The NFL Draft is quickly approaching. Teams are preparing their boards and prioritizing players. One position to keep an eye on this year is running back. Several teams including the Jets, Dolphins, and Steelers could be looking to take one as early as the middle of the first round. Whether or not a running back should be taken that high is a whole different discussion. Instead, the question here is about which back will be the first one drafted this year:
NFL Draft: 2021 RB Class
The NFL Draft this year is loaded with talent at running back. Some of the big names to watch include Javonte Williams from North Carolina, Chuba Hubbard from Oklahoma State, and Trey Sermon from Ohio State. All three of these backs have the athleticism and skill set that should translate well to the pro game. Additionally, they all possess the upside that teams are looking for on Draft Day.
Though these are three solid prospects, none of them are going to be first-round picks. Also, they will not be selected before the top two running back prospects in the NFL Draft. Najee Harris and Travis Etienne are ahead of the pack. Both of them have a chance to be drafted in the first round and also have the potential to be impact players immediately.
Najee Harris, Alabama
Alabama has been a factory for successful NFL running backs. Over just the last ten years alone, they have produced some heavy hitters including Derrick Henry, Mark Ingram, and Josh Jacobs. Najee Harris hopes to be the next name to join this elite list. He is big and powerful at 6’1 and 235 pounds. As a result, he is excellent at running between the tackles and punishing opposing defenders. He is also a respectable pass catcher as well, especially for his size.
On the other hand, the one negative in his game is his speed. He doesn’t have the same breakaway potential as some of the other backs in this class. While he may not necessarily be a home run hitter, he is definitely a bruiser and a workhorse with the skills to be a three-down back from day one. This is why he will be appealing to a team picking later in the first round of the NFL Draft who wants to establish a dominant rushing presence.
Travis Etienne, Clemson
The weakness of Najee Harris is the specialty of Travis Etienne. He is absolutely a big-play threat every time he touches the ball. He is a home run hitter in both the rushing and passing games. Additionally, he still has enough size at 5’10 and 215 pounds to run between the tackles and get the tough yards when needed. His elite abilities are verified by being the all-time leading rusher in ACC conference history with nearly 5000 career rushing yards.
Comparatively, the style of Etienne is most similar to that of Alvin Kamara. The excellent vision combined with a strong burst is what allows him to find the hole and hit it hard. His elusiveness helps him evade many tackles and provides opportunities for positive plays when nothing is really there. He is an attractive option at running back for a team in the NFL Draft that needs a player to threaten a defense.
The Pick Is In…
The stylistic difference is a very interesting one between these two running backs. One will have to decide if it’s more intriguing to go with the next reliable Alabama bruiser or the guy with game-changing ability every time he touches the ball. Admittedly, it’s really a matter of preference combined with offensive philosophy as well as team needs. All that being said, the pick is in.
Travis Etienne will be the first running back off the board in the NFL Draft. His upside and potential to break games wide open is something that coaches fantasize about. He is the type of player that opposing defenses will need to account for whenever and wherever he is lined up at the snap.
Talent and explosiveness are two things that can’t be taught, and Etienne has an abundance of both. He will likely be drafted somewhere in the second half of the first round, and the team that picks him will be excited about the possibilities that his game provides.