The 2019 running back class has been fascinating to track over the last two+ years. The “Big 3” of the class were Josh Jacobs, Miles Sanders, and David Montgomery. Jacobs was the consensus rookie RB1 that year, with most of the fantasy community split on the other two. Jacobs got off to a hot start, but Sanders finished 2019 strong and shot up in value by year’s end.
Going into 2020, Sanders was a popular breakout candidate and considered the Crown Jewel of the 2019 RB class. However, he ended up being upstaged by Montgomery, who finished as a top-5 running back after an underwhelming rookie campaign. Jacobs was a top-10 RB, and Sanders was Top 20 in points per game, but injuries and inconsistent play turned off most fantasy managers to both, and each saw their values take a significant hit.
We are two weeks into the 2021 season, and all of these running backs are dealing with new faces in their respective backfields. I will rank them in terms of dynasty value, then discuss their fantasy outlooks for 2021 and beyond.
For more dynasty information, be sure to tune into Club Dynasty tonight, 9.23.2021, at 7 PM EST to hear Josh and Zach talk all things dynasty.
1. David Montgomery
The fantasy community has always shown mixed feelings towards Montgomery. He had a mediocre prospect profile and subpar athleticism compared to other NFL running backs. Even after breaking onto the RB1 scene last year, there is plenty of doubt about his ability to repeat in 2021. It was easy to rank him as the top option pre-season, but now that we are two weeks in, he has confirmed his spot atop the class.
In Week 1, Montgomery put up over 100 rushing yards against the LA Rams. That’s something we haven’t seen against that defense since 2019! He slimmed down this off-season and is running with more quickness and burst than ever. Damien Williams has taken most of the receiving work, which will cap Montgomery’s ceiling and likely prevent him from another Top 5 finish. He has dominated carries, holding the 10th highest opportunity share (71.9%) among running backs this season. That level of volume could lead him to another Top 12 finish.
The Bears have shown a solid commitment to Montgomery as their main guy. Out of the three RBs, it’s safe to say Montgomery has the best odds to receive an extension once his rookie contract expires in 2023. Running backs that remain with their original team beyond their rookie deal have a much better track record of sustained fantasy production.
Scoring a TD when literally no one blocks>>>
David Montgomery matters pic.twitter.com/J8lCLZbL5f
— Brandon Robinson (@BRobNFL) September 15, 2021
2. Miles Sanders
The Philadelphia Eagles seemed to be collecting running backs at one point this off-season. In addition to Miles Sanders and Boston Scott, they signed Jordan Howard, Kerryon Johnson and drafted Kenneth Gainwell out of Memphis with a fifth-round pick in the NFL Draft. This led to panic among fantasy managers concerned about Sanders’ workload going forward. Things became clearer when the Eagles released Kerryon Johnson and Jordan Howard to start the year with only three tailbacks.
The less crowded backfield eased the minds of Sanders’ managers, but the snap share among the three Philadelphia running backs was unclear going into Week 1. Boston Scott has been invisible through the first two games, and Sanders has out-carried Gainwell 28 to 15. However, the rookie has cut into Sanders’ target share. Gainwell is one of the better receiving running back prospects from this class, so it should be no surprise that he’s found a role early. Their target counts for the season are near identical (Gainwell-6, Sanders-7), but I expect Gainwell to become the more prominent receiver by midseason. As long as Sanders doesn’t completely disappear from the passing game, he should remain a solid RB2.
This season will be vital in the Eagles’ decision to extend Sanders beyond his rookie contract. He’s under contract through 2022, but if he struggles to stay healthy or slips in any way, Gainwell will be on his heels and eager to carve out a larger piece of the pie.
3. Josh Jacobs
From my perspective, these running backs are ranked in reverse order of how they were at the start of 2019. Some would argue that Jacobs is the top talent of the group, but he is in the worst environment to produce for fantasy. Not only did Las Vegas trade away their best offensive lineman, Rodney Hudson, but they also signed Kenyan Drake to come in a take most of the receiving work that Jacobs’ managers have been dying to see him get.
Jacobs’ Week Jacobs saved his Week 1 performance by scoring two touchdowns. It was a tough matchup against Baltimore, but ten attempts for 34 yards (3.4 YPC) with one catch for six yards is not the level of volume we are used to seeing from Jacobs. He did suffer a toe/ankle injury in the game and visibly struggled through the pain for most of the second half. I’m sure that had a significant impact on his workload and effectiveness, but we will need to see a lot more than what he showed to meet expectations.
This week, it appears that Jacobs is set to miss his second straight game due to the toe/ankle issue. As a result, the Raiders had to bring in another body, signing Peyton Barber to replace Jacobs for Week 2. Barber was heavily involved last week, and I have the uneasy feeling that we will continue to see a fair amount of him, even after Jacobs returns. Since Jacobs was a first-round pick, Las Vegas could activate his fifth-year option and keep him under contract through 2023. As long as he’s under the stronghold of Jon Gruden, Josh Jacobs will be a frustrating fantasy asset.
Trending Up – Mike Williams
Has Mike Williams SZN finally arrived? The fourth-year receiver, known for making acrobatic catches and landing in the worst possible ways, has thrived in the Chargers’ new offense. Offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi (formally with the New Orleans Saints) told us that Williams would play the ‘X’ receiver role that Michael Thomas played in the past. So far, he’s seen the second-most targets in the NFL and sits as WR5 overall.
Playing in a contract year, the Chargers will either extend him, or he will get to choose his next team as a free agent. All signs point to a bright future for Mike Williams.
Through 2 Weeks, #Chargers Mike Williams leads the team in:
– Targets (22) – 25.6% target%
– Receptions (15)
– Rec TDs (2)
– Red Zone Targets (5) – Target%: 29.4%
He is second on the team in aDoT (9.3) and Snap% (75.7%)
Usage is there. Production is there. I’m 100% buying in.
— Mike Kurland (@Mike_Kurland) September 20, 2021
Trending Down – Ronald Jones
The 2021 season has been a nightmare for Ronald Jones. After a fumble in the first game and pass blocking woes in Week 2, he has been buried under Bruce Arian’s doghouse. As long as Leonard Fournette operates as the lead back, Jones can’t be trusted anywhere near starting lineups.
Jones is a hold in dynasty unless you can get early second-round rookie pick value or better. Worst case scenario, he’s a handcuff with upside in the case of a Fournette injury. However, he’s up for free agency after this season, so he should get another opportunity at a fresh start. He has the talent to be an RB2 if he can get consistent volume.
Rookie Talk: Rondale Moore
One rookie is at the top of everyone’s mind this week, ain’t Rondale Moore. The Arizona Cardinals drafted the 5’7″ receiver out of Purdue, and he has shown out every week. Moore has racked up the ninth-most receiving yards, third-most yards after the catch, and ninth-most yards per target in the NFL through two weeks. The most impressive part is that he’s played less than half of offensive snaps in both games.
Looking ahead, Christian Kirk is set to become a free agent at the end of 2021, and AJ Green is already one step into retirement. Rondale Moore could find himself on the path to elite fantasy production by 2022.
Most receiving yards all-time through a 21 year old WRs first two career games:
T1. Stefon Diggs – 216
T1. Desean Jackson – 216
3. Randy Moss – 184
4. Deandre Hopkins – 183
5. Rondale Moore – 182
Rondale Moore is having a historic start to his career so far.
— Dalton Kates (@DaltonGuruFF) September 20, 2021