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Fantasy football: McCaffrey, Cook, Kamara lead Top 75 running back rankings

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Fantasy football: McCaffrey, Cook, Kamara lead Top 75 running back rankings
Christian McCaffrey is my top fantasy football running back for 2021. File Photo by Nell Redmond/UPI | License Photo

Aug. 19 (UPI) -- Running back is arguably the most important and hardest position to draft in fantasy football, but I've attempted to make the process easier by ranking my Top 75 players at the position.

Carolina Panthers star Christian McCaffrey tops my 2021 running back rankings. Dalvin Cook of the Minnesota Vikings and Alvin Kamara of the New Orleans Saints are among my other top options.

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The majority of first-round picks in your draft most likely will be running backs.

Target players with great talent, who produce consistent career numbers and have established the ability to stay healthy. Look for players with a substantial projected workload and who play a good number of games against teams with weak rush defenses.

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In my personal drafts, I prefer to select wide receivers early and add running backs later from teams I expect to be ahead in a lot of their games, as losing teams often throw the ball more often.

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If your running back target doesn't play for a team that you expect to post a good record, make sure he still can pick up fantasy points as a pass catcher.

McCaffrey, Cook, Kamara and Saquon Barkley are great examples of players who will hold value even if their teams trail in games. They are all solid runners, make plays as pass catchers and will be used regardless of the score of their team's games.

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I split my top targets of the 75 ranked players into five tiers: Hall of Fame, All-Pro, Pro Bowl, Just Napping (early to mid-round targets) and Deep Sleepers (mid- to late-round sleepers). The full rankings are below.

Hall of Fame

1. Christian McCaffrey, 2. Dalvin Cook, 3. Alvin Kamara, 4. Derrick Henry

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Christian McCaffrey was the No. 1 pick in most fantasy football drafts last season. He was off to a solid start, with four touchdowns through his first two games, but sustained an injury in Week 2 and missed the next six games.

McCaffrey returned to score two more times in Week 9, but missed the final seven games due to a shoulder injury.

Look for a rebound season from the healthy running back in 2021. McCaffrey faces just three defenses this season that ranked inside the Top 10 last season for fewest fantasy points allowed to running backs. He also should provide consistent value throughout the season as one of the most dynamic players in the NFL.

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The New Orleans Saints will be a much different team this season due to the departure of longtime quarterback Drew Brees, but Alvin Kamara returns as the most lethal threat in the offense.

Kamara already was a top fantasy football play, but could see his carries and targets increase as the Saints attempt to find a new offensive identity.

Like McCaffrey, Kamara's schedule features just three matchups against teams that ranked inside the Top 10 for fewest fantasy points allowed to running backs in 2020.

Kamara is a near lock for 1,000 rushing yards, 800 receiving yards and 20 total touchdowns. He should challenge McCaffrey and Dalvin Cook for the title of fantasy football's best running back.

All-Pro

5. Saquon Barkley, 6. Nick Chubb, 7. Aaron Jones

Saquon Barkley led the NFL with 2,028 yards from scrimmage and scored 15 times in his 2018 rookie campaign, but enters the 2021 season as an underrated fantasy football option due to his injury history.

Barkley missed 14 games last season due to a torn ACL, but is healthy this preseason. He remains the most important part of the New York Giants offense.

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His proven ability as a pass catcher and electric running style make him worthy of a first-round selection.

Cleveland Browns running back Nick Chubb is my No. 6 option at the position. Chubb would be even higher in my rankings if he didn't split the Browns rushing workload with teammate Kareem Hunt. The Browns star ran for a career-high 5.6 yards per carry last season and is a lock for at least 1,100 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2021.

The Browns schedule features five games against teams that ranked inside the Top 10 for most fantasy points allowed to running backs.

Pro Bowl

8. Austin Ekeler, 9. Ezekiel Elliott, 10. Jonathan Taylor, 11. Joe Mixon

Los Angeles Chargers running back Austin Ekeler was a trendy early pick last year in fantasy football drafts, but isn't being picked quite as soon this year due to his injuries in 2020.

Ekeler is one of the best pass-catching running backs in the NFL. He also should be in line to receive the majority of the Chargers' rushing workload in 2021. He is my No. 8 option at the position and should produce at least 1,400 yards from scrimmage and 12 scores in the Chargers' prolific offense.

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Like Chubb, Ekeler's Chargers play five games against opponents who ranked inside the Top 10 for most fantasy points allowed to running backs.

Indianapolis Colts running back Jonathan Taylor is another player with a fantasy football friendly schedule. The second-year star posted 1,468 yards from scrimmage and 12 touchdowns in 15 games last season. He should approach those numbers again in 2021.

Taylor is my No. 10 running back for 2021.

Just Napping

12. Clyde Edwards-Helaire, 13. Najee Harris, 15. James Robinson

I love Clyde Edwards-Helaire as a second- or third-round pick in fantasy football drafts. The Kansas City Chiefs running back is my No. 12 option at the position. Edwards-Helaire posted 1,100 yards from scrimmage in 13 starts last season, but scored just five times.

Look for the Chiefs running back to score close to 10 times in 2021 and increase his total yards to at least 1,300. Edwards-Helaire's fantasy football schedule features just two matchups against teams who ranked inside the Top 10 for fewest fantasy points allowed to running backs.

James Robinson was one of the best picks in fantasy football drafts last season. He was undervalued again at the start of this off-season due to the Jacksonville Jaguars' addition of rookie Travis Etienne.

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Etienne sustained a season-ending foot injury this preseason, clearing the path for Robinson to get more work and post RB2 statistics in 2021.

I don't see Robinson repeating his 1,414-yard, 10-score 2020 campaign, but he should still provide consistent value. He is my No. 15 running back.

Deep Sleepers

18. Mike Davis, 21. Raheem Mostert, 22. Darrell Henderson, 29. Myles Gaskin, 39. Phillip Lindsay

Mike Davis of the Atlanta Falcons is No. 18 in my running back rankings. The off-season free agent signing enters the 2021 campaign as the Falcons top running back.

Davis picked up 1,015 yards from scrimmage and eight scores in 15 games last season for the Carolina Panthers. I expect him to pile up at least 1,200 yards and another eight scores in 2021.

Los Angeles Rams running back Darrell Henderson is No. 22 in my rankings. Cam Akers entered the off-season as the Rams starter for 2021, but sustained a season-ending injury. Henderson now sits atop the depth chart.

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Henderson totaled 783 yards from scrimmage and six scores with a limited workload last season. He should push for at least 1,000 yards from scrimmage and 10 scores in 2021.

San Francisco 49ers running back Raheem Mostert was off to a terrific start in 2020, but was in and out of the lineup due to injuries. He still provides great value in fantasy football drafts, as his average draft position is after the sixth round.

Mostert is my No. 21 option and a solid RB2 or flex play all season. The 49ers struggled to stay healthy in 2020, but should return to their status as a dominant rushing unit in 2021, led by Mostert.

Top 75 Fantasy Football Running Back Rankings for 2021

1. Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers, Bye Week 13

2. Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings, Bye Week 7

3. Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints, Bye Week 6

4. Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans, Bye Week 13

5. Saquon Barkley, New York Giants, Bye Week 10

6. Nick Chubb, Cleveland Browns, Bye Week 13

7. Aaron Jones, Green Bay Packers, Bye Week 13

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8. Austin Ekeler, Los Angeles Chargers, Bye Week 7

9. Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys, Bye Week 7

10. Jonathan Taylor, Indianapolis Colts, Bye Week 14

11. Joe Mixon, Cincinnati Bengals, Bye Week 10

12. Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Kansas City Chiefs, Bye Week 12

13. Najee Harris, Pittsburgh Steelers, Bye Week 7

14. Josh Jacobs, Las Vegas Raiders, Bye Week 8

15. James Robinson, Jacksonville Jaguars, Bye Week 7

16. Antonio Gibson, Washington Football Team, Bye Week 9

17. Miles Sanders, Philadelphia Eagles, Bye Week 14

18. Mike Davis, Atlanta Falcons, Bye Week 6

19. David Montgomery, Chicago Bears, Bye Week 10

20. Chris Carson, Seattle Seahawks, Bye Week 9

21. Raheem Mostert, San Francisco 49ers, Bye Week 6

22. Darrell Henderson, Los Angeles Rams, Bye Week 11

23. D'Andre Swift, Detroit Lions, Bye Week 9

24. Gus Edwards, Baltimore Ravens, Bye Week 8

25. Kareem Hunt, Cleveland Browns, Bye Week 13

26. Damien Harris, New England Patriots, Bye Week 14

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27. Javonte Williams, Denver Broncos, Bye Week 11

28. Chase Edmonds, Arizona Cardinals, Bye Week 12

29. Myles Gaskin, Miami Dolphins, Bye Week 14

30. Sony Michel, Los Angeles Rams, Bye Week 11

31. Michael Carter, New York Jets, Bye Week 6

32. Melvin Gordon, Denver Broncos, Bye Week 11

33. Zack Moss, Buffalo Bills, Bye Week 7

34. Trey Sermon, San Francisco 49ers, Bye Week 6

35. James Conner, Arizona Cardinals, Bye Week 12

36. Latavius Murray, New Orleans Saints, Bye Week 6

37. Ronald Jones, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Bye Week 9

38. Kenyan Drake, Las Vegas Raiders, Bye Week 8

39. Phillip Lindsay, Houston Texans, Bye Week 10

40. A.J. Dillon, Green Bay Packers, Bye Week 13

41. Tony Pollard, Dallas Cowboys, Bye Week 7

42. Devin Singletary, Buffalo Bills, Bye Week 7

43. Giovani Bernard, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Bye Week 9

44. Leonard Fournette, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Bye Week 9

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45. Nyheim Hines, Indianapolis Colts, Bye Week 14

46. James White, New England Patriots, Bye Week 14

47. David Johnson, Houston Texans, Bye Week 10

48. Tarik Cohen, Chicago Bears, Bye Week 10

49. Xavier Jones, Los Angeles Rams, Bye Week 11

50. J.D. McKissic, Washington Football Team, Bye Week 9

51. Tevin Coleman, New York Jets, Bye Week 6

52. Alexander Mattison, Minnesota Vikings, Bye Week 7

53. Devontae Booker, New York Giants, Bye Week 10

54. Boston Scott, Philadelphia Eagles, Bye Week 14

55. Malcolm Brown, Miami Dolphins, Bye Week 14

56. Rashaad Penny, Seattle Seahawks, Bye Week 9

57. Jamaal Williams, Detroit Lions, Bye Week 9

58. Chuba Hubbard, Carolina Panthers, Bye Week 13

59. Darrynton Evans, Tennessee Titans, Bye Week 13

60. Darrel Williams, Kansas City Chiefs, Bye Week 12

61. Mark Ingram, Houston Texans, Bye Week 10

62. Ty Johnson, New York Jets, Bye Week 6

63. Rhamondre Stevenson, New England Patriots, Bye Week 14

64. Marlon Mack, Indianapolis Colts, Bye Week 14

65. Justice Hill, Baltimore Ravens, Bye Week 8

66. Salvon Ahmed, Miami Dolphins, Bye Week 14

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67. Damien Williams, Chicago Bears, Bye Week 10

68. Samaje Perine, Cincinnati Bengals, Bye Week 10

69. Justin Jackson, Los Angeles Chargers, Bye Week 7

70. Kenneth Gainwell, Philadelphia Eagles, Bye Week 14

71. Carlos Hyde, Jacksonville Jaguars, Bye Week 7

72. Ty'Son Williams, Baltimore Ravens, Bye Week 8

73. Tony Jones, New Orleans Saints, Bye Week 6

74. Jerick McKinnon, Kansas City Chiefs, Bye Week 12

75. Qadree Ollison, Atlanta Falcons, Bye Week 6

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