With the 2021 NFL draft taking place in a few weeks, sportsbooks are beginning to create a plethora of player and proposition betting markets. Oddsmakers are offering bets ranging from when players will be drafted, to how many players from each position will be drafted, to who will be drafted first by position.
READ MORE: Which Wide Receiver Will Be Drafted First?
Only 17 running backs have been selected in the first round of the NFL draft over the past 11 years. Last year, only LSU running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire was drafted in the first round—coming off the board at No. 32 to the Chiefs.
In this year’s draft, the oddsmakers at PointsBet Sportsbook have set the over/under betting projection at 0.5 running backs drafted in the first round, with the over heavily juiced at odds of -223. To simplify this market, if bettors believe that one of the immensely talented backs will go in Round 1, you will need to risk $223 to win $100.
Check out Sports Illustrated’s latest Mock Draft, where Conor Orr does not believe any running backs will be drafted in the first round in his latest NFL Mock Draft 2.0.
Although I believe (at least) one will hear their name called by Roger Goodell on April 29, I believe a different running back market bettors should target at those prohibitive odds. William Hill Sportsbook currently offers the most attractive odds for “first running back drafted.” Currently, we see two clear front-runners in Alabama’s Najee Harris (-145) and Clemson’s Travis Etienne (+180).
Najee Harris, RB, Alabama (-145)
As seems to be the case nearly every year, the Crimson Tide will be sending another superb running back to the NFL. Over the years, Alabama has produced NFL talents such as Mark Ingram, Eddie Lacy, Kenyan Drake, Josh Jacobs, and Derrick Henry—just to name a few. Najee Harris was awarded the Doak Walker Award after finishing his senior campaign with 1,891 scrimmage yards and 26 rushing touchdowns—which both led the NCAA. Playing in Nick Saban’s offense, Harris finished his career as the all-time leading rusher in Alabama history with 3,843 yards, holding the program record in rushing touchdowns (46), scrimmage yards (4,624), and total touchdowns (57).
Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson (+180)
I have heard many respected NFL scouts and players compare Travis Etienne to New Orleans Saints dynamic running back Alvin Kamara. Besides the measurables (height and weight) being nearly identical, it's the speed and quickness—particularly in the passing game—that has drawn the favorable comparisons. Etienne had a disappointing statistical season in his senior campaign, only rushing for 914 yards after posting 1,658 and 1,614 yards on the ground in his sophomore and junior seasons. However, he improved his output in the passing game, posting highs in receptions (48) and receiving yards (588), despite playing in fewer games. Posting 78 touchdowns in four seasons and playing against elite competition are two reasons that will make Etienne a target of fantasy owners in this summer's upcoming Fantasy Football World Championship (FFWC) drafts.
2021 NFL Draft Betting Outlook
William Hill currently lists Harris's draft position at 29.5 (-115), which sneaks him into the back end of the first round. I believe that if a running back is drafted in the first round, Harris is the player I envision who has the best chance of coming off the board first. If we dive a little deeper, we discover that when this prop was first posted, Etienne (-180) was a heavy favorite to be chosen first, but that has flipped, and the 'juice' on Harris is growing daily. At other sportsbooks, the odds on Harris are already as high as -175, with the best value currently being found at William Hill. Either way, even if a running back fails to be drafted in the first round, look for Harris to be the first one drafted early in Round 2.
SI PRO Play: Najee Harris - First Running Back Drafted (-145)