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Top 10 Running Back Prospects for 2021 NFL Draft

Travis Etienne, Clemson, 5-10, 210 pounds

Games: 55

Stats: 686 carries / 4,952 yards / 70 (7.2 ypa)... 102 receptions / 1,155 yards / 8 (11.3 ypc)

Etienne is an elite runner in terms of contact balance and body control. He excels in different aspects of the game, including long speed, explosiveness, football IQ and COD. Etienne has proven for years he can garner a full workload and remain healthy/effective during the entirety of the game. He has improved his third-down ability out of the backfield recently but could work on pass blocking. Ultimately, every time Etienne gets his hands on the football given any space, he is a threat to score or gain chunk yardage while falling forward. He has elite, top end, possible 4.3 speed. He projects as the most put together RB in this class, with top end speed, body control and contact balance with a large array of COD and make-you-miss moves. Has the talent of a top 15 pick. Due to positional value, however, he should be selected in the back half of the first round.

Najee Harris, Alabama, 6-1, 230 pounds

Games: 51

Stats: 638 carries / 3,843 yards / 36 (6.0 ypa)... 80 receptions / 781 yards / 11 (9.8 ypc)

Harris is a power back with incredible size and surprising athleticism for a man his size. He bounces off tackles with strong body control and ability to run in between the tackles. Often for larger backs, the ability to slip through tackles and get small is tough, but Harris stays small with big power. In open space, he doesn't have the shimmy make-you-miss ability, but will fight through defenders’ tackles with extreme effort. His athleticism shines in space, showing hurdling ability as well as body control and strength. He is extremely impressive in the passing game with great hands but lacks true speed to cut off defenders' angles and score on long runs. At times he runs too high, which makes his cuts less explosive with a small array of skill moves. Harris is skilled enough to be a first-round pick, but will probably be selected in the beginning of the second round or possibly end of first.

Javonte Williams, North Carolina, 5-10, 220 pounds

Games: 34

Stats: 366 carries / 2,297 yards / 29 (6.3 ypa)... 50 receptions / 539yards / 4 (10.8)

Javonte Williams is a back with elite intelligence, effort and instincts, which allows him to have the perfect amount of patience behind the LOS and the power to fight on every down. He will be seen falling forward on every rep due to his ability to finish runs, remain balanced and pick up extra yards. He needs to improve his consistency in making hard cuts in the open field as well as his technique in the passing game. He is an RB that could benefit from hundreds of pass catching drills in practice to shift his body catching style more into using his hands. Teams will want him on the field on third down as well as passing situations due to his ability to pass block. Williams is one of the best RBs in this class due to his intelligence (far superior to many CFB RBs) and ability to create extra yards using strength as well as switching from gears 2 to 5 quickly. He should be a Round 2 RB and someone a team feels comfortable playing on every down (would be paired nicely with someone like Tarik Cohen, James White, etc.). Williams’ talent is closer to that of Harris and Etienne than he is given credit for, but due to their production for multiple seasons, he should fall in place after those two and get drafted in the middle half of the second round.

Kenneth Gainwell, Memphis, 5-11, 191 pounds

Games: 18

Stats: 235 carries / 1,550 yards / 14 (6.6 ypa)... 51 receptions / 610 yards / 3 (11.6 ypc)

Gainwell is a versatile undersized RB with strong ability in between the tackles by keeping small between blocks or finding space on outside rushes. He is able to plant and accelerate at a top tier level and will bounce off tackles but not drag them in open space. He shows ability to remain light on his feet and shifty in open space to make tacklers hesitant. He possesses average straight-line speed but can get to the sideline and win by cutting off angles. Gainwell could add mass to his upper body/shoulders. He is a top-of-the-line receiver out of the backfield with the ability to see the open field and dissect like a QB. He can line up from the slot or out wide and run clean/sharp routes. He projects as a RB that needs to bulk up, but can be used heavily in the passing game with strong ability in open space. With another year of playing time and ability to showcase his talent, Gainwell would have been a second-round pick. Due to sitting out last season, he will be an early third-round pick.

Michael Carter, North Carolina, 5-7, 202 pounds

Games: 44

Stats: 514 carries / 3,404 yards / 22 (6.6 ypa)... 82 receptions / 656 yards / 6 (8.0 ypc)

Carter has excellent footwork, with quick foot movements and the ability to suddenly change direction. I would like to see him sink more in his cuts. Despite his smaller stature, he runs aggressively and is tough to bring down. His stature was in question, but looked extremely well built and muscular at the Senior Bowl. He shows the ability to slip off tackles in the open field but can get tripped up from behind. He possesses make-you-miss ability at all levels of the field but despite exceptional tools in open space, his hands aren't always reliable. Smaller stature has led to small injuries in college and in high school. He can be an immediate change-of-pace back with high upside despite his size. If he can improve his receiving ability/hands, he will have more value on third downs. There are questions about his durability to be an every-down back, as he split time at UNC. Carter should be drafted in the early half of the third round due to his excellence in space.

Larry Rountree III, Missouri, 5-10, 216 pounds

Games: 48

Stats: 746 carries / 3,720 yards / 40 (5.0 ypa)... 47 receptions / 289 yards / 0 (6.1 ypc)

Rountree is a smart RB with exceptional change of direction ability, with the knowledge/skill to regap and continue up field. His footwork is extremely fluid inside/outside the tackles and with the ball in his hands, he can make something out of nothing. With a lack of usage in the passing game, his third-down abilities need to improve. Like like most young RBs, he needs to learn how to improve in pass protection, staying square and delivering, not receiving contact. He could be a steal with high upside in the third round or later.

Chuba Hubbard, Oklahoma State, 6-0, 207 pounds

Games: 33

Stats: 585 carries / 3,459 yards / 33 (5.9 ypa)... 53 receptions / 479 yards / 3 (9.0 ypc)

Hubbard is an intelligent RB with the ability to remain patient behind the LOS and allow his blocks to develop. When he chooses a gap, often it's the best choice and he can get to the second level. At the second level, he shows small flashes of ability to fight through tackles but lacks shifty/slip-through-tackle ability. He is fluid in his cuts to move upfield on outside rushes and is able to beat defenders up the field with short area burst and long speed to cut off angles. Not often will you see him make a defender miss in space, which limits his upside in the passing game. Hubbard struggled this season and showed his limitations, which should push him to the end of Day 2 or the beginning of Day 3.

Kylin Hill, Mississippi State, 5-10, 214 pounds

Games: 40

Stats: 452 carries / 2,535 yards / 16 (5.6 ypa)... 67 receptions / 631 yards / 6 (9.4 ypc)

Hill should be the best receiving back out of this group and was used briefly by Mike Leach as a threat out of the backfield (caught 22 passes in two games, including 15 in one game). He shows natural explosion in the open field with impressive flexibility to bounce off tackles and sink in/out of cuts with strong legs. His vision can be spotty with inconsistencies with gap decision-making but has the ability to regap and cut when possible. Hill is a reliable, sturdy back who will line up from anywhere on the field and run crispy routes. He also has never fumbled in his career (430 carries). He completely changed his body type this past year with a new strength coach (more cut, less bulk). He should be drafted in the early rounds of Day 3 or late Day 2 with the ability to contribute initially on the later downs and play with a high motor on special teams.

Trey Sermon, Ohio State, 6-0, 213 pounds

Games: 45

Stats: 455 carries / 2,946 yards / 26 (6.5 ypa)... 48 receptions / 486 yards / 3 (10.1 ypc)

Sermon is a hard, tough runner with a sporadic running style. He seemingly rarely has a consistent and full plan going into each rush, but adapts on the fly, finds open space. He has one of the highest motors among this group, fighting to shed contact on each attempt. Where he runs into trouble is when a play breaks down, his heavy feet can lead to issues creating on his own. Sermon runs high behind the LOS but has the wherewithal to lower his body into contact. Balance is inconsistent due to hectic running style and opens himself up to unnecessary hits due to high energy. Sermon doesn’t have the consistency, instincts, COD and make-you-miss ability to be a starting back but could make a roster with consistent effort as a change-of-pace back. Sermon should be drafted at the beginning of Day 3.

Khalil Herbert, Virginia Tech, 5-8, 204 pounds

Games: 46

Stats: 475 carries / 2,918 yards / 22 (6.1 ypa)... 34 receptions / 297 / 1 (8.7 ypc)

Herbert is an exceptionally tough back, asked to be the lead blocker on so many situations while at VT. He will show drive and ability to be a lead blocker with a solid base, while delivering contact, notwithstanding it. He shows explosive nature at the second level with the ability to switch gears quickly and cut off pursuit angles with his avoid speed. Ultimately, he is inconsistent in his gap recognition, his sink into his cuts and his patience behind the LOS. He was rarely used as a pass catcher but could be on the field on third down due to pass blocking skills. A teammate of his at VT said, “He’s an absolute stud… super creative and loves doing fun types of activities. In terms of football, he’s the ultimate teammate. Even when stuff isn’t going well, he still has a smile on his face and always brings it. I’ve had a lot of backs as teammates, but he’s in the top 3 no doubt.” Herbert should be drafted in the beginning rounds of Day 3.