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The running back is simultaneously the most important and the scariest position in fantasy football.
It's hard to win a championship without having that foundational back. The road usually becomes easier if you have two. But if something were to befall that RB whom you've chosen with an early draft pick, well, it could derail your entire season.
And that risk doesn't just come in the form of injury. It could also be due to the back's ecosystem. We want our backs to play in efficient, point-scoring offenses, taking handoffs from good quarterbacks.
Running behind great offensive lines.
With that in mind, I decided to rank the top-10 running back and offensive line combinations for the fantasy season ahead. Who knows, they just might help you break a tie or two when you're on the clock.
1) Nick Chubb / Cleveland Browns
PFF O-line Ranking: No. 1
Yahoo Consensus RB Ranking: 6th
There shouldn't be much surprise over the Browns ranking No. 1. They had the best offensive line in 2020 and nothing has changed in terms of personnel for this season. No need to blab further on this.
Nick Chubb has a case to be known as the best pure runner in the NFL, a threat to score (or break a tackle or five) whenever he touches the ball. It's just his luck (and that of fantasy managers) that he ends up on a team with another starting-caliber running back in Kareem Hunt.
With that said, Chubb has a yet-untapped ceiling — to be the unquestioned workhorse who gets 80-percent-plus of the backfield rushing and receiving work — further boosted by the line in front of him, and that's much of why he's a first-rounder in fantasy drafts.
Now imagine what would happen if Hunt were to go down, or if the Browns realize Chubb doesn't need a breather that often.
2) New Orleans Saints / Alvin Kamara
PFF O-line Ranking: No. 4
Yahoo Consensus RB Ranking: 5th
Fantasy managers who have already drafted Alvin Kamara (or who plan to) rejoiced when it was announced that Jameis Winston would be the starter for the New Orleans Saints. Recall, Kamara's workload and subsequent production suffered when Taysom Hill was in control of the offense last season. And even though Hill will undoubtedly be a part of some offensive packages, Kamara is expected to receive most of his carries from Winston.
Regardless of who is making the calls at the line of scrimmage, Kamara has the luxury of running behind an elite line. Terron Armstead and Ryan Ramczyk are the stars, but the interior of the line is not to be downplayed, either. While young, they were better in run-blocking than they were pass-blocking — good news for Kamara.
3) Indianapolis Colts / Jonathan Taylor
PFF O-line Ranking: No. 2
Yahoo Consensus RB Ranking: 7th
If not for the question marks surrounding Carson Wentz's health (and, well, whether he's actually any good or not) and elite guard Quenton Nelson's status, the tandem of Taylor and the line he's running behind would leapfrog Kamara and the Saints.
The Colts' deep line sports four starters who have graded in the top-20 at their positions multiple times in their careers, so there's no doubting their capability. Unfortunately for them and for Taylor, an electric young running back, we just don't know what this offense will deliver come Week 1, hence Taylor's fall in Yahoo ADP.
4) Dallas Cowboys / Ezekiel Elliott
PFF O-line Ranking: No. 6
Yahoo Consensus RB Ranking: 3rd
Injuries completely wrecked the Cowboys' season in 2020. Dak Prescott's season-ending injury grabbed most of the headlines, but we can't forget about the ailments suffered by elite left tackle Tyron Smith and La'el Collins' own season-ender. When fully healthy, we all know this line can be one of, if not the, best in the league.
Ezekiel Elliott (and his fantasy managers) will no doubt be counting on the overall health of the line and offense to help boost his production. His fantasy output plummeted last season as a direct result of those injuries, and with him being the President of the "Best-Shape-Of-Your-Life" club (2021 edition), the sky's the limit for the season ahead.
5) Tennessee Titans / Derrick Henry
PFF O-line Ranking: No. 15
Yahoo Consensus RB Ranking: 4th
Why is this combo fifth on this list but the line half of it is ranked 15th?
Two words: Derrick. Henry.
The Titans will once again have their battering ram as their offensive focal point, but now, he'll have another elite wide receiver on his team who will undoubtedly help relieve him of facing so many stacked boxes (not that it really matters).
Derrick Henry is special in that, because of his unique physical tools, you imagine he would probably produce no matter how good the line is in front of him. Thankfully, he has one of the best run-blocking units paving the way for him (he'd pave it himself with the scattered bodies of hapless defenders, but I digress); the Titans line finished sixth in 2020 run-blocking. It will be interesting to see if the departure of Arthur Smith to Atlanta changes anything of serious note with Tennessee's offensive philosophy, but one thing is for sure: Henry and his line are one of the toughest things for defenses to contend with in the NFL.
6) Kansas City Chiefs / Clyde Edwards-Helaire
PFF O-line Ranking: No. 7
Yahoo Consensus RB Ranking: 14th
After seeing what happened to the franchise in last season's Super Bowl (Patrick Mahomes was sacked three times and seemed to be running for his life on every other play), the Chiefs rightly retooled and revamped their offensive line. This overhaul started with the big trade for Orlando Brown Jr., and they continued with the addition of star left guard, Joe Thuney. All told, the additions combined with their established linemen give the Chiefs one of the best lines in the league.
(It also helps that their inhuman quarterback makes inhuman plays that make their job easier.)
The expected boost to their line should also, ideally, help Edwards-Helaire reach his vast potential.
After a ton of hype following his selection in the 2020 NFL Draft — running behind Mahomes, coached by Andy Reid, the second coming of Brian Westbrook, etc, etc. — CEH underwhelmed in his first season, finishing 22nd among RBs in Yahoo half-PPR scoring.
With that said, all those things that got us hype for him remain, and now his line is expected to be better. The best part, however, is that CEH's ADP (23.6) hasn't ballooned the way it did last year.
7) Detroit Lions / D'Andre Swift
PFF O-line Ranking: No. 10th
Yahoo Consensus RB Ranking: 20th
I was surprised to see the Lions' line ranked so highly when doing research for this list, as it seems like nothing but negativity comes out of that team. Nonetheless, Detroit has quietly been building something formidable in the trenches, and they've now added first-round talent and the consensus best offensive lineman in the 2021 draft, Penei Sewell, to the mix.
Sewell joins stars Taylor Decker and Frank Ragnow as the lynchpins on this line. If everyone meshes together, the Lions will sport one of the most powerful, talented lines in the league.
That said, as much as we want D'Andre Swift to be a workhorse, we will have to deal with him sharing work once again. Before, he had to split with an old guy and a failed high draft pick. Now, however, Swift will have to share backfield duties with the potent Jamaal Williams. It's not what you want — but hey, at least we know they'll be running behind a talented offensive line, providing a boost to their individual fantasy floors.
8) New England Patriots / Damien Harris
PFF O-line Ranking: No. 3rd
Yahoo Consensus RB Ranking: 22nd
If we A) knew that the Patriots were going to give Harris a workhorse role and B) knew that Harris without a shadow of a doubt could be an elite workhorse, New England could crack the top 5 on this list.
Unfortunately, we don't have answers to those questions right now, so they fall to eighth place. Some recent updates working in Harris' favor, however: The Pats making Mac Jones their Week 1 starter after cutting Cam Newton and the team trading Sony Michel. The running back room is also a bit bare behind Harris; by rights, he should be the unquestioned starting back.
Oh, and Harris gets to run behind yet another elite Patriots offensive line. Shaq Mason is the New England answer to Quenton Nelson and one of the best run-blockers in the league. He and David Andrews form a powerful one-two punch in the interior.
Fantasy managers who snag Harris in the seventh or eighth rounds are just hoping for a chokehold on the early down and short-yardage role with some passing-game work (integral, as he didn't catch many balls in 2020) mixed in. Harris' running and the offensive line in front of him will do the rest.
9) Philadelphia Eagles / Miles Sanders
PFF O-line Ranking: No. 13th
Yahoo Consensus RB Ranking: 18th
We've been waiting for Miles Sanders to join the upper echelon of fantasy RBs. That hasn't happened yet, be it due to injury or workload or offensive environment — or all of the above.
We'll see if Jalen Hurts being named Week 1 starter with a full offseason of work under his belt will help Sanders' bottom line, but one thing that will undoubtedly help is his offensive line being fully healthy. Usually a top unit, injuries brought the line's overall play down in 2020, much like their NFC East rivals, the Cowboys. Jason Kelce is a year older, but the rest of the line provides a solid balance between pass-blocking and run-blocking.
Health, as always, will be key here.
10) Baltimore Ravens / Gus Edwards
PFF O-line Ranking: No. 12th
Yahoo Consensus RB Ranking: 21st
If not for the unfortunate season-ending ACL injury suffered by J.K. Dobbins, this combo would be ranked much higher up this list. That said, Gus Edwards is no slouch, averaging 5.2 yards per carry in his career. He's expected to lead this backfield going forward, and the boost to his ADP of late reflects that.
We made mention of the Ravens trading Orlando Brown Jr. to the Chiefs. They replaced him with veteran tackle Alejandro Villanueva, who isn't exactly a world-beater at this stage of his career but who can still solidify a line.
Of course, talking about the Ravens line and their running back is probably a moot point. We all know Lamar Jackson is the most electrifying runner on this team, one who can create on his own as much as he needs a blocker or two in front of him. Just having Jackson at quarterback makes the jobs of the line and the RBs much easier.
-Los Angeles Rams (PFF rank - No. 8): Will Darrell Henderson be able to handle a workhorse load? Or will we be disappointed yet again?
-San Francisco 49ers (PFF rank - No. 9): Kyle Shanahan could probably turn me into a 1,000-yard rusher (okay, maybe 800), but fantasy managers once again have to try and guess which of the 9ers' running backs will provide the most fantasy production on a week-to-week basis.
-Tampa Bay Buccaneers (PFF rank - No. 5): Like the 49ers, the Bucs are expected to have a running rotation of Ronald Jones, Leonard Fournette, and Giovani Bernard in the backfield. Not exactly what you want when it's time to draft.