2021 Top 12 Rookie RB Rankings
Taking a dive into the running back class coming into the 2021 NFL draft and seeing which players skillset reminds us of current players in the league.
1.) Najee Harris (Alabama) – The all-time leading rusher for the Crimson Tide had a spectacular 2020 season. Leading the SEC with 251 rushing attempts, 1466 rushing yards, and 26 rushing touchdowns. He made improvements every season as a pass-catcher from the backfield adding 425 receiving yards, 43 receptions, and tacked on 4 receiving touchdowns in 2020. Najee finished 5th in the final Heisman voting and earned the Doak Walker Award for most outstanding running back in the nation. Harris is one of the taller and bigger framed backs in this class but is still light on his feet and can lose defenders in the open field.
PROS: Frame, bulldozer, natural pass catcher, physical/power runner.
COMPARISON: Shades of Derrick Henry.
2.) Travis Etienne (Clemson) – Another all-time leading rusher Travis Etienne holds the record for most rushing yards in the ACC. Etienne had two seasons over 1600 rushing yards in his career. This past season he totaled 168 rushing attempts, 914 rushing yards, 5.4 yards per carry, and 14 rushing touchdowns. Also adding 48 receptions, 588 receiving yards, 12.3 yards per reception, and an extra 2 receiving touchdowns. The former Tiger can scare linebackers in the passing game and has blow-by speed to hit the home run play.
PROS: Dynamic in the passing game, Breakaway speed, Instinctive runner, elusive.
COMPARISON: Shades of Alvin Kamara.
3.) Javonte Williams (North Carolina) – The first of the tandem out of North Carolina Javonte Williams had a very productive 2020 season. He amassed 1140 rushing yards and 19 rushing touchdowns on 157 attempts. He was super efficient on his yards per carry at a rate of 7.3. Williams was also a factor in the passing game adding 25 catches, 305 receiving yards, and 3 receiving touchdowns. Javonte has a powerful compact frame that makes him tough to take down in the open field and he isn’t afraid to lower his shoulder to run over defenders on his way to the endzone.
PROS: Power runner, good pass protector, natural pass catcher.
COMPARISON: Shades of Josh Jacobs.
4.) Michael Carter (North Carolina) – The other part of the one-two punch at North Carolina was Senior Michael Carter. Carter led the ACC in rushing yards with 1245, 8 yards per attempt, and 1512 yards from scrimmage, along with adding 9 rushing touchdowns, 2 receiving touchdowns, 25 receptions, and 267 receiving yards. At 5’8 and around 200 pounds, he has a leaner frame but isn’t afraid to run between the tackles and mix it up in pass protection. His vision and elusiveness make him a hard player to catch in space.
PROS: Elusive runner, burst, skilled pass catcher.
COMPARISON: Shades of Myles Gaskin.
5.) Kenneth Gainwell (Memphis) – The standout running back from Memphis sat out this past season but had a very dynamic 2019. Gainwell had 231 rushing attempts, 1459 rushing yards, 6.3 yards per carry, and 13 rushing touchdowns. Also contributing in the passing game 51 receptions, 610 receiving yards, and 3 receiving touchdowns. He only played one full season at Memphis but the Tigers had full faith in him as a runner and pass catcher even getting some snaps in the slot. He hopes to continue the trend of successful running backs out of Memphis into the NFL.
PROS: Can play multiple positions, footwork, great hands.
COMPARISON: Shades of Kenyan Drake.
6.) Chuba Hubbard (Oklahoma State) – A player who had the opposite experiences of most of the running backs on this list Chuba Hubbard would like to make his 2020 season something of the past. In 2019 though Hubbard dominated all the major rushing statistics. He was first in the nation in rushing yards with 2094, 328 rushing attempts, 21 rushing touchdowns, and 2292 yards from scrimmage. He can add some work on consistent pass-catching and pass protection but brings the power as a runner.
PROS: Acceleration, one cut burst, good in small spaces.
COMPARISON: Shades of Ronald Jones.
7.) Jaret Patterson (Buffalo) – Patterson really dominated in the MAC after he led the conference in rushing yards two years in a row and also running for 1000 yards all three seasons in his time at Buffalo also never dipping below 14 rushing touchdowns. In 2020 Patterson had 1072 rushing yards, 7.6 yards per attempt, 19 rushing touchdowns, and totaled all that in six games. Patterson proved to be very reliable at Buffalo using a great combination of footwork and changes of pace to get away from defenders. He was not a factor in the passing game but most believe he can develop more receiving skills at the next level.
PROS: Footwork, frame, slippery in small spaces.
COMPARISON: Shades of Philip Lindsay.
8.) Trey Sermon (Ohio State) – Another transfer on this list Trey Sermon left the Oklahoma program to join the Ohio State Buckeyes in 2020. During this past season, he split the backfield with Master Teague until the Big Ten Championship game and College Football Playoff Semi-Final. Within those two games, Sermon totaled 60 carries, 524 rushing yards, 8.7 yards per attempt, and 3 touchdowns. He got hurt very early in the first quarter of the championship game against Alabama. Sermon is a physical early-down runner and can provide teams with a tough running presence.
PROS: Physical runner, excellent ball security, tough.
COMPARISON: Shades of Melvin Gordon.
9.) Jermar Jefferson (Oregon State) – Jermar really took the PAC-12 by storm when he first arrived at the campus of Oregon State. During his freshman season, he finished third in the conference in rush yards with 1380, tied for third with 5.8 rush yards per attempt, and third with 12 rushing touchdowns. In 2020 Jermar was second in the conference in rushing yards with 858, 7 touchdowns, and 133 rushing attempts. Jefferson really showed tough running and demonstrated his ability to catch the ball and make defenders miss in the open field. While earning himself Co-Player offensive player in the PAC-12 this past season.
PROS: Instinctive runner, good footwork, good pass catcher.
COMPARISON: Shades of Damien Harris.
10.) Rhamondre Stevenson (Oklahoma) – Once a top junior college recruit, Stevenson eventually took his talents to Oklahoma. Stevenson didn’t post eye-popping stats in 2020 after having to serve a suspension from the end of the 2019 season. In his 6 games, he posted 665 rushing yards, 6.6 yards per carry, 7 rushing touchdowns, and only on 101 attempts. He helped some in the passing game as well having 18 catching totaling him 211 yards. Stevenson brings a physical running presence along with some tough stiff arms but has also shown to be light on his feet and capable in the passing game.
PROS: Downhill runner, physical brings the stiff arm, capable pass catcher.
COMPARISON: Shades of Nick Chubb.
11.) Kylin Hill (Mississippi State) – Hill did not have the most successful 2020 campaign only totaling 3 games. But 2019 was a much different story Hill ran for 1350 yards, 5.6 yards per carry, 10 touchdowns, and finished with 242 attempts. He can be used in many different spots on the field and while he does not poses big breakaway speed. He is a strong runner and makes it difficult for one defender to take him down.
PROS: Strong runner, mature, good in space.
COMPARISON: Shades of D’Andre Swift.
12.) Khalil Herbert (Virginia Tech) – The former Kansas Jayhawk transferred to Virginia Tech and had a breakout season in 2020. He ranked second in the ACC with 1183 rushing yards, 7.2 yards per attempt, and 430 kick return yards. He also finished with 8 rushing touchdowns. Herbert did not provide a lot in the passing games other than some screen passes and can work on more consistency in pass protection. But he shows good patience in the backfield and hits holes hard when they are open.
PROS: Good decision maker, contributor in special teams, takes excellent angles.
COMPARISON: Shades of Zack Moss.