Whether or not you feel running backs matter, this class has some very interesting prospects that are sure to contribute.
1. Travis Etienne, Clemson
The definition of a complete running back, Clemson is sure going to miss Etienne’s diverse skill-set next season. Many questioned his decision to return to school for his senior season, but it turned out to help his draft stock tremendously.
Etienne was more relied upon in the passing game than ever before during an unusual down-season at WR for the Tigers, . His 588 receiving yards were a career high and led all RBs in the country. Clemson incorporated him in their downfield passing attack for the first time in his career where he showcased a willingness to run more diverse routes than previous seasons. His burst and athletic ability were already well established and this newfound skill will likely vault him into the first round.
2. Najee Harris, Alabama
Similar to Etienne, Harris also returned for his senior season and made major gains as a pass-catcher. He set career highs in receiving yards and receptions while improving his route running.
Harris beats the Florida LB easily on the angle route. This is an impressive display of agility from the 6’2″, 230 lb tailback.
Additionally, Harris displayed improved instincts in pass protection this past season. Here are two plays, one from 2019 and one from 2020.
Harris needs to be the last line of defense between his QB and the free rusher. You can see him look back as Tua lets the ball go, possibly looking for the ball himself (the RG pushing up-field makes me think this may have been a screen or slip play). The play fails, though, due to the pressure.
Here’s another blitz, but from 2020.
Harris initially looks left for his assignment, feels the rush, and then shoots right to put a hit on the Florida rusher. The extra second he saved for his QB eventually resulted in a third down conversion.
These are the types of plays that stand out when evaluating a clearly talented runner like Harris. His power, vision and shiftiness cannot be questioned, but what he does on passing downs will dictate his NFL future and potential.
3. Kenneth Gainwell, Memphis
The only player on this list who opted out of the 2020 season, Gainwell’s explosiveness as a RS freshman should not be forgotten. Gainwell totaled more than 2,000 yards from scrimmage and 16 total TDs as the key cog for Memphis’s high-flying offense in 2019, . He was the only RB in the country to earn both a rushing and receiving grade over 85.0, per PFF.
Dynamic as a runner
And quite skilled as a receiver
The only knock against Gainwell is his size: 5’11”. 195 lbs, and slight in build. Whether or not his frame can handle the necessary weight needed to shoulder an NFL workload remains to be seen, but there is a ton to like from his skill set. He is worthy of a Day 2 pick.
4. Javonte Williams, North Carolina
The lead member of UNC’s two-headed rushing attack, Williams was a huge riser in 2020. The former unheralded recruit has added 15 lbs since he arrived on campus (listed at 220 now) and his newfound power was on full display this season. His 75 broken tackles led the entire country despite being 20th in attempts. Check out this battering ram.
Elusive too! He side-stepped through the hole before imposing his will upon the would-be tacklers.
Not without flaws, Williams could serve well to improve his ball skills. His 3 drops do not look great stacked up against 25 REC. He also disappeared in UNC’s biggest game of the year, a loss to Notre Dame where the entire offense was anemic. Nevertheless, Williams is a fantastic prospect and should be selected at some point on Day 2.
5. Michael Carter, North Carolina
The significantly smaller back (5’8″, 200) in UNC’s tandem, Carter still profiles as a complete back at the next level. He holds his weight very well and has no problem getting in between the tackles and bowling a LB over in the hole. That being said, his shiftiness lateral agility, and ability to change direction sets him apart.
Not overly ‘twitchy’, his moves are still very sudden and effective. The athleticism translated to the pass game as well. Carter earned an 88.6 receiving grade this season per PFF, one of the highest marks in the country.
I think that #11 needs a new jock-strap. Carter has made a habit of making defenders look foolish and I bet he continues to do so at the next level.
Trey Sermon, Ohio State
Kylin Hill, Mississippi State
Jermar Jefferson, Oregon State