Best Ball Strategy

Updated 2021 Best-Ball RB Tiers

by John Daigle
Updated On: July 29, 2021, 12:35 pm ET

The App is Back! Don’t forget to download the NBC Sports EDGE app to receive real-time player news, mobile alerts and track your favorite players. Plus, now you can check out articles and player cards. Get it here!


Jump to: QB Tiers I WR Tiers I TE Tiers


Tier One


Christian McCaffrey (RB1) -- Even in returning from a six-week absence at 3-5, McCaffrey handled 18-of-19 backfield carries (including 100% of the team's carries inside the five) and 10-of-16 running back targets before re-injuring himself in the fourth quarter. Any discussion of a committee from Carolina's coaching staff can be ignored.

Dalvin Cook (RB2) -- Cook averaged 28 touches, handling 220-of-250 backfield carries, across his last nine starts. Minnesota's third-highest run play rate from neutral game script isn't expected to change since Gary Kubiak simply passed the keys to his son Klint Kubiak on the way out (lol).

Ezekiel Elliott (RB3) -- Nowhere to go but up after regressing for career-lows in rushing yards (65.3) and fantasy points (14.9) per game against the league's second-toughest rushing schedule. Also paced for 7.5 targets weekly in Dak Prescott's four full starts out the gates. Cowboys will encouragingly have Tyron Smith, La'el Collins, and Zack Martin available to open the year after that trio combined to miss 36 games last season. Best of all, Elliott can easily be nabbed at the first-/second-round turn for recency bias despite having more guaranteed usage in a better situation than those being drafted ahead of him.

Alvin Kamara (RB4) -- Pitiful 14% target share in Taysom Hill's four starts last year, but Saints and Sean Payton logically have no choice but to force-feed Kamara the ball following Michael Thomas' (ankle) diagnosis. Note that Kamara averaged 

Derrick Henry (RB5) -- Titans are still expected to rally around The Big Dog after 400-plus touches and rushing crowns in back-to-back seasons. Any uptick in opportunity following a career-high 31 targets is a plus.


Tier Two


Aaron Jones (RB6) -- Heightened outlook with Jamaal Williams' 35 targets and 14 routes per game removed from the offense. Note that AJ Dillon has totaled 23 catches in his last 46 appearances dating back to his first year with Boston College. Would simply move down a tier (but remain the RB7 overall) if Aaron Rodgers were traded.

Austin Ekeler (RB7) -- 18.3 touches per game and a 19.2% target share in eight full appearances alongside Justin Herbert. Free agent gem Corey Linsley graded as Pro Football Focus' No. 1 run-blocking center last year.

Saquon Barkley (RB8) -- Hampered by a high-ankle sprain and ACL tear the past two years, Barkley returns as the lead horse in an offense that most recently split 285 backfield carries between Wayne Gallman, Alfred Morris, Devonta Freeman, and Dion Lewis, all who remain free agents. Could reportedly be brought along slowly to open the year, which keeps him pinned at the bottom (but still in) the top tier.

Joe Mixon (RB9) -- No running back in the league had more touches (140) than Mixon before he suffered a season-ending foot injury in Week 6. Giovani Bernard's release plus OC Brian Callahan's assurance of Mixon's workload guarantees that plan carries over into 2021.

Nick Chubb (RB10) -- Out-touched Kareem Hunt 183-119 upon returning from injured reserve from Week 10 on. Chubb's nine targets to Hunt's two in the postseason suggest a higher ceiling for the former than perceived, especially against the league's fourth-softest schedule of opposing run defenses.

Clyde Edwards-Helaire (RB11) -- CEH out-touched Darrel Williams 11-4 in Kansas City's Super Bowl loss — the rookie's second game back from injury — and averaged 17.8 carries and 5.2 targets through Week 6; the corpse of Le'Veon Bell was active from that point forward. With both Damien Williams and Bell out of the picture, the Fresh Prince of Helaire is still logically undervalued since his ceiling includes overthrowing The Mentor for nearly every rep.

Antonio Gibson (RB12) -- Even in having his name called for just 11 third-down touches to J.D. McKissic's 32 last year, Gibson finished 19th among running backs in fantasy points per game (14.4) with 12.1 carries per outing. Any uptick in that first category would see him threaten weekly RB1 territory.

Jonathan Taylor (RB13) -- Entrusted over Nyheim Hines for an average 20 carries and 22 touches across Indianapolis' last six regular season tilts, including 30 carries in the team's must-win Week 17 matchup. Blackhole at left tackle and questionable play under center could still tank Indianapolis' offense, which happened to draw the easiest schedule of opposing defenses last year, mid-season.

Najee Harris (RB14) -- 6.4 yards per touch in three consecutive seasons with the Crimson Tide despite a progressive increase in touches (121 < 236 < 295) through his senior year. Only 25 career carries of 20-plus yards negates any hope of plus speed at 6'2/230, but Harris will undoubtedly handle every touch with zero impediment from others.



Tier Three


Chris Carson (RB15) -- Rashaad Penny, DeeJay Dallas, and Alex Collins are still around to inevitably siphon touches, but the Seahawks intently re-signed Carson (at the behest of Russell Wilson) to presumably hand him the same 71% of its backfield touches he received with that group available behind him from Week 15 on.

Mike Davis (RB16) -- Could easily exceed last year's career-high marks since Atlanta offers a league-high 364 carries unaccounted for. The fodder listed behind Davis (Qadree Ollison, UDFA Javian Hawkins) lack leverage since none were actual investments by the new regime.

Chase Edmonds (RB17) -- The draft's and free agency's biggest winner, Edmonds returns to the very same backfield that saw him handle 28-of-30 backfield touches in the lone game Kenyan Drake missed last year. Cardinals also have a league-high 21 carries inside the five-yard line up for grabs following Drake's departure, though James Conner could immediately threaten for that role. For better or worse, this ranking is admittedly well above industry consensus.

J.K. Dobbins (RB18) -- Best-Ball's most overrated player at this time, fantasy managers continue turning a blind eye to Dobbins' actual situation in sharing reps with Gus Edwards (who is also #good). Both also need touchdowns to make a significant impact since Lamar Jackson ignored their position with the NFL's third- and fourth-fewest targets the past two years.

David Montgomery (RB19) -- Averaged 21 touches (including five targets) and 28 routes without Tarik Cohen from Week 4 on, whereas Montgomery only ran 20.7 routes per week with Cohen available. Although the sophomore did post 0.5 more Yards After Contact Per Attempt in Chicago's last six games, his success against Football Outsiders' No. 18, 27, 29, 30, and 24 Rush Defense DVOAs in that stretch can be thrown out the window given Damien Williams' and Cohen's presences.

Myles Gaskin (RB20) -- Gaskin's 13.1% target share and the 19.7 touches per game he received in eight appearances from Week 3 escaped the draft, though Malcolm Brown still stands to threaten for 3rd-down and goal-line opportunities. Note that Gaskin even out-touched Salvon Ahmed 11-3 through the first three quarters of Miami's no-show in the regular season finale before the team killed the clock behind Ahmed in a four-score deficit.

Darrell Henderson (RB21) -- 107/485/4 and 4.5 YPC from Weeks 2-11 until Cam Akers, who suffered a torn Achilles' ahead of camp, earned the job from Week 12 on. Rams quietly have the league's second-most carries (299) and a league-high 21 rushes from inside the five vacated from last year's production on the ground. Still likely Todd Gurley or another washed veteran is signed to complement this backfield.

Miles Sanders (RB22) -- Finally freed from Doug Pederson's annual committee approach, Sanders' range of outcomes suddenly includes a career-high in touches per game from Nick Sirianni and OC Shane Steichen. Averaged 5.6 yards per touch in three full starts with Jalen Hurts last year.

D'Andre Swift (RB23) -- Still the favorite to soak up a majority of the team's unaccounted for carries (243, 66.2%) following the two-year commitment to Jamaal Williams in free agency. Swift's so-called usage "in the slot" with OC Anthony Lynn would be the icing on the cake.

Travis Etienne (RB24) -- Etienne's 4.45 40-time at 5'10/215 is less than ideal, but his career 102/1,155/8 receiving line, including a nation-high 588 receiving yards at his position in 2020, is proof he's ready to be dispersed in that exact role (from the slot) with the Jaguars in Week 1. Per Pro Football Focus' Mike Renner, Etienne's dip in YPA (5.6) last year can easily be pinned on the Tigers' fluctuating o-line, which permitted 1.8 yards before contact compared to 2.8 in 2019 and 3.8 the year prior.

Kareem Hunt RB (RB25) -- 12.3 fantasy points per game behind Chubb from Week 10 on despite handling 70 fewer touches in that stretch. High weekly floor with proven league-winning usage if Chubb were to miss any time.


Tier Four


Josh Jacobs (RB26) -- 15th in fantasy points per game among running backs last year, Jacobs enters 2021 with a questionable offensive line and free agency's highest-paid running back behind him. Occasional ceiling performances in game scripts with a lead are best (no pun intended) reserved for Best-Ball scoring rather than weekly re-draft headaches.

Raheem Mostert (RB27) -- Kyle Shanahan featured Mostert on 52-of-87 backfield touches in his only three full appearances through October, but Jeff Wilson's emergence in the interim paved the way for a committee in order to keep both healthy. Both can be viable independently since Jerick McKinnon's 46 targets and third-down role could fall to either, though the injection of Trey Sermon could leave fantasy players holding the bag weekly.

Damien Harris (RB28) -- Harris out-carried Sony Michel 27-17 in their only two games together. Still considered the rich man's version of his own teammate since he comically averaged 4.5 routes run in eight starts sans Michel. The latter is also expected to be cut prior to camp.

Trey Sermon (RB29) -- Provided size (6'1/215) and efficiency (7.5 YPC) as a late-season bell-cow with the Buckeyes last year, breaking 24 tackles on 60 carries for 524 rushing yards between the Big Ten title game and playoff semifinal. While Sermon projects as a potential three-down option long-term, his year-one outlook is best reserved for splash outings on Best-Ball rosters.

Javonte Williams (RB30) -- Broncos actually traded up for Williams, which suggests a timeshare from the very beginning. His production both on the ground (157/1,140/19) and in the receiving game (25/305/3) during his final year at North Carolina, not to mention an FBS-high 75 broken tackles while crushing Pro Football Focus' college record for broken tackles per attempt (0.48) that year, emphasize an all-around skillset that could even usurp Melvin Gordon mid-year.

Michael Carter (RB31) -- A favorite among coaches at this year's Senior Bowl, Carter (5'9/199) piled up 1,500 yards from scrimmage and 11 touchdowns despite sharing a backfield with Javonte Williams last year. Excelled in the shuttle (3.98s) and three-cone (6.87s) drills at UNC's pro day and lands in the most opportune spot to split touches from day one.

Gus Edwards (RB32) -- Edwards is inexplicably being drafted seven rounds later than Dobbins despite practically mirroring the rookie in touches (62-59) across their last five games together, all the while averaging 5.9 yards per touch in that span.


Editor’s Note: Get an edge with our premium Betting Tools that are packed with live odds, betting trends, predictions, player prop projections, our extensive Edge Finder and much more. And don't forget to use promo code WELCOME10 to get 10% off. Click here to learn more!


Tier Five


Tony Pollard (RB33) -- Pollard's lone top-35 finish last year unsurprisingly occurred in Elliott's first absence for an injury since 2013. The former merely averaged 7.4 touches in 15 other appearances behind Zeke.

James Conner (RB34) -- Will be an option (albeit a nuisance) if handed Kenyan Drake's previous role ahead of/behind Chase Edmonds.

AJ Dillon (RB35) -- The overwhelming favorite to soak up a majority of Jamaal Williams' 119 carries from last year. Any bruising role inside the five-yard line over Jones would also gift Dillon a serviceable weekly floor.

Jamaal Williams (RB36) -- “He’s what I’d call a classic 'A’ back. They can run between the tackles, block probably a little better than a ‘B' back, they can also run the perimeter. I can leave those guys in there for all three downs." - OC Anthony Lynn on Williams.

Leonard Fournette (RB37) -- Lombardi Lenny officially usurped Ronald Jones in the postseason, out-touching the latter 59-35 while seeing 17 targets to Jones' two in their last three appearances together. Even if Jones were to split carries weekly, Fournette remains the superior value for being trusted (and having earned the role) on passing downs.

Melvin Gordon (RB38) -- Gordon averaged 20.8 touches in five games sans Phillip Lindsay and 14.3 in 10 surrounding starts. The latter situation should be expected after the Broncos moved up for Javonte Williams.

Nyheim Hines (RB39) -- Involved for 9.4 touches and 4.2 targets weekly as Taylor's backup across Indianapolis' last five games.

Zack Moss (RB40) -- Interchangeable with Devin Singletary pending your own read of the situation.

James Robinson (RB41) -- The draft's most obvious (fantasy) loser after Urban Meyer sunk first-round capital into Travis Etienne. If the rookie were injured, reminder Robinson averaged 25.5 touches and 24.8 fantasy points in two games without Chris Thompson last year.

Ronald Jones (RB42) -- Best-case scenario includes having his name called on early downs over Leonard Fournette's. Worst (and most likely) scenario includes battling for usage with Ke'Shawn Vaughn on the final year of Jones' contract.

Latavius Murray (RB43) -- Averaged 11.5 touches across Taysom Hill's four starts last year. Proven RB1 any time Kamara's absent.

Devin Singletary (RB44) -- Singletary was available for all 19 of Buffalo's games last year and still only averaged 11.4 touches per contest. Gets the (pointless) nod over Zack Moss since the former at least averaged six more routes per contest.


Tier Six


Kenyan Drake (RB45) -- Perhaps there's value here if Josh Jacobs misses time or chooses to play through injury, both of which he's done the past two seasons. Until then, Drake should merely be viewed as someone who has yet to separate from any committee he's been a part of the past five years.

James White (RB46) -- 4.4 targets per game last year with an opportunity for more if Mac Jones gets the nod from Week 1.

J.D. McKissic (RB47) -- League-high 110 targets among running backs as Washington's version of James White in negative game scripts. Cemented third-down role at the very least offers sprinkled spiked weeks among this tier.

Alexander Mattison (RB48) -- Averaged 19.3 touches in the three games Cook was either limited or absent for and 5.6 in nine other appearances. An 'if-then' player if there ever was one, especially since he's capable of being game-scripted off the field when trailing.

Tevin Coleman (RB49) -- The only back among New York's group who's already familiar with OC Mike LaFleur's scheme.

Giovani Bernard (RB50) -- Has never finished a season with fewer than 43 targets.

Darrynton Evans (RB51) -- While an outlier player in every way possible, Derrick Henry's 827 touches the past two seasons could still catch up to him.

Rhamondre Stevenson (RB52) -- Whether he's LeGarrette Blount or Rex Burkhead, the fact is both provided value in their respective roles with the Patriots for a handful of games at one time. Will presumably take over Sony Michel's role if/when the latter is cut after June 1.

Wayne Gallman (RB53) -- Reportedly the team's No. 2 back during OTAs, Jeff Wilson's (knee) absence leaves Gallman as a tremendous arbitrage addition in the last round of Best-Ball leagues.

Rashaad Penny (RB54) -- Only one year removed from averaging 8.0 touches in nine appearances behind Carson. You could do worse than securing the No. 2 back in a predictable run-heavy offense in this stage of drafts.

Damien Williams (RB55) -- Now 29 and having never handled 145 touches in a single season, Williams' value obviously evaporated the moment he became untied from Patrick Mahomes. Could still have value behind David Montgomery in the first month if Tarik Cohen is brought along slowly.

Jerick McKinnon (RB56) -- Potential to play with Patrick Mahomes on passing downs, which is something no other player in his tier can claim.

Kenneth Gainwell (RB57) -- Gainwell's 2020 opt-out can be spun as a negative, but he spent that time tacking on seven extra pounds to his 5'11/201 frame, finishing with 21 bench reps and a 4.42 40 at Memphis' pro day. Proven receiving chops from both the backfield and slot provide Gainwell with multiple paths to play in his rookie year.

Salvon Ahmed (RB58) -- Averaged 21 touches in three games without Gaskin last year.

Chuba Hubbard (RB59) -- Christian McCaffrey's direct backup. Stock still down after recording a nation-high 328 carries (and 2,292 yards from scrimmage) in 2019 since his performance dipped across the board before calling it quits after seven games with a bum ankle last year.

Phillip Lindsay (RB60) -- An outlier UDFA with 1,000-plus rushing yards and 225 touches in each of his first two seasons, Lindsay could be given a legitimate shot to lead Houston's backfield in touches from Week 1. 

Malcolm Brown (RB61) -- Brian Flores is reportedly "bullish" on Brown, being fully aware that he's "played in a variety of roles: short yardage, third down, goal line, things of that nature."


For further RB analysis beyond this range, check out Denny Carter's Zero-RB Tiers.


John Daigle

John Daigle is an Emmy and FSWA award winner who has been covering the NFL and fantasy football for over a decade, working with NBC Sports EDGE for almost four years. He enjoys watching golf and Jon Moxley, not necessarily in that order. You can follow him on Twitter @notJDaigle.