Najee Harris and Clyde Edwards-Helaire
Finding RB breakouts in fantasy football can be all the difference necessary in winning a league championship. Each year, several running backs are viewed as breakout candidates. In 2021, which RBs will receive the necessary volume or are in high-powered offenses to warrant consideration as fantasy football breakouts?
Which running backs from the AFC stand out as potential breakout candidates in 2021?
Najee Harris, Pittsburgh Steelers
It says a lot about a rookie to be considered as a breakout candidate right out the gate. With Najee Harris, though, there’s a lot that stands out. The first running back off the board in the 2021 NFL Draft and the consensus RB1 in fantasy rookie drafts, expectations for Harris are sky-high. And in Pittsburgh’s offense, he most certainly can deliver on those expectations.
Harris could not have landed in a better spot for fantasy than Pittsburgh. Following his incredible senior season at Alabama, Harris now finds himself on a high-powered offense that loves to feature a running back — a match made in fantasy heaven.
James Conner is now in Arizona, and there is no one else on the Steelers’ roster that presents a challenge to Harris for touches. In most cases, 300+ touches for a rookie would seem far-fetched. However, the Steelers have 212 running back touches that are vacated. Given Harris’ all-around ability as a three-down back, it’s reasonable to believe he’ll reach that mark. If he does, he’ll almost certainly finish the year as a top-five back.
Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Kansas City Chiefs
Clyde Edwards-Helaire totaled 1,100 yards of offense in 2020, and his season was still seen as underwhelming. Fantasy managers have come to expect more from running backs in Andy Reid offenses, and 5 total touchdowns apparently didn’t cut it. While a lack of involvement in the passing game played a part, it was the addition of Le’Veon Bell midseason that was the biggest issue.
In Weeks 1-6, CEH averaged 15.9 fantasy points on 21.3 touches per game (0.74 points per touch). Despite going above 20 fantasy points just once during this timeframe, he was the RB11. Once Bell entered the picture, however, it evaporated. In the seven games he played following, Edwards-Helaire averaged just 12.7 touches. His average dropped to 11.54 fantasy points, and he was the RB37 from Week 7 on (missed three games).
It’s important to note that while his touches and fantasy production dropped significantly, CEH’s points per touch increased in his last seven games (0.91). This implies that Edwards-Helaire began to adapt more to the NFL level. If he can apply that level of production to a volume similar to what he was receiving to start 2020, CEH would prove his worth as one of the RB breakouts for 2021.
Which RBs from the NFC are breakout candidates for 2021?
Chase Edmonds, Arizona Cardinals
Following the departure of RB Kenyan Drake, excitement for Chase Edmonds to break out in the Cardinals’ offense quickly surfaced. That excitement quickly deteriorated, however, after Arizona signed James Conner in free agency. Now, that original excitement may be returning.
PFN NFL Insider Adam Beasley recently reported that Edmonds is the favorite to be Arizona’s featured back. A source revealed that the training camp battle between Edmonds and Conner “might be a battle in name only” — the Cardinals simply view Edmonds as the better player.
Arizona is a high-powered offense and one you want to connect yourself to in fantasy football. Having the team’s lead back at a discounted price (76.2 ADP) will go a long way in filling out your roster. In 2020, as the backup, Edmonds was the RB25 in PPR formats with an average of 10.5 fantasy points per game. Now, despite being the team’s lead back, he’s going lower than that in fantasy drafts (RB30).
With a larger workload looming, Edmonds is destined to break out in 2021, and he could be one of the best values of the season.
Mike Davis, Atlanta Falcons
Speaking of great values — Mike Davis, everyone! All Davis did last year was prove that he could sustain a large workload when given the opportunity. Excluding Week 1 when Christian McCaffrey was healthy, Davis was the RB8 on the season as the Carolina Panthers’ featured back. In fact, one could argue that Davis already broke out based on this performance, and I’d agree. After all, that performance earned him a two-year deal with the Atlanta Falcons.
Yet, it seems that Davis will need to do it again as no one is talking about him for the upcoming season. They are, however, talking about TE Kyle Pitts, the Falcons’ first-round pick. There’s also mention of Calvin Ridley having the upside to finish 2021 as the WR1 in fantasy.
Meanwhile, the talk of the Falcons’ backfield has been eerily quiet. Davis has little in terms of competition for touches. Atlanta signed RB Javian Hawkins as an undrafted free agent, and he may already be the team’s RB2.
At 28 years old, expecting an average of 20 touches per game from Davis is not realistic. Furthermore, many point to the fact that Atlanta expects to play from behind often in 2021 as a way to dismiss Davis in fantasy. On the contrary, I think it helps boost his value. He did reel in 59 receptions on 70 targets for 373 yards and 2 touchdowns last year for the Panthers.
I wouldn’t expect Davis to replicate his RB8 performance from a year ago, but “breakout part 2” is in the cards for the seven-year veteran RB out of South Carolina.
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