NFL Draft 2021: Top 5 Running Back Prospects

Story posted April 16, 2021 in

We are about two weeks away from the start of the NFL Draft, which means it is time to start breaking down the best players in each position.

This year’s running back class is pretty strong. There are plenty of players ready to make an impact in the backfield at the next level.

Travis Etienne, Clemson

Standing at 5-feet-10-inches and 215 pounds, Etienne is one of the most explosive running backs in this year’s draft. While his size is average he is difficult to bring down and has the breakaway speed for long touchdowns.

At his pro day, Etienne was able to impress all the scouts with his 4.41 40-yard dash, 33.5 vertical and 10-8 broad jump. He also showed good hands as a receiver, which was something he struggled with during the season.

While at Clemson he was able to solidify himself as one of the best running backs of all time. He holds the ACC record for career rushing yards, 4952, and added 78 total touchdowns.

Etienne should expect to hear his name called in the late first-round or early second-round.

Najee Harris, Alabama

Harris, who stands at 6-1 and 232 pounds, is another top-tier running back prospect to come out of Alabama. He’s shown that he is more than a bruiser throughout college, showing good hands out of the backfield.

While Harris did not partake in the Alabama pro day there is plenty of film to reveal who he is. Harris is a complete three-down back, he is a powerful runner that excels in goal-line situations. He also possesses good body control to work his way around defenders.

In his four years at Alabama, Harris ran for 3843 yards and 46 touchdowns. Out of the backfield he had 80 receptions, 781 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Harris should be taken in the same area of picks as Etienne, late first, early second round.

Javonte Williams, North Carolina

Javonte Williams stands at 5-foot-10-inches and 212 pounds, is a very intriguing prospect, as going into this season no was talking about. Now after a breakout 2020 season, he continues to climb up draft broads. He is an explosive, downhill, ball-carrier that will bounce off would-be tacklers.

In 2020, on 157 attempts he ran for 1140 yards and whopping 19 touchdowns. As a receiver, he had 305 yards and three touchdowns. His best game came against Miami (FL), which he ran for 236 yards and three touchdowns.

At the UNC Pro Day, Williams ran a 4.55 40-yard dash, to go along with a 36 inch vertical, 10-3 board jump and 22 reps on the bench press.

Williams should go sometime in the second round. He has the ability to succeed at the next level if he is put into the right system.

Michael Carter, North Carolina

The other half of the two-headed backfield down at Chapel Hill, Michael Carter is the more dynamic of the two. He is an elusive back, who possesses great hands out of the backfield and is dangerous when he gets into open space.

During his tenure with the Tar Heels, he posted back-to-back 1000 yard seasons, his best coming in 2020. As a senior, he ran for 1245 yards and nine touchdowns. He also hasn’t fumbled in the last two years. Against Miami (FL), Carter ran for 308 yards and three touchdowns.

On his pro day, Carter came in at 5-8 and 201 pounds, which isn’t great for his position. He ran a 4.50 40-yard dash and had a 34-inch vertical.

Carter has skills that translate to the next level and should go in the third round.

Kenneth Gainwell, Memphis

Kenneth Gainwell could be the next Memphis running back to have a good start in the NFL. After Antonio Gibson had an impressive rookie season with Washington, but the problem with Gainwell is that he has one season of production.

Gainwell’s last season came back in 2019, he opted out of the 2020 season. As a redshirt sophomore, he was outstanding, running for 1459 yards and 13 touchdowns. He also was productive catching the ball, 51 receptions, 610 yards, and three touchdowns.

There weren’t many stats about his pro day other than he was 5-8, 201 pounds and ran a 4.42 40-yard dash. Gainwell has a smaller frame, but he makes up for it with his great vision and excellent change-of-direction.

Similar to Michael Carter, Gainwell should go at some point in the late third round.

Matthew Scalzo is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email mms7477@psu.edu.

About the Contributors

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Matt Scalzo

Second Year / Broadcast Journalism

Matthew “Matt” Scalzo is a second-year from Ridgefield, Connecticut majoring in broadcast journalism. Matt is a Basketball Insider, broadcaster and writer for the sports department. With CommRadio he has called football, volleyball, basketball and hockey games. Matt is also the Penn State Women’s Volleyball play-by-play broadcaster calling games on both TV and radio. He has written countless articles and appeared on podcasts, live shows and is a part of The Extra Point, a talk show centered around the NFL. If you want to contact him, email him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) and .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).