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2021 Rookie Running Back Rankings

As we approach the end of the college football season, it’s time to get to know the 2021 rookie running back class. Last year’s class injected the NFL with several rising stars at the position and this year should be no different. While the 2021 class lacks as many high-end talents at the position, there’s plenty of depth that will provide dynasty owners the opportunity of hitting on later round picks. This statement is doubly true when you consider the depth of the 2021 class at other positions. Simply put, the 2020 and 2021 rookie classes will go down as some of the best years in recent memory for dynasty owners acquiring young talent. Keep in mind that combine performances, landing spots and the draft capital used on these backs are sure to alter these rankings in the future.

In addition to the rankings, I’ve offered some analysis on running backs 6-25 in this list. If you’re interested in learning more about the Top 5, you can check out these articles: 2021 Rookie Running Backs: The Elites and 2021 Rookie Running Backs: Tier Two that provide more comprehensive coverage of them.

2021 Rookie Running Back Rankings
1Najee HarrisSeniorAlabama
2Travis EtienneSeniorClemson
3Kenneth GainwellRS SophomoreMemphis
4Javonte WilliamsJuniorUNC
5Chuba HubbardRS JuniorOK St.
6Trey SermonSeniorOSU
7Kylin HillSeniorMiss St.
8Michael CarterSeniorUNC
9Zamir WhiteRS SophomoreGeorgia
10Khalil HerbertRS SeniorVirginia Tech
11Javian HawkinsRS SophomoreLouisville
12Demetric FeltonRS JuniorUCLA
13Jaret PattersonJuniorBuffalo
14Jermar JeffersonJuniorOregon State
15Rhamondre StevensonSeniorOklahoma
16Max BorghiJuniorWash St.
17C.J. VerdellRS JuniorOregon
18Jah-Maine MartinSeniorNC A&T
19Master TeagueRS SophomoreOSU
20Larry Rountree IIISeniorMissouri
21Elijah MitchellSeniorLL
22Rakeem BoydSeniorArkansas
23Brian Robinson Jr.SeniorAlabama
24Trey RagasRS SeniorLL
25Spencer BrownSeniorUAB
#6 – Trey Sermon, 6’1”, 215 lbs

Sermon has really nice size for a back at the NFL level. He adds to that with superb contact balance, power and toughness. Proven himself to be highly effective between the tackles. Moreover, Sermon looks good in pass protection and showcases his physicality. He’s played tremendously well down the stretch this season. His receiving ability could use some improvement, but it’s fair to wonder if that’s simply due to a lack of volume. Additionally, his athleticism and speed will somewhat cap his upside.

#7 – Kylin Hill, 5’11”, 215 lbs

Hill is a violent, instinctive and powerful runner who’ll have no issue breaking tackles in his career. His vision and decision making are evident as he rarely makes mistakes trying to do too much. Additionally, he flashed very solid receiving ability prior to his opt out, hauling in 23 receptions in three games. A lack of top-end speed will likely be his biggest knock entering the draft but there aren’t a ton of holes in his game.

#8 – Michael Carter, 5’8”, 199 lbs

Carter is an extremely well-rounded running back with the rushing and receiving production to back it up. Although he checks in a little undersized, Carter’s an elusive runner with excellent lateral movement, patience and vision. Acceleration and burst are good with the ability to break off big plays. Has proven himself reliable in pass protection and looks like a natural receiver out of the backfield. Due to size, Carter will lack ideal strength as he transitions to the NFL which may impact his success against contact and as a pass blocker.

#9 – Zamir White, 5’11”, 215 lbs **White is returning for the 2021 season.**

White has shown that he can be a future NFL player if he’s able to stay healthy (2 ACL tears) moving forward. He’s an athletic, physical runner who can get downhill in a hurry and fights for extra yards. Contact balance is definitely one of his best traits. He would benefit from more refinement in the passing game as he’s failed to produce much in that area thus far. White also lacks elusiveness and needs to improve his vision to reach his ceiling.

#10 – Khalil Herbert, 5’9”, 212 lbs

Herbert was outstanding in his lone season at Virginia Tech and rightfully played his way up draft boards. He’s a strong athlete who’s shown the ability to quickly change direction, accelerate and make defenders miss. Vision and patience are evident on plenty of his runs. Has proven himself to be a reliable option catching the ball out of the backfield. Kick return ability should help ensure his spot on an NFL roster. Herbert’s size and lack of elite speed may hold NFL teams off until Day 3.

#11 – Javian Hawkins, 5’9, 196 lbs

Hawkins has rocketed up draft boards following a very strong season. He possesses elite speed, quickness and acceleration, enabling him to thrive in open space. Size will hold Hawkins back from ever becoming a true workhorse but his game should translate well to a rotational role in the NFL. Needs to continue to improve his receiving ability in order to excel in the pros.

#12 – Demetric Felton, 5’10”, 200 lbs

A converted wide receiver, Felton has been nothing short of electric since taking over at running back for the Bruins. Unsurprisingly, Felton’s receiving ability is tremendous and he can seamlessly line up all over the field. He’s proven himself to be very elusive in space as he blends speed with good lateral quickness. Felton is (generously) listed at 200 lbs and there are questions about whether or not he can hold up as a running back in the NFL. Though he excels as a receiver, he’s not strong in pass protection and needs to improve in that department.

#13 – Jaret Patterson, 5’9”, 195 lbs

Patterson followed up his impressive 2019 campaign with an even stronger performance in 2020. His quick footwork and lightning acceleration are evident in his running style and led to plenty of chunk plays this season. Vision was solid as he consistently identified holes and cutbacks. Elusive in open space and deceptively powerful for a back his size. Didn’t offer much at all in the receiving game but it’s an area he’s capable of improving in. Size will limit his ability between the tackles and as a blocker.

#14 – Jermar Jefferson, 5’10”, 217 lbs

Jefferson put three solid years of production together while at Oregon State. In 2020, he was able to amass 1,000 yards (858 rushing) in just six games. Jefferson has good size for a back and complements it with terrific vision and patience. Cuts are crisp, and he’s proven himself very difficult to tackle for opposing defenses. It would have been nice to see more from Jefferson in the receiving game during his sophomore and junior seasons but he did haul in 25 passes as a freshman. Probably lacks true breakaway speed at the next level but plenty fast enough to play in the NFL.

#15 – Rhamondre Stevenson, 6’0”, 246 lbs

A supremely powerful runner, Stevenson has been very productive during his time at Oklahoma, averaging a robust 7.2 YPC. Though his size indicates otherwise, Stevenson is deceivingly elusive. Furthermore, his acceleration and speed are exceptional given his stature. Breaking tackles became a regular occurrence for Stevenson in 2020. Impressively, he also averaged 3 receptions per game and proved himself to be an adequate pass catcher. Stevenson doesn’t possess the quickest feet and won’t be capable of hitting many home runs at the NFL level. He’s also had some minor issues with ball security.

#16 – Max Borghi, 5’10”, 198 lbs **Borghi is returning for the 2021 season.**

Borghi is one of the more polarizing RB prospects in this year’s draft class. His strengths are highlighted by superb pass catching ability and he’s clearly one of the best receiving backs in this year’s class. His vision and patience have also continued to develop well. On the other hand, he lacks the elusiveness and power that NFL teams covet at running back. The odds are against him ever obtaining a workhorse role.

#17 – C.J. Verdell, 5’9”, 205 lbs **Verdell is returning for the 2021 season.**

Verdell is a solid back who does a lot of things good, not great. He’s shown decent vision and the ability to get downhill in a hurry while running behind one of the best offensive lines in the Pac-12. He’s capable of contributing in the passing game but hasn’t shown a ton in terms of route running. Size will limit his ability to contribute in pass protection.

#18 – Jah-Maine Martin, 5’10”, 214 lbs

An arrest in 2017 ultimately led to Martin’s departure from Coastal Carolina and subsequent transfer to North Carolina A&T. Since joining NC A&T, Martin has been an extremely productive runner, easily breaking Tarik Cohen’s school record for touchdowns in a season with 23. He has a sturdy frame and showcases excellent burst in his running style. Footwork, vision and contact balance are solid. Martin will need to demonstrate more development as a receiver and in pass protection if he’s to reach his ceiling. Character concerns will also be examined during the draft process.

#19 – Master Teague, 5’11”, 225 lbs

Teague comes complete with good size and physicality. He’s a solid one-cut runner who dismisses arm tackles and embraces contact. Has been reliable in pass protection, utilizing his size to stand up to linebackers. Unfortunately, Teague lacks speed, could improve his vision and has not been involved much in the passing game. Agility is by no means elite and lacks the elusiveness you’d like to see in an NFL back.

#20 – Larry Rountree III, 5’10”, 210 lbs

One of the most dominant runners in school history, Rountree’s a physical back with good footwork and vision. Playing in the SEC, we’ve seen Rountree against some strong opponents and show well on a bad team. He comes across as one of those backs whose well-rounded but doesn’t excel in a particular area. Hasn’t seen much usage as a receiver throughout his time at Missouri and isn’t particularly adept in pass protection. He’s unlikely to grade out favorably at the combine as well which should curb his draft stock.

#21 – Elijah Mitchell, 5’11”, 217 lbs

Mitchell has done a very good job of producing for the Ragin Cajuns over the past four years. His tough and strong running style is a staple of his game. Contact balance is solid and enables him to pick up yards after contact. Possesses a skill set that will allow him to play on all three downs. Mitchell lacks any outstanding facets in his game, and it’s likely his best case scenario will have him in a committee role.

#22 – Rakeem Boyd, 6’0”, 206 lbs

Boyd has played very well against stout SEC competition over the past three seasons while starring on a dismal Arkansas team. During that time, he’s demonstrated decent receiving chops with good change of direction and explosiveness. Boyd appears to lack any high-end NFL traits at the position. He’ll need to continue to improve in pass protection to have a shot at becoming a three-down RB in the NFL. A Day 3 selection is a best case scenario for Boyd.

#23 – Brian Robinson Jr., 6’1”, 228 lbs

Robinson has performed well enough during his time with Alabama and has some similarities to Bo Scarborough. Better in short yardage situations, he provided Alabama with a decent alternative to Harris, Jacobs and N. Harris over the past few years. A lack of agility and elusiveness have rendered Robinson to a backup role. Doesn’t offer much as a receiver out of the backfield.

#24 – Trey Ragas, 5’10”, 227 lbs

Ragas formed the other half of the Ragin Cajuns impressive running back committee. He’s proven himself to be a physical, productive and powerful runner throughout his career. Enjoys most of his success between the tackles and consistently fights for extra yards. Ragas will lack the kind of speed and burst necessary to break off big plays at the NFL level. Furthermore, he hasn’t displayed much as a receiver and his skill set should relegate him to a rotational role.

#25 – Spencer Brown, 6’0”, 220 lbs

Brown has been nothing short of reliable throughout his four seasons at UAB, handling a healthy 858 carries and eclipsing the 4,000 yard mark. He’s a powerful runner who relies on good decision making and patience to compensate for a lack of athleticism. Solid in short yardage situations and reliable in pass protection. As mentioned earlier, his lack of athleticism leaves him with uninspiring elusiveness and agility. He’s failed to show much receiving ability throughout his college career and that’s unlikely to change moving forward.

If you enjoyed my 2021 Rookie Running Back Rankings be sure to check out my other content in the Articles section and follow me on Twitter @FantasyFuru.

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