Over the past decade, picking a running back has become less of a priority for teams in the early rounds of the NFL draft. The success of late-round picks and undrafted running backs has resulted in teams avoiding picking one with their top picks in the draft.
The abundance of quality running backs available and their short career span means a high turnover at the position for many teams.
2021 NFL draft: 5 underrated running backs that teams should target
This years’ draft has plenty of quality running backs but only a couple are predicted to go in the first round. Here are five underrated running backs that teams should target later in the draft.
#1 Khalil Herbert - Virginia Tech
Over the past two seasons, Virginia Tech’s running back Khalil Herbert has been a star, when he’s been able to stay on the field.
The 5-foot-9, 210 lbs tailback, earned a 90.0 rushing grade in 2019 on 42 carries before leaving Kansas. He then followed that up with a grade of 91.3 on 155 carries this past season at Virginia Tech — all while averaging over 8.0 yards per carry over that span.
Against Duke, he set a school record for all-purpose yards in a game with 358. While it’s unlikely he will go in the first couple of rounds of the draft, he’s worth a team taking a chance later in the draft.
#2 Jake Funk - Maryland
Maryland running back Jake Funk impressed during the college's pro day. He ran a 4.43 40-yard dash and had a 38-inch vertical jump, which was higher than Christian McCaffery, Ezekial Elliott, and Derrick Henry.
The 5-foot-10, 205 lbs running back led the Big Ten with 129 rushing yards per game to go along with 8.6 yards per carry.
Funk’s draft stock is low due to injury concerns after tearing his ACL twice in as many years. However, he could be a great addition to a team looking for an energetic backup running back.
#3 Javian Hawkins - Louisville
One of the smaller running backs in this year’s draft, Louisville’s Javian Hawkins is a player to watch.
The 5-foot-8, 183 lbs back ranked seventh in the FBS in rushing yards per game (117.3 per) and set a school record for a running back with 1,525 rushing yards in 2019.
He's lightning-quick and creative with the ball in his hands, stopping, starting, or reversing field, and rarely gets tackled for a loss.
If used in the right system, "PlayStation Hawkins" could become a playmaker in the NFL.
#4 Trey Sermon - Ohio State
Ohio State’s Trey Sermon was a late bloomer in the 2020 campaign. He rushed for 636 yards and four rushing touchdowns each in three games (Michigan, Northwestern and Clemson) during the 2020 college football season.
A strong runner who glides through defenses, Sermon is adept at moving forward while avoiding big hits. He can also be physical in short-yardage and goal-line situations.
For his size, Sermon runs with nimble feet and is well-versed at exploiting the right areas for big gains. He’s a proven pass catcher and can be deadly on screen plays.
A solid running back, Sermon would make an excellent complementary back for an NFL team with an established starter. Washington or Seattle should be interested in picking the Ohio State star.
#5 Chuba Hubbard
At 6-foot, 208 lbs, Chuba Hubbard was the 2019 Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year and led the nation in rushing yards (2,094).
Hubbard is a genuine touchdown threat from 99 yards away. He ran a 40-yard dash in 4.48 seconds and showcased that electric speed during the 2019 college football season where he scored 21 touchdowns.
While not known for his route running, Hubbard can use his acceleration on screen passes to break defenses wide open. He has world-class athleticism and could prove to be a great pick-up later in the NFL draft.
Arizona, Atlanta, or Houston could be prime destinations for Chuba Hubbard.