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Biggest Running Back Busts of 2021 - Fantasy Football Year In Review

Saquon Barkley - Fantasy Football Rankings, NFL Injury News, Draft Sleepers

Though the epic 2021 NFL season is now behind us, it doesn’t hurt to reflect on what happened this past campaign from a fantasy perspective.

As usual, guys appeared out of nowhere to be fantasy studs and have elevated themselves heading into 2022 drafts. On the other end, some preseason darlings laid a dud and failed to live up to expectations. 

Here are several running backs who didn’t live up to the high billing they had entering 2021. 

Editor's Note: Our incredible team of writers won two writing awards and received 12 award nominations by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. A big congrats to our very own Byron Lindeque (Golf) and Jordan McAbee (NASCAR) for both winning Writer Of The Year awards! Be sure to follow RotoBaller's analysis and advice all year long, and win more. Win More With RotoBaller!


Saquon Barkley, New York Giants

After missing pretty much all of 2020 due to an ACL injury sustained early in the season, Barkley entered 2021 as the RB7 heading into drafts. Nevertheless, injuries once again caught up to the star as he dealt with an ankle injury while also being put in COVID protocols. 

Overall, the 25-year-old still did play 13 games but only managed 593 rushing yards and two scores on 162 carries. Excluding 2020, the back averaged a career-low 3.7 yards per carry in his four-year career while also posting career lows in carries, rushing yards, and rushing touchdowns. Barkley mustered only 45.6 rushing yards per game, which ranked 35th among NFL RBs. His productivity has dipped quite a bit since his effective rookie season in 2018.



He fared no better on the receiving end, accumulating 41 receptions for 263 yards and two scores on 57 targets, all career-lows on this side of the ball too (excluding 2020). 

Barkley looked like a shell of himself and limped to an RB34 finish on the season, in the likes of rookie Chuba Hubbard, an aging Devonta Freeman, and fellow Giants RB Devontae Booker.

Health seems to be a big concern for Barkley as he cannot seem to stay on the field for a full season. He has only managed to play in all games during his rookie season back in 2018. While the talent is still there, the production leaves much to be desired. Based on his 2021 numbers, Barkley should definitely be valued much lower heading into 2022 and not in the RB1 tier like he traditionally has been.


Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Kansas City Chiefs

After a rookie campaign that wasn’t all that bad, the second-year back for the Chiefs entered as the projected RB15. And it even looked promising for Edwards-Helaire early on in the season after posting 102 and 100 yards on the ground in Weeks 3 and 4. 

However, a knee injury sustained afterward caused the 22-year-old to miss time and he only ended up playing 10 games for a grand total of 517 rushing yards and four scores on 119 carries. The back managed 4.3 yards per carry, which ranked 27th among NFL RBs, and 51.7 rushing yards per game, which ranked 25th among NFL backs.

He mustered 19 receptions for 129 yards and two scores on 23 targets, which are roughly half of his totals in the receiving game from his rookie campaign. 

Overall, Edwards-Helaire fell well short of expectations and managed an RB38 finish, in the likes of Rhamondre Stevenson and Mike Davis

Edwards-Helaire will enter 2022 at only age 23 and doesn’t have stiff competition for touches. He should still be considered the RB1 of the team and a reasonable RB2 heading into 2022 drafts. The only thing fantasy owners should be wary of is his injuries as he is yet to play all games in a season in the NFL.


Miles Sanders, Philadelphia Eagles

Entering his third season, Miles Sanders was on the come-up and was supposed to make the leap for a 1,000-yard season alongside full-time QB starter Jalen Hurts. Instead, Sanders managed career-lows in 2021 while coming up well short of his RB18 projection heading into the season.

The back played in 12 games as he dealt with hand and ankle injuries but still produced lower than he did in 2020, in which he also played 12 games. He had 754 rushing yards on 137 carries along with zero touchdowns. Let me repeat that, ZERO touchdowns. This comes even though he was averaging 62.8 yards per game, which was 13th-best among NFL RBs. Nevertheless, Sanders didn’t have very many productive outings during 2021; in fact, he rushed for 251 yards over a two-game span late in the season, which padded his overall total. 

He also significantly underwhelmed in the receiving game as he mustered 26 receptions for 158 yards and ZERO touchdowns once again. Sanders finished as RB43 on the season, behind guys like Jamaal Williams and Latavius Murray while barely finishing ahead of teammate Kenneth Gainwell

Based on the Eagles’ usage of Sanders in 2021 and the presence of guys like Kenneth Gainwell and Boston Scott, who may cut into usage, Sanders’ value shouldn’t be in the RB1/RB2 tier heading into 2022.

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