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2021 Fantasy Football: Running backs to avoid

The Fake Teams writers tell you who to fade at running back in 2021 fantasy football.

NFL: San Francisco 49ers-Training Camp Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports

One thing’s for sure, you can’t say that one of us chose low-hanging fruit. In the words of the late, great (and fictional) Maximus Decimus Meridius—ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?

With no further ado, here are three running backs to consider avoiding in your 2021 fantasy football leagues...

Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers (Mark Abell)

ECR: RB1

Given a year of rest, an improved quarterback, and the notion that the anchor can help everything come into place, there are reasons to think McCaffrey could have a productive year. But for me, there are too many red flags to look past. The Carolina Panthers have one of the three worst offensive lines in the league—red flag. They have a change at QB and are probably going to need to work towards syncing up—red flag. McCaffrey was injured most of last year—red flag. Per 2020 statistics, the Panthers have one of the five hardest schedules for running backs in terms of both yardage gained and rushing scores allowed—red flag. Sam Darnold and the Jets were among the bottom five in the league in passing to their running backs last year (something Darnold will have to figure out how to correct)—red flag. All of this for a player who is presumed to be a top 2 pick in this year’s fantasy football drafts. To quote Keaty from the 2000 move The Beach, “that is a powerful index of incompatibility.”

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles Training Camp Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Miles Sanders, Philadelphia Eagles (Skyler Carlin)

ECR: RB19

You could look at Weeks 14-17 from the 2020 season as a reason why Miles Sanders could be a value in 2021. From Weeks 14-17, Jalen Hurts was the starting quarterback of the Philadelphia Eagles and Sanders averaged 17.8 points per game in half-PPR formats (ninth-best among RBs in that timespan). While he’s shown flashes in his first two years with the Eagles, Sanders was far from reliable as a receiver in 2020. Sanders concluded last season with a 53.8% catch rate, which was the worst mark among running backs and tied for the 15th-worst mark in the entire NFL. With Hurts as the starter in 2021, Sanders may see his rushing workload take a hit as Hurts could look to run often with a lackluster receiving corps at his disposal. Not to mention, the Eagles added Kenneth Gainwell in the 2021 NFL Draft and they signed Kerryon Johnson in free agency. Neither Gainwell or Johnson figure to have a clear-cut role to begin the season, but if Sanders falters, then he could see his touches spread out to the other running backs on the roster. Even though I like Hurts as a leader on the field, I would feel a lot better about Sanders if Philadelphia made an upgrade at the quarterback position. But with me not feeling confident in Hurts and the offense of the Eagles, there aren’t many instances where I’m going to be targeting Sanders in fantasy football.

Raheem Mostert, San Francisco 49ers (Heath Capps)

ECR: RB27

This one pains me, as Mostert has been a draft favorite of mine for a couple of years running. And before I move further, besides offering blazing speed, he’s been very efficient when on the field (career 5.6 Y/A). However, during the last two years he’s managed game totals of 16 and 8, respectively. 16 games is by FAR the high-water mark, as he’s never eclipsed even 11 games in any other professional season. All that, and he’s 29 years old, and the Niners moved up in the draft to select Trey Sermon in Round 3. In a situation that’s this murky, I’d rather have the cheaper guy—and Sermon is the RB39 per FantasyPros ECR. And lastly, is it really that murky? I think it’s shoddy business to bank on a player getting injured, and I’ll be rooting for Mostert to remain on the field this year. But with some players, ignoring a consistent injury history seems silly. If you’re a believer that staying healthy requires some skill, I think you take the cheaper running back in this grouping and reap the benefits of that Shanahan system. We’ve seen guys like Jeff Wilson Jr. and Matt Breida succeed here in recent years. If I had to bet on a back making a difference in this group not named Mostert, it would be Sermon, not a depth guy like Wayne Gallman.

Who are YOU avoiding at running back, gamers? And do we eviscerate Mark in the comments?