one group Fantasy managers spend the most time debating.
Today, we're tapping into the Fantasy Football Today team to gauge their favorite running back breakouts for the 2021 season. Without further ado, let's dive right into it.
Running back breakouts
Jamey Eisenberg's picks
Gaskin started 2020 working in tandem with Jordan Howard, but things changed in Week 3 against Jacksonville when Gaskin had 27 total touches. From that point on, he had at least 19 total touches in five of his next seven games. Now, while Gaskin was great in those outings, it wasn't a breakout. He was out from Weeks 9-12 with a sprained MCL, and he had a two-game absence due to COVID-19 in Weeks 14 and 15. But every time Gaskin was on the field he was clearly the lead running back for Miami. Gaskin had 142 carries for 548 yards and three touchdowns in the 10 games he appeared in 2020, as well as 41 receptions for 388 yards and two touchdowns on 47 targets. Over 16 games, that would have been 227 carries for 877 yards and five touchdowns, along with 66 catches for 621 yards and three scores. To put that in perspective, the only running back with over 800 rushing yards and 600 receiving yards last season was Alvin Kamara. Being in the same conversation as Kamara is fantastic, and we'll see if Gaskin can do that over a full season. He's someone to target as early as Round 4.
The Steelers made Harris the first running back selected in the NFL Draft this year when they picked him at No. 18 overall in the first round. He should be the first rookie drafted in all Fantasy leagues, and he has top 10 upside in 2021. I would draft him in early Round 2 in seasonal leagues. Pittsburgh has a tremendous history of leaning on one running back under coach Mike Tomlin, and Harris should be that guy. He's a dual threat after what he accomplished at Alabama with 251 carries for 1,466 yards and 26 touchdowns, along with 43 receptions for 425 yards and four touchdowns. The offensive line for the Steelers might not be as stout as in previous years, but it should hold up enough to help Harris succeed. He has star potential, and the workload we covet, to be the next great Fantasy running back in the NFL.
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Edwards-Helaire didn't live up to the hype last season when many, including me, were saying he should be a first-round pick in most Fantasy leagues. But he actually wasn't as bad as you might expect, especially looking at his performance before the Chiefs signed Le'Veon Bell. Without Bell in the first six games of the season, Edwards-Helaire averaged 15.1 PPR points per game. After Bell joined the team, Edwards-Helaire averaged just 10.6 PPR points per game, and it was beyond frustrating. We hope the Chiefs don't bring in anyone else to steal touches from Edwards-Helaire, and his main competition now is Darrel Williams and Jerick McKinnon. That bodes well for Edwards-Helaire having a huge sophomore campaign -- behind a revamped offensive line -- and he's someone to target in Round 2 in all leagues. He still needs to improve in Year 2, especially converting goal-line opportunities, but don't give up on Edwards-Helaire just because he wasn't as good as advertised in his rookie campaign.
Dave Richard's picks
Carson Wentz got hurt and suddenly the whole Fantasy universe hates the idea of taking Taylor with a first-round pick. It's like they forgot he played with the ancient Philip Rivers for all of last season, dominating by the end with over 800 total yards and eight total touchdowns in his final six games. It's unlikely both Marlon Mack and Nyheim Hines take meaningful playing time away from Taylor (Hines was on the field for those last six games). There's a ton of upside with Taylor, who should do just fine so long as the Colts' passing game doesn't become a total laughingstock.
Antonio Gibson, Football Team
Gibson finished last season with 13.7 PPR points per game, 18th-best among running backs. There's plenty of room for him to improve. He finished second among all running backs in rush attempts per broken tackle, averaged 4.7 yards per run and scored 11 touchdowns despite having only four games with 14-plus rush attempts. Not only does he have room to grow as a runner, but his receiving potential remains untapped after seeing 3.1 targets per game in 2020. All of this is happening while Washington is growing into a contender. It's becoming harder to deny Gibson as a late first-round pick, so don't hesitate if you can get him in Round 2.
Najee Harris, Steelers
Harris throttled competition to the tune of over 1,500 total yards and over 20 total touchdowns for two years at Alabama. He was a first-round pick to a team with a coaching staff that habitually tries to lean on one running back. Harris has everything we want in a Fantasy running back … and we're not supposed to like him because his offensive line is suspect?! Sure, the Steelers' front five is as ugly as chin warts, but that might change (or it might not matter) and everything else involving Harris is perfect. Why wouldn't you give him some serious consideration between 10th and 15th overall?
- With Quenton Nelson out 5-12 weeks, is Jonathan Taylor still a first-round pick? And what do we know about the Jaguars backfield? We cover that and more on the Fantasy Football Today in 5 podcast. Listen below and follow at Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts:
Heath Cummings' picks
Take everything I said about Anthony Lynn's offense and add in an uber-talented second-year running back and you get instant top-five potential. Top-five production is exactly what he gave the Lions any time he saw at least 15 touches in 2020 and Lynn's No. 1 back has averaged 17 touches per game the past five seasons. There's legitimate 100-target upside here and he possesses a big-play ability on the ground that Jamaal Williams simply does not.
Najee Harris, Steelers
There are plenty of things to question about Harris' situation in Pittsburgh, but potential volume erases most of those concerns. Historically, the Steelers have been committee-averse at this position, and the fact that they used a first-round pick on Harris suggests they'd like to be that way again. Especially when you look at the other backs on the roster. It should not be surprising at all if Harris tops 300 touches in his rookie campaign, which will be enough to be a borderline top-12 back as a rookie even if the offensive line hurts his efficiency.
Henderson will slot in as the starting running back for the Rams now that Cam Akers has been lost for the year and it's important to remember that Henderson is no slouch himself. The former third-round pick actually averaged more yards per carry than Akers last year and he was pretty fantastic in the passing game as well, averaging 9.9 yards per reception. If he can stay healthy he's by far the most talented and tested option for Sean McVay. This Rams offense has averaged 19 running back touchdowns per season over the past three years. You should expect a healthy Henderson to score at least half that many this year.
Chris Towers' picks
I've been a Joe Mixon skeptic for a while, because he was stuck splitting work in an offense that just hasn't produced many points for running backs over the past few years. He's been especially limited in the passing game, catching 2.2 or fewer passes per game in two of his three full seasons. So why is he my RB6 now? Because he might be in line for a higher share of his team's running back touches than just about any back in the game. Mixon may not be Christian McCaffrey, but with Giovani Bernard out of the picture, he figures to see a step up in his usage in the passing game -- it already started last season before his injury -- in addition to his usual heavy workload in the running game. He'll have to stay healthy -- and it wouldn't hurt if the Bengals offense lived up to those lofty expectations we're all putting out there. But Mixon is more well positioned to be an elite Fantasy running back than at any point in his career so far.
Myles Gaskin, Dolphins
Last season, Gaskin came out of relatively nowhere to emerge as Miami's lead back in Week 1. There was very little buzz about him in training camp, so it was a true surprise when he rendered Matt Breida and Jordan Howard irrelevant. There's been very little of note about the Dolphins running backs out of camp so far, as well, but in this case, that seems like good news for Gaskin, too. He played at least 65% of the team's snaps in every game he played and was on pace for 227 carries and 75 targets over 16 games. If he has anything like that role again, he's going to smash his RB23 ADP. There's top-12 upside here.
Darrell Henderson, Rams
Henderson's ADP has shot up since news of Cam Akers' season-ending injury, but not nearly enough. Henderson may not be as good as Akers -- though I'm not 100% sure he isn't -- and he likely won't get quite as much work as Akers was projected for, but there's still a lot to like here. He's the lead back in what should be a good offense, and he should be active in all phases of the game for the Rams. His injury history is concerning, but all Henderson has to do to crush his current price is stay healthy. It's worth taking that risk.
So which sleepers, breakouts and busts should you target and fade? And which QB shocks the NFL with a top-five performance? Visit SportsLine now to get Fantasy cheat sheets for every single position, all from the model that called Josh Allen's huge season, and find out.