As we begin to dive deeper into summer scouting and prepare to release our 2021 NFL Draft big board, it’s also time to release our positional rankings. In this article, I’ve given you ten running backs that we should be talking about throughout the 2021 NFL Draft process.
Included with each prospect is some background on their situation, as well as a sample play of what makes them worthy of being on this list.
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10. Demetric Felton – UCLA
With Joshua Kelley now on the Los Angeles Chargers’ roster in the NFL, it’s going to be a ‘next man up’ mentality for Chip Kelly and the Bruins offense. Felton only saw double-digit in three games for UCLA in 2019, but should see an expanded role in 2020.
Below, I’ve attached a clip from their game against Oregon State. While this isn’t the 75-yard run, it does showcase his potential in this offense.
9. Javian Hawkins – Louisville
Last season was the first full year for Javian Hawkins and Louisville. 2019 was a solid year for Hawkins as he ran for 1,500 yards and 9 touchdowns, including a career high 233 yards against Syracuse.
Below, I’ve attached one of those attempts agains Syracuse. While he ends up being taken down by his teammate, it was nonetheless a solid effort that should have gone for more yards.
I’m expecting big things from Javian Hawkins in 2020, but would like to see him get more involved as a receiver, too. Hawkins only had four receptions for 58 yards asa receiver in 2019.
8. Journey Brown – Penn State
Journey Brown took on an expanded role for the Nittany Lions in the second half of the 2019 season. Assuming that he can handle the added workload for an entire season, Brown could be poised for a breakout year in 2020.
In this game against Pitt, Journey Brown displays so many traits for the running back position. He’s able to get through traffic, maintain balance through contact, and bounces outside to free space. He may not have the top end speed as much as others, but he’s still a solid back.
7. Master Teague – Ohio State
Master Teague sat behind J.K. Dobbins as the thunder to Dobbins’ lightning. With Dobbins in Baltimore, it’ll be Teague’s job to lose. Pair the loss of Dobbins with an offensive system that relies heavily on solid running backs, and we could see Master Teague on the stage at the 2021 NFL Draft next April.
In limited reps, Teague showed flashes of what he could do in a starting role. Below, he navigates a busy gap and gets upfield in a hurry. Had he beaten the last defender, it’s no doubt a touchdown.
6. Kylin Hill – Mississippi State
Kylin Hill is a rocket out of the backfield, plain and simple. Hill will have a new head coach in 2020 as Mike Leach makes his way to the SEC. While it may be a bit tough to project his stats in 2020, I do feel like adding Leach and quarterback KJ Costello should lead to Kylin Hill being one of the top running backs in the 2021 NFL Draft class.
It was tough to narrow his playing style to just a single clip, but I feel as though I’ve managed to do so. Take note of his acceleration and explosion to get to the outside quickly as he cuts upfield along the sidelines. Then, Hill does a tremendous job of getting airborne as he finds his way into the endzone for the touchdown.
5. Kenneth Gainwell – Memphis
Of all the running backs on this list, Kenneth Gainwell of Memphis may be the most unknown. However, I think he’s the most impressive of this bunch. Gainwell is still relatively young, but it could be just what the scouts want to see out of these running backs in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Down below, I’ve posted a clip of a game against Tulsa. Gainwell displays a tremendous spin move to bounce outside as he makes it into the endzone. In all, I just see fantastic amounts of effort time and time against from the Memphis back.
4. Chuba Hubbard – Oklahoma State
Chuba Hubbard had a phenomenal 2019 campaign for the Oklahoma State Cowboys. However, 2019 saw Hubbard with an expanded workload, as he rushed for 2,094 yards on 328 attempts. If head coach Mike Gundy relies on Hubbard even more, as expected, NFL scouts could view this as a potential issue.
Nonetheless, Chuba Hubbard is a fantastic running back and should find himself near the top of this 2021 NFL Draft class. Below, you can see Hubbard run with a purpose as he pushes through initial contact and fights for additional yardage.
3. Zamir White – Georgia
Last season, Zamir White was buried in the depth chart as the team looked at D’Andre Swift and Brian Herrien. With a new season and a clean backfield, this could be a breakout season for Zamir White. He’s still relatively young and lacks experience, but a successful season for the Bulldogs could propel White into the discussion.
As you can see below, Zamir White does a greta job of maintaining a low center of gravity as he navigates through traffic and hits a second gear once free. He had limited touches 2019, but this should be a baseline of what to expect from him in 2020.
2. Travis Etienne – Clemson
I had Travis Etienne listed as a first round prospect in my 2019 mock drafts before he announced his return to Clemson. I still think he could end up in the first round, but I do believe that he has a tougher road to get there. However, Etienne has 518 career rushing attempts heading into the 2020 season, so there is some mileage on the tires.
Below, I’ve picked out a play that showcases Etienne’s burst and acceleration. He does a really nice job here of getting through the lane and upfield quickly. There are other plays from him that have a better outcome, but I think this is a good baseline of what we’ll see from him in the NFL.
1. Najee Harris – Alabama
Our top 2021 NFL Draft running back heading into the summer is Alabama’s Najee Harris. Harris has been a workhorse for the Alabama offense, and factors to have a huge impact in 2020, too. It might be a dogfight between Harris and Etienne heading into next April, but I currently have Harris with a slight advantage.
This clip of Najee Harris isn’t sexy, but he does execute the play well. He displays solid lateral speed to break outside once the running lanes are blocked, while maintaining balance. He bursts outside and nearly outruns the LSU secondary here. In all, Harris has the tools and the abilities to become one of the top running backs in this 2021 NFL Draft class.