The 2021 NFL draft is scheduled to take place on April 29th.
The FCS college football season was postponed last autumn due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but got back underway last weekend, meaning that the 2021 NFL draft prospects can expect to see their stock rise and fall on route to the big day on April 29th.
Let's take a look at the updated ratings for running back prospects in the 2021 NFL draft for February:
Top 5 running back prospects in the 2021 NFL draft
In descending order:
5. Kenneth Gainwell, Memphis Tigers
With a name like Gainwell, it's little wonder that the Memphis Tigers prospect performed so well in college football last season -- it's like he was born to do it.
Gainwell was one of many players who opted out of last year's college football season (COVID-19 concerns) but did appear quite small in 2019, the last time fans got to see him. Even so, the Tiger still amassed 1,550 yards and 14 TDs in his college career, so as long as he has filled out a bit, expect to see him go late in the second round or early in the third round in the NFL draft.
4. Javonte Williams, North Carolina Tar Heels
The first of two North Carolina running backs available in this year's NFL draft to make the list, Javonte Williams is a real star in the making.
The nimble and tenacious back has gained a real reputation in college football for being a task to bring down, constantly wriggling free of tackles and stiff-legging his way for extra yardage.
Williams chalked up 1,140 yards rushing and registered 19 TDs for the Tar Heels during his college career, and his elusive and full-throttle running style will no doubt be gaining plenty of fans in the NFL as the 2021 NFL draft approaches.
3. Michael Carter, North Carolina Tar Heels
North Carolina RB Michael Carter might be undersized, standing at just 5-foot-8 and weighing 202 pounds, but what he lacks in size, he more than makes up for in tenacity and skill. PFF has likened the player to the Kansas City Chiefs' Clyde Edwards-Helaire, and I am inclined to agree based on what I've seen of him.
The North Carolina back averaged 7.9 yards per carry last season and broke for runs of 20-plus yards in nine of his 11 games.
On top of being an elite threat on the ground, Carter is also a reliable target for QBs, catching 25 on just 30 targets last season.
While calling Carter the 'next Christan McCaffrey' might be a bridge too far, the tenacious back does have all the tools required to be a real success in the league if he were to be picked in the NFL draft.
2. Najee Harris, Alabama Crimson Tide
Alabama Crimson Tide had one heck of a season as a unit, winning the College Football Playoff National Championship. The Crimson Tide defeated the Ohio State Buckeyes 52–24 last month and captured their third CFP National Championship title in seven years.
A big reason for this success was some outstanding plays by running back sensation Najee Harris.
Harris finished his college career with an incredible 1,466-yards and 26 TDs!
Most analysts have the Alabama graduate getting picked late in the first-round or early in the second round in the 2021 NFL draft, but a quick peek at Harris's highlights for Crimson Tide makes you wonder why he wouldn't be snapped up a lot earlier than that.
1. Travis Etienne, Clemson Tigers
Clemson Tigers RB Travis Etienne is currently ranked as the number one back in the 2021 NFL draft.
Etienne proved to be a real threat in the backfield for the Tigers last season. If given space, he's the kind of player capable of taking the ball to the endzone from almost anywhere on the field.
Etienne amassed 55 career runs of 20-plus yards at Clemson, more than any Power 5 RB since PFF began grading college players. In 2018 and 2019, Etienne racked up 1,600+ yards.
His numbers were down slightly in 2020 but only because he attempted fewer runs; Clemson had a pretty useful QB in the pocket to utilize, too: the projected number one overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft, Trevor Lawrence.
Currently projected to fly off the board with the 20th pick in the 2021 NFL draft, whichever franchise ties Etienne down to a permanent deal will likely have a real star in the making on the books.