2021 NFL Draft – RB Preview

First Round Talent

Travis Etienne – Clemson, SR

Etienne checks all the boxes and is the best RB prospect since Saquon Barkley. Size, speed, elusiveness, IQ, production…. national champion…. Etienne has it all going for him. I was extremely surprised when Etienne decided to return for his senior season, as I had him ranked first in the class of a group that really had no clear #1. He ran for 1,600 yards in each of the last two seasons and now has scored 68 touchdowns. Not only is he one of the fastest running backs when he finds space, but he is a bruiser who can run between the tackles exceptionally. He has not been as involved in the passing game lately, which is likely just due to the lack of need since Clemson rarely finds themselves needing to get too creative in games. Last season was his most involved year in the passing game where he took 37 receptions for 432 yards and 4 scores. Etienne should be taken in the top 15 picks, but I see him going even high within the first 7.

Najee Harris – Alabama, SR

Harris is another exceptionally talented running back prospect but is not as polished as Etienne. He has been inconsistent in hitting the correct holes and running between the tackles, but he is also the best open field runner in the class. He is a tenacious, versatile runner who boasts uber athleticism and great hands. The 6’2” 230 is the biggest in the class, which may have scared away scouts several years due to his height, but he can thank Derrick Henry for silencing that stigma. He is not as elusive as some of the smaller, more compact backs, but he also tends to break SEC tacklers much easier than most. He has the best combination of size and speed in the draft. 

Chuba Hubbard – Oklahoma State, JR

Just as Etienne relies on his versatility and Harris relies on his athleticism, Hubbard heavily relies on his patience and IQ. He lets the plays set up and the blocks take place before exploding through holes, something that is extremely rare for college running back. Hubbard is the smartest player on the field on most plays and has essentially become the quarterback of Oklahoma States offense. The redshirt junior has perfect size and should come in around 6’0”, 220 lb by the combine. His biggest knock is he really has not been much of a pass catcher, however that may be due to Oklahoma State’s vertical heavy pass offense.

Next Tier

Kenneth Gainwell – Memphis, SO

Gainwell is a versatile do-it-all athlete who will plug in nicely anywhere on the field. Perhaps one of the most well-rounded prospects, Gainwell is a slippery back who plays a role like Alvin Kamara for Memphis. He is involved between the tackles, around the outside, on end arounds, in the return game, out of the slot and much more. He is truly a complete back and his 50 receptions last year will certainly keep him close to the top of the class. Gainwell opted out of the 2020 season, so we will eagerly await to hear if he will return to Memphis or declare for the NFL Draft.   

Max Borghi – Washington State, JR

Borghi is an intriguing prospect and may be the best player you have not heard of. He has flown under the radar but could be the perfect prospect for a team looking to find a high-volume receiving back who also has the potential to develop into an every down back. Borghi only had 127 rushes last season but caught an astounding 86 passes. Not to mention he took those limited carries for 817 yards, which averaged a whopping 6.4 yards per carry. Borghi could be a second-round steal and should certainly be considered in all dynasty leagues for his PPR potential.

There is no McCaffrey 2.0, but Borghi is fun to watch.

Javian Hawkins – Louisville, SO

Javian “Playstation” Hawkins may be the most exciting prospect in the 2021 NFL Draft. He uses his elusiveness and speed to turn nothing into something and can be viewed as a home run hitting change of pace back that has the potential of becoming something special. Even at 5’9” he hits the holes are hard as anyone, then typically uses his speed to bounce to the outside to find green grass. Hawkins should be taken in the first three rounds if he declares for the draft, and his stock is only rising with a hot start to the 2020 season.

Mid to Late Rounders

CJ Verdell – Oregon, JR

Verdell is a talented downhill runner who has the speed to break off huge runs. He is a compact running back at 5’9” 210, like Clyde Edwards-Helaire, but Verdell seems to be a bit faster and a tad less elusive. He has produced well in his two seasons with Oregon, posting 1,000+ yards each year. He has been lucky to be in a great situation behind several elite offensive lineman as well as a first-round quarterback spreading the field. Verdell will likely be a day two option, who could prove a lot in the 2020 season.

Khalil Herbert – Virginia Tech, SR

The graduate transfer has had a rocky career but is off to a hot start in his first season with the Hokies. He currently ranks second in the nation with 592 rushing yards on just 61 carries. Herbert is short (5’9”) yet stout (should be around 220), explosive yet lacks breakaway speed. With every box Herbert checks there seems to be one that is a mystery. The super senior produced well at Kansas yet found himself playing second fiddle to Pookah Williams. Herbert brings a lot of risk to the table (not to mention he is much older than most prospects) but also has the tools necessary to make it in the NFL. Herbert finds open gaps and explodes through the line of scrimmage, while breaking tackles at all three levels…something NFL scouts will surely love about his film.

Spencer Brown – UAB, SR

UAB’s all time leading rusher started the season with over 3,000 yards which does his draft stock as much good as it does harm. Brown has prototypical size but with over 770 rush attempts to only career receptions, there is some serious concern taking an RB with that much wear and tear. Luckily for Brown, they were good touches, where he averaged nearly 5 yards a pop and found the end zone 38 times. Someone will ignore the concerns about future durability and buy low on his experience, like other long tenured college backs like Aaron Jones. The biggest concern with Brown is the aforementioned lack of receiving production, however, is something that can be picked up in the transition to the NFL.

Kylin Hill – Mississippi State, SR

Hill has a remarkably interesting story at Mississippi State, and at times I thought he had all the tools to be a first rounder. The biggest head scratching question mark with Hill was simply his usage at Mississippi State. He has endured scheme changes, however there is not much sense in how his career has panned out. It started in his sophomore season where he slowly took over as the lead rusher for the Bulldogs, yet he only had 117 carries and 22 receptions. He made the most of those by taking them by averaging 6.3 YPC and 8.0 YPR. The story gets even weirder when you take a step further to notice he only had four games with double digit carries and over 100 in three of those with a 3-1 record. His role expanded in 2018 as he ranked 3rd in the SEC in rushing with over 1300 yards, but it became clear that his role would often dimmish in crunch time or close games…he was never “that guy”. Now in his senior season he has 15 carries in 3 games and finds himself facing a suspension for detrimental conduct within the team. Hill already faces an uphill battle to impress while in Mike Leach’s offense, but seems to be squandering any hope at being drafted highly.

Hill turned to Twitter to share his feelings toward the suspension.

Everyone Else

Pookah Williams – Kansas, JR

Williams is electric, but extremely small and does not have much hope to become an NFL feature back. He certainly will get a shot to become a gadget player, but gadget players rarely get drafted very high.

Trey Sermon – Ohio State, SR

Sermon is another big back who will have the benefit of playing on the biggest stage this season. The Oklahoma transfer is slated as Ohio State’s week 1 starting RB, so naturally he is a name worth watching through the season. He is a very tough and aggressive runner but doesn’t have the speed or elusiveness of a high round pick. Along with Sermon, fellow OSU RB Master Teague certainly has NFL potential as well, however, is coming off of an Achilles injury.

Isaiah Bowser – Northwestern, JR

Bowser is an absolute bruiser of a running back which also seems to be his biggest weakness. His go to move almost immediately after receiving the handoff is to brace for contact and hit stick any players in his path, rather than being an elusive and intelligent runner. His game lacks versatility and creativity, but he will plow through any defensive line to ensure a first down, a trait that is not common amongst college backs.

Zamir White – UGA, SO

Zamir White is a versatile back who benefits from getting to show his tape against SEC defenses. He has made the most of his opportunity at UGA, but certainly does not benefit from their committee approach. White will get a shot at the next level and will likely be drafted, but is also just a sophomore and will have plenty of time to grow his stock.

Sleepers

Journey Brown – Penn State, JR

Jaret Patterson – Buffalo, JR

Michael Carter – UNC, SR

Leave a Reply