2021 NFL Draft- Running Backs
Najee Harris, JR, Alabama
Harris could've been a high draft choice if he had left school after the 2019 season but increased his stock even further this season. He's a complete, do-it-all kind of back who should thrive in the league. He has fantastic size for the position, good speed, and a rare ability to smoothly transition to a receiver out of the backfield. I've even heard him compared to the Pittsburgh version of Le'Veon Bell in terms of influencing the passing game. I think a blue-collared, tough-running team like the Steelers would be a great fit for him. Easily the top back in a pretty deep draft class.
Chuba Hubbard, JR, Oklahoma State
Many were surprised when Hubbard returned to school for 2020, and his season did not go as he had hoped. After a 2019 campaign that saw him run for over 2,000 yards and 21 touchdowns, he was only able to manage just 625 yards with five touchdowns this season. Still, Hubbard is a supremely talented running back and should be pretty highly coveted due to his potential.
Travis Etienne, JR, Clemson
Etienne has been one of best running backs in the country during his Clemson career. Despite being a smaller-built back, he has shattered any label of being "just a speed back." Yes, Etienne is fast and can make plays in the passing game, but he also has great vision and unique power for a back of his stature. Normally, guys his size can get bullied at the goal line, but he has shown the ability to power over defenders on a consistent basis. Pair that with his elusiveness, and you have a complete back.
Jaret Patterson, JR, Buffalo
Patterson was a sleeper going into the season and broke into the next tier of running backs after an 409 yard eight touchdown performance. In fact, he had three 100-yard games in a five-game season, two of which he collected over 300 yards on the ground. He's not the flashiest or quickest, but he's a smart runner and should be a good value in the middle rounds. He's also a very hard worker by all accounts, which is something that can help in the pros.
Rhamondre Stevenson, SR, Oklahoma
Stevenson was suspended to begin the season but quickly showed that he could lead the Sooners' backfield. He's a bigger guy and built much like a fullback, yet he is more agile and moves much more smoothly. He showed the ability to be a great pass protector and even catch passes at the Senior Bowl as well. He may be asked to do some of that at the next level, but he should be more of a power runner in the pros.
Rakeem Boyd, SR, Arkansas
Boyd ran for over 2,000 yards in his collegiate career in the SEC despite playing for one of its worst teams. Arkansas has really struggled on offense lately, making Boyd's numbers even more impressive. He's flown under the radar with fans so far, but there's no way teams are overlooking him. He has almost perfect size for the position and is great at running away from defenders. Someone looking for a potential home-run threat at the running back position could find good value here.
Kenneth Gainwell, R-SO, Memphis
Gainwell has talent but really only played one year of college. It was a spectacular 2019 season for him at Memphis--running for 1,459 yards and 13 touchdowns and adding another 610 yards receiving. The big question will be how he returns after sitting out the year. Gainwell is incredibly quick and can beat defenses multiple ways, which gives him a good case to join the league.
Jermar Jefferson, SR, Oregon State
Jefferson would get more attention if he had played for a more dominant program. In his first year as the Beavers' starter in 2018, he ran for 1,380 yards and 12 touchdowns. He didn't reach those marks in the next two seasons, but his yards per carry were much higher during the shortened 2020 season. The PAC-12 only played seven regular season games last year, and Jefferson ran for over 800 yards and seven touchdowns-- a production clip that should impress teams. If there's an unheralded back that emerges as a rookie, I'd bet on Jefferson.
Trey Sermon, SR, Ohio State
Sermon would be much higher on most people's lists if he hadn't been injured at Oklahoma. In his career with the Sooners, Sermon ran for 2,076 yards and 22 touchdowns before the injuries derailed his career by allowing others to take his reps in the offense and ultimately forcing him to transfer to Ohio State. With the delayed Big Ten season, Sermon struggled out of the gate but turned it on as the season progressed. His best performance came in the Big Ten Championship Game--where he ran for a school record 331 yards with two touchdowns. He continued to influence the Buckeyes' offense in the playoff until another injury knocked him out of the National Championship. His absence was extremely noticeable as the offense became increasingly one-dimensional and struggled to gain a yard. Sermon also helped himself with a nice pro day performance. If he can stay healthy, Sermon should have a role in an NFL backfield going forward.
Michael Carter, SR, North Carolina
The first of two UNC backs expected to go in the first two days. Carter was the one who gained most of the attention going into the season. He's not a big guy but is built well and ran for over 3,000 yards as a Tar Heel, leaving as the program's 4th leading career rusher. He's an all-purpose back who could help a team right away.
Javonte Williams, JR, North Carolina
Williams is the bigger of the two UNC running backs at 220 lbs and enters the draft after a breakout season that saw him top 1100 rushing yards and score 19 touchdowns. He's more of a straight ahead runner from what I've seen and hasn't been asked to do much as a receiver. He has a high ceiling and should come off the board on day 2. I think Williams can thrive as an RB2 at first and eventually become an RB1.
Gerrid Doaks, SR, Cincinnati
Doaks had a good single season at Cincinnati and should have a future as a short yardage back in the NFL. His straight-line speed is pretty good, but I don't think he's nimble enough to become an every down runner in today's league. Still, he could have a nice career as a part of a committee-based backfield.
Larry Rountree, SR, Missouri
Rountree showed more in Senior Bowl practices than I expected. He was a solid pass protector, displayed good vision, and made plays in the passing game. He had an extremely productive career at Missouri, becoming the 3rd fastest Tiger to reach 2,000 yards in his career. He ran for over 1,200 yards as a junior and can be a late round gem if he can find similar production.
Javian Hawkins, R-SO, Louisville
Hawkins is one of the smaller running backs in this class but brings plenty to like. He's a former All-ACC player who ran for 1,525 yards in his first year as the starter. He followed it up with 822 yards in 7 games before opting out in 2020. I have some concerns about his physicality, but his speed and production speak for themselves.
Chris Evans, SR, Michigan
It seemed like Evans was in college forever. He's been billed as more of a speed back, and it's easy to see why when watching him play. He does have the ability to run between the tackles, but it is much more difficult for defenses to contain him when he gets into space. Evans should be an intriguing option for a team looking for that speedier change-of-pace runner.
CJ Marable, SR, Coastal Carolina
Marable has been a big part of the sudden surge from Coastal Carolina and would have been in the East-West Shrine Bowl had the game been played. Small school prospects like Marable tend to fall down boards due to competition, so Marable is probably a Day 3 guy. His 2,691 career rushing yards and 29 touchdowns certainly make a case for earlier selection, though. Marable is a balanced back with a good build for the position. He does not have game-breaking speed or great vision, so that may cause him to fall.
Mekhi Sargent, SR, Iowa
Sargent is a tough Big Ten back with a productive college career. He's 20th in program history in rushing and 26th in career scoring and also earned several All-Conference nods from media and coaches. I think he has a lot of room to grow and isn't quite a finished product. Whoever takes him will be betting on his work ethic to raise his potential. I see him as a decent backup in the league but never one to get many carries or be a big contributor. Late round depth guy.
Elijah Mitchell, SR, Louisiana
Mitchell is the more prolific of the Louisiana backs in this class. He has the ability to do whatever he is asked and is powerful for a guy his size. He may seem like a scat-back at first glance but can defintiely run betweenm the tackles when asked. Probably not an every down back in the NFL but a great rotational piece in a committee backfield approach.
Trey Ragas, SR, Louisiana
Whereas Mitchell was the complete back for the Ragin Cajuns, Ragas was the power runner. He's a big 6'"2 230 with plenty of speed and decent vision. He has a knack for finding the endzone and could make a career as short yardage/goal line back. Good value later in the draft.
Spencer Brown, SR, UAB
Brown could be the exception in this year's class of Group of 5 running backs. UAB was a run-heavy offense and relied on him immensely. He absolutely excelled when called upon- rushing for over 4,000 yards in his career and becoming the first two-time Conference USA Championship MVP. He finishes his career 11th all-time in CUSA rushing yards and 10th in rushing touchdowns. By the way, the only other active 4,000 yard career rusher is Clemson's Travis Etienne, who is a first or second round player. Again, the competition may hold Brown's stock down, but he's a terrific player.
Jake Funk, JR, Maryland
Funk didn't play much before 2020 but made the most of his senior year, making 3rd team All-Big Ten. He finished the year with over 500 rushing yards and will likely be an undrafted free agent.
Khalil Herbert, SR, Virginia Tech
Herbert is a little older than the rest of the running backs in this class and on the shorter side, but he can still play as well as any of them. His strength at 212 helps keep him balanced and makes him deceptively tough to bring down. After transferring from Kansas, Herbert became the first Hokie to reach 1,000 rushing yards since 2015 with 1,182 yards. While his college production speaks for itself, I think he is best used as a change of pace or rotational player at the next level. He would be a good fit with a team that uses different playing styles to its advantage.
Harry Trotter, SR, Kansas State
Trotter never had any incredible seasons in college but may get some interest as a free agent. He's athletic enough to be a special teams player in the league and maybe fill in if injuries become an issue.
Kene Nwangwu, SR, Iowa State
Nwangwu was mainly a kick returner after the emergence of Breece Hall, but is gaining traction throughout the league. He is uniquely fast for a guy his size and could stick as a Day 3 pick. He may have had a chance to be selected earlier if there was more production from him offensively.
Corey Taylor, SR, Tulsa
Taylor has been a big part of Tulsa's offense the past three years with his best year coming in 2018. That season he ran for 846 yards and 11 touchdowns. In 39 career games, he ran for 2,034 yards and 26 touchdowns. He's got work to do, but the production is there for a late round prospect.