2021 running back class
If you had to summarize the 2021 running back class in one word, that word would be “explosive”. The 2021 group lacks the household names that the 2020 class gave us, but it sure provides some firepower.
Travis Etienne (5’10”, 210 pounds)
If he had declared for the 2020 NFL Draft, Etienne would have been my RB1. When it comes to the running back position, Etienne is the total package. His speed is breathtaking, as he posted a 4.38 40-yard dash in high school. Every time he touches the ball, Etienne is a threat to take it to the house. He has elite tools, such as his vision and acceleration.
Etienne finished second in rushing in the ACC for the 2019 season, carrying the ball 207 times for 1,614 yards and 19 touchdowns, while averaging a mind-blowing 7.8 yards per carry. He is also a threat as a receiver, as his 37 catches for 432 yards and four touchdowns in 2019 would indicate.
Rumors have surfaced that Etienne could potentially enter the NFL Supplemental Draft due to uncertainty surrounding the 2020 college football season thanks to the coronavirus. Ultimately, Etienne will be fighting for a championship this season as a Clemson Tiger and is a surefire first-round selection in the 2021 Draft.
Chuba Hubbard (6’1″, 207 pounds)
Last season, Oklahoma State running back Chuba Hubbard was fantastic. His play led him to be recognized as the Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year and an All-American. He accounted for 2,094 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns while averaging 6.4 yards per carry.
Hubbard is ultra-shifty, moving like a human joystick. He works well in tight spaces and his size allows him to produce significant yards after contact. He is a very patient runner and adds value as an excellent pass-catcher.
If Hubbard can have an encore performance in 2020, his name will be mentioned in the late first-round discussions.
Najee Harris (6’2″, 230 pounds)
When I said the one word to describe the 2021 running back class was “explosive”, Harris was the one outlier. With that said, Harris is one bad dude, built in the mold of other Alabama running backs to enter the NFL ranks, such as Eddie Lacy and Derrick Henry.
In a high-powered Alabama offense featuring the likes of Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs III, Jaylen Waddle, and DeVonta Smith, Harris still found a way to be highly productive. He ran the ball for 1,224 yards and 13 touchdowns while adding another seven receiving touchdowns to the stat line.
His combination of size, power, and physical prowess is impressive. Harris almost never goes down on initial contact, as he can churn his thick legs to push for extra yards. He isn’t shifty and it isn’t always pretty, but the upright style he runs with is effective.
He won’t go in the first round, but it won’t be long on the second day before his name is called. His bruising running style will be attractive to NFL scouts. One thing to consider: Harris has always split carries during his tenure at Tuscaloosa, so there is not a lot of “wear and tear”.
Javian Hawkins (5’9″, 182 pounds)
If you haven’t heard of the dynamic Louisville running back Javian Hawkins, make sure you get him on your radar. Hawkins was the ACC’s third-leading rusher, accumulating 1,525 yards and nine touchdowns on 264 carries in 2019. He doesn’t possess the size of a traditional “bellcow” NFL runner, but his speed, elusiveness, and underrated power makes up for it in spades.
His most impressive performance in 2019 came against the Clemson Tigers, which highlights his ability to play with the best. His size will have an impact on his draft stock, but he should find himself selected in the third round of the 2021 Draft. The NFL player that I see when I put on Hawkins’ tape is the Chicago Bears’ speedster, Tarik Cohen.
Pooka Williams (5’10”, 170 pounds)
Pooka Williams’ stat line for 2019 isn’t overly impressive. He ran for 1,061 yards and three touchdowns while averaging 5.2 yards per carry. He also added 214 yards and two touchdowns catching passes out of the backfield. These stats don’t tell the whole story when it comes to Williams.
Outside of Etienne, there is no 2021 Draft prospect with a better combination of speed and acceleration than Williams. He can make defenders miss in the open field and has the long speed to run away from defenders as well. His shiftiness and elusiveness make it a tough assignment to bring Williams down.
Coming off of back-to-back 1,000 rushing yard seasons, Williams is poised for his best season in 2020. When it comes to his NFL Draft prospectus, Williams does come with some off-field baggage, but his skill-set makes him a lock to be selected on day two of the 2021 Draft.
While the 2021 running back class offers some serious talent, the 2020 class is superior. When you look at the top three players in each class, Swift/Dobbins/Taylor vs. Etienne/Hubbard/Harris, it is a tight race, but it would take quite the jump from Hawkins and Williams to bring the 2021 group to par with the 2020 group.
With all of that said, these two draft classes are injecting some serious running back talent into the NFL ranks and should be fun to watch over the next few years.
Winner: 2020 running back class