As with the quarterbacks and tight ends, the running back is a position that often plays better at the end of the year. Consider in 2020 that players had minimal preseason practice because of the pandemic. That impacted all running backs and even more for the rookies.
Below shows the “points per game” ranking for running backs for Weeks 1 to Week 8, and Week 9 to Week 16 with a minimum of four games played. Overall shows the total points ranking for the season. Points-per-game (PPG) and “Games” refer to Weeks 9 to 16.
David Montgomery (CHI) – The Bear’s second-year back repeated his ho-hum rookie season through Week 9 of 2020. He’d only scored twice and rarely rushed for more than 80 yards. After missing three weeks with a concussion, Montgomery caught fire while admittedly facing a very soft stretch of games in the schedule. He ripped off eight touchdowns in his final six games and topped 100 total yards in each. The schedule was weak, but the Bears gave him up to 32 carries per game with stellar results.
Nick Chubb (CLE) – After scoring four times in the first three weeks, Chubb missed five games on injured reserve with a sprained knee. He roared back in Week 10 and reeled off seven touchdowns over his final seven games while breaking 100 total yards in five straight games. Chubb’s initial pace was for a Top-5 finish before he was injured.
Jonathan Taylor (IND) – The Colt’s rookie had a fine first season with 1,169 rushing yards, thanks in part to becoming the primary back when Marlon Mack was lost for the year in Week 1. He struggled at mid-season with a tough schedule but ended the year on a high note with five games with over 90 yards and scored six times. This review stopped in Week 16 while Taylor ended his year with 253 yards and two touchdowns in Week 17 versus the Jaguars.
D’Andre Swift (DET) – So far this summer, Swift has been a “love or hate” sort of fantasy player. He only played in five games of the final eight fantasy weeks and missed three with a concussion. But he scored four times in a three-game stretch through Week 15 and was consistent with four catches per week along with ten to 15 touches. A change in coaches and scheme, along with other upgrades to the backfield makes Swift a risky player to rely on again in 2021
Austin Ekeler (LAC) – Ekeler missed eight weeks on injured reserve because of a hamstring strain last year. He naturally ranked low in the first half with missing four games, and encouraging was that while he only played in five games from Weeks 9 to 16, he became a trusted outlet for the then-rookie Justin Herbert. He averaged six catches per game and usually totaled 15 or more touches per game. In a reception-points league, Ekeler was far more effective than his final season statistics suggest.
Antonio Gibson (WAS) – This is the sort of progression you want to see in a rookie rusher. Gibson turned in mostly 60 total yard performances for the first six weeks but then came on strong for the rest of the way. His first half production was helped by his 128 yards and a score versus the Cowboys in Week 7 before their bye. He then reeled off seven touchdowns between Week 9 and 12 3while offering around three catches and 15 or more carries for most of his final games.
J.D. McKissic (WAS) – The fifth-year player landed in Washington last year and responded with an impressive showing as the third-down back with a total of 80 catches for 589 yards to spike his value in reception points leagues. The second year of the same scheme will keep him involved and the eight games of the back half of the fantasy season totaled 50 catches.
Aaron Jones (GB) – Jones started 2020 red hot with seven touchdowns over his first five games for a great per-game average but he missed two games with a calf injury. His second half of the year was by no means bad, but he only scored three times in those eight games and declined to only two or three catches in most of them. The decline in his receiving stats was the main culprit in his lower fantasy points.
Nyheim Hines (IND) -A change at quarterback may hurt Hines who benefitted last season when Philip Rivers had problems throwing downfield. But he became much more involved in the final half of the season with four to eight receptions and even a string of 40+ yard rushing efforts to end the fantasy season. He flirted with RB2 respectability, but a third-down back rarely offers much consistency.
Ezekiel Elliott (DAL) – After cranking out his standard Top-5 production to open the 2020 season, the loss of Dak Prescott in Week 5 along with offensive line problems doomed Elliott’s chances to remain elite. It was rough to watch last year, but at least Prescott returns and the offensive line should be back in better shape.
Cam Akers (LAR) – The rookie opened his NFL career sharing the backfield and falling back in the pecking order through mid-season. He suffered a shoulder injury in Week 2 as well. But he blew up in Week 12 but hasn’t looked back since. His Week 14 performance versus the Patriots ended with 29 rushes for 171 yards. He suffered a remarkably short-lived high-ankle sprain in Week 15 that only impacted three games. In the playoffs, he turned in over 250 total yards and scored in both games.
J.K. Dobbins (BAL) – After a slow start that never saw him with more than nine rushes during the first eight weeks, Dobbins’ use was increased with stellar results. Despite never rushing more than 15 times in any game, he was consistent with 70+ yards and scored in each of the final five games of the fantasy season. He added 160 yards and two scores on 13 runs in Week 17 that fell outside of this ranking. And the Ravens are talking about increasing his role as a receiver that was only used on ten passes last year.