One of the most exploitable inefficiencies in dynasty fantasy football is the difference between where players are selected in startup drafts and their 2021 projection. High-priced players are more long-term bets, so their 2021 projection is less significant than lower-priced players with much lower long-term hit rates. For the later picks, in particular, players projected to outscore their draft position should be targeted. Below are running backs who miss their current dynasty cost according to our consensus projections.
A.J. Dillon (Dynasty ADP: RB29.5, Our 2021 Projection: RB45)
A.J. Dillon has a high upside in a good Green Bay backfield but is valued more as a long-term asset than other veterans who are one-injury-away options. As a second-year second-round running back, Dillon likely has Aaron Jones in the Green Bay backfield through the end of his rookie contract. Without a Jones injury, expect Dillon to look in cost like Alexander Mattison (RB44), who is in his third year in an injury away role behind an entrenched starter, this time next summer.
Trey Sermon (Dynasty ADP: RB23, Our 2021 Projection: RB37)
Trey Sermon was a third-round pick in the NFL Draft and has starter upside in 2021. We project Sermon to lead the depth chart in rushers over teammate Raheem Mostert (165.2 to 154.2), with each projected at 18 receptions. Sermon will have a higher upside than his consensus projection if Mostert misses any games. Still, Sermon’s premium over projection is best explained by his 2022 starting potential with Mostert, a free agent after the season.
Michael Carter II (Dynasty ADP: RB26, Our 2021 Projection: RB35)
The market likes Michael Carter II’s starting chances in New York, but our projections are skeptical. We project Carter to lead the offense, but with only 41% of the backfield’s carries and 51% of the running back receptions. As a fourth-round pick in the NFL Draft, there is also a question of ultimate upside and longevity. The market pays a premium close to Sermon's despite a notable difference in draft pedigree and historical odds.
Tony Pollard (Dynasty ADP: RB26, Our 2021 Projection: RB44)
There is a perception in the marketplace that Ezekiel Elliott is declining as a player, which has propped up Tony Pollard’s value. We do not share the pessimism, ranking Elliott with the fourth-highest percentage of his team’s running back carries (72%) and eighth in receptions (66%). In our projections, Pollard has more value in the event of an Elliott injury, particularly in light of Elliott’s contractual longevity. There is a good case to be made for pivoting off of Pollard to acquire rookie pick along with cheaper and similarly situated running backs.
Javonte Williams (Dynasty ADP: RB18.5, Our 2021 Projection: RB27)
Our consensus projection has Javonte Williams with a 188.5 carry to 172 carry advantage over Melvin Gordon III, with a small advantage for Gordon over Williams in the passing game (29.4 to 28.2 receptions). Gordon, like Mostert, is a free agent in the offseason, leaving Williams with a clear opportunity for a 2022 starting job. Given his second-round draft status, his slight cost over Sermon is appropriate and reflects the trend from May rookie drafts.
Ronald Jones II (Dynasty ADP: RB35, Our 2021 Projection: RB44)
Leonard Fournette made the list of players projected to beat current costs, with Ronald Jones II on the list of players projected to underproduce their costs. At this position range, players need to have a clear out to produce RB2 outcomes, even if it is only in a short sample size. Jones is a non-existent threat in the passing game, which caps his upside, even if the depth chart breaks in his favor in 2021.
Travis Etienne (Dynasty ADP: RB16, Our 2021 Projection: RB24)
As a first-round pick in the NFL Draft, Travis Etienne is more of a long-term asset than a projected 2021 difference-maker. Etienne shares a backfield with James Robinson in an unclear offense after the change to new head coach Urban Meyer, new Offensive Coordinator Darrell Bevell, and new starting quarterback Trevor Lawrence. Given his longevity, a top 24 season would be a success for Etienne and put him on an elite track to start his career.
Najee Harris (Dynasty ADP: RB7, Our 2021 Projection: RB13)
Najee Harris is more valuable in dynasty leagues than his current RB13 projection. Like Etienne, an RB2 finish would be fine given his first-round draft pedigree as a rookie. Harris has the upside for a top 10 finish but may be slightly overvalued at present.
Saquon Barkley (Dynasty ADP: RB4, Our 2021 Projection: RB10)
Saquon Barkley is a massive risk giving his injury status and his cost. Returning from a 2020 season-ending knee injury, it appears it would be an upset if Barkley played week 1 and may not be ready for a full workload until October. This is the cheapest Barkley has been in his career, yet he is not projected to live up to his high cost. If Barkley plays 14 or 15 games and produces an RB10 finish as we project, the market will likely settle in around an RB4 cost in the offseason. However, if Barkley slides this season, he has a chance to fall sharply in value.