SI All-American: Ranking the Top 10 Running Backs in the Class of 2021
John Garcia, Jr.
After compiling several months worth of data in addition to cycling back for a closer look at the 2019 football season, SI All-American has put pen to paper at each position group.
As we work towards the preseason SI99, ranking the top 99 college football prospects regardless of position, establishing a top 10 ahead of the 2020 season for each position group plays paramount. The running back position is next to dig into.
The development of this position group over recent years has been as fascinating as any given the expanded role in the passing game, yet limited shelf life perceptually. Still, traits like explosion, contact balance, lateral ability, elusiveness and power hold weight in the construction of the position regardless of offensive scheme.
Here are the best of the best ahead of the 2020 football season.
1. TreVeyon Henderson, Hopewell (Va.)
5-foot-10, 185 pounds
Committed to Ohio State
There wasn't much discussion at the top of this list considering Henderson's athletic profile. The state champion sprinter has just about every ideal tool for a back in the modern age with the tape and production to back it up coming off of a 3,000-yard, 50-plus touchdown 2019. The future Buckeye has breakaway speed, balance, vision, patience and that gaudy production to his name. His bounce and acceleration pair for chunk potential both in between the tackles and outside while his subtle wiggle and open-field speed make him a true problem for tacklers in space. As he continues to fill out his frame, something he's working on before enrolling at Ohio State, Henderson is a candidate for immediate playing time anywhere -- even in Columbus.
2. Camar Wheaton, Garland (Texas) Lakeview Centennial
5-foot-11, 195 pounds
Considering LSU, Oklahoma, Texas and SMU, among others
The Texan could very well be the fastest running back on this list from a football or track and field perspective. Wheaton has some of the most head-turning 'juice' in the class when it comes to explosiveness and breakaway ability at any position. His one-cut style and rock solid frame also make for a decisive back going for big yardage without wasted movement. Running with great lean and behind his pads, the strike zone for defenders is maintained to a minimum inside the box or not. Wheaton has the tools to compete in the passing game, too, with that elite speed and some subtle elusiveness in the open field including a dynamic jump cut.
3. Will Shipley, Matthews (N.C.) Weddington
5-foot-11, 200 pounds
Committed to Clemson
Shipley may project as the top three-down running back in the class of 2021. He possesses track speed and home run ability from any position on the field -- inside, outside, in the passing game or return game. He has the vision and lateral strength to stress the defensive edge in the outside zone game along with the one-cut swiftness to break down defenders in the open field or as a pass catcher. Lower body power and center of gravity are also on ideal fronts relative to his age, as his power will compliment the open field speed at over 200 pounds sooner rather than later. Also an elite lacrosse recruit as a goal-scoring midfielder, reemphasizing quickness and overall field awareness, Shipley has the versatility and talent to see early playing time, even at a place like Clemson.
4. Evan Pryor, Cornelius (N.C.) William Amos Hough
5-foot-11, 190 pounds
Committed to Ohio State
Another piece for Ryan Day and the Buckeyes to soon showcase out of the backfield, Pryor contends with Shipley among the top skill position prospects coming out of North Carolina this cycle. He also possesses three-down ability to line up with the modern asks of the position with great quickness and plenty of top-end speed to go along with open field awareness and strong hands. Pryor plays a sturdy vertical game in between the tackles but features flashes of elusiveness and occasional off-hand power in the open field. As he adds mass in Columbus, he can serve as a change of pace type relatively early before becoming the centerpiece of the running attack down the line.
5. Amari Daniels, Miami (Fla.) Central
5-foot-8, 190 pounds
Considering Miami, Georgia, Texas A&M, Nebraska and others
Showcasing years of success against top-tier competition in south Florida, the Miami native is among the shiftiest backs in the country. Daniels plays with great urgency in pressing the hole and getting into the second and third level, where he is virtually untouchable for an assigned defender in space. He sets up would-be tacklers with natural speed cut ability and the lateral power to bounce wide at will. Good vision, scrappy grit, balance and above average long speed make up for a slight, yet muscular build. Daniels has the physical tools to factor into the passing game and turn his quicker-than-fast style into three-down services at the next level.
6. Jojo Earle, Aledo (Texas) High School
5-foot-9.5, 170 pounds
Committed to LSU
SIAA garnered plenty of questions regarding Earle when releasing the inaugural slot receiver rankings, but now his absence on that list should make more sense. Truly the most versatile runner on the list, the future Tiger can line up in the backfield and in the slot interchangeably. In a modern offense, his build and head-turning agility will be utilized in more than one spot but his ability to impact a front-seven from a run defense and coverage standpoint from the backfield could be too intriguing to place at another primary position. Earle is simply dynamic with the football in his hands with great vision, elusiveness and anticipation in tight windows, the type of traits an offensive coordinator builds touches for in each offensive game plan. The true quickness and feel for getting by defenders will help Earle factor into the return game, too.
7. Armoni Goodwin, Trussville (Ala.) Hewitt-Trussville
5-foot-8, 190 pounds
Committed to Auburn
Despite fighting the injury bug more than most at the prep level, all Goodwin has done in the highest classification in Alabama is produce. From a freshman playoff performance of 393 yards in one 2017 game to put his name on the map, the thick, sturdy back has impressed. He has always possessed breakaway speed, running sub 10.8 seconds as an incoming high school freshman, and has maintained the pace despite adding good muscle mass since. Where Goodwin has grown within his game in recent years is his efficiency, projection as a no-nonsense north-south runner with one-cut quickness in the wash as well as in space. Natural leverage, lower-body power and some of the most impressive contact balance in the class make him a threat for the sticks and well beyond on every touch. Assuming health stability, this is also an ideal fit for Auburn's power rushing attack.
8. Brendon Barrow, Clearwater (Fla.) Academy International
5-foot-8, 175 pounds
Considering Stanford, Duke, Northwestern, Rutgers and others
Another player built for the modern age at the position, few tapes are as fun as Barrow's in the class. Some prospects lean speed over quickness while others flip that script, but the Canada native has elite traits in both departments. The acceleration and deceleration skill is elite, leading to make-em-miss elusiveness in the smallest of windows despite the ability to run by most assigned to track him down. Barrow spends a chunk of his time on Friday nights lined up out wide or in the slot, with steady hands and better route construction than some Power Five receiver prospects to boot. The only knock here is a lack of bell-cow experience, something that will be countered in 2020 considering he will be the focal point of the entire CAI offense.
9. Corey Kiner, Cincinnati (Ohio) Roger Bacon
5-foot-10, 205 pounds
Committed to LSU
The second pledge to the national champs on this list, the Ohioan is a physically imposing presence with serious lower-body power and mass to his name. Kiner allows that to translate to quicker-than-fast athleticism, a great center of gravity and the type of contact balance that enables him to break arm tackles without losing speed or momentum. There is one-cut ability and the display of true bouncing skill at play along with true suddenness as a jump-cut specialist with an off-hand straight arm in the tool box. Kiner is just tough to bring down regardless of the contact point and while he isn't built to blow the top off of defenses, he can factor into the passing game with that COD skill and strong hands.
10. Cam’Ron Valdez, Rockdale (Texas) High School
5-foot-10, 187 pounds
Considering Texas Tech, Arkansas, Oklahoma State, TCU, Nebraska and others
If there are any readers tracking these rankings who prefer an old-school, throwback style, Valdez is your guy. The uncommitted Texan has the vision and downhill ability that would have shined in the I formation years ago, with that combination of quickness and acceleration to carry the ball 20-plus times each time out. Few run with better lean or display more patience in the hole than the rising senior, who also has that fight-for-every-yard grit longtime football fans would appreciate. He is elusive enough to play productive ball in the spread era considering his quickness and footwork. Valdez also showcases true football IQ in setting up blockers as well as would-be tacklers in small windows.
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