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These guys will look to be the future work horses of NFL franchises. Today I rank the top five running back prospects in the upcoming NFL Draft.
1. Travis Etienne - Clemson
Bio: A four star recruit out of high school, Travis Etienne signed on to attend Clemson. As a true freshman he led the team in rushing. In his four years as a Tiger, he became the ACC's all time leading rusher with 4,952 yards and 78 total touchdowns while helping Clemson win the 2018 National Championship.
Strengths: Prototype playmaker who can change the game any time he gets his hands on the ball. Three down capability. Serviceable receiver out of the backfield and willing to learn routes. Patient and will allow blocks to set up. Excellent agility and dexterity to make defenders miss in the open field. Fights through contact and keeps legs moving for extra yardage. Consistency won't be an issue.
Weaknesses: Could have came out in 2019 to save mileage on his legs. Runs straight up through the holes with long strides. Needs to lower his shoulder more through tackles to preserve legs and intimidate defenders. Occasionally misreads open running lanes. Average ball security. A lot of wasted motion into cuts. Pass protection needs work.
Pro Comparison: Alvin Kamara
Projected Round: 1
Possible Landing Spot: Miami Dolphins
2. Najee Harris - Alabama
Bio: The top rated running back recruit in 2017 with several college offers, Najee Harris eventually signed on with Alabama. After playing behind Josh Jacobs and Damien Harris his first two years, he was named the starting running back in 2019. By his senior season, he became the Crimson Tide's all time leading rusher with 3,843 yards and 57 touchdowns while helping Alabama to the 2020 National Championship title.
Strengths: Great size and demeanor for the position. Urgent running style. Great ball protection. Quickly gathers and cuts when needed. Agile downhill to avoid defenders. Smooth change of direction. Surprising dexterity for a larger back. Physical tools to run inside and out. Great burst once he sees open space. Finishes runs rather than defenders finishing him. Great balance through contact. Surprising skill as a receiver in 2020. Willing and able blocker.
Weaknesses: Running style lacks tempo. Runs tall, leaving his frame open for run stopping defenders. Lacks big play speed. Overlooks developing blocks when impatient. Knee bend and burst are average between the tackles. Average acceleration after cuts. Took on heavy hits consistently in college. Running style could lead to durability concerns.
Pro Comparison: Todd Gurley
Projected Round: 1-2
Possible Landing Spot: Atlanta Falcons
3. Javonte Williams - North Carolina
Bio: After high school, Javonte Williams accepted his only FBS offer to attend North Carolina. Through much of his time as a Tar Heel, he split carries with Michael Carter. As a junior, he and Carter helped set a NCAA record 544 rushing yards in a game.
Strengths: Broadly built frame. Only 336 career carries. Good feel for hole development. Solid improvisation for a power back. Runs tight to the blocker's hip off cut backs. Wide base and keeps feet under him through contact. Hard for one defender to being him down. Bursts through attempted tackles and puts defenders on their backs. Core strength makes him immune to ankle tackles. Strong stiff arm to get to the edge. Finds space to get into end zone on the goal line. Improved in pass protection in 2020. Capable route running for a back.
Weaknesses: Processing speed is a tad slow. Needs time to gather and cut on stretch runs. Average acceleration through the line. Just two career rushes over 40 yards. Running style could lead to injuries. Ball security needs work. Below average hands with several focus drops. Hand work on blitz pickup needs improvement.
Pro Comparison: 1-2
Projected Round: Jay Ajayi
Possible Landing Spot: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
4. Chuba Hubbard - Oklahoma State
Bio: Born in Canada, Chuba Hubbard chose to attend Oklahoma State. As a redshirt sophomore, he rushed for 2,094 yards on 328 carries and 21 touchdowns.
Strengths: Can easily carry a large load of the offense. Run tempo is solid. Crisp downhill running with decent change of direction. Great instincts through traffic Solid reads up to the second level on outside zone runs. Eyes to finds small crevices and get small to find the end zone. Agile feet to jump cut or spin around incoming tacklers. Rarely bounces runs out wide when not needed. Arm tackles slip off him thanks to smooth hip turns. Efficient receiver on screens and easily wares out linebackers.
Weaknesses: Frame is lighter for a back that carries as much as he does. Leg drive is below average for the NFL game. Doesn't fall ahead to finish runs. Rigid running styles lacks improvisation. Needs to be more creative at the second level. Average speed to outrace speedy linebackers to the edge. Carries the ball away from his frame which lead to fumbles. Blitz recognition and pass protection technique needs improvement.
Pro Comparison: Tevin Coleman
Projected Round: 2-3
Possible Landing Spot: Houston Texans
5. Michael Carter - North Carolina
Bio: The Florida Offensive Player of the Year as a senior, Michael Carter chose to play at North Carolina over offers from Florida, Louisville, Mississippi State and Tennessee. His 3,403 total rushing yards over his collegiate career are fourth best all-time for the Tar Heels.
Strengths: Effective runner even while splitting time with Javonte Williams. No fumbles over the last two seasons. Solid vision to see at the second level. Knee bend and agility to be a dangerous one cut runner. Follows lanes and cuts accordingly off pulling guards and tackles. Runs low to the ground with good balance through contact. Decent footwork to handle wheel or curl routes. Despite size, he's an able and willing blocker. Eyes incoming blitzes and stays in front of them. Good production as a kick returned in his junior year.
Weaknesses: Feel for play development is just average. Overthinks the play and unnecessarily runs off schedule. Average improvisation to elude defenders at the second level. Top end speed is average at best. Slows down into contact between the tackles. Tough runner, but may not get much yards after contact in the pro game. Arm tackle attempts work in slowing his momentum. Occasionally loses stamina when stacking cuts.
Pro Comparison: Giovanni Bernard
Projected Round: 3
Possible Landing Spot: Arizona Cardinals
Other Notable Prospects
Kenneth Gainwell- Memphis
- Playmaker on the edge, needs to add mass
CJ Verdell- Oregon
- Gets yards after contact, lacks lateral agility
Javian Hawkins- Louisville
- Quick feet, frame is lacking
Kylin Hill- Mississippi State
- Tough runner, lacks speed
Trey Sermon- Ohio State
- Elite balance through contact, average long speed
Anthony Williams Jr.- Kansas
- Lighting quickness, built more like a slot receiver
Larry Rountree III- Missouri
- Stout power, much wasted motion
Rakeem Boyd- Arkansas
- Typical outside zone runner, bad 2020 production
Brenden Knox- Marshall
- Bursty runner, not a three down back
Gerrid Doaks- Cincinnati
- Physical runner with great speed, poor balance
Trey Ragas- Louisiana Lafayette
- Sturdy build, into an outside runner
Khalil Herbert- Virginia Tech
- Good vision, short frame that t can't handle more weight
Elijah Mitchell- Louisiana Lafayette
- Quick to process, long speed questionable
Rhamondre Stevenson- Oklahoma
- Built like a fullback, lacks burst
Jaret Patterson- Buffalo
- Good burst, not an inside runner
Chris Evans- Michigan
- Patient runner, short shelf life
CJ Marable- Coastal Carolina
- Stout runner, lacks athleticism
Steve Scott III- Indiana
- Massive frame, not an explosive runner
Spencer Brown- Alabama Birmingham
- Physical runner, lacks burst
Otis Anderson- Central Florida
- Former wide receiver, thin build
Jake Funk- Maryland
- Flashed explosiveness, often overshadowed
Caleb Huntley- Ball State
- Well built frame, injury concerns
Ben Mason- Michigan
- Ideal blocker, dying breed
Vavae Malepeai- USC
- Low mileage on tires, needs developed