Acquiring breakout fantasy producers for a discount, whether through drafting or trading, is a cornerstone route to emerging with a dominant fantasy season. These players emerge from non-starter status to weekly lineup stalwarts. Running backs, like all skill positions, rely on volume for a fantasy promise land finish. Ideally, each rostered running back on a fantasy team has a straightforward story for strong production. Here is a look at the optimal plays to find breakout running backs in 2021:
Breakout players will be defined as never finishing as a fantasy starter in a previous season. This threshold is a top-24 aPPG (weighed by missed games) seasonal finish in PPR scoring for running back.
The most common profiles for breakout running backs are backs 25 years old or younger, Day 2 NFL Draft picks or earlier, with an expected RB1 depth chart role to start the season.
Najee Harris, ADP in RB10-18 range
Harris has Round 1 pedigree, a huge boost to a back's top-24 and especially top-12 odds in their career. Harris has a workhorse profile, and the depth chart in Pittsburgh should provide little resistance to strong Year 1 work. The average Round 1 running back finishes as RB38 as a rookie - 40% logged a top-24 season with 24% in the top-12 in said season.
Darrell Henderson, ADP in RB25-40 range
Raheem Mostert, ADP in RB25-35 range
Mostert is an older veteran with a lack of pedigree but suboptimal from a historical profiling perspective. However, Mostert is already a macro success story earning a meaningful role later in his career and being the projected 1A back to start the season. Trey Sermon's addition on Day 2 is suboptimal, but the 49ers' conducive system can produce a top-12 starter season even with the primary backup seeing quality work. The 49ers were No.2 in the NFL for high-leverage opportunities for running backs last season, including the fourth-most targets. Mostert has the 'post-hype sleeper' feel for 2021 as he did not emerge from breakout potential to actual impact starter for fantasy in 2020.
J.K. Dobbins, ADP in RB15-20 range
Dobbins had a superior season to fellow rookie Cam Akers in 2020, finishing inside the Top 40. The Baltimore situation is similar to the Rams on multiple levels. First, Gus Edwards is a quality RB1b or RB2 of the committee. Edwards was extended this offseason and is now locked on the roster through the rest of Dobbins' rookie contract. Second, the Ravens have been woeful in high-leverage opportunities for running backs of late. In 2020, Baltimore was dead last in running back targets and 13th in goal-line carries (inside the five-yard-line). While attachment to Lamar Jackson boosts efficiency for Dobbins (and Edwards), the hyper-mobile quarterback will also siphon touchdowns away from the backfield. Dobbins, like Akers, will either need to be a perfect storm of volume-touchdowns or something must give with the running back passing game usage in Baltimore.
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