Dynasty Watch: Top 20 Rookie RBs

Dynasty Watch: Top 20 Rookie RBs

This article is part of our Dynasty Watch series.


 

Put Master Teague at 11, Zamir White at 14 and Keaontay Ingram at 15 if they declare. These rankings are broken into five tiers.

Tier 1

1. Travis Etienne, Clemson (5-10, 205)

I was non-negotiably hostile toward the idea of anyone other than Jonathan Taylor as RB1 in last year's draft class, yet before Etienne returned to school I was prepared to rank him as the 1A over Taylor. Perhaps that wouldn't have held up after the combine, where Taylor was spectacular and Etienne remains an unknown in the meantime, but if someone argued for Etienne as the best college football running back ever I don't know how anyone could make a passionate case against the idea.

Someone might reasonably name C.J. Spiller as a cause for concern with Etienne – both were dominant speed backs at Clemson – but (A) Spiller's failure in the NFL was at least partially due to injury, (B) Etienne at a listed 5-10, 205 has a meaningfully different frame than Spiller's 5-11, 194 and (C) Etienne's production was magnitudes better than what Spiller posted at Clemson. Spiller ran for 3,547 yards (5.9 YPC) and 32 touchdowns in four years, whereas Etienne ran for 4,952 yards (7.2 YPC) and 70 touchdowns. That's ridiculous, and Etienne's NFL pass-catching projection is strong too. He is the first tier and he would need to totally tank at the combine to change that.

Projected round: 1-2 (Top 40)
 
 

Tier 2

2. Najee Harris, Alabama (6-2, 230)

Harris needs to measure in at no higher than 6-1 and no lower than 230 pounds for me to feel comfortable with him as an assumed starter, but at 6-1, 230 Harris would have the same build as Le'Veon Bell, who he incidentally might bear further resemblances toward. Harris is nothing like Derrick Henry or even Eddie Lacy, but there's nothing wrong with the fact that Harris has more finesse toward his game as long as his athletic testing verifies he has the tools to continue that method of success in the NFL. Harris has conventional three-down utility and therefore significant fantasy upside, though I don't think he can catch up to Etienne in my rankings.

Projected round: 1-2 (Top 50)

 
3. Kylin Hill, Mississippi State (5-11, 210)

Hill looks a bit like Miles Sanders, showing standout explosiveness on a frame just solid enough to project for a starter's workload. He showed intriguing pass-catching work in his brief 2020 appearance, and he was a dominant runner in prior seasons. He could be an explosive three-down player in the NFL.

Projected round: 2
 

4. Chuba Hubbard, Oklahoma State (6-0, 208)

Hubbard should possess a mid-4.4 40 time or so, which would be a good figure for a 5-11, 210-ish frame. Hubbard got nicked up in 2020 and should more so be judged on his 2019 season, when he ran for 2,094 yards and 21 touchdowns in 13 games.

Projected round: 2

 
5. Kenneth Gainwell, Memphis (5-11, 195)

Gainwell is light compared to the others in his tier, but there's a chance that he's so dominant as a pass catcher that he provides standout fantasy production even in a part-time NFL role. Gainwell's running back play was a big reason why Antonio Gibson played wide receiver at Memphis until the last second, and it's easy to make the case that Gainwell was better than prior Memphis running back standouts Darrell Henderson and Tony Pollard.

Projected round: 2-3

 
 

Tier 3


6. Jermar Jefferson, Oregon State (5-10, 217)

Ryan Nall and Artavis Pierce haven't exactly run wild in Chicago, but for whatever it's worth Jefferson is safely a better prospect than both of them. Jefferson is notable in this class for his well-built frame and the gigantic workload he took on as a true freshman onward, not to mention the explosive resulting production. Jefferson saw 514 carries in 27 career games, generating 2,923 yards (5.7 YPC) and 27 touchdowns.

Projected round: 2-4

7. Javonte Williams, North Carolina (5-11, 220)

Williams has a nice combination of anchor and explosiveness to him on a well-built frame, and like Jefferson I am open to ranking him higher than this depending on how the testing turns out. I do think the hype is a little loud in the meantime – Williams was superbly productive in 2020 but also ran against a lot of weak defenses – but there's no doubt that his workhorse-viable frame gives him unique fantasy upside if his stock continues trending upward.

Projected round: 2-4

 
8. Javian Hawkins, Louisville (5-9, 195)

I wasn't expecting to rank Hawkins this high, but if his athletic testing is as good as his tape implies then he should prove at least a Justice Hill-type prospect. His 2019 season was very impressive for a true sophomore, generating 1,525 yards (5.8 YPC) and nine touchdowns in 13 games. Hawkins has held up under big workloads the last two years.

Projected round: 3-4

9. Jaret Patterson, Buffalo (5-9, 195)

Although I wanted to rank Patterson higher than this due to his insane production, I couldn't quite put him ahead of Hawkins, who is probably faster and was uniquely productive himself at a higher level of competition. But if Patterson can test well athletically then it becomes almost impossible to argue against him – 3,884 yards rushing (6.1 YPC) and 52 touchdowns in 32 games is incredible.

Projected round: 3-4

10. Michael Carter, North Carolina (5-8, 199)

A highly productive four-year player for North Carolina, Carter's skill set is convincing and he could indicate upside with good athletic testing. Perhaps his frame is too small for workhorse consideration, but pushing 200 pounds at a listed 5-8 is pretty good density overall.

Projected round: 3-4

 
  

Tier 4

11. Elijah Mitchell, Louisiana-Lafayette (5-11, 218)

I very nearly included Mitchell in Tier 3. Mitchell was a dominant four-year player for Lafayette and the best of a memorable spree of Lafayette runners, a group that otherwise includes 2020 seventh-round pick Raymond Calais and 2021 fringe prospect Trey Ragas. Mitchell was the starter of the three and showed a three-down skill set. If it's three-down upside you're looking for specifically then Mitchell really stands out in this range.

Projected round: 4-5

 
12. Trestan Ebner, Baylor (5-11, 208)

Ebner is pretty clearly the top pass-catching specialist among running backs in this draft. In four years he caught 99 of 127 targets for 1,231 yards and nine touchdowns (78.0 percent caught, 9.7 YPT). Baylor completely collapsed under poor management in 2020, making Ebner's otherwise concerning rushing-specific production in 2020 a contaminated sample to me. In his first three years he ran for 784 yards and six touchdowns (5.4 YPC), which is more than good enough especially when you consider the receiving production he offered.

Projected round: 4-6

 
13. Khalil Herbert, Virginia Tech (5-9, 212)

I kind of hate his tape but Herbert's production was compelling at both Kansas and Virginia Tech, and his listed weight would constitute a well-built frame at his height. If his athletic testing is adequate I'll have to defer to some optimistic lean of some sort.

Projected round: 4-6

 
14. Rhamondre Stevenson, Oklahoma (6-0, 246)

Although his exposure at Oklahoma was brief and a 2020 suspension might indicate something concerning in the background, Stevenson looks somewhat toolsy on tape and his production, though brief, is mostly convincing. Crucially, Derrick Henry and A.J. Dillon have made this style of running back fashionably viable again in the NFL, just when it looked like guys like them were about to go extinct. Stevenson is an interesting upside prospect to monitor after running for 1,180 yards (7.2 YPC) and 13 touchdowns in 19 games at Oklahoma, adding a promising 28 receptions for 298 yards on 35 targets (80.0 percent catch rate, 8.5 YPT).

Projected round: 4-6

  
15. Trey Sermon, Ohio State (6-1, 215)

Sermon might have started ahead of Stevenson if Sermon hadn't transferred to Ohio State, where he generally played a rotational role before breaking out late in the year for an absurd 331 yards and two touchdowns on 29 carries against a tough Northwestern defense, then 193 yards and a touchdown on 31 carries against Clemson the next week. Sermon was productive early in his Oklahoma career prior to that, but fell behind Kennedy Brooks in 2019. I'm worried Sermon is another Josh Adams – a guy who can run like the wind generally, but might run too upright on too lanky of a frame to maintain his functional athleticism between the tackles in the NFL.

Projected round: 4-6

 
Tier 5

16. Ronnie Rivers, Fresno State (5-9, 195)

Although he never displayed shrieking explosiveness at Fresno State and is probably more like 5-8, 185, Rivers is an interesting hurryup and pass-catching back prospect for the next level. He was an extremely consistent producer as a pass catcher and was Fresno's preferred red-zone runner otherwise, leading him to accumulate 35 rushing touchdowns along with 2,629 yards on 510 carries (5.2 YPC). Rivers especially showed the ability to produce volume as a pass catcher, though, snagging 116 receptions for 1,057 yards and nine touchdowns on 146 targets (79.5 percent catch rate, 7.2 YPT).

Projected round: 5-UDFA

17. Larry Rountree, Missouri (5-10, 210)

Rountree doesn't strike me as any better than Damarea Crockett, the most notable immediately preceding Missouri running back, and one who's gone mostly unheard since going undrafted, but Rountree probably has a decent skill set to work with even if his athletic tools are unimpressive. His route to production makes enough sense – his frame is just solid enough to conceivably hold up between the tackles, and his well-rounded skill set could keep him in consideration for a variety of game plans and game flows. He could produce if he lands up in the ideal scenario, in other words, which is more than what you can say for some guys, but for now it's unlikely that he's more than a late Day 3 consideration.

Projected round: 6-UDFA

18. C.J. Marable, Coastal Carolina (5-10, 200)

Marable isn't a conventional NFL target but he was very productive under fairly big workloads at Coastal Carolina, including against a fairly tough, institutionally-advantaged BYU defense in 2020. They used him from a variety of formations and he ran smoothly and explosively through all of them. He might prove to be something like the Jason Huntley of this draft.

Projected round: 6-UDFA

   
19. Demetric Felton, UCLA (5-10, 200)

There's some hype out there for Felton, but I can't grasp it. His tape and production both look bad to me. Sometimes people confuse novelty for quality and I think Felton's one such case – if he's the next Theo Riddick then to me that's bad.

Projected round: 6-UDFA

20. Spencer Brown, UAB (6-0, 220)

Brown was once listed at a considerably more chonky 235, so we'll see what his frame actually checks in at, but he should have a workhorse-viable build, whatever it is. He's unlikely to test that well athletically, but Brown was a very productive four-year starter for UAB and I think he looks like a smart runner on tape. Unfortunately, as a pass catcher Brown is untested at best and could be a unique negative in that area.

Projected round: 6-UDFA

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mario Puig
Mario is a Senior Writer at RotoWire who primarily writes and projects for the NFL and college football sections.
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