2021’s Most Elusive Running Backs

By: Little Italy (Publisher)

Follow on Twitter: @LILITALY853

* From the 30 running backs who had a minimum of 150 Rush Attempts in 2021. Fantasy finish was where players finished between weeks 1-17, excluding 18 *

What do fantasy titles, promotions, and DFS wins all have in common? For the majority of us, these things are all things that have eluded us at some point in our lives. It had me thinking a bit about how does a player's elusive rate correlate to how they finish in fantasy football. Therefore, being the fantasy-crazed Italian that I am, I immediately went to work to research and chart this very thing. Below I will highlight the top five most elusive backs from 2021, as well as a handful more, whose findings I felt, was important to mention.

The Top Five

1.) Nick Chubb: (Elusive Rating: 93.6) (PPR Fantasy Finish: RB11)

The former Georgia Bulldog tops the list of last season’s most elusive backs. Despite missing three games (Weeks 6, 7, 10) Chubb was still able to compile some impressive numbers on the ground for the Browns. Chubb finished 2021 with the eighth-most rush attempts (228) and the third most rush yards after contact (853), which made up 67.7% of his total rush yards on the season (1,259). Chubb was third in forced missed tackles as a rusher (54), which had him finishing tied with Raiders running back Josh Jacobs in that area. Nick Chubb also saw some work as a pass-catcher, though not near the volume we as fantasy owners hoped. Chubb only saw twenty receptions in 2021, which would rank 18th out of the 30 qualified running backs. Chubb compiled seventy-six receiving yards after contact, which would rank 22nd among qualified backs. The seventy-six yards after contact would make up 43.6% of his total receiving yards (174) for 2021. Chubb would also go on to add eight more forced missed tackles as a receiver, which would come in ranked 18th most out of qualifying rushers.

(Final Count: 62 forced missed tackles on 248 total touches)

2.) Najee Harris: (Elusive Rating: 92.8) (PPR Fantasy Finish: RB3)

Pittsburgh’s rookie running back had a very successful first season as a professional running back. 2021 saw Harris finish first in total touches (381) in seventeen games played and second only behind Jonathan Taylor in rush attempts (307), which justified those owners taking him in the first round of fantasy drafts last summer as that projected workhorse. Harris and his 918 rush yards after contact (76.5% of his 1,200 rush yard total) only trailed Taylor as well. The previous stat should be eye-opening to just how bad Pittsburgh's offensive line was again in 2021 and just how good Najee was as a creative runner as a rookie. Najee also did it as a receiver, compiling 74 receptions, which would rank first among qualified running backs. Harris' 285 receiving yards after contact would also top all qualifying backs and made up 61% of his 467 total receiving yards. Harris would go on to force the most forced missed tackles as a runner (69) and as a receiver (43) making his 112 total forced missed tackles the most by any running back in 2021, with the next closest being Jonathan Taylor who finished second in this category with 35 less forced missed tackles.

(Final Count: 112 forced missed tackles on 381 total touches)

3.) Javonte Williams: (Elusive Rating: 81.2) (PPR Fantasy Finish: RB15)

Denver’s bruiser had a very solid rookie campaign as well, despite having to split work with veteran Melvin Gordon. The Denver backfield was split 50/50 between the two backs with both rushing 203 times; tying Patriots back Damien Harris for the 15th most out of qualified running backs. Williams in those 203 attempts would go on to force the fifth most missed tackles (53) out of this group of running backs, besting Melvin Gordon's (39), which was tied with Antonio Gibson for 13th most. Javonte showed flashes of that aggressive/hard to bring down running style that had us drooling during the pre-draft process last spring. Williams would compile 657 rush yards after contact (7th most), which made up 72.7% of his 903 total rushing yards in 2021. Javonte would add nine forced missed tackles (T-14th with Gaskin, Kamara, Michel) as a receiver off his 11th most receptions (43) among the thirty qualifying backs. The reception area is where Javonte pulled a bit ahead of Gordon, as he only compiled twenty-eight receptions that ranked 22nd among RB’s. Javonte would go on to tie Nick Chubb for the 4th most total forced miss tackles, finishing only behind Harris, Taylor, and Jacobs in that category. If and “hopefully” when Melvin Gordon moves on Williams, no doubt, will not only find himself inside the top five of elusive rating but fantasy scoring as well.

(Final Count: 62 forced missed tackles on 246 total touches)

4.) Jonathan Taylor: (Elusive Rating: 73.1) (PPR Fantasy Finish: RB1)

My RB1 in everything fantasy the past two seasons, and now everyone’s RB1, is coming off a season that saw him finish ahead of all other RB's in fantasy. However, he did not do it by being the most elusive. Though Taylor did not top the list here, he still was a top-four and one of the leagues' toughest to bring down. Jonathan Taylor led all running backs with 332 rush attempts in 2021. Taylor also led all backs in rush yards after contact (1,220), which made up 67% of his 1,811 total rushing yards. Taylor would force the league’s second-most missed tackles as a runner (64), finishing only behind the aforementioned Najee Harris. Taylor would also get it done after the catch as well, forcing the seventh most missed tackles after the catch (13). Taylor and his 77 total forced missed tackles would rank second out of qualified backs in 2021.

(Final Count: 77 forced missed tackles on 372 total touches)

5.) James Conner: (Elusive Rating: 72.4) (PPR Fantasy Finish: RB8)

The former Steeler turned Cardinal rounds out the top five most elusive backs of 2021. I am just as shocked as all of you that he is top five in this category. Hell, I am still trying to wrap my head around the fact that he finished as a top-eight PPR RB for fantasy. So how did he do it? As a runner? As a pass catcher? Perhaps both? In terms of rushing this is where he ranked among the thirty qualified backs, 18th in rush attempts (202), 20th in rush yards after contact (529). Not too inspiring as a runner, but the fact that he forced (43) missed tackles as a rusher is what pushed him up the ranks, as those 43 missed tackles ranked 9th best out of the thirty qualified rushers. Conner would go on to add seventeen missed tackles after the catch as a receiver, which comes in ranked 4th most out of running backs with a minimum of 150 rush attempts. Conner would finish 2021 with sixty total forced missed tackles, which has him tied with Alvin Kamara for the seventh most.

(Final Count: 60 forced missed tackles on 239 total touches)

Other Notable Findings:

Devin Singletary: (Elusive Rating: 62.9)

This would make the Bills post-season darling the 8th most elusive back of 2021. Singletary forced 51 missed tackles on 228 total touches. (Finished as the RB24 in PPR leagues).

James Robinson: (Elusive Rating: 61.2)

Before going down with a season-ending Achilles injury Robinson forced a total of 38 missed tackles on 195 total touches, which would have him as 2021's 9th most elusive running back. (Finished as the RB23 in PPR leagues).

Elijah Mitchell: (Elusive Rating: 51.9)

Another rookie who finished 2021 inside the top 15 in elusiveness (15th) is the rusher from SF. Mitchell in eleven games forced 37 tackles on 226 total touches. (Finished as the RB28 in PPR leagues).

David Montgomery: (Elusive Rating: 36.4)

The Bears lead back finished 2021 as the 27th ranked RB in this category. Montgomery finished with 39 total forced missed tackles on 267 touches over thirteen games. (Finished as the RB20 in PPR leagues).

Zeke Elliott: (Elusive Rating: 30.5)

Zeke finished the season as a top-six PPR back in 2021, but it was not because he was elusive. Zeke was anything but, because he finished as the 28th ranked RB out of the 30 qualified RB’s in this area. Zeke managed to total just 34 forced missed tackles on 284 touches. (Finished as the RB6 in PPR leagues).

Outside the Backs with 150+ Rush Attempts

Michael Carter: (Elusive Rating: 103.4)

The Jets rookie just missed the 150 rush attempt cutoff (147). However, if he were included in this exercise the rookie would top the league in Elusiveness despite missing three games, which has me excited for his future. Carter forced 53 missed tackles on just 184 total touches. (Finished as the RB29 in PPR Leagues).

Rhamondre Stevenson: (Elusive Rating: 100.1)

The Patriots rookie, like Carter, just missed the 150 rush attempt cutoff (133). In 12 games in 2021, Stevenson forced 43 missed tackles on 147 total touches. Compared to all the players above this elusive rating would make him second behind only Carter. This was also with Stevenson involved in a very crowded NE backfield. (Finished as the RB44 in PPR Leagues).