If someone wanted to be a football scout at one point in their life, but for whatever reason their plans changed, then being a dynasty owner can allow you to be, at least, an armchair scout.
Not even close to the real thing – but it’s enough to satiate the craving you have for projecting and hypothesizing. Plus, you can’t get fired if your scouting report is wrong concerning a particular player. It’s a win-win.
Last time, I ranked my current Top Three Dynasty Wide Receivers for the 2021 NFL Draft class. I’d like to reiterate, these rankings aren’t a prediction of how, or where, players will be drafted in the NFL, but of their dynasty prognosis.
Also, my full overall Top 30 Dynasty Rankings will be out by the end of March. There are a lot of variables at play, including free agency and the actual NFL Draft, so these rankings will be fluid.
Running Back Class Summary
As a dynasty owner, there’s an adrenaline rush when acquiring future assets because of the unknown. There’s always a possibility you end up with a pick that is toward the top of your rookie draft, in turn giving you a shot at selecting the next “sure thing.”
But if a dynasty owner traded for a ton of 2021 draft stock years ago expecting a deep running back pool, they are sorely disappointed.
Unlike the wide receiver class, where there is an abundance of players who could finish as the top fantasy rookie, the running back class seems to be a bit more limited. While the order of the Top Three Running Backs may be in question, who they are, is not.
So as far as dynasty value purposes go, you’ll likely see these three backs go within the first half of rookie drafts. After that, you may not see another one taken until early to mid second round – especially in full PPR formats.
There are a number of different criteria I look at when determining my rankings, including size/physical stature, ability and production transfer, and intangibles.
Without further ado, let’s take a look at my Top Three Dynasty fantasy running backs for the 2021 NFL class.
#1: Najee Harris – RB – Alabama
Peds’ Ranks: RB #1, OVERALL #1
There is no denying one of Harris’ most outstanding traits is his physical stature. At 6-2, 230 pounds, his body is primed for the NFL and to carry a workload. Watching the film, you’ll notice that Harris will almost always fall forward when tackled. That can be attributed both to his physicality and general mentality of fighting for every inch.
Ability and Production Transfer
Harris is almost like the Ja’Marr Chase of running backs, because it’s hard to find any flaws. What dynasty owners salivate over are three-down backs. That’s exactly what Harris is.
- He can run inside the tackles in short yardage situations, outside in zone schemes, and is low-key one of the best pass catching backs in the draft. I’m not into player comps, really, but I can’t help but think of Todd Gurley (obviously, when younger and healthier).
- Not only is Gurley a nice comp because of Harris’ versatility and similar physical features, but his nose for the end zone.
- He isn’t going to be a burner with top end speed. His power, determination and general style of play will allow him to avoid being only a yardage-volume back. He will produce both on the ground, in the air, and in the end zone.
Harris’ 2020 season couldn’t have gone better. He played in all 13 games, scored a total of 30 touchdowns, and also caught 43 balls. All of his numbers are impressive.
As for landing spots, dynasty owners shouldn’t really worry. He fits into multiple schemes. The only obstacle, obviously, would be if he went to a team that had some veteran running back depth. They may ease Harris along a bit, kind of like Indianapolis did with Jonathan Taylor this past season. There are a couple of great landing spots in round one of the NFL Draft, including Atlanta and Pittsburgh. You could throw the New York Jets in there, too. But, you know, it’s the Jets.
A play that will be part of every Najee Harris highlight video moving forward pic.twitter.com/naN1ZkCrGa
— Matt Zenitz (@mzenitz) September 14, 2019
There are some intangibles dynasty owners love about Harris, including his knack of avoiding injury issues while carrying a heavy load for the Tide. Although some may see it as a negative that he stayed at Alabama all four years and will be 23 years old before the 2021 NFL season starts, you can flip that around and say he’s the most polished back to come to the NFL in quite some time. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that he’s played in a ton of high stakes games in the best football conference in the country.
My good friend likes to remind me that when Nick Saban recruited Harris, he predicted Harris would be the best running back to ever come through Alabama. Sounds about right.
If you read the fine print, it’s said that fantasy analysts are starting to “fade” Najee Harris. As in, drop him in their rankings. That’s silly. It’s only because they want to be different. This is no time to get cute. Sure, Harris wouldn’t be the first back taken if he were in the epic classes of 2017 or 2020 even, but he’d still be in the mix. He’s the best back in this class. He needs to be the first running back off the board, and probably, the first overall pick.
Travis Etienne – RB- Clemson
Peds’ Rank: RB #2, Overall #3
In pads, you’d swear Travis Etienne was bigger than 5-10, 205 pounds. He definitely plays like it. Similar to Harris, there aren’t a ton of knocks on Etienne, and although he’s had no injury concerns in his college career either, he’ll need to bulk up a bit if he wants any sort of true full workload in the NFL. But I’m nitpicking.
Ability and Production Transfer
Normally when a back is as explosive as Etienne, they are at full speed as soon as they touch the ball. In concert, they often lack patience.
- Why Etienne is considered a great running back is because he is both explosive and patient.
- With an initial burst like he has, Etienne also has the ability to bide his time at the line of scrimmage. Think Le’veon Bell (maybe not that patient) with the burst of Saquon Barkley. Please don’t think I’m saying Etienne is better than those backs, because at this point, he’s not. But maybe that could be his ceiling?
- He’s not flawless. If you watch the rare times Etienne couldn’t get going, he did become impatient at the point of attack. But his ability to make a big play at any given moment is intriguing for Dynasty owners, especially in leagues that give bonus points for explosive plays.
If you want to see gaudy numbers from a college career, just look at the Clemson star’s resume. With a ridiculous 78 total touchdowns and 7.2 yards per carry, along with weekly highlight reel plays, some Dynasty analysts are moving him up to the Number 1 back.
Not this guy (My two thumbs are pointing at me right now, you just don’t see it).
As for landing spots, a ton of mock drafts have the New York Jets selecting Etienne at Number 23. In fact, some have him drafted ahead of Najee Harris. Etienne is kind of in the same boat in terms of fitting a number of different schemes and being utilized in various roles. So wherever he gets drafted shouldn’t matter, unless for some reason it’s to a spot that doesn’t have an easy pathway to a featured role (think Green Bay or New England).
Well, I was watching Rashad Weaver cut-ups until Travis Etienne turned it into an Etienne highlight reel.
Wild play. Only a handful of football players at any level have this kind of speed. pic.twitter.com/w8U6IcX4Ji
— Trevor Sikkema (@TampaBayTre) March 8, 2021
It’s not really an intangible because it can be calculated, but something Etienne does is go. And when I mean go, I mean run fast and run hard (watch the highlight above). It’s hard to tackle him with one defender, even though he isn’t the largest back out there. His aggressive running style may be in part to having to prove himself. He was a four star recruit and actually wasn’t offered a scholarship by Clemson until late in the process after Cordarrian Richardson de-committed. The rest is history.
To me, Harris is in a class of his own. Then Etienne and my number three dynasty running back are neck-and-neck. Etienne can catch the pill, so he will be a three down back in the NFL.
And I acknowledge that this is totally unfair, but the lack of NFL production from Clemson backs is troublesome. Think CJ Spiller, Wayne Gallman, Andre Ellington and James Davis – all who starred at Clemson only to produce pretty underwhelming NFL careers. Etienne has had a dominant offense to play with throughout his tenure – to no fault of his own. His natural talent speaks for itself. He should be Clemson’s most productive NFL running back.
Player: Javonte Williams – RB – North Carolina
Peds’ Rank: RB #3, OVERALL #4
So here’s the thing, Javonte Williams, in a lot of ways, is Travis Etienne if Etienne added the weight I mentioned previously. Williams sits at 5-10, 225 pounds, and uses every single ounce to his advantage when carrying the rock.
Ability and Production Transfer
It’s kind of funny when you look at the tape of Williams and Etienne. You’ll see a somewhat similar runner.
- Williams is big, fast, and strong, and he’ll run someone over and make someone look foolish in the open field – all on the same play.
- Having great vision, he’s really exciting to watch in space.
- To boot, he is yet another potential three-down back. It looks like there aren’t a lot of those in the 2021 class, so this makes Williams’ appeal for Dynasty owners that much greater. All of this will allow him to be a dominant back in the NFL.
He’s ranked right behind Etienne for me at number four overall. The biggest difference stems from Etienne’s success all four years of college, along with some of the big game performances he’s had. Williams is a young tyke whose North Carolina team’s have been ok.
Every year as a Tar Heel, his production went up. He saw time as a true freshman, garnering 43 carries. His sophomore year he gained 933 yards on 166 carries (5.6 ypc) while also improving as a pass catcher. His 2020 year put him on the map.
Although he split some time with Michael Carter, Williams had 1,140 rushing yards on just 157 carries (7.3 ypc) and 19 touchdowns. In every sense of the word, Williams is trending. He’s fast, athletic, powerful and has the tools to be a featured back.
It feels like Williams will be a Day 2 pick in the NFL Draft. He could very well go to a team that will ease him along. Potentially to a squad that knows they’ll have running back holes to fill after the 2021 season. In a perfect world, he’d go to a running back-needy team and get a shot right away. Maybe the Arizona Cardinals, or even the Steelers.
— Tar Heel Tapes (@TarHeelTapes) October 25, 2020
Not sure if you’d technically call this an intangible, but Dynasty owners love to look at usage and age as a factor in their value systems. Williams is coming out as a junior and split time every year in North Carolina. He has a lot of tread left on the tire with just 366 carries in his collegiate career. In comparison, Harris has 638 and Etienne has a whopping 686. He’s only 20 years old (will be 21 in April), while Harris is 23 and Etienne is 22.
Not surprisingly, all people could talk about was Harris and Etienne in this 2021 class, and it’s no surprise why. I think that makes a lot of analysts a little gun shy when it comes to ranking Williams as the first or second back. I would not be surprised if he moved up in my rankings with a landing spot like Arizona, Miami, or even Atlanta. He is at worst the third best running back in this class, and might even make a case for the best when it is all said and done.
Running Back Honorable Mention
I will have my Top 30 Overall Rankings out soon, but you won’t find a ton of running backs in my top 12. The rest have some question marks. There are players with raw ability that will be interesting, such as Kenneth Gainwell (Memphis), Michael Carter (North Carolina) and Chubba Hubbard (Oklahoma State). But the talent gap between the top three backs and the rest of the pack seems to be growing more and more.
Look for my Top 3 Dynasty Tight Ends coming out soon!