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Top 5 Rookie Running Backs for 2021 Fantasy Football Season

Jason Schandl
Fantasy football's best rookie running backs in 2021, including Najee Harris and Travis Etienne.
Fantasy football's best rookie running backs in 2021, including Najee Harris and Travis Etienne. / Alika Jenner/Getty Images
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Running back tends to be the position that creates the most rookie year fantasy football success.

This year's class in the NFL Draft didn't feature as many high picks as usual, but there are still some rookie rushers with terrific fantasy football outlooks in 2021.

Here's a look at the best of the group.

Best Rookie Running Backs for Fantasy Football

5. Trey Sermon, San Francisco 49ers

Trey Sermon will face plenty of competition in the San Francisco 49ers' backfield, but it's hard not to like his upside. Neither Raheem Mostert nor Jeff Wilson really set themselves apart in 2020, and that leaves the door open for Sermon to take over as the RB1. With the 49ers' win total sitting at 10.5 on FanDuel Sportsbook, this is also an offense that should be having plenty of success.

4. Michael Carter, New York Jets

Michael Carter doesn't face nearly as much competition as Sermon, only needing to beat out Tevin Coleman and Lamical Perine to serve as the New York Jets' RB1. His offense may not be as exciting as Sermon's but the potential for volume gives him an edge here. Carter can also contribute as a third-down back even before he takes over as the leader of the backfield, having turned in 656 yards on 82 receptions in college.

3. Javonte Williams, Denver Broncos

The Denver Broncos traded up to select Javonte Williams at the top of the second round — an obvious signal that they would like to have him heavily involved in their offense. This is a contract year for Melvin Gordon, who had a pedestrian 2020 season, leaving the door open for Williams to prove himself as the future leader of this backfield. Williams averaged a staggering 7.3 yards per carry in his last season at UNC, and he'll be a real asset to Denver if that big-play ability translates to the NFL level.

2. Travis Etienne, Jacksonville Jaguars

Don't let James Robinson and Carlos Hyde scare you. The Jacksonville Jaguars didn't pair Trevor Lawrence with a first-round running with the intention of having Hyde plod his way to 600 yards on 200 carries this season. Etienne is a legit dual threat (2,528 rushing and 1.020 receiving yards over his last two seasons at Clemson) and he can be an every-down producer. There are obviously still question marks surrounding Lawrence and the Jags' offense, but if they can find a rhythm then Etienne should feast.

1. Najee Harris, Pittsburgh Steelers

This one's easy. The Pittsburgh Steelers entered the season without a lead back. They were rumored to be interested in the top running back in the 2021 NFL Draft. They did what everyone expected and drafted Alabama's Najee Harris. Now Harris, who had 1,891 yards from scrimmage and 30 touchdowns as a senior, steps in as the clear workhorse in an offense that ranked top-12 in scoring despite facing some struggles in 2020. Mike Tomlin's Steelers have a long history of leaning heavily on their RB1, and Harris shouldn't have much of an issue thriving in the same role that Le'Veon Bell and James Conner did. Harris is the top rookie running back and checks in at RB18 overall in The Duel's 2021 fantasy football rankings.


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Jason Schandl is not a FanDuel employee. In addition to providing DFS gameplay advice, Jason Schandl also participates in DFS contests on FanDuel using his personal account, username Jaymun. While the strategies and player selections recommended in his articles are his personal views, he may deploy different strategies and player selections when entering contests with his personal account. The views expressed in his articles are the author's alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of FanDuel.

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