The NFL season is rapidly approaching, with teams reporting to training camp on July 29 and the hall of fame game scheduled for August 5. Mini Camps and OTAs have revealed a lot about what each backfield will look like in 2021. Teams are saying which backs have impressed them, and who they think has improved during early offseason activities. As we get closer to kickoff, let’s take a look at the best backfields going into the 2021 season.
5. Washington Football Team
RB1: Antonio Gibson
RB2: J.D. McKissic
Rookie RB1, Antonio Gibson, had a breakout campaign like no other in 2020. The Memphis product was drafted by the Washington Football Team 66th overall in the 2020 draft. He proved quickly that he is an offensive weapon and can be a true workhorse. Gibson showed he can lead a backfield and have 20+ carries per game. Antonio Gibson became a household name when he ran for three touchdowns and 100+ yards to defeat their rival Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving Day.
Let’s rewind a bit. In Week 2, Antonio Gibson recorded his first NFL touchdown against the Arizona Cardinals. From that point on, he improved every week, earning more snaps along the way. Week 7 was the week he ran for 100+ yards for the first time in his young career.
Gibson finished the season leading all rookies in rushing touchdowns (11), and analysts are projecting him to be even better this year based on early OTAs and mini-camp.
J.D. McKissic is the pass-catching RB2 for the Burgundy & Gold. He earned his star on Hollywood Blvd. when he caught a TD pass in the wild card game against the soon-to-be world champion Buccaneers. A reliable target for Alex Smith, McKissic hauled in 80 receptions, averaging 7.4 yards per catch.
A fresh face to look out for in this backfield is Jaret Patterson. Patterson, an undrafted free agent, made a lot of noise at Buffalo. I expect him to get ramped up in this backfield quickly and have a sizeable role in this Washington backfield.
This is a deep backfield that can hurt you in a lot of ways.
4. Minnesota Vikings
RB1: Dalvin Cook
RB2: Alexander Mattison
This selection may be a little biased since Dalvin Cook is by far my favorite running back of all time, but he’s my favorite for good reason. Coming out of Florida State in 2017, Cook had a lot to prove after his exceptional run with the Seminoles.
A student at FSU at the time, I remember going to football games and thinking “this is the best running back I have ever seen… at any level!” The whole stadium would chant his name more often than the school chants! In his junior year, Cook averaged 6.1 yards per carry, while rushing for a total of 1765 yards and 19 touchdowns.
Cook never took his foot off the gas when arriving in Minnesota. Although injuries held him back, when Cook is healthy he is a top three RB in the league. Last year, Cook rushed for over 1500 yards and 16 TDs (one touchdown less than Derrick Henry.)
Alexander Mattison is no scrub either. Mattison totaled two TDs with an 86% catch rate last season, a pass-catching depth piece of the Vikings’ backfield. He also averaged 4.5 yards per rush attempt. Mattison lightens the load for Dalvin and has proven to be a solid Robin to Cook’s Batman. The dynamic duo of Cook and Mattison turned this backfield into a top 5 unit.
3. Tennessee Titans
RB1: Derrick Henry
RB2: Darrynton Evans
Ageless 27-year-old Derrick Henry is proving that he has an Adrian Peterson mentality in terms of career longevity. Last year, Henry rushed for 2,027 yards and 17 touchdowns. Everyone remembers their game against the Bills where Derrick Henry stiff-armed Josh Norman, throwing him to the ground on the run.
Henry is a tough RB that will always fight for as many yards as possible. Proven to be highly productive, the Titans will continue to be a run-heavy offense this year, even with the addition of Julio Jones. As long as Henry stays healthy, this will be one of the best backfields in the NFL.
2. New Orleans Saints
RB1: Alvin Kamara
RB2: Latavius Murray
Alvin Kamara was the fantasy football league winner for many fantasy managers last year. The 25-year-old Tennessee star helped carry the Saints’ offense last year while Drew Brees recovered from a collapsed lung and a few broken ribs. In the heart of his prime, the Saints continue to expect maximum production from their superstar workhorse. Kamara tallied 16 TDs while averaging five yards a carry last season. I expect Kamara to be the best RB in the league this year.
Latavius Murray is an RB2 who has generated some buzz in the fantasy community. The 31-year-old veteran from Titusville, FL had five touchdowns last year, one of which was through the air. If Kamara ever goes down, Murray is a skilled enough RB to take his place.
1. Cleveland Browns
RB1: Nick Chubb
RB2: Kareem Hunt
The best RB duo in the league, Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt are exceptional in every category. Both of these men could lead their own backfield. Two elite running backs that split the load 50/50, Chubb had 190 attempts last year while Hunt had 198. This duo combined for a total of 1908 rushing yards in 2020. They will continue to win in the trenches in 2021.
Both backs are explosive and can break away with the slightest gap created by the offensive line. If the Browns continue to run the football with a split backfield, their offense will dominate almost any defensive scheme. Baker Mayfield is on the verge of stardom in his development as a QB. The Browns will be a very good offensive team in the 2021 season.