Javonte Williams | UNC
If there is one guy in the draft that I am higher on than anyone else it is Javonte Williams. He is a powerful yet elusive back that checks every box needed to succeed in the NFL. His UNC finale was beyond impressive and some of the best RB tape I have ever evaluated. Williams torched the #10 Miami Hurricanes (who was full of NFL talent in their front 7) for 236 yards and 3 touchdowns to finish his college career on a high note. What was even more impressive were the runs he broke off and ability to break nearly every tackler he faced. Williams was also impressive in the passing game, where he caught 25 balls for 300+ and 3 touchdowns. He only had 366 carries in his 3 year college career, but still managed to gain 2,297 yard and 29 rushing touchdowns.
Travis Etienne | Clemson
Etienne had a very disappointing senior season that ended on the lowest note of his Clemson career with a loss against Ohio State in the college football playoffs. He finished the 2020 season averaging 5.4 yards per carry, which was the lowest in his 4 year career. Etienne also had a handful of worrisome fumbles this season, one of which directly impacted the outcome of the Notre Dame loss. That being said, Etienne has still been one of the best running backs in college football throughout the extent of his career. Another bright note is that Etienne had his best receiving year and finished with 48 receptions for 588 yards, which ranks him near the top of the class as a receiving back. Etienne is a near first round lock, but has fallen behind breakout star Javonte Williams, however, he holds a narrow edge over the uber athletic Najee Harris.
Najee Harris | Alabama
Najee had one of the best seasons in college football and finished with 1,891 total yard and 30 touchdowns. He finished fifth in Heisman voting and had 3 touchdowns in the National Championship victory. The only worrisome risk with Harris is that he played behind one of the top offensive lines in college football, where all 5 guys will likely be playing in the NFL within the next couple of years. There were some inconsistencies early on where he would miss some holes and depend on his athleticism to break him free, but his tape is much more clean towards the end of the season. Najee gets the job done and is one of the most athletic backs to enter the league in years and he should hear his name called in the first two days of the draft.
Michael Carter | UNC
Like Javonte Williams, Michael Carter is enjoying a draft surge from his recent success in the 2020 season. Although the two split carries, both finished with over 1,200 yards and each scored within the top 4 of PFFs running backs for the year. Carter is a bit smaller and more compact, but should plug in right away in a committee with excellent receiving abilities. If it tells you anything about the respect Carter has earned himself, he was named 1st Team All-ACC along with Travis Etienne, despite having inferior stats to several other ACC backs. Carter was a player that seemingly improved each season and now should be rewarded by being taken in the first 3 rounds of the draft. Carter will be playing in the Senior Bowl and will get his chance to showcase why he belongs in the early rounds of the NFL Draft.
Kenneth Gainwell | Memphis
Gainwell opted out of the 2020 season, but was one of the most productive players in college football last year. He finish his breakout 2019 campaign with over 2,000 yards with over 50 receptions. He may not be an every down back right away, but is talented enough as a receiver that he will likely carve out a role immediately. He has a smaller frame at under 200 lbs, so he will certainly need to beef up by the NFL Combine. He struggled a bit in pass protection, but also was in the Memphis spread offense that rarely required him to block. Gainwell is a high ceiling prospect who should be in the mix along with the other early round prospects.
Trey Sermon | Ohio State
Sermon is an extremely interesting prospect as he has had a roller coaster ride of a career. He never reached 165 carries in a single season but was a key part of the Oklahoma Sooners offense during the Mayfield and Murray Heisman seasons before he transferred to Ohio State for his final season. In 2018 he had his most productive season when he led the team with 13 rushing touchdowns, but was third on the team in yards and second in carries. This past season he was a reserve running back until he had a breakout performance against Michigan State where he took his 10 carries for 112 yards with a 64 yard touchdown. Sermon bursted on the scene where he became the teams lead back for the remaining three games, which gained him a lot of national attention. In that three game stretch he had 61 carries for 526 yards and 3 touchdowns, which includes his 1 carry for 2 yard National Championship that was cut short due to an injury. Sermon runs like an NFL back, but wasn’t even in my top 10 until he had his breakout finish. He is a high ceiling, but low floor prospect who could probably be taken in the mid rounds. Sermon was selected to play in the Senior Bowl, but likely will miss due to injury.
Khalil Herbert | Virginia Tech
Herbert is another graduate transfer RB who started his career at Kansas and finished it at Virginia Tech. He battled for playing time at Kansas and never was able to take over as the bell-cow, but assumed that role the first day he stepped on campus at VT. He finished the 2020 season ranked 5th in yards nationally with 1,182 and added 8 touchdowns. He wasn’t featured much in the passing game, as he only had 10 receptions, but he made the most of them and added 179 yards through the air. Herbert is short, but compact and has proven his NFL potential. His size (5’9″, 213) might be his biggest detractor, but other recent picks like Clyde Edwards-Helaire have proven that it isn’t much of a concern. He could become a lead back, but would also be a phenomenal change of pace player like Boston Scott.
Javian Hawkins | Louisville
Hawkins is one of the most agile runners in this draft, hence the nickname “Playstation”. Hawkins was among the top backs in the last two seasons of football, but opted out in November after a hot start. To that point Hawkins had 800+ yards and 8 touchdowns through just 7 games. He is small, at just under 200 lbs, but is one of the best one cut backs in the nation. He is as dangerous between the tackles as he is in the open field and runs like a freight train through the secondary despite his size. Hawkins will make an impact at the next level, but probably will fall to the mid rounds of the draft.
Chuba Hubbard | Oklahoma State
Hubbard perhaps took the biggest hit on my entire big board this season. He came in as the solid RB2, ahead of Najee Harris and behind Travis Etienne. He had a weak 2020 season where he averaged under 5 yards per carry and only scored 5 touchdowns, both career lows. We cannot forget about his impressive 2019 campaign where he finished with 2,000 yards and 21 touchdowns, but the regression is concerning. He was banged up for the duration of the 2020 season and also had a career low in receptions, but he is a player who would’ve benefited from being able to have gone pro the year before. The upside is there, but unfortunately now we have seen the downside too. He is a very smart and patient runner, but also inconsistent in pass protection.
Jaret Patterson | Buffalo
You may have heard of Patterson following his epic 8 touchdown performance this season, where he not only broke the record but also became an early Heisman dark horse. Patterson had a storybook career and ran for over 1,000 yards through each of his three seasons and finished with 3,884 total yards and 52 touchdowns. He did play in the MAC, but made the most of his opportunity and finished as one of the best players the conference has ever seen. He is another small, but compact runner who has similar size to Javian Hawkins, however, this never got in the way of his game. He didn’t have a single reception in 2020 and also had some injury concerns (which is only concerning given his frame). He is a mid round player who could absolute light up the NFL.
Jermar Jefferson | Oregon State
Jefferson is another interesting prospect who we didn’t get to see a full season with this year, but his tape speaks for itself. He has prototypical size and is an athletic runner who also poses as a threatening run after catch back in the open field. The 2020 PAC-12 Co-Offensive POY is right on the fringe as top tier back, but has had a lull in consistency over his career. He has the ability to become and every down back, but he could also plug in as a change of pace back right away.
Demetric Felton | UCLA
Felton is an interesting prospect who really is a bit more of a Swiss Army Knife than a traditional running back. He aligned all over the field in his career before becoming the teams feature back in 2020. This year was his first having triple digit carries, but unfortunately we only got to see six games of this role. In 2019 he was used primarily as a receiver and finished with 55 receptions for 594 yards and 5 touchdowns through the air. Felton will be heavily involved in special teams and has the versatility that should keep him as an interesting prospect similar to Antonio Gibson.
Larry Roundtree III | Missouri
Roundtree is a smart runner who has 4 years of good production. He is a guy who could really shoot up the draft board if he impresses at the combine, but didn’t have the most versatile role at Missouri. He certainly has the ability to become a feature back in the league, but is similar to Benny Snell as a prospect and his breakaway speed will probably be his biggest detractor. Roundtree will also get a chance to impress at the Senior Bowl.
CJ Verdell | Oregon
Verdell had an up and down career at Oregon, but reached career highs alongside quarterback Justin Herbert. Verdell is a talented receiving back that will have a chance to make a roster and play a limited role. He could progress in the NFL into a role similar to Myles Gaskins.
Kylin Hill | Mississippi State
Hill showed a lot of upside, but never meshed well with Mississippi State. He had great production when he was given carries, but also faced the issue of consistently getting carries. He ended up quitting the team in 2020 to pursue his career in the NFL, which makes you question what type of teammate and player he was in the locker room. He will get his chance at redemption in the Senior Bowl.
Elijah Mitchell | Louisiana
Mitchell played alongside Trey Ragas at Louisiana and finished as the top back of the team. Both players will get a chance to make it at the next level. Mitchell should have a bit higher ceiling than Ragas and also was selected to the Senior Bowl.
Rhamondre Stevenson | Oklahoma
Stevenson is a huge back, but struggled to stay on the field. He plays tall, but also has the aggressive abilities many of the smaller backs lack. He will have the chance to boost his stock in the Senior Bowl and should get a chance in the NFL.
Spencer Brown | UAB
Brown set records while at UAB and is a similar prospect to former Blazer Jordan Howard. He has the NFL size, but played at a lower level and will need to impress in the draft process to be drafted.
Max Borghi | Washington State
Borghi was a bit disappointing in 2020. He battled injuries, but also raised the question if he was just a product of the Mike Leach offense in 2019. Borghi should get a shot but any comparisons to Christian McCaffrey are dead in the water.
Trey Ragas | Louisiana
Ragas split carries with fellow teammate Elijah Mitchell, but had decent production averaging 6 yards per carry in his career. He is a deep shot prospect who could continue to improve and reach his NFL potential.
Ronnie Rivers | Fresno State*
Rivers has four years of solid production and is also one of the best receiving backs in the class. He certainly has the ability to create a passing game out of the backfield in the NFL.
*Ronnie Rivers has declared he will return to Fresno State next fall.