Top 5 Running Back Prospects in the 2021 NFL Draft

NoLimitJumper’s 2021


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Although running backs are easily replaceable, they are still a vital part of every offense. As we have seen in guys like Derrick Henry and Alvin Kamara, they can change the course of the game. Some guys make plays in the passing game, while others are ground and pound type of backs. The 2021 class of running back prospects is pretty top-heavy in talent, with not much depth. There are a few potential superstars in the top 3, but not many game-changers after. These are the top five running backs entering the draft, and what they bring to the table. 

Najee Harris 

Najee Harris is one of the running back prospects that most resembles Derrick Henry

Pro Comp: Derrick Henry 

Ideal Fit: Dolphins, reunite Alabama teammates, give Miami versatile playmaker 

Najee is one of the best running back prospects we’ve seen in the past few years. His astounding size is something not often seen in running backs, but that is not where the talent stops. Despite being Derrick Henry size, Harris is more than capable on receiving downs, and is arguable more athletic than the Titans running back, as showcased by his quick movements and leaping ability. Some think that Travis Etienne is a better prospect, but I think Harris has a better overall game. Najee’s ability to fight for extra yards heavily outweighs Etienne’s. The touchdown ability of the Alabama running back is the best of any running back in a long time. His insane blend of speed and power make him the best running back prospect in the draft. Look for Najee to become a superstar in the NFL. 

Travis Etienne 

Travis Etienne is one of the top two running back prospects for the 2021 draft.

Pro Comp: Dalvin Cook, Alvin Kamara 

Ideal Fit: Steelers need an explosive back who can complement the short passing game 

If Harris is a guy that runs through people, Etienne is a guy that runs past them. His 40 time will be in the mid-low 4.3’s, as seen by his race with current Cardinals’ linebacker Isaiah Simmons. The most intriguing part of Etienne’s game is his elusiveness, and it allows for him to break off a big play at any time. Once the Clemson back gets to the second level, it’s over. Despite some important drops, Etienne’s role in the passing game could be a nightmare to defenses. The most notable weakness in Etienne’s game is his blocking ability. Even though there are many backs that struggle with blocking, Etienne’s struggle is a glaring hole. Hopefully this can be patched up quick or just not matter at all, because his potential is uncanny. Etienne could be a great fit in almost any system in the entire league. 

Draws Comparisons to: Dalvin Cook, Alvin Kamara 

Ideal Fit: Steelers need an explosive back who can complement the short passing game 

Kenneth Gainwell 

Pro Comp: Demarco Murray 

Ideal Fit: Patriots, if Bill can get his hands on Gainwell in the middle rounds to pair with Sony it could be dangerous 

Not many have heard of this Memphis running back, especially because he sat out of his 2020 season. Gainwell is one of the top running back prospects because of his straight playmaking ability. Gainwell is anything but a guarantee, as he started playing running back his freshmen year after his transition to quarterback. This means he of course has little things about the position to learn, but that will come with his development. Although a little small, Gainwell has surprising power and will add even more weight to his lengthy frame. However, it’s not Gainwell’s power that lets him succeed, but his great vision, footwork, and acceleration. The running back is also good in the pass game, where his smooth hands and quick cuts make him deadly on routes. Gainwell won’t be a star right away, but with the right development, he could be one day. 

Javonte Williams 

Pro Comp: Maurice Jones-Drew, LeGarrette Blount 

Ideal Fit: Falcons, add a dynamic runner in the late round to improve the run game 

In my opinion, the three running backs above are the ones that have good potential to be superstars. Javonte Williams from North Carolina is a sleeper prospect to have that potential. Williams’ feature ability is his power, and he is a force on the goal line. For being a power back, Javonte shows promise in the passing game as well, which could lead to teams liking his three-down possibilities as a running back. Williams seems like a LeGarrette Blount type running back, but he does not compare directly. The North Carolina back has much better athleticism with decent speed. Williams has great explosiveness when he finds holes and runs angry. Javonte is a very well-rounded prospect, and will be a terrific addition to any team. I do not see Williams being better than other running back prospects, but he has a specific skillset that could flourish on it’s own. 

Michael Carter 

Pro Comp: Miles Sanders 

Ideal Fit: Titans, even though it is hard to see the Titans drafting another RB with Derrick Henry, if they can get Carter in the late rounds he could really benefit the team. 

There is a reason that the Tar Heels had so much success in the run game in 2020. Their two-man backfield featuring Williams had a perfect complement in Michael Carter. Carter is more of an elusive back with excellent vision and sharp footwork. His receiving ability makes him a great fit for almost any team, as he is simply good with the ball in his hands. Carter would not excel as the lead back but could be super beneficial in a combo backfield. Carter is quick, and can find holes that don’t even exist, but his lack of strength will make him struggle if he does get to the second level and could bring about ball security issues. If the second Tar Heel is placed in the right system, he could thrive. Although he might not be able to carry a backfield on his own, he’s still a solid prospect. 

Dylan Herrick

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