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Top 20 Dynasty Rookie RB Rankings (Pre NFL Draft)

Evan Brown breaks down his Top 20 dynasty rookie running backs pre NFL draft. Where to draft them, what to expect and who to pass on.

It’s almost here people!!! (deep breaths!) Less than one week till the NFL draft!!! We can finally stop speculating about landing spots and draft capital and get down to what’s truly important in life… mocking the Green Bay Packers for whatever terrible decisions they will inevitably make!

In dynasty leagues, many rookie drafts tend to happen fairly soon after the actual NFL draft, so it’s important to have a rough idea of how you value these players and where you are willing to take them even before you know landing spots. This article will give you an insight into how I use tiered rankings for incoming rookies and hopefully help you get organized for your upcoming draft(s)!

I want to give a quick explanation of tiered rankings vs. traditional rankings in case it is a new concept to you. Numerical rankings simply give you a list of players from best to worst. When you incorporate tiers into your rankings, you can cluster similarly skilled players together while still maintaining a preferential order. Tiers can make it easier to spot which position is currently a value during your draft, as well as provide clearer distinctions/reminders of the drop-offs in talent.

Without further adieu, I give you my 2021 pre-NFL draft Top 20 RB ranking tiers. These rankings are based primarily on my film study. I have assessed each player on ten traits and scored them individually. (Shout out to the Nerd Herd film room!) Hopefully, you find this helpful, and you can use it to give yourself a starting point for your RB tiers.

Tier 1

1. Javonte Williams – North Carolina

2. Najee Harris – Alabama

3. Travis Etienne – Clemson

This tier is the crème de la crème of the 2021 RB class, and I don’t think you can go too far wrong, whichever you end up with or prefer. I would expect all three to go very high in the first round of your rookie drafts, especially if it is a 1QB league. In Superflex (SF), I would be happy taking any of these guys after the main QB’s and potentially Kyle Pitts is off the board.

Javonte Williams burst onto the scene in 2020 and absolutely dominated. He is my RB1 for a mixture of reasons. He is still a bit raw in certain aspects of his game, but the things he does well, he does REALLY well!!! Williams has elite contact balance, excellent vision, solid pass-catching, and runs with ferocity. You will very rarely see a single defender take him down, and his legs never stop churning for extra yards. Every time he touches the ball, I expect big things!

Credit: Big Blue View

The old man is down the road

Najee Harris is many peoples RB1 in the class, and rightfully so. He is very polished and does a lot of things really, really well. He is a beast of a man and has elite-level agility for someone his size. He is also a phenomenal pass-catcher for an RB, which helps give him a very safe floor for fantasy football. Personally, my only criticisms would be, I would like to see him run with more power for a man of his size, and he does not possess top-end speed.

Credit: Buffalo Rumblings

Travis Etienne only ended up behind Harris by the narrowest of margins in my film score. Etienne has elite speed and has improved his pass-catching year on year in college. He weighed in slightly heavier than expected at his pro day, but that has allayed some concerns over his ability to handle a full workload in the NFL. I think Etienne is an extremely safe pick, and I wouldn’t fault anyone if they had him at the top of their list as there is a lot to like about his game.

Credit: Matthew Emmons | USA Today Sports

Tier 2

4. Kenneth Gainwell – Memphis

This might seem odd to have a one-man tier but, there it is… I have a one-man tier. I see a lot of potential for Kenny G. to have a massive impact on the NFL and your dynasty team.

Kenneth Gainwell is electric with the ball in his hands, a great pass catcher, a very willing blocker, and incredibly elusive in the open field. He is actually much faster than many people think as well. This man kept Antonio Gibson off the field in Memphis, and we all know what a big splash Gibson has made at Washington! Depending on the landing spot and draft capital, I would be comfortable taking Kenny G. towards the very end of the first round in a Superflex league, anywhere from picks 1.11-1.12 onwards, especially if you are an RB needy team.

Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Tier 3

5. Michael Carter – North Carolina

6. Trey Sermon – Ohio State

7. Jaret Patterson – Buffalo

This tier is made up of very solid backs with a fairly high chance of landing a significant role on a team with their skill sets and pedigree. Not quite top shelf, but certainly intriguing players. I expect you to be able to grab these fellas in the second round of your rookie drafts. (Patterson is the exception here, and you can probably get him in the fourth!) #value

Michael Carter was the running mate of Javonte Williams, and what a dynamic duo they were! He is a great pass-catcher, solid in pass-pro, elusive in the open field, and a solid runner between the tackles. He is a very polished player who is very good at almost everything. I feel quite confident he will get decent draft capital and provide a reliable NFL and dynasty option for the next few years.

Credit: Keeping it Heel

Trey Sermon had an up and down final season in college but finished strong. He provides a very prototypical build for an NFL running back. A solid and powerful runner, not overly speedy but with good vision and fairly smooth pass-catching chops. I could easily see him being a late second-round or early third-round pick for a team and picking up a sizable role straight away. Definitely watch out for his landing spot! If he stays healthy, he could be one of the steals of your rookie draft!

Credit: Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Gluteus Minimus

Jaret Patterson is probably the head-scratcher of the group. Some dynasty players will undoubtedly disagree with me having him this high, but I stand by it. Playing at Buffalo, the competition was not as good as it would have been at a bigger school. Speaking of size, Jaret is only 5’6”, which is another knock against him. (Let’s not discuss his 0 catches in his final season at Buffalo, or you guys will REALLY think I’m crazy!) Now that I have told you all the reasons NOT to like him allow me to wax lyrical on some of my favorite aspects of this powerful RB from the MAC.

When you watch Jaret play, you see a lot of traits that will translate nicely to the NFL. He runs with intent, powerful for his size, and at 195 lbs, he has fantastic contact balance and very good vision. Patterson is surprisingly shifty and able to squeeze through tight holes with more than adequate burst. He is uber-competitive, and even at his size, you will see him, stiff-arming defenders that get in his way, ala King Henry. It will be an uphill battle for him, but I believe in his talent. He could easily be a second-round talent you can grab in the third or even fourth, which is always NOICE!

Credit: Buffalo News

Tier 4

8. Chuba Hubbard – Oklahoma State

9. Kylin Hill – Mississippi State

10. Khalil Herbert – Virginia Tech

11. Elijah Mitchell – Louisiana

12. Pooka Williams Jr. – Kansas

13. Demetric Felton – UCLA

14. Chris Evans – Michigan

This is a really big tier, and I call it the “traits tier.” These guys have some holes or concerns in their game and have some elite/semi-elite athletic traits or skills that give them upside. Once you are past the more sure things, you often want to aim for upside in rookie drafts. I think these guys offer a lot of upside if they land in the right spot or get the right opportunity. I honestly believe in a Superflex league, you could grab almost all these guys in the third round or later. Kylin Hill could potentially creep up a bit as he seems to be generating a fair amount of pre-draft buzz.

Chuba Hubbard and Pooka Williams are speed demons. Hubbard clearly has the more illustrious career, but 2020 was not good for his stock. Chris Evans is an athletic freak. Kylin Hill had some flashes of brilliance as a lead back and certainly improved his pass-catching in 2020. Felton is a great pass catcher himself as he played WR for a chunk of his career, and he is excellent on special teams. Herbert had a great final season at VT and offers a solid all-around skill set. I am more than happy bumping any of these guys up or down this tier based on their landing spot and draft capital.

Credit: Cowboys Ride for Free

Tier 5

15. Larry Rountree III – Missouri

16. Jermar Jefferson – Oregon State

17. Rhamondre Stevenson – Oklahoma

18. Javian Hawkins – Louisville

The guys in this group have some things I like about each of them but will require a great set of circumstances to make me want to reach for them in my rookie drafts. Larry Rountree looked pretty decent at times as the lead back for Missouri, but poor athletic testing combined with no stand-out traits leaves him lower on the list. Jermar had a couple of massive games that were amazing, so he is definitely talented. His lack of pass-catching ability and just ok elusiveness has me unsure of his role at the next level.

Rhamondre Stevenson, I do like, and it would not shock me if he does the best out of this group. I think he has good size and decent vision. He is also surprisingly elusive in the open field with a great stiff arm. Unfortunately, he is NOT very fast and does not possess much by way of special athletic traits, so he could be fairly limited at the NFL level. Hawkins is an absolute burner, but other than elite speed doesn’t possess much else that I am overly excited about. I did not think he was a very natural pass catcher, and he is atrocious at blocking (partially down to his size).

These guys are all fourth, or fifth-round dart throws for me unless a dream landing spot materializes.

Tier 6

19. Stevie Scott III – Indiana

20. Rakeem Boyd – Arkansas

These guys round out the top 20. Honestly, I don’t want to be disparaging to athletes who would run rings around me but suffice to say, I don’t think I will be drafting them for my dynasty squad, but I wish them well with their NFL aspirations.

Conclusion

After the NFL draft and based on landing spot and draft capital, I will adjust these rankings accordingly. I have given myself a rough framework of how I believe these players compare to each other skill-wise, and the rest will be down to opportunity and competition. I would, however, caution against over-adjusting based on landing spots. A rule of thumb would be not to promote or demote a player more than one tier above or below where you had them pre-draft.

For example, Kylin Hill gets drafted in the second round to Miami. All things being equal, I would probably move him up to the top of tier 3 based on opportunity. I still am not drafting him over tier 1 or even tier 2 guys as I believe they are superior talents and, therefore, still more likely to succeed. This year’s class has a lot of players quite close together after the top two tiers, in my opinion, so I expect the NFL draft to be a heavily distinguishing factor in final rankings.

Putting words into action

As a little treat for you, I completed a mock rookie draft with some of the brightest minds in the dynasty game. It was a 12 team Superflex TE premium draft. You can see the results below. I think this will help you gauge roughly where you can expect to see some of these players we have talked about go in rookie drafts.

(courtesy of Sleeper)

I hope you found this helpful and informative and that you are as excited for the draft as I am! I hope you absolutely dominate your rookie draft(s) (unless you are in a league with me, of course)!

Also, If you haven’t already, you should go build your own ranking tiers to help you prepare for your rookie draft(s)!

If you want to chat about anything I have discussed here or just fantasy football in general, you can find me on Twitter @FFEvanlution.

Good luck and enjoy the draft!!!

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