It’s preseason fantasy football rankings season here at TDN! On Monday, June 7, I released my Preseason Top 65 Running Back Rankings, which can be found here. Once the rankings became public, there were a number of questions asked and some shade thrown. Let’s address a few of the most common questions/reactions to the initial release of my 2021 preseason quarterback rankings and dive into deeper explanations about why the players ranked where they did. As a reminder, my full stat projections will be released here at TDN later this month.
Jonathan Taylor at RB3? That seems a little rich.
Yeah, this ranking is a bit bold. However, Taylor can absolutely reach these heights if the Indianapolis Colts continue to use him the way they did in the latter portion of 2020. From Week 11 through the postseason, Taylor averaged 20 carries and nearly three targets per game. He doesn’t even need to improve on his season-long yards per carry average (4.93) or touchdown rate (4.74%) as a rookie in order to be a top-three fantasy running back.
As far as backfield competition goes, Nyheim Hines still received work once Taylor took over as Indianapolis’ lead back, so Hines’ presence shouldn’t hinder Taylor. Marlon Mack returns, but it’s expected to be in a diminished role given the emergence of Taylor and Mack coming off an Achilles injury. I don’t fear Mack will be any more of a nuisance than Jordan Wilkins was last season.
Saquon Barkley at No. 8? You’re crazy!
Readers and listeners of the TDN Fantasy Podcast have been yelling at me about my Barkley ranking for months. While I was admittedly a little too low on him back in January, I can’t put him any higher than this spot, in the back half of the first round, coming off an ACL injury. Here’s something I’ve been referencing all offseason:
A study from Fantasy Labs in 2015 discovered that: “Since 1999, running backs coming off ACL surgery have produced right around two-thirds of the fantasy points on a per-game basis as compared to their pre-ACL selves.”
While I don’t expect quite that dramatic of a drop for Barkley because he’s far from “average,” factoring that in, as well as his multi-week injury the year prior and his slight target volume drop since Daniel Jones took over for Eli Manning, I can’t consider him at his current ADP. It’s wild that fantasy managers are willing to take Barkley in essentially the same spot they would have if he played a full season in 2020—especially given reports like this. It’s a risk I simply will not take.
Why is Clyde Edwards-Helaire ranked so low?
That is a great question and one I asked myself once I took a step back to review my work. Edwards-Helaire’s low ranking (RB25) boils down to workload. Are you willing to bet he’s used significantly more or differently this season?
The Kansas City Chiefs were a bottom-eight team in the NFL last season in total rush attempts and are averaging just 24.31 per game over the last two seasons. When Edwards-Helaire was healthy last season, he received a 52.77% share of the total carries. Assuming he lands somewhere near his rookie averages of 4.44 yards per attempt with a 2.21% touchdown percentage and a nearly 11% target share, this is kind of where he’s going to be—the back end of RB2, high-end flex territory. I’d love to see a spike near 90 targets that would solidify him near the top 15, but it would be unwise to project that with the information we have currently.
Sell me on Michael Carter being a top-30 RB.
He’s the best, most talented running back the New York Jets have and he’s already getting rave reviews. He’s also in an offense under Mike LaFleur that is running-back-friendly.
LaFleur comes from a San Francisco offense that averaged 27.34 rushing attempts per game over the last two seasons, with the top two running backs on the roster earning 22 of those attempts. Even if Carter is in an equal timeshare with Tevin Coleman or Ty Johnson or whomever, he can make an impact with 11 carries per game. Carter is also a major asset in the passing game, and running backs received a 23% target share over the last two years in San Francisco with LaFleur as the passing game coordinator. Again, even half of that workload could put Carter near 70 targets as a rookie.
Carter’s multifaceted talents and prime opportunity to be an immediate contributor make him one of my favorite preseason fantasy sleepers.
If you have any specific questions or want to know more about what I think of certain players, follow me on Twitter (@JaimeEisner) or Instagram (@JaimeEisnerTDN). I’d be happy to chat with you! Also, be sure to tune in to the TDN Fantasy Podcast for in-depth audio breakdowns of these rankings, my projections, and all the latest fantasy football news throughout the 2021 football season.