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Top 10 running backs in the 2021 NFL Draft

Top ten running-backs in the 2021 NFL Draft
Top ten running-backs in the 2021 NFL Draft
ANALYST
Modified 20 Mar 2021
Feature

We have finally reached the point to put out our final positional rankings in the 2021 NFL Draft and break down the top ten prospects for each spot.

For the analysis of the top ten prospects in the 2021 NFL Draft, I have considered what I've seen on tape in terms of requirement for the position. I've also taken into account players' skillset and how that could translate to the next level before explaining what kind of scheme they would fit best.

Top ten running backs in the 2021 NFL Draft:

We’ll start with the running backs in the 2021 NFL Draft and then discuss linebackers later on in the week. We'll go position by position, switching between offense and defense.

I will also have at least one video per week coming out, where I'll talk about one of the positions. So make sure to subscribe to my Youtube channel!

Let's get started with the top ten running-backs in the 2021 NFL Draft.

#1 2021 NFL Draft Prospect: Najee Harris (Alabama)

[6’ 2”, 230 pounds; SR]

Najee Harris
Najee Harris

We’re all familiar with the running backs the Alabama program has pumped out over the last decade.

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Najee Harris came to Tuscaloosa as a consensus top-three overall recruit but had to wait for his turn behind the duo of Damien Harris and Josh Jacobs. Through his first two years with the Crimson Tide, Harris seemed like a very talented kid who didn’t have workhorse characteristics. But in year three, he started running much harder and much more violently.

Coming into 2019, the 2021 NFL Draft prospect had put up 1200 scrimmage yards and seven combined touchdowns. But as a junior alone, he easily topped those marks with over 1500 scrimmage yards and 20 touchdowns on just 236 touches.

Yet, he surprisingly decided to come back for his senior year and was even better, producing 1891 scrimmage yards and a ridiculous 30 trips to the end-zone. He did so on a little under 300 touches, winning another national title and receiving the Doak Walker award for the best running-back in the country.

To stay with the theme of Alabama running-backs, when you look at Najee Harris’ skill-set, he might be a tick below Derrick Henry in terms of top-end speed and power. But he is very similar in both those categories and beats Henry in other areas.

In terms of his running style, the 2021 NFL Draft prospect has much better start-stop ability, especially for somebody who is usually classified as a power runner.

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Harris has a lot of resilience and patience to his game, where you see him pretty much come to a dead-stop in the backfield at times. However, he also does a great job of pressing the front-side and then cutting upfield once the linebackers overcommit.

There're not many 230-pound backs who hit dead-leg moves as they stress the edge and cut underneath a defender. Throughout his time in Tuscaloosa, Harris improved his vision, put in work in the weight room and became a more complete back.

Most importantly, the 2021 NFL Draft prospect has a different attitude with the ball in his hands. Harris runs through people and throws them off himself to go with keeping defenders off his legs with those 33 ½-inch arms. That culminated in 69 missed tackles forced and almost 1000 yards after contact last year.

He has several highlight-reel plays to showcase. In one of the most punishing runs of the 2019 season, he just shoved off a tackler at the sideline and then hurdled another one in the South Carolina game. There was also the hurdle against Notre Dame that went viral last season.

However, what the 2021 NFL Draft prospect does on an everyday basis as a 'game-closer' is even more impressive. In the 2020 Citrus Bowl, for example, he literally carried Michigan defenders, grinded away the clock and made the game-clinching drive with another score.

As a receiver, Harris is so much more than just a screen and check-down option. He has had plenty of really good plays in the screen game, where he has a great feel for setting up blocks in space and manipulating back-seven defenders.

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But he has experience motioning in and out of the backfield to a heavy degree. Especially in 2020, he ran routes split out wide, and with the amount of five-out patterns he ran under Steve Sarkisian, he has the necessary reps.

Najee Harris ran a ton of wheel routes as part of Bama’s mesh concepts, where he mostly ended up clearing space underneath for the crossing receivers. But he was also targeted quite a bit and made tremendous adjustments, especially with the ball in hand.

He only dropped on 53 targets, and he might actually be tougher to bring down after catches, where he broke 22 tackles on 43 grabs. I think the part of Najee Harris’ game that gets lost a lot of times is his work in pass-protection.

Harris does a great job of ramping pressure by keeping his head on a swivel and is patient with his footwork. He does that while having the bulk to anchor against charging linebackers or push edge blitzes past the quarterback if they come in too hot.

Really, the only major negative about the 2021 NFL Draft prospect is that he doesn’t have elite long-speed. You see him pull away from defenders on several occasions. But he mostly has to push them off first or slip through a diving tackle attempt at the end, rather than just beating them in a foot-race.

Nevertheless, he has tallied 25 carries of 20+ yards despite the heavy workload. You can also argue that, at times, methodical running style may not be quite as effective in the NFL. That's because those lanes can close a lot quicker.

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But Harris did have the Joe Moore award-winning, best offensive line in the country in front of him. That offensive live, over the last two years, has likely produced two NFL first-round tackles and two more second-day picks on the interior.

As a pass-protector, Najee Harris can get too aggressive with stepping up at times, and well-schooled NFL linebackers may take advantage of that with quick swim moves.

Nevertheless, Harris is pretty clearly one of the complete backs in the 2021 NFL Draft. He had experience from under center, pistol and shotgun, while running almost a perfect 50-50 split between gap and zone schemes last season.

The guy behind him catches the eye more with a dynamic running style, but Harris has been the top RB in college football in the last two years. He has pretty sweet feet for a power back, and he had just one fumble over 651 touches in the last three years.

I think he would fit into any system in the NFL and excel, even though I would prefer more of a gap-scheme offense for him.

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Published 20 Mar 2021, 11:55 IST
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