Given the incredible 2021 season he put together, Indianapolis Colts running back Jonathan Taylor is the consensus top pick in fantasy football drafts this year. Coming off a season in which he rushed for more than 1,800 yards, had 40 receptions for 360 yards, and scored 20 touchdowns, it is hard to argue against Taylor being atop anyone’s running back rankings.
But, who is No. 2 on the list? That question can have multiple answers. There are suspects lined up to at the top of that grouping, including Derrick Henry of the Tennessee Titans, Austin Ekeler of the Los Angeles Chargers, Najee Harris of the Pittsburgh Steelers, and Joe Mixon of the Cincinnati Bengals.
We’re taking a look at the pros and cons of each to arrive at our rankings.
The case for and against Derrick Henry
- In three years as a full-time starter (39 games), he has rushed 900 times for 4,504 yards and 43 touchdowns.
- An average game for Henry in that span has been 23 carries for 115 yards and one touchdown.
- He has only had one game with fewer than 15 rushing attempts in his last 43 games. In his last 29 games, he has 20 or more carries in 23 of them.
- He led the NFL in rushing touchdowns in 2019 (16) and 2020 (17) and was on pace to score 21 last season before a foot injury midway through the year.
- Henry’s workload over the last three seasons – 955 touches in 39 games – has historically slowed or ended the dominant portion of the careers of other big backs who shouldered such a load.
- He doesn’t offer much as a receiver, catching just 94 passes for 846 yards and three receiving touchdowns in 86 career games.
The case for and against Austin Ekeler
- Ekeler was dominant in his first full season as a starter, rushing 206 times for 911 yards, catching 70 passes for 647 yards, and scoring 20 touchdowns in 2021.
- He has scored 34 touchdowns over the last three seasons (16 rushing, 18 receiving).
- He’s a killer in PPR leagues, having caught 216 passes over the last three seasons (42 games).
- Ekeler scored at least one touchdown in 13 of 16 games last season, scored two or more TDs four times and had at least one touchdown in each of his final eight games when fantasy players needed him most.
- Despite his size, he was his most dangerous in close. All 20 of his touchdowns in 2021 were scored in the red zone.
- Ekeler is undersized and has only been a full-time starter for an entire season just once in his five-year career, so there will be some concern if injuries will catch up to him like they have Christian McCaffrey.
- He is more of a receiver than a pure running back. He has never rushed 20 or more times in a game and has rushed 15 times or fewer in 48 of his 56 games – most of those as a starter.
Tired of losing your league every season? Be sure to sign up for The Huddle today to gain an award-winning edge on the competition! We have 26 years of experience online building fantasy football champions.
The case for and against Najee Harris
- He’s the only show in town in the Pittsburgh backfield. As a rookie, he rushed 307 times for 1,200 yards and seven touchdowns. His next closest competition (Benny Snell) rushed just 36 times and 12 of those came in the final week of the regular season.
- After being worked in slowly as the main back, in Harris’ final 13 games, he rushed 20 or more times in eight games and averaged almost 20 carries a game in that span.
- He finished second on the team with 74 receptions for 467 yards and three touchdowns. No other running back on the team had more than three receptions.
- Harris tallied five or more receptions in seven games in 2021, including a massive game against the Bengals where he caught 14 passes for 102 yards.
- One of the rarities in the modern NFL, he is a true-three down back who was on the field for 77 percent of the Steelers’ offensive snaps.
- He’s not a blazer who will break off long touchdowns. Harris recorded only three rushes and two receptions out of 381 touches that gained more than 20 yards.
- He averaged just 3.9 yards per carry – one of the lowest rushing averages among featured backs in the league.
- No longer has the veteran savvy of Ben Roethlisberger working in his favor to keep defenders playing honest football.
The case for and against Joe Mixon
- In 2021, he set career highs for rushing attempts (292), rushing yards (1,205), rushing touchdowns (13), receiving yards (314) and receiving touchdowns (3).
- He has been a workhorse, averaging 269 carries for 1,170 yards over his last three full seasons (and was on pace to break his career highs for carries and rushing yards in 2020 before injuries limited him to just six games).
- Mixon has been a consistent but not profound receiver. Over his five seasons, he has averaged 37 receptions a year.
- He has been the only show in the Bengals backfield. He has had 18 or more rushing attempts in 12 of his last 19 games.
- Last year may have been an anomaly. Mixon scored 16 touchdowns in 16 games in 2021, but in his previous four seasons, he scored 24 touchdowns in 50 games.
- He needs to get a volume of carries to post big fantasy numbers, because he is a between-the-tackles guy who doesn’t break off many big plays.
Fantasy football outlook
This is a difficult ranking process because each player is the centerpiece of his offense. RB2 goes to Derrick Henry. He’s the most one-dimensional player in the group, but when you touch the ball that many times a game, you have the ability to put up big fantasy points on a weekly basis and transcends scoring formats.
No. 3 is Austin Ekeler, because he is such a dynamic threat in the passing game that anything he gives you on the ground is a bonus (and it’s hard to ignore 20 touchdowns, which also levels the playing field for different scoring systems).
The fourth is Najee Harris. The Steelers know what they have in him and aren’t going to ease Harris into a heavy workload like they did as a rookie. If he stays healthy, he will surpass his rookie numbers.
RB5 is Joe Mixon. He may well be the “safest” pick of the four thanks to the highest floor of any of them. That said, he isn’t dominant on the ground like Henry or the receiving threat of Ekeler and Harris.