Following on from my recent running back draft profiles I have decided on my top 5 running backs heading into the 2021 NFL Draft.
This is just my take, as you know I am not an expert and fairly new to watching tape. This is also who I would want to take If I was a budding GM or scout. Now I like a pass catching back as much as the next person but I also value my running backs to be able to run the ball first, so keep this in my mind when looking at my breakdown below.
This is also based on real NFL talent not who is the best value for fantasy football. That article will come at a later date I'm sure.
1. Najee Harris (Alabama)
Harris could've declared for the draft last season but with such a crowded market he probably did the right thing by coming back for another year. If he had entered the draft last year I would've probably had him as the 3rd or 4th best back, so after another year of great tape he is my stand out number 1 back heading into the draft.
I give him a slight nod over Williams partly because he has had two very good years worth of tape but he is a big strong back who can pound the rock for sure. He has a highlight reel of defenders hanging off him, whilst being dragged along the ground before they are able to finally take him down. He might not have the burst or top end speed of a Travis Etienne but for a big guy he has more than enough speed and is a fairly good pass catcher.
My only knock on him is his pass protection. I'm not sure he brings the same energy to his protection as he does to his running game, but apart from that and being 23, he is probably the only sure bet to be successful at the next level.
Never ending motor
Good pass catcher
Projected - Late 1st Round
Landing Spots - Steelers/Bills/Bucs
Similarities - As a power runner ceiling - Derrick Henry, Floor - Mark Ingram
2. Javonte Williams (UNC)
Everything I love about Najee Harris was on show in 2020 with Javonte Williams. It's hard to say he was an unknown but after average numbers in 2019 he had a massive breakout in 2020. Williams is your typical 5ft 10, 220lbs type of back who has flashes of tape where he is also hard to tackle and happily takes multiple defenders with him in the same fashion as Harris.
Similar to Harris he is a pound the rock, power type back who was great fun to watch. Unlike Harris, Williams seems to thrive in pass protection and will happily knock any opponent flying who gets in his way when called upon. He probably isn't quite as polished as a receiver out the backfield but he's more than adequate at the skill set and put up decent numbers
I have to admit I loved Najee Harris through the season but after watching Williams tape he has become "my guy"
Good patience & visions
Strong pass protections
Lacked consistency in the past
Only has 1 really good year of tape
Projected NFL Draft Round - Late 1st/Early 2nd
Landing Spots - Bengals/Patriots/Dolphins/Steelers/Cardinals
Similarities to Chris Carson, Todd Gurley & Nick Chubb
3. Travis Etienne (Clemson)
Etienne seemed to be the favourite to be number 1 back off the board going into this season, a lot of people still think he is the number 1 back. For me I want to really like him but I just don't see it. He's dangerous when he gets to the second level, he is elusive and super quick but as a runner he struggles to get to the second level to make the most of that skill.
I put him down as an inbetweener. I'm not saying he's a bad running back at all because he's not but when you compare him to the players mentioned above he looks average at best.
The big question will be how he translates his skills at the next level. In the right destination he could make a big impact early, possibly more as a change of speed type of guy but can certainly build up to being an every down back. One of this strongest assets is catching the ball out the backfield and making the most of the space presented to him
Great in passing game
Makes big plays
Lacks patience at the line of scrimmage
Struggles to get to the edge
Projected NFL Draft Round - Late 1st/Early 2nd
Landing Spots - Steelers/Jets/Bills
Similarities to Alvin Kamara & Austin Ekeler
4. Kenneth Gainwell (Memphis)
Gainwell is an intriguing prospect, he hardly took the field in 2018 but had a sensational 2019 going for over 2000 total yards for Memphis, then opted out of the 2020 season due to the pandemic. The guy is speedy, elusive and very versatile. If he had continued in 2020 like he finished in 2019 he would easily be ahead of Etienne on this list, the problem is he has only contributed towards one really great season of tape to work with.
Gainwell is a good runner, but he really stands out in the passing game. Not only out the backfield but he can line up outside too. Watching his tape I'd go as far as saying he's better than a lot of receivers in college football. I always consider the fact that he kept Antonio Gibson out the backfield at Memphis because he is that good and look how everyone was building up Gibson last season.
I will add after watching a season with UCF, the level of opposition in the AAC can be a slight notch below most average college teams which needs to be considered but he has proven himself enough against good defences that he can be more than effective.
Little Indecisive at line of scrimmage
Only 2019 tape to work with
Could end up a situational back at next level
Projected NFL Draft Position - Late 2nd/Early 3rd
Landing Spots - Panthers/49ers/Bucs/Pats
Similarities to Antonio Gibson (Ironically)
5. Michael Carter (UNC)
It was an incredible backfield at UNC this season. Carter and Williams both shared the backfield and both went over 1400 total yards, which blows my mind.
Carter is a grower, the more I watch his tape the more I want to rank him higher. I have him in a similar category to Gainwell as a runner, he's good but I'm not quite sure how good he can be at the next level. His college stats show what he can offer and it will be interesting to see where he ends up and how he is utilised. Where as I feel more comfortable that Williams is your bell cow, I just don't quite see Carter as that type of player.
He does offer a little more in the passing game and I saw enough evidence that he can be more than adequate in the pass protection role. He is your value guy in the draft, if you're looking for a change of speed guy that has potential for more then a team drafting Carter has everything they could ask for.
Effective in the passing game
Good all round back
Great getting to the edge
Average between the tackles
A lack of touchdowns
Projected NFL Draft Position - 3rd Round
Landing Spots - 49ers/Pats/Dolphins
Similarities to James White