Top 10 Rookie RBs
Just like that, the 2021 NFL draft is over, and, as usual, it did not disappoint! Now that we know draft capital and situations for all the rookies, dynasty leagues will start becoming more active again as rookie drafts quickly approach. With time running out, I’ve compiled my top 10 RB rankings to help you prepare for your upcoming drafts. You can find my rankings and some of my rationale below.
1. Najee Harris - Pittsburgh Steelers
Harris bet on himself and returned for his senior year at Alabama. Well, that worked out well as he showed great strides with his game and is now considered the top back of this class. Not only is he talented, but he was also drafted in the first round by the Pittsburgh Steelers, one of the few teams that use the full-on bellcow back approach. Great talent + 1st round draft capital + perfect landing spot = RB1 potential.
2. Travis Etienne - Jacksonville Jaguars
Similar to Najee, Etienne returned to Clemson for his senior year, and it seems to have worked out for him as well. Jacksonville opted to draft Etienne in the first round, one pick behind Najee. Jacksonville suddenly has a lot of potential with Trevor Lawrence and the young core they’ve built on offense. Etienne is a quick, one-cut runner who is also very good in the receiving game. The one troubling thing with Etienne is Urban Meyer mentioned using Etienne as a third-down back behind the 1-2 punch of James Robinson and Carlos Hyde. I chalk this up to “coach speak”. You don’t draft a running back at 25 to keep him off the field on first and second down.
3. Javonte Williams - Denver Broncos
Denver is seemingly not the ideal landing spot on the surface, but I believe it’s near perfect. Melvin Gordon is going to be a factor this year while Javonte soaks up all the knowledge he can, but he is near the metaphorical “cliff” for RBs. Denver drafted Javonte to be their future bellcow, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that starts to take shape in the latter half of the 2021 NFL season. Etienne and Javonte are very close for fantasy purposes, so I wouldn’t fault you for drafting Javonte over Etienne.
4. Trey Sermon - San Francisco 49ers
With a mostly unimpressive college career, Trey Sermon fell to the 3rd round where the 49ers drafted him. Scouts say he has the tools to be an effective back in the NFL, and he will have an opportunity to take the lead role in San Francisco. The 49ers have been using a lot of backs recently, but Jerick Mckinnon and Tevin Coleman are now gone and Raheem Mostert is 29 and is oft-injured. Sermon’s main competition outside of Mostert is Jeff Wilson, and if Sermon can get the edge, I like his outlook going forward.
5. Michael Carter - New York Jets
Carter is a solid all-around back but is on the smaller side at 5’10”, 199 lbs. The Jets badly need RB help, and I expect Carter to compete for passing down roles. That opportunity is what makes him my RB5 for this class.
6. Kenneth Gainwell - Philadelphia Eagles
Gainwell is a talented receiving back. Going to the Eagles isn’t all bad. Miles Sanders will surely be the lead back, but Doug Pederson has been known to use multiple backs. I expect Gainwell to mainly have opportunities on receiving downs, which is great for fantasy purposes.
7. Rhamondre Stevenson - New England Patriots
Stevenson is A bigger-bodied back who will be good for short-yardage situations. The Patriots are not an ideal spot as he’ll have to compete with Damien Harris and Sony Michel for snaps. On top of that, the Patriots have not committed to an all-down back for quite some time. Stevenson will likely be a depth piece for fantasy purposes.
8. Chris Evans - Cincinnati Bengals
Chris Evans was deemed the “sleeper” RB of this class by many analysts. That may be true, but he was drafted to a poor spot as he winds up behind Joe Mixon in Cincinnati. The silver lining for Evans is that the Bengals have not committed to using Mixon in the passing game consistently, and this could open up some opportunity for Evans with Gio Bernard no longer in the picture.
9. Javian Hawkins - Atlanta Falcons
Hawkins makes my top 10 list based solely on the situation. He signed with Atlanta as a UDFA shortly after the draft. The Falcons seem committed to Mike Davis at this point, but if Hawkins shines in the pre-season, he could earn himself some opportunity during the season.
10. Jaret Patterson - Washington Football Team
I like Jaret Patterson's skill set more than a few RBs above him on this list, but he went undrafted. He may have an opportunity for some early-down work with Washington, but I do not see much receiving upside with Antonio Gibson and J.D. McKissic soaking up targets there.
Overall, this is a top-heavy RB class for sure. I would only be willing to spend a 1st round rookie pick on Harris, Etienne, and Williams. After those guys, situations get murky and the talent is just not as good. If your team is RB needy and you miss out on the top 3 guys, I'd suggest a trade back or just drafting for value and acquiring an RB in a trade later. It's not worth reaching for most of these RBs.
Feel free to reach out and talk about where you agree and disagree. You can find me on Twitter at @corey_hietpas