It is never too early to start looking at next year’s fantasy football draft. 2021 will be the year of the running back, as I anticipate the first six picks in nearly all formats to be running backs.

1. RB Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers

Although McCaffrey didn’t play in many games over the last couple of seasons, there is no denying his electrifying talent. If I were drafting first in 2021, I wouldn’t hesitate to select the best dual-threat running back in the league. In just three games this season, CMC averaged a ridiculous 30 fantasy points per game. If he had kept that up for the entire season, he would have been the top player in all of fantasy football.

2. RB Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints

If you owned Kamara this past season, he likely led you to a dominant performance and a fantasy football championship. Although Kamara failed to rush for 1,000 yards, he did amass for 21 rushing and receiving touchdowns, good for first in the NFL. Six of those touchdowns came in championship week when Kamara broke out for 155 rushing yards and a whopping 53.2 fantasy points.

Although the potential departure of Drew Brees will hurt Kamara’s value, particularly in PPR leagues, he is still one of the best dual threat backs in the NFL and will be a top-two pick in all formats. Look for him to catch plenty of passes and finish second among running backs in receptions, behind the one and only McCaffrey.

3. RB Saquon Barkley, New York Giants

Barkley has missed lots of time in each of his past two seasons. Fantasy managers who drafted Barkley this past season got minimal production from him before he tore his ACL in Week 2. That being said, the early reports about his rehab have been nothing but positive and the timing of the injury suggests that he will be ready for Week 1 even though he didn’t undergo surgery until late-October.

As a rookie in 2018, Barkley led the NFL with 2,028 yards from scrimmage, hauled in 91 receptions (second among running backs), scored 15 combined touchdowns, and finished second in fantasy points scored in a full season and on a per-game basis.

Barkley shouldn’t have any issues in 2021 as the Giants’ offensive attack will again be centered around the young and flashy back. Not to mention, it won’t hurt that Daniel Jones will have another year of experience under his belt.

4. RB Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings

Cook finished as the second-best running back in fantasy football last season after producing 1,557 yards on 312 carries, 16 rushing touchdowns, 44 receptions for 361 receiving yards and an additional touchdown through the air. The former Florida State bruiser took a huge leap this season and as long as he can remain healthy in the future, he is a sure-fire RB1 in all fantasy formats.

The Vikings’ offense is extremely run-heavy, especially after the departure of Stefon Diggs. Although Minnesota still likes to give Kirk Cousins a chance to haul it down field to Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson, Cook will continue to see 20-plus touches per game. If he remains healthy, something he struggled to do in college, don’t be surprised if he sneaks atop the leaderboard.

5. RB Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys

Zeke did not look like himself as soon as Dak Prescott went down with a season-ending leg injury. If Prescott does not return to the Cowboys, Elliott will likely slip out of the first round and into the second. However, if Prescott does indeed return as Dallas’ signal caller and i do believe that he will, Elliott will not be available after the first six picks of the draft.

6. RB Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans

Henry never ceases to amaze me. Yet again, the former Alabama running back bulldozed his way to over 2,000 rushing yards this past season, along with 17 rushing touchdowns. Henry’s one weakness is his ability to make plays in the passing game. Despite playing 16 games this past season, the All-Pro back caught just 19 passes for 114 yards. If Henry and Ryan Tanehill develop some chemistry on short and intermediate routes, Henry could move into the top three players in all of fantasy football.

7. WR Davante Adams, Green Bay Packers

It’s about time we get to the first wide receiver on this list. Adams missed a few games this season, yet still finished as the No. 1 WR in fantasy football. Aaron Rodgers’ favorite weapon finished the 2020 season with 115 receptions, 1,374 yards and 18 touchdowns. Adams averaged a mind blowing 25-plus fantasy points per game.

Although we should expect to see touchdown regression, the Packers lack solid pass catchers outside of Adams. Even when opposing defenses knew that Rodgers was going Adams’ way, cornerbacks and safeties simply had no way of stopping the electrifying plays that these two guys made, day in and day out. Expect more of the same in 2021, however, I do think Adams struggles to find the end zone quite as much as he did this past year, despite the fact that he seems to be impossible to stop in the red zone.

8. TE Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs

Although Kelce is listed as a tight end, for fantasy purposes, he is just as good as the best receivers in the game. With Patrick Mahomes under center in that Chiefs’ aerial offensive attack, someone is going to get open on each and every play. It is simply impossible to stop a team with so many dynamic weapons, particularly when they have a quarterback as talented as Mahomes.

Although Darren Waller finished the season with two more receptions than Kelce, Kelce averaged 20.9 fantasy points per game compared to Waller’s 17.4. Along with his 105 catches, Kelce finished with 1,416 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns.

Drafting Kelce in the late first round makes a ton of sense given the positional scarcity at tight end. There are only a handful of good tight ends in fantasy football, and none of them come close to Kelce’s level.

9. WR Michael Thomas, New Orleans Saints

This one is a bit of a risk considering Thomas will need to develop a rapport with either Taysom Hill or Jameis Winston in the wake of Brees’ retirement. Fantasy owners were likely burned by Thomas this season, who did not score his first touchdown until the Saints’ Wild Card victory over the Chicago Bears.

Thomas is undergoing some offseason surgery and will be good to go by OTA’s next season. Forget about this past season and take a chance on the stud wideout next season. It won’t get any worse than it was this season.

10. WR Tyreek Hill, Kansas City Chiefs

Hill is one of the most fun players to watch in the NFL. Not only is he part of that electrifying offense in Kansas City, but he is also one of the fastest players in the league. There is a reason that his Twitter handle is @cheetah.

Last season, Hill finished as the second-best wide receiver in PPR fantasy leagues. Although he only accumulated 87 receptions, he made up for that by going for 1,399 combined receiving and rushing yards, plus 17 touchdowns.

In 2021, expect Hill to continue to get open with ease as opposing defenses are forced to respect Mahomes’ ability to toss it short to Kelce. Hill will build off this successful campaign and should be drafted at the end of the first round.

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