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Fantasy Ferret’s Rookie Running Back Tiers

The Fantasy Ferret is back with his Running Back tiers for the 2021 Rookie Drafts.

By: Matthew Walters, @fantasyferret

It’s that time of year everybody. The time of year where we sit around, judge all the incoming rookies, make a list of the order we prefer them, and then completely tear the list apart when the Kansas City Chiefs draft a player. That’s right, it’s rookie draft season! 

This is my initial rankings for the incoming running backs. I left a few off because they did not catch my eye and will most likely not amount to much at the NFL. Is it possible I’m wrong on those players, and get proven to be a dumb dumb? Sure, but I’ll take that risk.. I have ranked 18 incoming rookie running backs and split them into tiers to try and make it easier on who should be drafted when. The order of a player within the tier is the order I would take them. I would not take anybody in Tier 2 ahead of someone in tier 1 which seems self explanatory, but I thought I would mention it anyways. I am planning on releasing a full rookie list with the tiers of each position combined to help with rookie drafts. Well, without further ado, here are my rookie rankings for the 2021 rookie running backs. 

Tier 1

  1. Javonte Williams – We’ve got a 1A, 1B and maybe even 1C situation going on here. I personally have Javonte at the top of the pack, but honestly I wouldn’t argue with anybody putting Najee above him. I may question Etienne some, but with his body of work, would understand it as well. Javonte is the youngest of this group at only 20 years old right now (will be 21 when season starts), has a great BMI (31.6), and he had a stellar Junior season. He runs straight through people when he needs to, has great vision, the speed to outrun people, and he can catch the ball too. He averaged 6.3 yards per carry in college and had 22 total TDs in his final year. Basically, I believe he is the whole package.
  2. Najee Harris– Now look, I love me some Najee as well. I am not going to be sad if he ends up on my team. Dude can catch the ball as seen by his 43 catches his senior year. He truly has everything you want in a running back as well besides one little detail. He is already 23 years old. While this is not a big knock on him in my opinion. It does seem to cap his upside some. However, I still believe his upside is a top back in the NFL so I’m still going to be drafting him highly. His career YPC is at exactly 6 although it did go down to 5.8 his senior season with the volume. He also had 30 total TDs his senior year! Needless to say, I think Najee is going to be a solid back in the NFL, and I will be drafting him early and often this dynasty season. 
  3. Travis Etienne– Starting to seem like the forgotten man. The more I watch and look at him though, the more I’m starting to wonder if we should really be leaving him out as the top pick in the draft. I think people are forgetting how good he is because of his lackluster senior year. He only averaged 5.4 YPC his senior season. Even with that, his career YPC is still at 7.2! He also had over 100 catches in his college career. He grew as a pass catching back every year in college, and while it’s true his rushing numbers went down his senior season, I do not believe it is enough to knock him out of the top 3 backs in this draft. 

Tier 2

  1. Kenny Gainwell– I have Gainwell in a tier of his own right now right behind the top 3. My only knock on him is his size. If he was 15 pounds heavier and still doing what he can do, I would not be nearly as worried. However, this kid is still explosive with the ball. He averaged 6.6 YPC in college. Not to mention had 51 catches for 610 yards in one season! Basically if he can bulk up some and still keep his explosiveness, I believe the sky to be the limit with Gainwell. Did I also mention that he is the reason Antonio Gibson and Tony Pollard did not receive a lot of work in college? Dude can ball!

Tier 3

  1. Jermar Jefferson– Jefferson had quite the freshman year a few years back rushing for 1380 yards and adding 25 catches. While the next two years didn’t quite live up to that, he was having a great junior season in a covid shortened season. He had 858 yards in only 6 games with 6.5 YPC in this season. His BMI is what you want to see from an RB at 31.1. With the right landing spot I could see myself moving him up into the previous tier. 
  2. Chuba Hubbard– I’m not going to lie, I’m not quite sure what to make of Chuba. On one hand he was one of the top backs in the country just a year ago. On the other hand, he definitely disappointed last season although he was dealing with an ankle injury. He was averaging over 6 YPC before last season’s 4.7 YPC. If he returns to form in the NFL, he very well could be the steal of the draft. He easily could be moved into the previous tier as well if he gets a great landing spot. 
  3. Jaret Patterson – He was the offense for the Buffalo Bulls in college. My knock against him is obviously the competition wasn’t great playing at Buffalo. However, the other teams all knew that Buffalo was going to give Patterson the ball and yet nobody could stop it. He had a 47.1% dominator rating! He had 19 freakin TDs in 6 games last year. He also averaged 6.1 YPC in his career and over 7 YPC in his last season. It will be interesting to see how NFL teams value him, but as it stands right now Patterson is definitely on my radar heading into the NFL draft. 
  4. Michael Carter– I’m actually struggling to not put him higher on this list. Carter was the 1b to Javonte’s 1A at UNC. All he did was go out there and ball out. He had over 1200 yards on 8 YPC his senior season. For his career he was at 6.6 YPC. He caught the ball a little with over 80 catches in his career. I will not be disappointed to end up with Carter this upcoming rookie draft. This marks the end of RBs that I am looking at no matter the landing spots. In the next tier, I feel like the RBs really start to be dependent on landing spots. 

Tier 4

  1. Kylin Hill– There is a lot to like about Kylin Hill, but there is also a lot to be weary about him. He ended up opting out his senior year after only playing in 3 games and totaling 58 rushing yards in those games with only 15 attempts. He did have 23 catches in those 3 games. His Junior year he had 1350 yards rushing and had 11 total TDs. I feel like he has the highest upside in this tier. I’m interested to see what his workout metrics end up being and where his landing spot is. 
  2. Javian Hawkins – I really like his game, but I don’t think he has the size to be a workhorse back in the NFL which caps his upside for me. I think he can workout a role with whatever team he lands on though. He has the talent to succeed as shown by his 1525 rushing yards his sophomore season. It just depends on if NFL teams will be willing to give him that shot. 
  3. Khalil Herbert – He didn’t do much in his college career at Kansas. After transferring to Virginia Tech though, he really burst onto the scene with 1183 rushing yards at 7.6 YPC. This brought his career YPC to 6.1 which is great, but that kind of goes to show how lackadaisical he was until that final year with Virginia Tech. There’s a lot to like about him, and he has good size. There is a lot to question as well. With a good landing spot he could rise in this list though. 
  4. Trey Sermon –  I know. I know. People have Sermon pegged as a top 5 back in this class, but I just don’t see it. He had some monster games to end the year that really upped his YPC and put him on notice for people. This includes a monster 331 yard game! Over 25 % of his rushing yards for the year came in that game alone and over 75% came in a 3 game stretch. While this is incredibly impressive, it really shows me that he did not do much this year besides those 3 games. Maybe Sermon proves me wrong in the end and becomes a great back at the NFL. However, I will not be drafting him as highly as people have him though. 

Tier 5

  1. Rhamondre Stevenson – He did well when given the opportunity. He had 665 rushing yards in only 6 games this year to go along with 18 catches for 211 yards. While watching him, he never really jumped out to me though. He is one that I am interested to see what his workout metrics end up being which may be difficult this year due to not having a combine. Honestly he reminds me of a bowling ball when he runs, and there definitely is a role for that at the NFL.
  2. Elijah Mitchell – Big question is the competition he was going against. Someone at that level, I want to dominate the competition. I never really saw that from him. He had good years and topped 1100 rushing yards his Junior year. I just would have liked to see more from him versus some of the weak competition he was up against. 
  3. Pooka Williams– I really like Pooka. Seriously, I do! So why is he so low on this list? I think there is a good chance he gets destroyed at the NFL level. His BMI is only 24.4 at 5’10”. If he can gain about 20 pounds and stay the player he is, then maybe something can happen for him because he is a good player that had a steller freshman year in college. Right now, I just do not see it though. 
  4. Stevie Scott– His best year was his freshman year and he seemed to get progressively worse by the time he hit his junior year. His freshman year he was at 5 YPC which is not that great to begin with, and by his Junior year he was only rushing for 3.6 YPC. Has decent size and he is young so there is a chance something happens, but I would not count on it. 
  5. Rakeem Boyd– Had a good Junior year at Arkansas. Disappointed his Senior year only averaging 3.8 YPC that year. He was over 6 YPC for his career until his senior year when it dropped like a rock. Maybe he can get back to form in the NFL, however I am not counting on it. 
  6. Larry Rountree – He does not seem that explosive but could be strong enough to get some short yardage work at the next level. He is the last running back that I would consider drafting this upcoming rookie draft at this time. However, this tier is not really players that I will be targeting come rookie draft time.

I hope this tier list helps you come rookie draft time. In the meantime I will be releasing the rankings for receivers, tight ends, and quarterbacks as well. All will be broken down the same way, and then all will be put together in the end to help have an overall tier list for your rookie draft. In the end, we are all just making educated guesses on which prospects we think will be the best. Just remember, for every Saquon Barkley there is Royce Freeman. 

Matthew Walters, @fantasyferret
Ride or Dynasty

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