The running backs being drafted early in 2021 fantasy football drafts obviously have the greatest chance to deliver top fantasy performances. They've proven themselves and have earned the rushing/receiving opportunity to repeat in the coming season. However, every few years we see a running back who hasn’t quite hit the upper echelon of fantasy production break out.
Before we dive into the list of dark horse candidates to finish as the fantasy football RB1 in 2021, let’s first examine the RB1 finishers from the last five years using 0.5-PPR scoring.
|Season||RB1||Total Points||PPG||PPG Rank|
The first thing to note here is that each of the last five RB1s ranked in the top three in fantasy points per game. Elite running backs need to play at an elite level most if not all of the season to claim the RB1 title on the year.
Players need to averag around 23 points per game in order to have a shot at the RB1 slot. Kamara’s 2020 RB1 season was solid, but injuries to big-name running backs like Christian McCaffrey, Saquon Barkley and Dalvin Cook opened the gate for his first RB1 title.
Next, let’s look at the breakdown of rushing versus receiving.
Simply speaking, we're look for players who touch the ball a lot. None of these running backs had fewer than 250 total touches, though Kamara's 2020 was on a lighter rushing workload. The benchmark for 2021 should be closer to 325 touches, and it's important to note that none of these running backs saw fewer than 87 targets on the year.
Touchdown variance is also essentially a requirement for landing an RB1 season. All five players had 15 or more total scores in their leading season — an average of about one touchdown per week. In fact, scoring is the most important component of the offense when looking at team ranks.
|Season||Team||Off Yds||Pass Yds||Rush Yds||Scoring|
Four out of the last five RB1s were part of a top-five scoring offense on the year. This might seem like bit of a chicken or egg conversation, but it’s also a fairly obvious point — the running back absolutely needs to be on a high-scoring offense if he's not named Christian McCaffrey.
EPA-based rankings paint a similar picture, but efficiency doesn’t matter quite as much as pure volume.
|Season||Team||EPA||Pass EPA||Rush EPA|
Four running backs being drafted outside of the top 12 at their position stand out as having the best chance to finish as this season’s RB1 based on these parameters.
2021 dark horse fantasy RB1 candidates
- What he has: rushing attempts, talent
- What he needs: O-line improvement, more targets