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Top 10 Rookie Draft Prospects

We are closing in on the fantasy playoffs and rookie season is just around the corner. @3COAK_FF takes a look at his top ten running backs.

While quarterbacks are all the rage in the mainstream NFL media, the fantasy football community has come to respect the running back position most of all. For most dynasty leagues, the gold standard, finding a three-down back with RB1 upside, is the ultimate prize, particularly if they can come at a discount. If you enjoyed my previous article, which touched upon the top ten QB prospects heading into rookie draft season, then I’m sure you’ll love this one too!

1. Travis Etienne (Sr.), Clemson

Projected Draft Position: Early Second Round

Measurables: 5’10, 210 lbs

Pro Comparison (Ceiling): Le’Veon Bell

Career Stats

A patient runner with great technique and vision, Etienne has been one of the best backs in college football history during his tenure with the Tigers. Few players impact a game the way that Etienne does, as his presence on play-action allows the Tigers offense to keep defenses on their toes for every down of every game. Though he’s had some issues with fumbling this season, Etienne is about as safe of a running back prospect as we’ve seen since Saquon Barkley. It’s worth noting that Etienne has improved his game year after year, polishing his receiving chops noticeably since his freshman year. 

2. Najee Harris (Sr.), Alabama

(Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)

Projected Draft Position: Early Second Round

Measurables: 6’2, 235 lbs

Pro Comparison (Ceiling): Matt Forte

2019 & 2020 Stats

Some may compare Harris to Derrick Henry due to their similarities as rumbling bruisers. However, Harris has shown much more skill as a receiver than Henry has to this day. Harris will have a safe floor as a power back with great vision, though his ceiling will ultimately be determined by how well he fares in the passing game. If he can put it all together, Harris may develop into a true bellcow back for whichever team takes a chance on him. 

3. Chuba Hubbard (RS Jr.), Oklahoma State

Photo credit: AP News

Projected Draft Position: Early Third Round

Measurables: 6’1, 220 lbs

Pro Comparison (Ceiling): DeMarco Murray

2019 & 2020 Stats

Hubbard is an imperfect prospect, as he sometimes struggles to create space for himself and tends to have lapses in his field vision. He has also been terrible in pass-protection for the Cowboys, an area of his game that will certainly keep him off the field at the NFL level. However, when he manages to put it all together, the Oklahoma State standout is one of the most dominant runners in college football. Powerful and explosive, teams will be lining up to take Hubbard once Harris and Etienne come off the board, as his upside may be the highest in this class. Put him behind a talented offensive line, and you’ll see big things from the former 2,000-yard rusher. 

4. Kenneth Gainwell (RS So.), Memphis

Photo Credit: 247 Sports

Projected Draft Position: Mid Third Round

Measurables: 5’10, 195 lbs

Pro Comparison (Ceiling): LeSean McCoy

2019 Stats

Another product of Memphis’s system, Gainwell, might be the best running back we’ve seen from this program. Dynamic and versatile, the Tigers deployed Gainwell all over the field during his breakout 2019 campaign. A high-quality pass-catcher with excellent shake, Gainwell is the kind of highly athletic gadget backs that NFL teams have fallen in love with thanks to the Alvin Kamaras and Christian McCaffreys of the world. Should Gainwell elect to enter the 2021 draft following his decision to opt-out of this season, it’s possible that he could be the first back off of the board. While he’s only got one full season for scouts to judge him on, the skills put on display by Gainwell during that season should be impressive enough to keep him as a top-five running back prospect in this class.

5. Zamir White (RS So.), Georgia

Photo Credit: 247 Sports

Projected Draft Position: Late Third Round

Measurables: 6’0, 215 lbs

Pro Comparison (Ceiling): Jay Ajayi

2019 & 2020 Stats

White is an all-around talented back who seems to be extremely trusted within Georgia’s stable of talented runners. With D’Andre Swift off to the NFL, the Bulldogs backfield is now owned by White, a former five-star recruit who runs like a stallion in the open field. I’m not convinced that White would declare this season, though if he did, he might find himself coming off of the board soon after the top four backs in this class. A power runner with decent hands, White is the ideal back for a cold-weather team, as his mentality fits perfectly within the framework of a smashmouth offense. While he’s not featured heavily as a receiver in Georgia’s offense, White has the ability to improve this area of his game and may be best suited to stay in school for another year. 

6. Kylin Hill (Sr.), Mississippi State

Photo Credit: 247 Sports

Projected Draft Position: Mid 4th Round

Measurables: 5’10, 210 lbs

Pro Comparison (Ceiling): Philip Lindsay 

2018 – 2020 Stats

It’s hard to get a good read on exactly what kind of back Hill will be at the NFL level. He’s proven to be a capable pass-catcher this season, though it’s more a result of necessity rather than a concerted effort to improve his skill. A headstrong runner who thrives when in a rhythm, Hill could be an excellent change-of-pace option out of the gate for whichever team drafts him. 

7. Max Borghi (Jr.), Washington State

(Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

Projected Draft Position: Mid 4th Round

Measurables: 5’10, 205 lbs

Pro Comparison (Ceiling): James White

2018 & 2019 Stats

Some will compare Borghi to Christian McCaffrey due to their similarities in skin tone, appearance, and style of play. Unfortunately for those folks, they may be setting the bar much too high for Borghi, a much less explosive player than McCaffrey was at Stanford. That being said, NFL clubs will love Borghi as a mid-round prospect due to his pass-catching prowess. Though few backs have made the transition to the NFL successfully from Mike Leach’s offense, the Cougars featured Borghi in a manner that showcased his strongest traits. In some ways, Borghi’s role was similar to that of — yes, I’m gonna say it — Christian McCaffrey. A vacuum for targets out of the backfield, Borghi does most of his damage on draw plays, options, and swing routes. It’s rare to see such a developed pass-catching back playing for a college team, which leads me to believe that some NFL team will “reach” on Borghi, citing his “NFL readiness” as their motivation. 

8. Javian Hawkins (RS So.), Louisville

Photo Credit: The Crunch Zone

Projected Draft Position: Mid 4th Round

Measurables: 5’8, 190 lbs

Pro Comparison (Ceiling): Maurice Jones-Drew

2019 & 2020 Stats

Good things can come in small sizes. Hawkins may seem small at 5’8, 190-ish lbs, but he plays with a drive and focus that could allow him to overcome those deficiencies. Oh, also, he’s incredibly fast and elusive, two traits that have allowed smaller backs to become successful NFL talents. Few players possess the burst that Hawkins has. In some respects, his tape is rather similar to that of Raheem Mostert, a similarly speedy yet undersized back who has become one of the most underappreciated weapons in the NFL. 

9. C.J Verdell (Jr.), Oregon

Photo Credit: Sean Meagher/Staff

Projected Draft Position: Early 5th Round

Measurables: 5’10, 215 lbs

Pro Comparison (Ceiling): Jerick McKinnon

2018 – 2020 Stats

Verdell is a bit of a jack-of-all-trades running back. He’s got good speed, good vision, and solid hands. While Verdell is not what I would call a “can’t miss” prospect, his well-roundedness is rare for a player with a mid-round pedigree. The Oregon star makes some great cuts and seems to really understand how to exploit defenses on option plays. There are some three-down back elements to Verdell’s game. However, I don’t see a team deploying him in that capacity off the bat. Verdell could make some team in need of another horse in the stable very happy. Specifically, the 49ers, Dolphins, and Eagles stand out as potential fits for Verdell.

10. Khalil Herbert (Sr.), Virginia Tech

Photo Credit: VT Athletics

Projected Draft Position: Mid 5th Round

Measurables: 5’9, 210 lbs

Pro Comparison (Ceiling): Doug Martin

2020 Stats

Herbert has improved his stock as much as any back this season, going from an afterthought at Kansas to one of the nation’s top YAC machines for the Hokies. While I don’t foresee Herbert’s stock rising beyond the middle rounds of April’s draft, he could be one of the rare plug-and-play late-round backs. Even if he maxes out as a change-of-pace option in the NFL, Herbert could be a valuable fantasy asset thanks to his breakaway ability as a runner.

Just Missed The Cut: Trey Sermon (Ohio State), Cam’Ron Harris (Miami), Kennedy Brooks (Oklahoma), Rakeem Boyd (Arkansas), Elijah Mitchell (Louisiana)

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