Top 10 RB 2021 NFL Draft Prospects

  1. #1 Travis Etienne
  2. Clemson University – 5’10”, 205 lbs.

clemson tigersTravis Etienne had one of the most prolific careers in the history of college football. The speedy tailback compiled 4,952 yards and 70 touchdowns from 2017-20, plus helped Clemson to four playoff appearances, two national title games and one national championship. He broke the college football record for most career games scoring a touchdown by reaching the end zone in 46 of his 55 games. In the ACC he shattered records for career rushing yards, total touchdowns, rushing touchdowns and points. Etienne was considered one of the top running backs in last year’s NFL draft before he surprised the nation and chose to return to Clemson for his senior season. This year will be no different and he is likely to be the first running back selected. Etienne’s patience in the backfield and tackle breaking will translate well to the next levels. He is a dual-threat athlete, and his good hands make him a lethal receiving option out of the backfield. Expect him to be used in the screen game on Sundays and to have success right away. Etienne is such an elite athlete and winner that wherever he lands, he will immediately make an impact and will be a solid DFS play as early as his Rookie season.

  1. #2 Najee Harris
  2. University of Alabama – 6’2”, 229 lbs.

alabama crimson tideNot far behind Etienne is Alabama elite ball carrier, Najee Harris. While he isn’t as quick as his Tigers counterpart, the Crimson Tide halfback makes up for his speed in size. At 229 lbs., Harris will be used on Sundays as a three-down back. His physicality and solid build allow him to break through arm tackles which is valuable in goal line situations. Although he is a big-bodied runner, one of his best traits is his shiftiness and balance. He has great body control that led to highlights of him leaping over would-be tacklers or stopping on a dime to let them fly by. Harris’ skills between the tackles will pair well with the offensive plans of run-heavy NFL teams, like Seattle or Cleveland. He might not go until the second round but expect him to compete for RB1 right away.

  1. #3 Javonte Williams
  2. University of North Carolina – 5’10”, 220 lbs.

north carolina tar heelsAt 220 lbs., Javonte Williams is the most physical running back in this year’s draft class. His compact, muscular frame allows him to bounce off linebackers like a pinball and his strong upper body houses a lethal stiff arm. Arm tackles are run through like tackling dummies. In his Junior and final season, the Tarheel ball carrier led the nation in avoided tackles with 75. Williams is simply tough to take down. He’s not a burner, but he has deceptive speed and a second level burst when he hits the hole. While in Chapel Hill, he racked up 2,297 career rushing yards and 29 touchdowns in 34 games. Williams is also a competent receiver out of the backfield, which should give his draft stock a boost. He added 50 catches for 539 yards and four touchdowns in his college career. Although I don’t expect to see his name called until after Etienne and Harris, Williams has the size and physicality to make an impact at the next level.

  1. #4 Kenneth Gainwell
  2. University of Memphis – 5,9”, 191 lbs.

Memphis Tigers logo.svgDual threat is the first thing that comes to mind when profiling Kenny Gainwell from Memphis. The Tiger ball carrier made headlines when he was the first college football player since 1997 to go over 200 yards receiving and 100 yards rushing in a game. That same season Gainwell rattled off six consecutive 100-yard rushing performances after filling in for the injured starter. He is an explosive game changer that thrives in the open field. Although his size is limited, he has good balance and speed that allows him to burst through piles of tacklers. The receiving threat that Gainwell possesses is what has most NFL scouts frothing at the mouth. He is versatile and has experience lining up in the backfield and out wide at Memphis. The pass catching running back is a high-upside prospect that would fit well in several NFL offenses. I think we can expect to hear Gainwell’s name called sometime before Day 3.

  1. #5 Michael Carter
  2. University of North Carolina – 5’8”, 199 lbs.

north carolina tar heelsMichael Carter is half of the dynamic duo that makes up the Tarheel backfield. He is a light-footed, shifty ball carrier that prefers to run outside the tackles and excels at making defenders miss. He makes one-step cuts in a blur, and his deceptive speed allows him to effortlessly turn the corner on pursuing defenders. The Tarheel halfback stops on a dime and once he gets in open space, its off to the races. He compliments his speed with solid pass-catching skills. Carter was used in the screen game and caught passes out of the backfield. He saw a variety of routes at UNC and is a crisp route-runner. The biggest thing going against Carter is his size. At just 5’8”, NFL scouts worry about his vision in the backfield and his ability in pass protection. If teams can get past his diminutive stature, expect him to be drafted in the third or fourth round.

  1. #6 Trey Sermon
  2. Ohio State University – 6’0”, 221 lbs.

ohio state buckeyesTrey Sermon is a wide-bodied ball carrier who began his collegiate career as a Sooner and ended it as a Buckeye. The Ohio State halfback is a workhorse between the tackles. His 221 lbs. make him a menace to bring to the turf and his quick, compact cuts allow him to hit an opening in the blink of an eye. Sermon doesn’t have breakaway speed, but his short-area quickness and precise cutbacks make it difficult for defenders to choose the right pursuit angle. He is also a dangerous receiver out of the backfield, compiling 486 yards receiving on just 48 catches, averaging 10.1 per play. Like most of the RBs in his draft class, he possesses a dual-threat attribute that NFL scouts are looking for. He has great pass-catching skills, and with his broad frame, he is a solid pass blocking running back. The biggest thing going against Sermon and his draft stock is his speed. He is not a true perimeter runner and he doesn’t have the speed to turn the corner on the defense. If teams can look past his lack of tempo and use him as a third-down-back or in passing situations, we will hear his name called in round five or six.

  1. #7 Rhamondre Stevenson
  2. Oklahoma University – 6’0”, 246 lbs.

oklahomaRhamondre Stevenson is like a freight train; when he gets rolling, he is hard to stop.  At 246 lbs., he is a classic power runner that picks up the tough yardage. His best skill is running through people and breaking tackles, as it usually takes multiple defenders to bring him down. He has solid vision and is quick to find the gap in the defense. Resembling Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titan’s 238 lb. star running back, Stevenson has good straight-line speed and gains momentum as he goes. However, unlike Henry, he doesn’t have very good lateral speed. He lacks the quickness in change-of-direction that’s needed for success at the next level. Also, unlike the other RBs in his draft class, he has virtually no receiving ability, which puts him in a very niche NFL role. Stevenson is not doing his draft stock any favors off the field either. He has red flags like being suspended from the 2019 bowl game because of a positive drug test and missing a junior college game because of poor grades. Stevenson’s best hope is to be utilized in a running back committee, as goal line and late-down ball carrier.

  1. #8 Kylin Hill
  2. Texas A&M University – 5’11” 215 lbs.

texas am aggiesAt 5’11 and 215 lbs., Kylin Hill possesses a compact, shredded frame that makes him an aggressive, forceful ball carrier. He is hard-nosed and runs downhill, attacking the line of scrimmage. Hill’s best aspect is his outstanding balance, which allows him to bounce off and leap over would-be tacklers. Once he gets to the open field, watch out. He has the speed and quickness to blow by the defense in a blur. Hill is also a proficient receiver. He has good hands and catches the ball away from his body. One positive NFL scouts will note is his pass protection. His physicality on the football field is apparent in his pass blocking ability, which has glimpses of greatness. Hill is a bruiser as a running back, but some of his commitment issues will keep his draft stock down. The Aggie running back reportedly quit the high school football team during his sophomore season and more recently, Hill walked out on Mike Leach and the team after complaining about not getting enough touches.

  1. #9 Jaret Patterson
  2. University of Buffalo – 5’9”, 195 lbs.

buffalo bullsFamous for rushing for 409 yards and eight touchdowns against Kent State, Jaret Patterson is a stocky ball carrier that runs with a low center of gravity. Combine that with his lightning-quick feet, and you have a very effective inside runner. Patterson’s best trait is his lateral agility. He utilizes precise jukes, jump cuts, and spin moves that leave defenders looking silly. His outstanding quickness allows him to dodge contact, rather than incite it like some of the other RBs in his draft class. These unique skills led to 3,884 career rushing yards at Buffalo, including three individual games over 298 yards. His excellent lateral mobility might be enough to succeed at the next level, but NFL scouts will point to his size and lack of physicality as weaknesses. Despite his stature, he has the toughness that translates well on all levels of football and if he lands in the right system, he could have a solid NFL career.

  1. #10 Demetric Felton
  2. University of Los Angeles – 5’9”, 185 lbs.

Demetric Felton is a jitterbug ball carrier that can be utilized in a variety of roles on offense and special teams. Other than lining up in the backfield for the Bruins, he was a dangerous receiving option and a lethal kick returner. NFL scouts took note when played both running back and receiver in the Senior Bowl this year. He is deceptively speedy and plays much faster than his 40-yard dash time. His small stature and open field speed make him extremely elusive, and once he’s in the open field, say goodbye. Despite being just 5’9” and 185 lbs., Felton is a stubborn ball carrier that usually requires more than one tackler to bring down. He has been criticized for lacking patience and not waiting for blocks to develop. Also, he was not asked to do much for pass protection as a Bruin, so blocking could be a factor. His unique skills as a receiver and kick returner are keeping his draft stock afloat, and with any luck he will hear his name called towards the end of the draft.

Russ Thomas has been analyzing and betting on the NFL draft for over five years now. His attentive following of college and professional football have resulted in four out of five profitable years betting on the draft. Russ is also an avid DFS player and competes in NFL and PGA fantasy weekly.

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