If recent NFL Drafts have taught us anything about the league, it is that quarterback still is and will always be the most important player on the field. When guys like Sam Darnold and Josh Rosen get drafted ahead of Pro-Bowlers like Minkah Fitzpatrick and Tremaine Edmunds you know there is a premium on signal callers.
This year’s draft should not be much different with as many as five signal callers expected to be selected within the first ten to fifteen slots. Running back almost feels like an afterthought.
Running backs have a tough NFL life. They get beat up a lot and the shelf life is not long. According to a 2016 study by the Wall Street Journal, the average career of an NFL player lasts around 2.66 years. Running backs typically stick around for two years and five months. If a team is going to use a first round pick on a back, they better make sure they get the right one.
By most analysts opinions, Najee Harris is the top back in this draft followed closely by Clemson’s Travis Etienne. Both of these seniors opted to come back for one more season and up their stock, and also take advantage of a weak class of ball carriers.
Harris had 1,466 rushing yards in 2020 and led the nation with 26 touchdowns.
He can also catch the ball and served his quarterback well as an outlet as well as splitting out wide. He produced 43 receptions for 425 yards and 4 more touchdowns on the ground for a record-smashing 30 total scores on the season. He finished his four seasons with 57 total touchdowns - 46 rushing and 11 receiving - tying Tim Tebow’s 57 as the most in a career by any SEC player in history.
Harris has also honed his pass-blocking skills while at the Capstone:
NFL GMs are gonna salivate over Najee Harris for this reason...Todd Blackledge said it 1. Run 2. Catch 3. Block add great in locker room.— Jim Dunaway (@jimdunaway) October 31, 2020
Same as Travis Etienne.
Great RB class. @JOXRoundtable @JOXGameDay2020 pic.twitter.com/dUKtUxpt1q
One more positive to throw at NFL GMs is that Harris has never been hurt despite playing in the punishing SEC. This writer can honestly not recall a time when Najee left a game or was listed as questionable because of an injury - something Etienne cannot say.
- Najee Harris, Alabama
- Travis Etienne, Clemson
- Javonte Williams, North Carolina
- Michael Carter, North Carolina
- Kenneth Gainwell, Memphis
- Chuba Hubbard, Oklahoma State
- Kylin Hill, Mississippi State
- Rhamondre Stevenson, Oklahoma
- Jaret Patterson, Buffalo
- Trey Sermon, Ohio State
WHO NEEDS A RUNNING BACK?
There are not too many NFL teams who especially have running back as their top priority. One rock toter was taken in the first round last year, but five went in the second round. There were three picked in the third and four in the fourth for a total of 13 in the first four rounds. The hope for Harris to land in the first round is that he is too good of a player to pass up.
- The Steelers have an atrocious running game but they might need to build up the OL first with the 24th choice.
- The Bills (30th pick) are in an enviable position of not needing a quarterback any time soon. Running back? That is another story all together. Devin Singletary led Buffalo in rushing yards with a 687 last season.
- The Jaguars (25th) had a 1,000 yard rusher in 2020 but they were dead last in rushing scores with nine. Ten running backs had more by themselves led by Derrick Henry with 17. Josh Jacobs had 12 and Kenyan Drake 10. Jacksonville lacks explosiveness in the running game.
- Miami has two first round picks. They will likely use number six on a wide receiver. The 18th pick could be used on the OL or edge rusher. Running back is another concern. Myles Gaskin was the leading rusher with a pathetic 584 yards, good for 37th in the league, and 3 scores.
- Despite a Super Bowl win, Tampa Bay was 28th in rushing yards. Ronald Jones is okay but he tends to disappear in some games. In the Bucs defeat to the Saints, he had 9 yards. In a loss to the Rams, he tallied 24. He also had some injuries down the stretch that held him out. How long can TB expect Tom Brady to carry the team?