With the report cards for the 2020 NFL draft completed, NFLDraftScout is turning its attention to the class of 2021, offering a quick “First Take” with rankings and perspective of the relative strengths and weaknesses of each position group.
The myth that running backs are no longer valued in today’s pass-happy NFL has been shattered recently with at least one player at the position hearing his name called in the first round in six consecutive draft, with the reigning Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs plucking LSU’s Clyde Edwards-Helaire just this past spring.
Just like last year, the 2021 class of running backs is both talented and deep. Clemson’s Travis Etienne has been terrorizing the ACC for a decade, it seems, with the speedster shocking scouts by electing to return for one last year in orange to pad his already stunning career totals (4,038 rushing yards, conference record 56 TDs). It is entirely possible that Etienne takes home the Doak Walker Award as the nation’s top running back next year with his quarterback, Trevor Lawrence, the preseason favorite for the Heisman Trophy.
Oklahoma State’s Chuba Hubbard may have something to say about both awards, however, after simply leading the country with 2,094 rushing yards a year ago. Alabama’s Najee Harris and Mississippi State’s Kylin Hill were others thought likely to head into the NFL last year but returned to add polish.
Hubbard, entering this first year of draft eligibility, and Harris, a true senior, are high profile talents that most college football fans are already familiar with.
Hill isn’t as well known nationally… yet.
He ran for 1,350 yards and 10 scores for Mississippi State a year ago and was set to enter the draft before reversing course when the Bulldogs hired Mike Leach.
While Hill demonstrated the vision, burst and power scouts want as a runner, he wasn’t often utilized as a receiver in MSU’s offense, catching 18 passes in 13 games for a total of 180 yards and a score. Hill should smash those numbers in the first month of the 2020 season in Leach’s offense.
Don’t sleep on the runners out west, either. With their record-setting quarterbacks heading to the NFL, expect Oregon and Washington State to feature CJ Verdell and Max Borghi, suggesting stellar statistics for both in 2021. Borghi excelled under Leach, earning plenty of Christian McCaffery comparisons along the way, and his role is not expected to change much with Nick Rolovich, another Air-Raid disciple.
NFL teams in search of running back help may not have to wait until next year. Auburn's JaTarvious Whitlow (listed 16th below) has entered the transfer protocol and some believe he will be among those considering the NFL's supplemental draft in July (if there is one).
Underclassmen are denoted with an asterisk. All players listed are potentially eligible for the 2021 NFL draft.
The Top Five
1. Travis Etienne 5-10 200 Clemson
2. *Chuba Hubbard 6-0, 207 Oklahoma State
3. Najee Harris 6-1, 227 Alabama
4. Kylin Hill 5-10, 215 Mississippi State
5. *Kennedy Brooks 5-10, 216 Oklahoma
Best of the Rest
6. *CJ Verdell 5-09 210 Oregon
7. Trey Sermon 6-0, 221 Ohio State
8. Larry Roundtree III 5-09, 210 Missouri
9. Max Borghi 5-09, 195 Washington State
10. Stephen Carr 6-0 205 Southern Cal
11. Rakeem Boyd 5-11, 215 Arkansas
12. Chris Evans 5-11, 216 Michigan
13. Asim Rose 6-1, 210 Kentucky
14. Elijah Mitchell 5-11, 221 Louisiana-Lafayette
15. *Zamir White 5-11, 215 Georgia
16. *JaTarvious Whitlow 5-11 216 Auburn/?
17. *Richard Newton 6-0, 210 Washington
18. Mekhi Sargent 5-09, 212 Iowa
19. *Stevie Scott III 6-1, 231 Indiana
20. Trey Ragas 5-11, 227 Louisiana-Lafayette