The 2020 NFL Draft is over and teams are getting comfortable with their new draft picks. The next class of players is getting prepared now for another year of college football. Each position will be analyzed in the coming days. Here are the best 2021 NFL Draft prospects: running backs.
Note: Players will not be ranked in the article. This is best used as a watch list for the 2020 season.
Travis Etienne, Clemson Tigers
It surprised a lot of people when Etienne decided to return for his senior season at Clemson. The 5-foot-10, 210-pound running back is going to be a star for the Tigers once again. He has a solid build and with another good season, Etienne can be the first running back off the board in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Etienne made an impact as a freshman with 766 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns. He added five catches for 57 yards as the Tigers went 12-2, losing in the College Football Playoff. As a sophomore, Etienne blossomed into a prime-time player with 1,658 rushing yards and 24 touchdowns. He also had 12 receptions for 78 yards and two scores. Clemson went undefeated and won the National Championship in 2018. This past season, Etienne rushed for 1,614 yards, had 432 receiving yards and 23 total touchdowns as the team made the College Football Playoff, but lost to LSU in the National Championship Game. Etienne will be looking to win another championship and raise his draft stock this season.
Kenneth Gainwell, Memphis Tigers
Memphis has produced some really good playmakers over the last few seasons and Gainwell might be the most talented of all. He stands 5-foot-11 and 196 pounds, which is good for the NFL. His unique skillset could have him rising up draft boards by the time the 2021 NFL Draft comes around.
In his first year on campus, Gainwell rushed for 91 yards and a touchdown in four games played. He was redshirted, but became a big part of the offense as a redshirt freshman in 2019. Gainwell rushed for 1,459 yards and 13 touchdowns. He also had 51 receptions for 610 yards and three touchdowns. His play helped Memphis go 12-2 and make the Cotton Bowl. Gainwell has great ability and with one more big season, could headline the 2021 running back class.
Najee Harris, Alabama Crimson Tide
Harris was one of the best recruits in the country and now has the stage to prove his ranking at Alabama. The 6-foot-2, 230-pound running back is huge and will be able to run over NFL defenders. As the lead back at Alabama last season he showed flashes of greatness, but this year he needs to improve upon that.
When he was a freshman, Harris was a small part of a loaded backfield. He rushed for 370 yards and three touchdowns as the Crimson Tide won the National Championship Game over Georgia. His role increased as a sophomore, as he rushed for 783 yards and four touchdowns. Alabama went to the National Championship Game, but lost to Clemson that season. In his junior season, Harris rushed for 1,224 yards and 13 touchdowns. He showed the ability to catch passes out of the backfield too with 304 receiving yards and seven touchdown catches. Alabama missed out on the College Football Playoff, but won the Citrus Bowl over Michigan. Harris has a chance to build off of his junior season and be one of the first backs selected in 2021.
Kylin Hill, Mississippi State Bulldogs
Over the last few seasons, Hill has been one of the SEC’s best running backs. He is well-built at 5-foot-11 and 215 pounds, which will make him appealing to NFL teams. If he can prove to be an all-around running back in new head coach Mike Leach’s system, Hill can see his draft stock rise drastically.
In 2017, Hill got his feet wet with 393 rushing yards and two touchdowns. The Bulldogs won nine games that season including the TaxSlayer Bowl. When he was a sophomore, Hill had 734 yards and four touchdowns, while Mississippi State won eight games. He fully emerged as a great player as a junior with 1,350 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns. The Bulldogs went 6-7, which helped the program make the move for Leach. Mississippi State will air it out next year and Hill will need to fit into the new system to help himself for the upcoming draft.
Chuba Hubbard, Oklahoma State Cowboys
Hubbard was another player that turned heads when he decided to return to school. The 6-foot-1 and 207-pound running back looked ready for the NFL and didn’t have much else to prove at the collegiate level. If he can limit the wear and tear on his body as a senior, he will be one of the best running backs in the 2021 NFL Draft.
He was redshirted as a freshman, but started to get playing time as a redshirt freshman in 2018. Hubbard rushed for 740 yards and seven touchdowns that season. He added 22 catches for 229 receiving yards and two touchdown catches. The Cowboys went 7-6 that year. He was a star as a sophomore with 2,094 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns. He also had 23 receptions for 198 yards. Oklahoma State won eight games last season. Hubbard looks like he’ll have another big season for the Cowboys, which will only help his NFL dreams.
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