2021 Best Ball Rankings, Tiers & Draft Strategies For RBs

2021 Best Ball Rankings, Tiers & Draft Strategies For RBs article feature image
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Getty Images. Pictured: Cam Akers, Saquon Barkley, Jonathan Taylor

The primary goal of best ball is to maximize your team’s ceiling — that’s why draft strategy is much different than in head-to-head leagues since the highest-scoring players automatically compose each week’s starting lineup.

No in-season management means that best ball is all about the draft, making it the perfect format to get some early reps in with — starting with my very early positional rankings. I’ve outlined those rankings, which are based on my initial season-long projections, into draft tiers below.

These tiers also factor in Best Ball Points Added (BBPA), which is a metric I created to evaluate which players offer the most value in this format. Each point that a running back scores more than that week’s RB12 is counted toward their season-long BBPA score, while any RB13 performance or worse is scored as a zero since “duds” don’t have as big of a negative impact in best ball. (Skip ahead to see BBPA scores for every RB.)

With all that out of the way, let’s dive right into my initial best ball tiers for RBs!

Note: All ADP data is via Best Ball 10s.


More Best Ball Tiers: QB | WR | TE


Best Ball Rankings: RBs

Click this dropdown to preview the full set of RB tiers
Tier RB
1 Christian McCaffrey, Panthers
2 Dalvin Cook, Vikings
Derrick Henry, Titans
Alvin Kamara, Saints
Saquon Barkley, Giants
3 Jonathan Taylor, Colts
Ezekiel Elliott, Cowboys
Nick Chubb, Browns
Aaron Jones, Packers
Austin Ekeler, Chargers
4 Cam Akers, Rams
D’Andre Swift, Lions
Joe Mixon, Bengals
Antonio Gibson, Washington
Najee Harris, Steelers
5 J.K. Dobbins, Ravens
Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Chiefs
Chris Carson, Seahawks
Josh Jacobs, Raiders
Miles Sanders, Eagles
David Montgomery, Bears
6 Kareem Hunt, Browns
Myles Gaskin, Dolphins
7 Mike Davis, Falcons
Travis Etienne, Jaguars
Chase Edmonds, Cardinals
Melvin Gordon, Broncos
James Robinson, Jaguars
8 Leonard Fournette, Buccaneers
David Johnson, Texans
Javonte Williams, Broncos
Raheem Mostert, 49ers
James Conner, Cardinals
Damien Harris, Patriots
9 Ronald Jones II, Buccaneers
Kenyan Drake, Raiders
Trey Sermon, 49ers
A.J. Dillon, Packers
Zack Moss, Bills
Michael Carter, Jets
Gus Edwards, Ravens
Devin Singletary, Bills
High Upside Backups Tony Pollard, Cowboys
Latavius Murray, Saints
Jamaal Williams, Lions
Alexander Mattison, Vikings
Darrell Henderson, Rams
Phillip Lindsay, Texans
Salvon Ahmed, Dolphins
High Floor, Low Ceiling Nyheim Hines, Colts
J.D. McKissic, Washington
Tarik Cohen, Bears
James White, Patriots
Kenneth Gainwell, Eagles
Giovani Bernard, Buccaneers
49ers Flier Jeffery Wilson
Veteran Free Agents Todd Gurley
Le’Veon Bell
Adrian Peterson

Tier 1

Christian McCaffrey, Panthers

CMC finished 14th in BBPA last season despite playing in only THREE (!) games — an important reminder of just how dominant he is when healthy.

Tier 2

Dalvin Cook, Vikings
Derrick Henry, Titans
Alvin Kamara, Saints
Saquon Barkley, Giants

Kamara’s value could take a hit if Taysom Hill emerges as the Saints’ starting quarterback following Drew Brees’ retirement.

In Hill’s four starts last season, Kamara averaged just 2.5 catches for 12.8 yards compared to 6.6 catches for 64.1 yards in his 11 other regular-season games with Brees starting. The dip in production makes sense considering Hill is more likely to pull the ball down and run instead of dumping it off to his RB.

It’s enough of a concern for me to select Henry over Kamara with the No. 3 pick (for now).

Chris Graythen/Getty Images. Pictured: Alvin Kamara

Tier 3

Jonathan Taylor, Colts
Ezekiel Elliott, Cowboys
Nick Chubb, Browns
Aaron Jones, Packers
Austin Ekeler, Chargers

I would be pleased if any of these RBs fall to me in the second round. Jones carries a bit of risk until we get clarity on the Aaron Rodgers situation — if Rodgers ends up getting traded away or otherwise not starting this season, Jones could drop to Tier 4/5.

Tier 4

Cam Akers, Rams
D’Andre Swift, Lions
Joe Mixon, Bengals
Antonio Gibson, Washington
Najee Harris, Steelers

Usually, I’m very critical of RBs once we reach the RB2 range — I’ve dubbed it the “Frozen Pond Tier” in years past — but every single RB in this tier actually has high-end RB1 upside.

Akers and Mixon have the best chances to hit that upside if their receiving work increases (and there’s no reason to believe it won’t). Gibson will likely see touchdown regression after scoring 11 times on the ground as a rookie, but he could offset that production if he’s able to eat into J.D. McKissic’s passing work. And Harris should become the Steelers’ workhorse out of the gate.

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Tier 5

J.K. Dobbins, Ravens
Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Chiefs
Chris Carson, Seahawks
Josh Jacobs, Raiders
Miles Sanders, Eagles
David Montgomery, Bears

The depth at RB is on full display with this tier. Any one of these backs could post RB1 numbers this season, and I would not be surprised.

Do you remember which RBs were in this range last year? Todd Gurley, Melvin Gordon, David Johnson and Le’Veon Bell. I explicitly said I was fading those backs last year, and it paid off. But this year I’ll probably be overweight on backs in this tier as waiting to draft them grants you the flexibility to target a TE early or add another top WR and still lock in a RB2 with a ton of upside.

The value at RB starts to fall off a cliff after this tier, making these backs even more valuable.

Tier 6

Kareem Hunt, Browns
Myles Gaskin, Dolphins

We’ve reached the point where it begins to feel slightly uncomfortable drafting an RB from this tier.

Hunt ended up being one of my highest-owned RBs in 2020 best ball formats due to the built-in upside he had if/when Nick Chubb were ever to miss time. However, Hunt’s RB22 price tag feels steep. Over the final eight games of last season, Chubb ended up outpacing Hunt in routes run per dropback rate (42% to 41%).

It’s going to be difficult for Hunt to produce enough ceiling games to warrant this price and would need Chubb to miss a handful of games to pay off (again).

Kareem Hunt
Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images. Pictured: Kareem Hunt

Tier 7

Mike Davis, Falcons
Travis Etienne, Jaguars
Chase Edmonds, Cardinals
Melvin Gordon, Broncos
James Robinson, Jaguars

For now, it seems Davis is on track to be the Falcons workhorse back in 2021. There’s still a chance they end up signing a veteran free agent like Le’Veon Bell or Todd Gurley, which would drop Davis down a tier or two.

Etienne and Robinson seem headed towards a frustrating RBBC. As of now, I don’t think either offers value at their current ADP.

Tier 8

Leonard Fournette, Buccaneers
David Johnson, Texans
Javonte Williams, Broncos
Raheem Mostert, 49ers
James Conner, Cardinals
Damien Harris, Patriots

All these back are part of a Running Back By Committee (RBBC), but each one has a chance to post high-end RB2 numbers if they can carve out a more significant role than we expect.

Mostert is the riskiest pick of this tier — it’s always sharp to fade the most expensive 49ers RB and instead invest in cheaper options like Trey Sermon or Jeffery Wilson (more on that later).

Tier 9

Ronald Jones II, Buccaneers
Kenyan Drake, Raiders
Trey Sermon, 49ers
A.J. Dillon, Packers
Zack Moss, Bills
Michael Carter, Jets
Gus Edwards, Ravens
Devin Singletary, Bills

A lot of these backs are in the tail-end of an RBBC, so ranking them is tricky since their end-of-season rank will depend primarily on the health of their RBBC counterparts.

Rookies Trey Sermon and Michael Carter have the most straightforward paths to value in this tier. Either is capable of becoming their team’s lead back without needing a teammate to miss time, which makes them appealing fliers at this stage in the draft.

High Upside Backups

Tony Pollard, Cowboys
Latavius Murray, Saints
Jamaal Williams, Lions
Alexander Mattison, Vikings
Darrell Henderson, Rams
Phillip Lindsay, Texans
Salvon Ahmed, Dolphins

These RBs would likely only provide useful scores if their team’s starter suffers an injury. But if their team’s starter were ever to miss an extended period of time, they would become league-winners. These are the types of RBs I target heavily in season-long head-to-head leagues, but I only recommend taking a flier on one of them (at most) for best ball.

Tony Pollard
Jorge Lemus/NurPhoto via Getty Images. Pictured: Tony Pollard

High Floor, Low Ceiling RBs

Nyheim Hines, Colts
J.D. McKissic, Washington
Tarik Cohen, Bears
James White, Patriots
Kenneth Gainwell, Eagles
Giovani Bernard, Buccaneers

These RBs will churn out a handful of points every week thanks to their pass-catching role. They can help provide you with some points during bye weeks or if other issues arise. I find these backs more valuable in season-long head-to-head PPR formats, but they lack the upside we need in best ball.

Even if their team’s starting RB were to miss time, it’s unlikely that any of these backs would see a massive spike in value.

49ers Flier

Jeffery Wilson

We can never be sure which 49ers back will provide the most value in a given season, but we know they’re worth taking a flier on.

Veteran Free Agents

Todd Gurley
Le’Veon Bell
Adrian Peterson

We reach a point in every draft when people start taking the fourth-string RB for the Bucs, when a free agent like Le’Veon Bell still available. I’m not trying to convince you that these guys are league winners, but they offer some value at the very end of drafts.

They aren’t on a team yet, which gives them some built-in upside because they could end up with a team that needs RB help — just imagine if a player like Chris Carson were to suffer a season-ending injury in OTAs and the Seahawks sign Bell. That’s a best-case scenario, but what other backs being drafted outside of the top 80 offer that kind of potential?


Best Ball Points Added: RBs

“Duds” represent weeks that a RB finished outside of the top 24 at the position.

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