IDEAL ROOKIE LANDING SPOTS: RBS
There is no bigger disparity in value between fantasy football and the NFL than how running backs are viewed. In fantasy, running backs are a high priority due to the lack of true #1 options, but in the NFL, they are seen as a less valued investment. Take a look at NFL rosters and you’ll be surprised at the amount of mid to late round running backs on rosters that have great fantasy value. The NFL draft is not unlike fantasy drafts though, where teams believe to have a set opinion on players. Many teams don’t always follow their own beliefs and draft players above where their value lies. In order to avoid the endless rabbit hole of speculation that can come with trying to determine the value a rookie will present to a team even before the draft has begun, this article will look at determining the best landing spot for each player rather than analyzing the prospect’s ceilings and what to expect long-term. This list of players is based on a combination of rankings by multiple scouting experts in order to determine the five best prospects participating in next month’s draft. On top of the expert rankings, this list will take into consideration the teams who need a running back. The running backs are ordered by where they are expected to be drafted and not necessarily by their fantasy outlook or overall talent, even though those aspects will be discussed. With all the rules and caveats out of the way, let’s get to the list.
Travis Etienne- Denver Broncos
The production from Clemson’s Travis Etienne is nothing to bat an eye at. He has shown the ability to break off big runs, while improving his receiving ability each year. He is a dual threat who can effectively and efficiently beat teams out of the backfield. The Denver Broncos are in need of a dual threat running back with the departure of Phillip Lindsay and an aging Melvin Gordon becoming less effective in the passing game since his departure from the Chargers. Etienne is the perfect guy to come in and provide a different running style to throw defenses off. Gordon is a free agent after the 2021 season as well, so it would allow Etienne to get adjusted to the offense in the hopes that he eventually takes over as the lead guy in 2022, especially if the Broncos take a QB in the 1st round this year. Etienne is the most talented running back in this class and should be the highest priority among NFL teams looking at the position.
Najee Harris- Arizona Cardinals
Najee Harris had the most impressive season out of all of the running back prospects this year. Highlight play after highlight play on the biggest stages of college football while playing for Alabama definitely doesn’t hurt his case either. Additionally, the area that Harris improved the most in 2020 was his receiving ability. In today’s NFL offenses, running backs need to be able to catch the ball effectively to stay on the field, but that’s not exactly breaking news. Harris has shown he can handle the workload and produce, which is something that the Cardinals desperately need. With only Chase Edmunds, whose three years in the NFL has resulted in 217 rushes, the Cardinals need to address the running back position in the draft if they want to make a meaningful push for the playoffs. Harris can come in and be the lead guy, with Edmunds being the change of pace guy to follow him. The Cardinals are ready to compete for a playoff spot this year and Harris can be the guy to help them across the finish line.
Javonte Williams- Buffalo Bills
Last year, UNC saw one of the best 1-2 punches in the backfield between Javonte Williams and Michael Carter, with both rushing over 1,100 yards and having 200 yards receiving. The reason why Williams appears ahead of Carter on most big boards is the ridiculous nature in which Williams runs. He had 157 carries and broke 75 tackles on those runs, which is a rate of 47.7%; those are absolutely insane numbers. He is a unit in the backfield and prefers to run through the face-masks of defenders, rather than go around them. The Buffalo Bills need this type of toughness from a running back. Last year, Devin Singletary and Zack Moss were fine options, but for a team with Super Bowl ambitions, they need more. It’ll be tough to justify the investment in a third running back, having spent third round picks in consecutive years on Moss and Singletary. However, Williams can be the final key to push the Bills over the top and into Super Bowl contention.
Michael Carter- Seattle Seahawks
As stated earlier, the UNC backfield had two dynamic options and both had their specialties. Carter was more of the speed back who has great side to side movement, which makes him an intriguing back as a third down specialist. That doesn’t mean he can’t do more than that, but I see him earning his early career work as the pass catching specialist who gets most of his work on third down and 2-minute drills. The Seattle Seahawks are in need of such a talent, despite the re-signing of Chris Carson in the offseason. Pete Carroll absolutely loves running backs, and this would just be adding another weapon to the arsenal of Russel Wilson and that offense. Carter would need to earn his work still, but the Seahawks have restated that they want to establish the run game. This is a move that would fully backup that statement.
Kenneth Gainwell- Green Bay Packers
Kenneth Gainwell is the prototypical scatback but lacks the typical speed you’d expect out of a player his size. He is an excellent pass catcher who adds just enough through the run game to force teams to respect his abilities. After the departure of Jamaal Williams in free agency, the Green Bay Packers should be looking to add a complimentary piece to Aaron Jones. He could fill in during any 2-minute drill, and if he doesn’t run as well as needed, Gainwell has the ability to move over as a slot receiver. In all honesty, the Packers could use talent all across the offense to strengthen the resources at Aaron Rodger's disposal. For the running back aspect of that, Gainwell is a perfect fit for the Packers offense and could make an impact from day 1.
Running backs are the most difficult fantasy skill position players to judge. How much of the production is based on offensive line play, the threat that the QB poses to the defense, and how much is placed squarely on the shoulders of the running back? All of these questions will be looming over the head of every GM during draft season and on draft night itself. Unlike QBs, most running backs go to teams that are looking to add a final piece to their rosters, not in the midst of a rebuild. Most of these players will have the opportunity to compete for starting jobs wherever they land, and some will take advantage of that. All I know is that we have made it one week closer to draft day, so for that we are thankful. Stay Dreamin’