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The influx of running backs from the 2020 draft class spoiled fantasy football owners throughout last season and continuing into this offseason. If an owner took a chance on one of the consensus’ top seven or eight at the position, it was nearly impossible to find a “bust.” The downside, however, is the class filled a majority of the prime landing spots, leaving few available for the incoming 2021 class. What can we expect from this group of running backs this year after the bar was set highly in 2020?
The Sure-Fire Starters
Najee Harris – Alabama / 6’1” – 225 lbs
Harris is the newest ‘Bama product at the running back position to enter the NFL after proving to be an absolute tank at the collegiate level. Coming off of back-to-back seasons where he produced at least 1,500 yards from scrimmage, Harris sits atop the 2021 class as a day-one starter for both his NFL team and all fantasy squads. With only 638 rushing attempts to his name, the tires have miles and miles of tread left despite being one of the older rookie backs in the class.
As for his play style, Harris is a well-built all-around back who shows a thrilling combination of power and elusiveness. He does a great job of following his blockers and waiting for the scheme to open a lane. He is a comfortable pass catcher out of the backfield and will be solid in pass protection. Whether he will run over defenders or make them completely whiff is his decision, which will frighten opposing defensive coordinators weeks before they face him.
- Grade: High-end starter
- NFL Draft Projection: Late 1st – Early 2nd
- Projected DFWC ADP: 1.01
- Comparison: A healthy James Conner on steroids
- Bottom Line: Harris will step in and become an immediate stud for his team and all fantasy teams, no matter the format. Don’t miss your chance on Najee Harris.
Javonte Williams – North Carolina / 5’10” 220 lbs
Travis Etienne – Clemson / 5’10” – 210 lbs
Etienne leaves the Tigers with one of the most impressive resumes to date. He averaged more than 1,700 yards from scrimmage throughout his final three years in the NCAA. Though many believed he was going to be a part of the 2020 class, Etienne shocked the world and chose to return for his senior season in 2021. In doing so, he showed definite improvement as a pass catcher, which was the biggest question mark about his projection to the NFL.
Etienne is an explosive one-cut runner who will accelerate quicker than anyone else on the field. He bounces off tacklers and runs through contact at a high level. He vastly improved as a receiver, so expect a fair share of targets as a rookie. He may run into some trouble with his flexibility as he struggles to avoid contact far too often. He lacks shiftiness and is more straight-line than many want to believe. Etienne is wildly inconsistent in pass protection, which could limit his snaps on third down throughout his first couple years in the league.
- Grade: Starter with limitations
- NFL Draft Projection: 2nd
- Projected DFWC ADP: 1.03
- Comparison: Kenyan Drake (floor) – Aaron Jones (ceiling)
- Bottom Line: Etienne will have an explosive, yet short-lived window of production in the NFL. Ignore the Kamara comparisons and be ready to sell after an early peak.
Kenneth Gainwell – Memphis / 5’10” – 201 lbs
Jermar Jefferson – Oregon State / 5’10” – 210 lbs
Michael Carter – North Carolina / 5’7” – 202
Trey Sermon – Ohio State / 6’0” – 212 lbs (Est.)