2021 NFL Running Backs: The 2021 NFL draft is only three weeks away. Now that draft prospects have performed at their pro day workouts and free agency has passed it is time to assess and rank the prospects according to their fit and draft value.
Offenses in the NFL have shifted from a run first priority. Quarterbacks are dropping back to pass at higher rates each season, add in teams wanting to mimic coaches like Kyle Shanahan, Sean McVay,Matt LaFleur, and Andy Reid because of their success creating unique offensive schemes that rank top in the league no matter what player is in and you’ll understand why the value on running backs have changed in the NFL.
A running back no longer has to be an exceptional runner or a tank of a human (i.e. Derrick Henry) to be successful in the NFL.
Having the ability to catch and block pass rushers has opened up opportunities for more players thus diminishing the overall value of the position. But of course there are always those generational players worthy of a top draft selection.
In this article I’ll give my overall rankings as well as superlatives for best speed, hardest to tackle, best receiver, and more.
|Najee Harris||Alabama||Senior||6’2”||230 lbs||4.45|
|Travis Etienne||Clemson||Senior||5’10”||210 lbs||4.40|
|Javonte Williams||UNC||Junior||5’10”||220 lbs||4.55|
|Trey Sermon||Ohio State||Senior||6’0”||213 lbs||4.60|
|Michael Carter||UNC||Senior||5’8”||202 lbs||4.50|
|Rhamondre Stevenson||Oklahoma||Senior||5’11”||227 lbs||4.63|
|Kenneth Gainwell||Memphis||RS Sophomore||5’11”||191 lbs||4.42|
|Chuba Hubbard||Oklahoma State||RS Junior||6’0”||207 lbs||4.48|
|Jermar Jefferson||Oregon State||Junior||5’9”||215 lbs||4.55|
|Pooka Williams||Kansas||Junior||5’9”||175 lbs||4.38|
|Kylin Hill||Mississippi State||Senior||5’10”||214 lbs||4.51|
Best Speed of 2021 Running Backs: Travis Ettine
While his 2020 stats were a drop off from 2019; 168 ATT 914 YDS 5.4 AVG and 14 TDs from 207 ATT 1,614 YDS 7.8 AVG and 19 TDs. Ettine still displayed how dangerous he can be, the senior averaged more than one 15-plus-yard run per game.
In his career at Clemson, Etienne had 85 such runs and is the record holder as the ACC’s all-time leading rusher.
Once Etienne has a step on his defender he turns up field and is able to outrun any other person on the field.
Hardest to Tackle of 2021 Running Backs: Javonte Williams
This one brings back some painful memories. After witnessing first hand Javonte Williams and Michael Carter destroy Miami for over 500 rushing yards I can confidently award Williams with this superlative. In that game Williams had more than 10 broken tackles on the way to 236 yards rushing and 3 touchdowns.
The 20 year old junior wrecking ball broke through 76 tackles this season, Not only leading the FBS but also producing the single best tackle-breaking season in history according to PFF.
Best Receiver of 2021 Running Backs: Najee Harris
Najee Harris is the latest edition in a long line of Alabama super star running backs. Harris is comparable to Alvin Kamara, in that he is an upright runner with a blend of power, determination and versatility. Harris can have passing concepts designed around his abilities and he can routinely put second-level defenders in a bind with schemed patterns to attack coverage.
Harris only had 425 receiving yards in 2020 but averaged 9.9 yards per catch on a team that also had a Heisman winning wide receiver, another wide receiver that will go in the first round and a quarterback that will go in the first round.
Diamond in the Rough 2021 Running Back: Pooka Williams
Unless you are a hardcore fan of college football like me, this name will be foreign to you. Williams sat out this season but in years prior he was a swiss army knife player.
As a freshman in 2018 he rushed for 1,125 yards on just 161 carries in 11 games. In 2019 he kept up the work and went on to be named a first team All-Big 12 member after rushing for 1,061 yards, three touchdowns and receiving for 214 yards and two touchdowns.
Standing 5’9” and 175 lbs Pooka Williams’ size will limit him at the NFL but that’s only if the defenders are able to catch him first. With a 4.38 forty time Williams can accelerate away or around defenders.
Williams is a patient runner that is agile on his feet. The former Jayhawk has unique side-step quickness that allows him to explode out of cuts resulting in him remaining free and tough to tackle in the open field. His vision is above average and understands where holes where open up