By: Lucas Kochevar
Last week, I covered the QB class and how they ranked from one to five. This week, we move on to running backs and look over the top five guys from my perspective. The group has three guys that rise above the rest, then it's a free-for-all. There is a ton of talent that can be found on day two and three, if your team needs it. There are players that can catch out of the backfield like a receiver and you have the bulldozers guys that run hard like fullbacks. As stated on the last article, pro days can change a ton with these guys as 40-yard dashes will be recorded, among other drills. These rankings will very likely stay the same through the process. Lets get started.
1. Najee Harris, Alabama
The football factory that is Alabama has another RB coming out as the best RB on the board. Is he the fastest? No, but he can do anything else you need. He powers through defenders and shrugs off SEC linebackers like its peewee football. He is a superb athlete that has shown off the hurdles, similar to the cover photo for this article. Harris turns on a second gear when he hits the second level and can breakaway. He has versatility out of the backfield and has strong hands. There are certain plays that standout with his catches, notably I remember a catch he had in the 2019 shootout against that legendary LSU team. For reference, the catch was perfectly placed by current Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa. He goes up for it like a receiver over linebacker Patrick Queen, who was a standout LB for the Ravens last season. He was making plays like this in his junior year. Off the field, he is highly regarded and should be a dynamite fit for any team searching for a franchise RB. In an era that rarely sees running backs in the first round, Harris has first round potential.
2. Javonte Williams, North Carolina
This may come as a surprise to some as many people have Clemson RB Travis Etienne as the RB2, but over the past couple months I have fallen in love with Javonte Williams' game. He plays the RB position with an edge and explosiveness that makes him very attractive as a draft target in the second round. He is a smaller back similar to Clyde Edwards-Helaire last season. Williams enjoys to take on tacklers, even though he doesn't have that large frame that Harris has. Linebackers won't be able to arm tackle Williams as he will gladly run through the contact. Yards after contact is the stat that should be applied to him when talking about his impact. He also has the speed that will separate him from defenders. Williams is a happy medium between Harris and Etienne. One trait that Williams has that I absolutely love is the patience when running inside zone. He does the stop and go game as good as any back in the country and bursts through the hole. Patience when finding the hole is something that separated Le'Veon Bell when he was the best in the NFL with the Steelers. He is the RB I would LOVE Arthur Smith to draft, if Harris is off the board. Excited to see him in the pro game.
3. Travis Etienne, Clemson
Travis Etienne is a really good two-way running back and rounds out my top three backs in this draft. The top three really separate themselves from the rest of these guys in this draft, although you can find gems. Anyway, on to Etienne. An argument can be made that Etienne is the fastest RB in this draft and it shows on tape. His acceleration stands out to me. I talked about Harris hitting a second gear, meanwhile, Etienne can hit a third gear. Similar to the other two, he can catch well out of the backfield and I would say he is the best receiving RB out of the three. He has a career high in catches last year, despite playing the less games than the 2019 season. He has the burst as if he was shot out of cannon and can be a really nice complementary piece in an offense that utilizes him properly. He would be good in an offense similar to how the Eagles employed Miles Sanders in his breakout year. A balanced attack with Etienne is the best way to use all his talents. As many analysts would say, get him out in space and he will make plays for your team.
4. Michael Carter, North Carolina
It is rare to see a college RB duo run for 1,000+ yards, especially in the era of spread football and throwing it 50 times a game. The Tar Heels managed to do this with Williams and Carter and they both provided interesting takes om running the football. Carter isn't the biggest back, similar to Williams, but he runs with more power. He can't cut as well as Williams can, but still does a good job at changing directions. He is more of a power back than elusive and he does a good job at power his legs on contact. He runs strong through defenders. He is consistently around 20-25 catches in his past three years at UNC, so he has a chance to grow there. He could be a productive back at the next level and I think the best fit for him would be similar to the running back by committee system he had at UNC. Overall, he is a good back, but will likely need to rely more on his scheme to propel him at the next level.
5. Rhamondre Stevenson, Oklahoma
This fifth slot is really a wild card. There are a number of guys you can plug in here, Kenneth Gainwell, Jemar Jefferson, and Trey Sermon are some of the names you might hear from draft analysts. However, I'm willing to go out on a limb and say that I would take Stevenson out of Oklahoma. I watch this guy on film and feel like I'm watching the bowling ball that was LaGarrette Blount. He is bigger and could be a really interesting back in goal line packages. He won't wow you with his moves and speed, but the strength he has can win him a job. Like many of the names after the top three, he would thrive in a running back by committee system. If you put him in a spot opposite of a speedster, that would be a fun backfield to watch. This kid compared to Blount, seriously, might be one of the best comparisons I can make about any prospect. There is a run that he has against Florida in their bowl game near the end and he powers his way through the right side of the field and slides through multiple Gator defenders. A number of good running backs can be taken, but this guy specializes in contact and that is where he can make his money.
Next up: WR Class of 2021 and it's another strong one.