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Football Daily Dose

2021 RB Landscape

by Ryan McDowell
Updated On: January 20, 2021, 9:44 am ET

While there are three more games to be played in this NFL season, the majority of fantasy players have already turned their attention to next season. Fantasy managers are eagerly awaiting the chance to fire up their first best ball draft or dynasty startup, or maybe both.

As always, we can expect many depth chart shakeups in the coming months via free agency and NFL Draft. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some backfields that will have a different look in 2021.

 

Who is the starter?

There are several teams that simply have no idea who their starting running back might be next season. Perhaps their 2020 primary back is a free agent or maybe there wasn’t even a good option to begin with. Those teams have some work to do and face a challenge as both the free agent and incoming rookie running back classes are thin.

 

Arizona Cardinals

With RB Kenyan Drake headed towards free agency, the Cardinals have decisions to make. They could attempt to retain Drake, who was unable to match his strong 2019 performance this past season. They could also hand the job to RB Chase Edmonds, who has shown flashes of major upside when called upon. The more likely scenario is their adding another solid back who will share the work with Edmonds.

 

Atlanta Falcons

The Falcons took a chance on RB Todd Gurley last offseason and that worked out, for a while. Gurley did work in the red zone, scoring nine times, but simply wasn’t very good beyond that. By the end of the season, he was no longer the primary ball carrier. Like Gurley, RB Brian Hill is also a free agent, leaving Atlanta with Ito Smith and little else. It will be noteworthy how new HC Arthur Smith addresses the position.

 

Green Bay Packers

The only remaining active playoff team to make this list, the Packers face backfield questions this offseason as both Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams enter free agency. Obviously, the Pack would love to retain Jones, who has been one of the best backs in the league the past two seasons. He will be very costly, and the early thought is the team will let someone else give Jones the big contract. Green Bay did spend a second-round pick on RB AJ Dillon and have been giving him more playing time as the season winds down.

 

New York Jets

The Jets didn’t really have an answer at running back this season as they continued to trot out RB Frank Gore week after week. Rookie RB La'Mical Perine didn’t see enough work but he’s the only real option left on the roster. With a new coaching staff in place, this team will be adding depth to the position. Even though he is defensive-minded, I wonder if new HC Robert Saleh will try to bring a former 49er back with him to the Big Apple.

 

Pittsburgh Steelers

With RB James Conner entering free agency and not expected to be retained, the Steelers will look to fix their broken ground game this offseason. The team already has a new offensive coordinator, but that won’t be enough. RBs Benny Snell and Anthony McFarland should be back, though neither are likely the answer.

 

Seattle Seahawks

The Seahawks want to build around their ground game. Yes, the team currently sporting QB Russell Wilson and WRs Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf would rather feature their running back. There are many issues with that idea but the most pressing is that both Chris Carson and Carlos Hyde are set to enter free agency. The good news, I guess, for Seattle is that neither should break the bank, so if the team wants them back, they’ll be back. Also, RBs Rashaad Penny and DeeJay Dallas remain under contract in 2021.

 

Looking for an upgrade?

While these teams may have a holdover starter still on the roster, they could consider replacing him or simply adding some competition, either through free agency or the NFL Draft.

 

Buffalo Bills

While the Bills Offense took off this season, it was not due to their ground game. RBs Devin Singletary and Zack Moss are both fine, but neither seems destined to be more than a solid part of a committee. For a team that looks ready to contend for Super Bowl titles, an upgrade in the backfield could be in the works this offseason.

 

Houston Texans

The Texans have a lot of issues to address this offseason, namely their poorly run front office and discontent quarterback. These other problems might actually be enough to gloss over the backfield but if they look too closely, someone will realize that David Johnson and/or Duke Johnson could each be cap casualties.

 

Miami Dolphins

The Miami Dolphins got surprisingly strong play from RB Myles Gaskin in 2020 and should not be looking to upgrade. With that said, they do possess plenty of draft picks and projected cap space, meaning they could be tempted to add a big name. I think Gaskin is safe, but I’m not completely positive about how the team will handle the backfield.

 

New England Patriots

The Patriots have now invested multiple draft picks into their backfield, most notably a first rounder on bust Sony Michel. He was outplayed by RB Damien Harris this past season and Harris should be viewed as the favorite to start for the team next season. Ultimately though, this entire offense needs an overhaul, so no player seems like a safe option.

 

San Francisco 49ers

The good news is no matter which back the 49ers trotted out last season, they seemed to have success. Unfortunately, so many different players got a chance because none of them could stay healthy. Most notably, starting RB Raheem Mostert missed multiple games. Entering the final season of a contract that will pay him over $3 million, the team could decide they need a healthier option. RB Jeff Wilson, who ended the season on a hot streak, is a restricted free agent.