Maybe it’s because we were spoiled with last years running back class but this 2021 class is rough after these first five players. Bad landing spots for some and little to no draft capital for the others. But thankfully today we are only looking at the top five running backs that were drafted in the 2021 NFL draft.
1. Najee Harris- The first running back draft this year wasn’t a shock at all, it was Najee Harris. Pittsburgh had a glaring hole at the RB position and filled it with a monster of a human being. Harris is 6’2” and weighs almost 230 pounds! He is a phenomenal runner and has excellent pass catching ability. The only downside with Harris is his age. He will be 23 years old to start his rookie season. Which means he will be about 27 years old once his rookie contract is up. Add that to the wear and tear he has endured at Alabama and that is a recipe for a shorter NFL career. Which for a RB is already relatively short compared to other positions. A lot of people within the dynasty community already have Harris in their top 12 RBs, which is likely pretty close to where he should be. Harris is a beast, and he will have little, to no competition for snaps in the Pittsburgh backfield. He should be the bell cow for the Steelers from day one. I wouldn’t be shocked to see him get over 300 touches this season. For redraft leagues I wouldn’t be shocked if Najee Harris works his way into the top 3 rounds! The Pittsburgh offensive line might be the only thing stopping Harris for having an amazing rookie campaign. But even with shotty O-Line play Harris is great at breaking tackles. I would project him to be an RB2 (top 24) this season but has potential to be an RB1.
2. Travis Etienne- The Jaguars selecting Travis Etienne in the first round was kind of a surprise to me. I had Etienne pegged for an early day two pick. But Urban Meyer wanted to make sure that Trevor Lawrence has all the help he needs to be successful so he went and drafted him. It was known that the Jaguars wanted to add a running back during the draft to pair with undrafted rookie sensation James Robinson. Most believed it would be a day two pick not a first rounder. During the off-season I had Travis Etienne as my RB4 in this class and that is where he stays for me with Najee Harris, Javonte Williams, and Michael Carter ahead of him. Nothing against Etienne, I just like the other three guys better. He does have a skill set that the NFL loves, he is a quick RB who has excellent pass catching ability. He also has the desired height and weight for an NFL running back. With James Robinson potentially stealing a decent share of snaps, I don’t see Etienne finishing any higher than an RB2 this season. It will be interesting to see where his ADP (average draft position) winds up once we get into training camp and pre-season. In dynasty, Etienne lands somewhere towards the backend of the top 24 RBs for most analysts including myself. It will be a fun offense to watch in Jacksonville and I’m excited to watch the battle between James Robinson and Travis Etienne in this backfield.
3. Javonte Williams- After watching film on this running back class, my favorite guy to watch was Javonte Williams. He popped on film and to me had the “It” factor. Williams was drafted in the second round by the Denver Broncos. Denver, who lost Phillip Lindsay this off-season, needed to add someone to compete against the current starter, Melvin Gordon. It may not happen in the first couple weeks of the season but I expect this to be more of a 1A and 1B situation with Gordon and Williams this season. With the skill set of Gordon and Williams, they should have a very successful one-two punch. I love Javonte, and I could even see him overtake Melvin Gordon as the primary back in this offense. I want any and all shares of Javonte Williams in my dynasty leagues. With Gordon being a free agent after this season it’s should be the Javonte Williams show in 2022. Williams will be an interesting player once we get into training camp and pre-season to see how high he can climb the ADP board. Williams at this time is closer to the double digit rounds and I fully expect him to climb this off-season once he can display his skill set in full pads. In the pre-draft process, I had Williams as my RB2 in this class and after seeing landing spots, that’s where he remains.
4. Trey Sermon- After the top three running backs, people were all over the place with their rankings. But after the 49ers selected him in the third round, Trey Sermon became the 4th RB off the board in this draft. Sermon had a very interesting collegiate career. He started his career at Oklahoma and eventually made his way to Ohio State. Sermon got off to a cold start and then caught fire to end the season, including a 331 yard rushing performance in the Big Ten Championship game. That late season push was enough for the 49ers to select him in the 3rd round to add him to an already crowded backfield. As crowded as the backfield may be, starting RB Raheem Mostert is 29 years old, Jeff Wilson Jr just had an injury which will hold him out for a few months, Wayne Gallman should frighten anyone, they also drafted another RB, Elijah Mitchell, in the sixth round which shouldn’t effect Sermon. Sermon will have an uphill battle to have fantasy relevance in his rookie season because of all the mouths to feed on this offense. But I do love the dynasty outlook for Sermon for 2022 and beyond. Head Coach, Kyle Shanahan, seems to know how to use his running backs better than most coaches in the NFL so I trust he will use Trey Sermon properly and will max out his potential. The running backs in this class get gross pretty quick after these top five RBs go and those who have had their rookie drafts can attest. I like Sermon and I don’t know if he could have landed in a better spot for his future.
5. Michael Carter- Of all the teams that needed a running back in the NFL draft, the New York Jets were towards the top of that list. With a depth chart of players like La’Mical Perine, Ty Johnson, Tevin Coleman, and Josh Adams, the Jets were in search of a starting RB. Michael Carter was selected by the Jets in the fourth round of this years draft. Last season at North Carolina, Michael Carter was sharing a backfield with fellow rookie RB Javonte Williams. There were a dynamic duo at UNC last year, and Carter was one of my other favorites to watch on film. He is a very good pass catcher, has very quick feet, great contact balance and excellent cutting ability. I personally think there is a chance that Michael Carter is the leader of this committee. A lot of the unknown of this backfield should be sorted out through most of training camp and early on into the pre-season. I don’t expect the Jets to keep all of these RBs so somebody has to be the odd man out but time will tell who that might be. In redraft, right now Carter is going in the double digit rounds, which is about where I would be comfortable taking him at this time. There is a lot of time until fantasy drafts happen so as we get closer we will dive deeper into ADP for these rookies. In dynasty, I love getting Michael Carter in the early second round of rookie drafts. I had him as my RB3 in this class and love his potential. I truly believe he will be leading this backfield from day one.