The 2021 NFL Draft is less than 100 days away. Dynasty managers understand the importance of rookie running backs in fantasy football. Not always the first RB drafted that brings the most production to your dynasty roster. Here are five potential 2021 RBs who can help your dynasty teams as rookies and what team they could be drafted to.
Najee Harris, Alabama
6’2” 229 lbs
1st-2nd – Miami Dolphins
Najee Harris has been a man amongst boys in 2020. Harris made an extremely smart decision returning for his senior season at Alabama. Harris rushed for 1,466 yards at 5.8 yards per carry and scored 26 touchdowns while also catching 43 passes for 425 yards and four touchdowns.
The Landing Spot
The Miami Dolphins are one of the teams that need an RB the most, and with four picks in the first four rounds, this seems like a great spot. Najee Harris will have a chance to reunite with his college QB Tua Tagovailoa and a very young Dolphins offense. The 2020 Doak Walker Award winner will be a great addition to a Dolphins offense that finished 22nd in the NFL in rushing yards per game at 105.5.
Najee Harris has all the tools to be a feature back in the NFL. Miami only hasMyles Gaskin and Salvon Ahmed ahead of him. It’s likely with an early second-round pick draft capital, he can find himself as the Week 1 starter for Miami. Harris brings a punishing style as a runner and has very good vision, especially on outside zone runs. Alabama’s senior RB is the safest bet in this draft to step in and take a workhorse type role as a rookie. I would love the fit in Miami.
Travis Etienne, Clemson
5’10” 205 lbs
1st-2nd – Atlanta Falcons
Travis Etienne returned to Clemson in 2020 in hopes of playing for the National Championship with his QB and future 2021 first overall pick Trevor Lawrence. That, unfortunately, wasn’t to be for Clemson or Etienne. The All-time Leading rusher in ACC history returned for his senior season, rushing for only 914 yards after posting 1,600+ rushing yards in each of his last two seasons. The Clemson running back did improve greatly as a pass-catcher, hauling in 48 passes for 588 yards and two touchdowns.
The Landing Spot
The early second round could be a great spot for Etienne to be selected, it’s still unclear what the Atlanta Falcons will do with the fourth overall selection, but an RB upgrade has to be on their radar. Travis Etienne had a nose for the end zone while at Clemson, scoring 70 rushing touchdowns. This should be a great addition for a Falcons team that finished 22nd in rushing TDs in 2020. The clock is ticking on the Falcons aging stars Matt Ryan and Julio Jones. With investments in the last few drafts along the offensive line, a dynamic RB with Etienne’s skills could be a huge boost to their offense.
Javonte Williams, North Carolina
5’10” 220 lbs
2nd-3rd – Arizona Cardinals
Javonte Williams has increased his value as much as anyone during the 2020 season. Williams finishes his career at North Carolina with 2,836 yards from scrimmage and 33 total touchdowns, including 29 rushing touchdowns. According to Pro Football Focus, Williams entered the 2020 college football season as the second-highest graded returning rusher. The North Carolina running back finished as the single highest graded rusher in 2020 with a grade of 95.9. This was the highest grade PFF has ever given.
The 2020 Javonte Williams highlight package is really impressive. The physicality he plays with is jaw-dropping. The athleticism and receiving ability he has gives him the potential to be a very good NFL RB. Williams 2020 accolades are plentiful, which include a game where he forced 17 missed tackles against N.C. State as well as a 236 yard and three-touchdown game against Miami.
The Landing Spot
The Arizona Cardinals could use an RB as talented and physical as Javonte Williams. Kenyan Drake is likely gone in free agency, and Williams will be a much cheaper option in the second or third round. William’s style can take some pressure off of Kyler Murray, who took some big hits this season, and his play suffered down the stretch.
The Cardinals finished seventh in the NFL in rushing last season and fourth in rushing touchdowns with 22. Javonte Williams scored 19 alone last season. His playstyle will be a good compliment to Chase Edmonds. Williams is familiar with a committee approach. He has shared the North Carolina backfield with fellow 2021 draft prospect Michael Carter for the past two seasons.
Chuba Hubbard, Oklahoma State
6’0” 207 lbs
3rd-5th – Pittsburgh Steelers
Oklahoma State’s Chuba Hubbard was one of the most interesting prospects a year ago. Surprisingly he announced he would return for the 2020 season in Stillwater. Hubbard led the NCAA in rushing yards in 2019 with 2,094 yards, including finishing 1st in the NCAA in rushing attempts (328), plays from scrimmage (351), and yards from scrimmage (2292). Chuba Hubbard also finished the 2019 season as the Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year and was named a Consensus All-American. The depth of the 2020 RB class played a role in Hubbard returning to school. A decision that will likely cost him at least the way it appears this early in the draft process.
The biggest takeaway when you watch Chuba Hubbard play is the straight-line speed. Hubbard has been clocked at 10.60 seconds in the 100-meter sprint and 22.07 seconds in the 200-meter sprint. I don’t think there’s anyone that would doubt Hubbard is anything less than a 4.3 forty yard dash type player.
The Landing Spot
It has been well documented the Pittsburgh Steelers need a difference-maker at the RB position. James Conner seems all but likely to leave in free agency, leaving an opening in the Pittsburgh backfield. The dip in production for Chuba Hubbard in 2020 likely makes him a day three pick in the 2021 Draft. This would be a great value pick for the Steelers. Hubbard brings a blend of vision and speed to help QB Ben Roethlisberger and Pittsburgh’s three-wide receiver sets.
The Pittsburgh Steelers finished dead last in the NFL in rushing at 84.4 yards per game. The Steelers 12 rushing touchdowns in 2020 was good for 28th in the NFL. It’s worth noting that Chase Claypool was responsible for two of those touchdowns. Adding a player as good as Chuba Hubbard, who has scored 26 rushing touchdowns in his last 20 games, would benefit. The Steelers would be a very good fit for Chuba Hubbard at half the price it would have cost them had he entered the 2020 NFL Draft. Given team needs, the Steelers can shore up other needs early in the draft and use a mid-round pick on a homerun threat RB like Hubbard.
Kenneth Gainwell, Memphis
5’11” 194 lbs
3rd – 4th – New York Jets
The Memphis Tigers are producing NFL level RBs like crazy, with three in the past two drafts. Darrell Henderson, Tony Pollard, and Antonio Gibson have all been fantasy-relevant players from the Tigers backfield as of late. The next man up is Kenneth Gainwell, who shined in 2019 with 1,459 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground while adding 51 receptions for 610 yards, including 12 yards per catch and scoring three touchdowns. In 2019 the redshirt freshman was on the field for 282 plays, racking up 2,069 yards from scrimmage at 7.3 yards per play and scoring 16 touchdowns.
The Memphis RB decided to opt-out of the 2021 season to not hurt his draft stock. The early consensus is Gainwell is anywhere from RB3 to RB5 in this 2021 class. Some view Gainwell as a top-two RB in this class, but it has hurt that argument with him not playing this year. Kenneth Gainwell showed his versatility, vision, route running, and great hands in the 2019 season. With no NFL combine workouts, teams will have to go off his pro day.
The Landing Spot
The New York Jets offense was terrible in 2020 under recently fired head coach Adam Gase. The Jets finished 23rd in rushing offense and tied for 32nd in rushing touchdowns with nine. New York’s passing offense also suffered, finishing 30th in receptions and 28th in receiving touchdowns. The Jets do hold a good amount of draft capital, including six picks in the top 100. The Jets have the 66th, 87th, and 98th overall picks, which could be an excellent spot for the Memphis RB.
Kenneth Gainwell could make a difference for the Jets offense. New York is trying to crawl out of the NFL basement and become a winning football team again. We don’t know this early in the draft process if they will start over at QB with Justin Fields or let Sam Darnold play out his rookie contract. Either way, an RB as talented and versatile as Kenneth Gainwell could benefit the newly hired coaching staff under Robert Saleh. Gainwell brings every down RB upside. With former teammate Antonio Gibson’s success, recent bias should be on his side to help him get drafted to be a workhorse running back.
This was a fun exercise to see how potential RB landing spots could shake out this April. As a reader, I want to give you some insight into the thoughts that go into why a player being drafted by a particular team could work. The Senior Bowl and pro days will change things more than likely. Getting an early jump on potential landing spots should help. As Always, you can find me on Twitter @Glosser13. Feel free to give me feedback on this article.
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