2021 NFL Draft: Running Backs preview

Running back is one of the most exciting positions in the NFL. Everybody loves to see their favorite backs breaking off big runs. While the position has been devalued in recent years, there will still be lots of running backs taken in this years’ draft. There isn’t a headliner in this class, like Ezekiel Elliot or Saquon Barkley in years past, but there are still lots of talented guys that will hear their name called. Let’s take a look at some of the best running back prospects this year:

  1. Javonte Williams, North Carolina: Williams is my top running back in this class and for good reason. This guy just breaks tackles or jukes out defenders constantly. His playmaking ability is ridiculous because of this, as there were plays at North Carolina where defenders would have Williams behind the line, but he would get past him and multiple others before finally being taken down. He is so explosive and is not slowed down when defenders are bouncing off of him during a tackle attempt. Real chance to be a top 10 back in the NFL.
  2. Travis Etienne, Clemson: A true big play running back, Etienne is always trying to create big chunk plays, though it does end up being his biggest problem. He has a tendency to wait for a chance to pick up big chunks, instead of just getting consistent yardage. In 2019 it made him a heisman contender as his running style was successful. In 2020 though, with a worse offensive line, he was just pretty good. He is a great athlete and has great ability after contact. Additionally, he might be the best backfield receiver in the class. If he is able to fix his issues, he has all the traits of top running backs.
  3. Najee Harris, Alabama: Harris was an integral part of one of the best offenses in the history of college football. He is a grown man with a bruising running style. His highlight tape from this year has some of the most impressive runs from recent years. The only worry is that his game won’t translate very well because he doesn’t have top end speed. Another thing that he does have going for him, is that he was very productive as a receiver as well. He is extremely similar to A.J Dillon last year but with catching ability.
  4. Demetric Felton, UCLA: Felton is such a good football player, but he might not be a running back. At UCLA played an all-purpose role, but in 2020 he became the lead back and impressed. At the Senior Bowl though, he mostly played receiver and was one of the best players at that position throughout the week. His elusiveness is his best trait and it’s one that could help him at either position. Whether he ends up in the slot or at running back, Felton could be dangerous in the NFL.
  5. Kenneth Gainwell, Memphis: I really think that people would be higher on Gainwell if he had played in 2020. While he wasn’t always playing top competition at Memphis, he starred against a great Penn St. defense in what ended up being his last college game. He has the same shiftiness that a lot of small backs have. His high level cutting ability helps him as a rusher and receiver. A more complete back than he looks, Gainwell can join many recent Memphis running backs as a solid NFL player.
  6. Michael Carter, North Carolina: Carter is another good back from a loaded North Carolina backfield. His size will limit his role, at 5'9 199, but that shouldn’t put off teams too much. His movement on the football field is crazy, he just darts around the field with lots of burst. Despite his size, he is able to drop a guy with a stiff arm sometimes. Carter probably will never be a 3 down guy but he can be one of the best players in the scat back role at the NFL level.
  7. Khalil Herbert, Virginia Tech: When you watch Herbert, he just plays like an NFL guy. More compact than small, Herbert bounces off of tackles and isn’t afraid to lower the shoulder. He starred in his lone year at Virginia Tech, averaging nearly 8 yards per carry. Herbert has good vision as well. He should be a good player from day 1 in the NFL, but may not have the upside of some backs in the class.
  8. Trey Sermon, Ohio State: Sermon really stepped up for the Buckeyes at the end of his collegiate career. He played some of his best football against Northwestern and Clemson, the two best teams that he went up against this season. He is a bruiser in the backfield but also is surprisingly elusive. If he can consistently play like the player that we saw against Northwestern, he could be a huge sleeper in this years’ draft.
  9. Elijah Mitchell, Louisiana: Mitchell was really good for a while at Louisiana. He has good speed and acceleration that will help him acclimate to the next level. He is slippery as a runner and may be tough to take down in the open field. Mitchell also keeps churning his feet when he is being taken down. With the ability that he possesses, it’s crazy that he has been so slept on to this point. He can be a great rotational piece in a good backfield.
  10. Chuba Hubbard, Oklahoma State: Hubbard ended his insanely productive college career on sort of a low note. A year after eclipsing 2,000 yards, he wasn’t really special in 2020. He does have experience being an absolute bellcow, so we know that he can carry a load if need be. He has really great vision and hits holes well. Ultimately, he would be much more talked about if he had declared last year.

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