The NFL Draft is finally here and with it a whole new crop of players for you to worry about. There are dozens and dozens of names, to learn, but for fantasy football purposes, there are probably only about 50 or 60 guys you really need to worry about. Let’s break these guys down with 10 Second Scouting, the maiden voyage of a series that lets us do the hard work for you to give you an idea of what to expect from fantasy football rookies in 2021 and beyond. We started with the quarterbacks yesterday, so let’s move on to the most important position in fantasy football: running backs.
Travis Etienne, Clemson (5’10” 205 pounds) | Rookie Dynasty ADP: 1.02
Etienne makes up one of the three guys in the 2021 NFL Draft running back top tier. He has very good hands, speed, and almost no wasted movement in his runs. Etienne isn’t sudden or elusive, but he’s impossible to bring down at the line of scrimmage. Once Etienne hits the open field, he can do whatever he wants. I’m truly enamored by his hands, which makes him the best running back in the class for me. Depending on the landing spot, he could be a top-fifteen running back in redraft leagues this August.
NFL Comparison: Aaron Jones
Najee Harris, Alabama (6’2” 230 pounds) ) | Rookie Dynasty ADP: 1.02
Harris is the best pure runner in this class. He’s shifty and powerful and has enough speed to get away from defenses with easy strides. He also boasts great vision at all levels, which allows him to to pop through collapsing holes and make open-field tackles grasp at air. His hands are good enough to utilize at the NFL level. Harris also shows great body control and contact balance. He and the Steelers seem like they have a standing appointment on Thursday evening. That immediately makes him an RB1 if it comes to fruition.
NFL Comparison: Todd Gurley
Chuba Hubbard, Oklahoma State (6’0” 207 pounds) | Rookie Dynasty ADP: 1.11
Chuba Hubbard would have been among the Cam Akerses and Zack Mosses and the Clyde Edwards-Helaires had he come out in 2020. He had a bad 2020 in his final year at Oklahoma State, and now people think he’s bad. Cover up the COVID year and you get a running back who had nearly 2,300 yards in 2019. The Oklahoma State offensive line was a mess in 2020, which likely contributed to his precipitous drop. Chuba isn’t the strongest, but he is efficient and decisive. He also carries an uncanny ability to fire out of a messy pile that I haven’t seen since Frank Gore was in his 20s (137 years ago). If he finds his way into a 60% platoon, he has RB2 upside for 2021 fantasy football.
NFL Comparison: Young Frank Gore
Javonte Williams, UNC (5’10 220 pounds) | Rookie Dynasty ADP: 1.11
Javonte Williams likely an early day two selection (Miami feels right). He is a chunk play runner who has enough speed to get 20 yards, but not enough to sprint away from everyone. Williams has above-average vision and good contact balance. Williams loves to bounce it to the edge so he might need to shore up his between-the-tackles game in the NFL since he won’t beat linebackers to the edge as easily. He’s a good enough route runner to put linebackers on the ground and has decent enough hands. Williams was the Thunder to a Thunder and Lightning attack at UNC (more on the Lightning later)
NFL Comparison: Kareem Hunt
Michael Carter, UNC (5’8 202 pounds) | Rookie Dynasty ADP: 2.07
Carter is fast and slippery, with enough hands to make it work and an ability to make it away from everyone with ease. He was the Lightning I mentioned in the Javonte Williams profile. Carter is a little light, and tends to go down if hit hard. Still, he’s strong enough to fall forward and rarely lose yards. He is a “great is the enemy of good” runner in that he tries to hit home runs on every play instead of taking guaranteed yardage. He has fantasy football flex appeal his rookie year, depending on his NFL Draft destination.
NFL Comparison: LeSean McCoy
Kenneth Gainwell, Memphis (5’11” 195 pounds) | Rookie Dynasty ADP: 2.08
Gainwell is little, slippery, versatile, and explosive. Memphis liked to flare him out wide to catch passes, probably because he was physically incapable of making it past the line of scrimmage between the tackles. He’s a smart player but mostly used in the flat or for dump-offs. Gainwell carves out a 1B role almost immediately in the NFL and is a good PPR league play because of that. He’s also a dangerous home run hitter if he gets the ball in space. Gainwell has capped upside until he beefs up enough to not go down when opposing defensive linemen breathe on him.
NFL Comparison: Justin Jackson
Jermar Jefferson, Oregon State (5’9” 216 pounds) | Rookie Dynasty ADP: 3.03
Jefferson has good power, vision, and open-field elusiveness, but is somewhat awkward catching passes. He has enough vision and speed to get away but he isn’t really a burner. Jefferson is really a depth guy in the NFL to start off, but as we saw with his comparison, all it takes is an opportunity to find fantasy football relevance. It’s unlikely a team taps him in the 2021 NFL Draft to do anything significant for them right away.
NFL Comparison: Marlon Mack
Trey Sermon, Ohio State (6’0” 213 pounds) | Rookie Dynasty ADP: 3.03
Sermon is a two-down banger, who is speedy and powerful, and who boasts good vision at the line of scrimmage. Unfortunately, everything falls apart at the second level (no second gear, bad vision). Sermon gets pulled down from behind a lot and loves to just sort of move in a direction until someone stops him. Sermon also doesn’t catch the football to save his life; it just isn’t a part of his game. He has an outside shot at appeal in fantasy football leagues depending on his destination. His outcome is all over the place and depends mostly on team philosophy his rookie year.
NFL Comparison: Best Case Josh Jacobs, Worst Case Jordan Howard
Javian Hawkins, Louisville (5’9” 179 pounds) | Rookie Dynasty ADP: 3.04
Whether it’s good or bad, the thing that sticks out most is that Hawkins isn’t very creative or elusive until the very last second, like he’s playing a glitchy version of Madden. Hawkins is small and just mostly finds a hole and runs mostly straight until people stop him. He’s a home run specialist and an okayish receiver, but there seems to be a big disconnect between his eyes and his body. He doesn’t present much rookie appeal for fantasy football leagues, as it stands.
NFL Comparison: Nyheim Hines
Pooka Williams, Kansas (5’10” 170 pounds) | Rookie Dynasty ADP: 3.06
Someone did a Madden Create-A-Player and jammed all the sliders down all the way except speed. That’s Pooka Williams. He’s skinny, fast as all get-out, and gets tackled if an opposing linebacker thinks about exhaling in his direction. Pooka’s sudden, fast, and not very likely to do much in the NFL. He’s the NFL version of a three true outcomes batter, going for the home run whenever he can while either dancing in the backfield (strikeout) or getting ankle tackled (walk).
NFL Comparison: Ameer Abdullah
Jaret Patterson, Buffalo (5’9” 195 pounds) | Rookie Dynasty ADP: 3.07
Patterson has eyepopping numbers, but he isn’t really good overall. Fortunately for Patterson, his speed will carry him to an NFL Draft pick, likely early in day three. Patterson is incredibly fast but he doesn’t cut, or shed tacklers, or even try to miss anyone. His go-to move is a shoulder shimmy, which worked in the MAC but won’t work in the NFL. Bufflo might have just run him into the ground, too (six games of 30+ touches). He’s not someone I’m interested in right now, but if he gets 10+ touches per game, he could turn into a daily fantasy football darling his rookie year.
NFL Comparison: Antone Smith
Rhamondre Stevenson, Oklahoma (6’0” 227 pounds) | Rookie Dynasty ADP: 3.07
Rhamondre struggled with weight early in 2020, but once he got his butt in shape, he uh, got his butt in shape. He fights through contact and move the ball forward, and he can take it all the way with some space. Stevenson is a patient, powerful runner with good vision and change-of-tempo ability to evade defenders. He broke the second-most tackles per carry last year, which gives him a leg up on a lot of guys in this draft since he invites contact. He could benefit from a year of NFL-level strength and conditioning. Don’t forget that Le’Veon Bell had a lot of the same concerns as Stevenson in his NFL draft profile before turning into a fantasy football mainstay. Stevenson could find a top-20 running back season at some point in his rookie deal, but I don’t expect it to last.
NFL Comparison: Eddie Lacy (with everything that entails)
Elijah Mitchell, Louisiana (5’10” 215 pounds) | Rookie Dynasty ADP: 3.09
Mitchell is my NFL Draft sleeper running back, given his dynasty rookie draft position. He’s a strong inside runner with good contact balance and jukiness. Mitchell is also versatile, splitting out wide getting good hand catches (though he suffers from focus drops). He’s a good all-around back, but he falls like he’s a guy in Garry’s Mod though, so I see some injury problems in his future.
NFL Comparison: David Montgomery
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Average Draft Position per fantasyfootballcalculator.com, height and weight per nbcsports.com/edge