It’s August, and that means fantasy football draft season is upon us! Everyone who is deeply invested in fantasy football, which is a lot of people, has their takes on which players they consider as “sleepers”. I am no different. Being as passionate about the running back position as I am, I always have a list of players whom I find favorable targets in drafts.
Keep in mind, all of this is dependent upon value. Each player’s average auction value or average draft position may vary slightly from site to site, but if you’ve done your research then you should have a general idea of what their value is. I wouldn’t expect you to draft a certain running back for $50 in your auction drafts or the 1st round of your snake drafts if he’s someone you can grab for much cheaper or in the mid-late rounds.
Also, for each player, I will make sure to designate whether their value is better suited for dynasty/keeper leagues, redraft leagues, or both.
So, without further ado, here are my favorite running backs to target for 2021:
=== Saquon Barkley ===
After missing pretty much all the 2020 NFL season due to injury, Saquon Barkley’s stock has been descending. He’s no longer mentioned in that Tier 1 conversation, and to a degree, I can understand why. If you’re factoring in his injuries, his questionable status for Week 1, and that horrible New York Giants offensive line, then I get it.
On the other hand, we also need to remember that Barkley is arguably the most physically talented running back in the league. It’s not as though he had a stellar offensive line in front of him years ago that contributed majorly to his production. He’s ALWAYS had a bad offensive line. I can’t guarantee that he’ll be available Week 1; no one knows for sure. I also can’t guarantee that he’ll be back to the old Saquon the first few weeks of the season. I can say with confidence, however, that at some point this season he will have shaken off the rust of not playing football for a year. When he finally does, you can expect RB1 numbers once again.
I wouldn’t draft him at a higher price than or before Christian McCaffrey, Alvin Kamara, Dalvin Cook, or Derrick Henry, but after those four, it’s fair game. I’ve seen too much talk about how Barkley shouldn’t be picked in the same range as other Tier 2 players like Nick Chubb, Aaron Jones, or Najee Harris. That’s just silly. He belongs in that range. His value is even higher in Dynasty/Keeper formats since he’s still very young, but he’s still worth taking high in redraft, and I don’t care if I’m one of the only ones who are willing to take that risk. The upside is well worth it.
=== Trey Sermon ===
The funny thing is I already wrote about Trey Sermon months ago, shortly after the NFL Draft. You can find my article here.
=== Miles Sanders ===
If you look up all the fantasy football articles and other content out there talking about which running backs are sleepers or are primed for breakout seasons, you’ll be hard-pressed to find ones that mention Miles Sanders. I’ve seen plenty of fantasy “experts” out there say that Sanders is someone you should be avoiding. They cite the acquisitions of Jordan Howard, Kerryon Johnson, and Kenneth Gainwell as evidence showing that the Philadelphia Eagles will be using a committee approach. They also mention that with new Head Coach Nick Sirianni the offense will likely run the ball less.
I’m here to tell you that’s utterly ridiculous. First, the acquisitions of Howard, Johnson, and Gainwell don’t mean it’s going to be a committee. Howard was close to being forced into retirement this past offseason, Johnson was just waived with an injury designation and put on injured reserve, and Gainwell is a 5th round pick. They’ll all have roles, but make no mistake about it, Sanders is the top dog. Second, Doug Pederson went away from the run game plenty of times in 2020, even while Sanders was having success running the ball. The Indianapolis Colts, who had Sirianni as their Offensive Coordinator last year, ran the ball 45.4% of the time, which was the 9th highest in the league. Therefore, you can confidently expect the Eagles to stick to the run more under the new staff. Finally, Sanders put up 800+ rushing yards while running behind a different offensive line lineup almost every single week. If the Eagles’ offensive line can stay mostly healthy this season, imagine the numbers Sanders can put up. He had his issues with being undisciplined his rookie season when running between the tackles, but he improved significantly in that area his sophomore season.
Sanders must still improve his hands, both when catching the ball and holding onto it. The drops and fumbles need to stop, or at least be kept to a minimum. If they don’t then he’ll surely lose some reps, especially on passing downs. That being said, Sanders will be given the benefit of the doubt to start the season, and the role of lead back will be his to lose.
I’d gladly spend $30-40 in auction drafts on him or take him as early as the early 3rd round in 12-14 team leagues.
🏈 FANTASY THREAD OF THE DAY: MILES SANDERS 🏈 pic.twitter.com/CD7nBw6teb
— FantasyPros (@FantasyPros) August 10, 2021
=== Larry Rountree III ===
Here’s a name most may not be too familiar with, but there’s a chance that throughout this season, or maybe next season, he’ll be more well-known.
Austin Ekeler is the Los Angeles Chargers’ RB1; there’s no debating that. However, as we all are aware, he’s also not a traditional featured back who gets 20-25 carries a game. He’ll get a good number of carries, but his value comes mainly from his receiving ability. That means whoever is RB2 on the Chargers’ depth chart can expect to get a solid workload.
Justin Jackson, Joshua Kelley, and Larry Rountree III are the three players battling for that RB2 spot, and I see Rountree winning that job at some point, whether it be this season or the next. Jackson is in the final year of his contract, so he most likely won’t be on the team come 2022. Kelley is entering his second year but failed to take advantage of his opportunities as the starter last season.
Rountree, based on my evaluations, is the best talent out of the group (excluding Ekeler). Other than his long speed, he has good athletic ability all around, from his burst to his quickness and agility. He has solid power and balance as well. His vision can be a bit inconsistent, and he needs to be a bit more patient, but he has the potential to be a good complementary player, which is what the Chargers are looking for behind Ekeler.
Rountree’s value in Dynasty/Keeper formats will be higher since his opportunity to take the RB2 job may not come until next season, but you could do far worse considering how cheap/low you can grab him for. You should be able to acquire him for next to nothing in auction drafts and the last couple of rounds in your snake drafts.
Larry Rountree III too quick ⚡️ @chargers
📺: #LACvsLAR on NFL Network (or check your local listings) pic.twitter.com/mIbWFcwcRJ
— NFL Network (@nflnetwork) August 15, 2021
=== Phillip Lindsay ===
I know that many of you are going to be reluctant to draft a Houston Texans player, especially one of their running backs. The Texans have David Johnson, Mark Ingram, and Phillip Lindsay, all of whom will probably get their fair share of carries in that offense. In addition, that offensive line remains a huge weakness of the team.
So, why am I adding Lindsay to this list? That’s because I still view him as the most underrated running back in the league, and I believe that you should always prioritize drafting talent over opportunity because a player’s talent will create opportunity.
I’m not breaking any news when I say Johnson and Ingram’s best days are behind them. Lindsay, on the other hand, is still in his prime. Is it hard to picture a scenario late in the season where Johnson and Ingram are both fading due to the wear and tear of the long season? When that happens, that will leave the door open for Lindsay to take over as the lead guy.
Don’t go out of your way to reach for Lindsay, but I’d expect you could get him for less than $10 in auction drafts and past round 10 in snake drafts. If you’re someone who made the mistake of passing up on running backs early in a redraft league, Lindsay could end up being your saving grace, especially come playoff time.
=== Mike Davis ===
Mike Davis isn’t a flashy name. I’m sure he’s someone you naturally tend to overlook. The journeyman running back has bounced around with several different teams, often as just a depth piece. He’s honestly more than that, though. Davis has been and still is a good running back, and I’m glad he’s finally gotten an opportunity with the Atlanta Falcons.
If you want a safe option in your redraft leagues, Davis is your guy. He’s probably a fringe RB2/RB3 with very little upside, but he will be consistent.