After discussing the quarterbacks, we head to the running backs because it’s never too early to talk about the draft. The 2021 NFL Draft most likely features a weaker running back class than 2020 did. Nevertheless, lets get these rankings sorted. Here is your way too early 2021 NFL Draft running back big board.
1: Najee Harris (Alabama)
I think Najee Harris can be 90 percent of Derrick Henry. 6-foot-2, 230, and he’s going to run faster than you think he is. Harris is a guy that just always surprises you. Big backs shouldn’t move like that. Well, Harris does. Fade route in the end zone? Yup, he will go get in. Bust a screen pass for 60? Yup. He’s got an array of moves and really can just do it all. 2019 featured a 1,224 yards with 13 touchdowns rushing campaign (5.9 per carry). Also had production in the passing game as I mentioned. Harris was good enough to make you think he won’t be another Eddie Lacy or Trent Richardson.
2: Travis Etienne (Clemson)
Look, I don’t have Travis Etienne. BUT… I think he’s wildly overrated compared to the rest of the experts out there. I think ball security and pass protection are issues. Etienne has speed and burst. The Clemson back is undersized and really didn’t create yards after contact with power. Good back, probably. Elite back? NO.
3: Zamir White (Georgia)
The sample size isn’t there but the talent is. White was the former top running back recruit in the country. Injuries and D’Andre Swift slowed his progress. White has some size and speed elements to him. I think there’s a chance he could explode. The range of outcomes here is high though.
4: Journey Brown (Penn State)
Journey Brown wasn’t supposed to be the man at Penn State. His production kept him on the field. 6.9 yards per carry is legit. All Brown did is rip off long runs Brown has good size the position. He just needs to keep the momentum.
5: Kylin Hill (Mississippi State)
Caleb mentioned Kylin Hill in one of his recent posts so I’m going to expand on it a bit. One thing to watch for with Hill is his use in the passing game. Mike Leach should change that. Hill essentially wasn’t used at all in that regard. I do love his power and in between the tackles ability. Hill has a good frame on him and can make you miss. Now it’s a matter of whether he can be a complete back.
6: Kenneth Gainwell (Memphis)
I still have to do more work on Kenneth Gainwell but give Memphis credit. They put out some really impressive running backs. Gainwell led all RB’s in receiving yards in 2019. The hype on Antonio Gibson was and is nonsense. If anything this is the cat you want. He’s on my list of players to watch.
7: James Cook (Georgia)
Ok, call me a homer. I don’t care. Listen, I still have faith here. Well, mostly because I have to because he’s on my fantasy team. Georgia just rode D’Andre Swift last year. Cook is going to get carries. You can see the flashes of Dalvin Cook. He’s not as physically opposing but the skillset is there. Cook averaged 6.9 yards per carry as a true Freshman. It’s put up or shut up time.
8: Master Teague (Ohio State)
Master Teague gets to take over for JK Dobbins at Ohio State. I almost put Trey Sermon on the list instead. I don’t quite know which one is better yet. Straight line speed might be a question. Same with pure shiftiness. We will find out more as the sample size grows in a larger role.
9: Jaret Patterson (Buffalo)
Here’s my small school sleeper right here. Production was off the charts. 1,799 rushing yards and 19 touchdowns in 2019 is as good as it gets. I can’t wait to see what he looks like against Ohio State this year.
10: CJ Verdell (Oregon)
Verdell isn’t a huge back but the man runs hard. Not afraid to go inside the tackles. He’s capable of being a weapon in the passing game. I just don’t know how talented he is.
Side Note: Chuba Hubbard stinks.
I’ll call it right now. I don’t care what he does in college. Hubbard will not be a good pro. This is the one guy you should just stop paying attention to. The Oklahoma State back is not athletically gifted. I think he has good vision and in the Big 12 that’s enough to be productive. Hubbard has enough back but he runs like a small back. No burst or explosion. Just a guy. Just like Justice Hill is in the NFL. Nothing special.