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The Top Three Rookie Running Backs: What are the Pros and Cons of Each in Re-Draft?


Najee Harris:

PROs


Harris was the 24th overall pick of the NFL draft and therefore has a very high draft capital. The reason the draft capital is important is because teams tend to give far more snaps to players who they have picked highly to give justification for why the team chose that player.


This is illustrated by the fact that since 2005, first round running backs have averaged 209.68 touches per season across a sample size of 34 different running backs. In a Steelers offense that lost starting running back James Conner, who was not that effective when healthy, Harris should be given nearly all the touches in the backfield. Benny Snell and Anthony McFarland averaged just 3.3 yards per carry and are not a threat whatsoever to Harris.


As for Harris himself, he had a fantastic season last year at Alabama accruing 1,466 rushing yards on 5.8 yards per carry while adding 43 receptions for 425 yards through the air all in just 13 games.


Not to mention the fact that he had 30 total touchdowns last year as well. Harris is a fantastic runner with soft hands who can do anything on the field. Talent-wise he is an incredible prospect and the Steelers are going to feed him a ton of touches this year. In fantasy, touches can be the most coveted aspect of a player and Harris will be getting plenty this year. His athleticism can be astounding too as shown by this clip here:

CONs


One issue with Harris is that the Steelers offensive line is only returning one starter from last year and just recently lost David DeCastro due to cap restraints. The Steelers did sign five time Pro Bowler Trai Turner who should be a solid player. However, the line is going to be pretty bad which could hurt Harris’ production.


To be fair though, running backs in the best such as Saquon Barkley have overcome bad offensive lines to be very, very productive. Personally, I think the sheer number of touches Harris will receive will compensate for the fact that his per touch production may not be incredible.


Another flaw in Harris’ resume is the fact that he was a bit of a late bloomer who did not break out until his junior year of college. He essentially dominated college at an older age and some people may say his older age inflated his statistics.


Overall: Harris should be fine, in my opinion, and has top ten upside and is being drafted as the RB12 which is essentially an RB2. As a fantasy player, you shouldn’t be afraid to draft rookies who are going to be a focal point of the offense because even with struggles, the touches will be there and touches result in many fantasy points.



Travis Etienne:

PROs


Just like Najee Harris, Etienne was drafted in the first round by the Jacksonville Jaguars. In fact, Etienne was actually picked just one spot after Harris to play alongside his college QB Trevor Lawrence. Again, like Harris the first round draft capital should ensure Etienne a healthy amount of touches barring injury.


Yet, as I will discuss in the “Cons” section, James Robinson could impact that role. Furthermore, Etienne is a do it all type of back who is fast and has the ability to hit any hole. As the ACC’s all-time leading rusher, it should come as no surprise that Etienne was a dominant force who should be a fantastic running back in the NFL.


He had 914 yards on 168 carries to go along with 48 receptions for 588 yards. In camp thus far, Meyer has used him out wide as a receiver which can give him even more of an opportunity for touches. The @fantasyfootballrapper always says; “Talent over Everything” and when it comes down to it Etienne is more talented than Robinson. Watch this clip to see just how explosive Etienne can be as a receiver and as a player with the ball in his hands:

CONs

However, unlike Harris, Etienne comes into the backfield with surprise undrafted free agent running back James Robinson who is coming off a remarkable 2020 season. Robinson had 1,070 rushing yards on 240 rushes which equates to a very respectable 4.5 yards per carry. Additionally, Robinson showed some versatility out of the backfield with 49 receptions for 344 yards.


Evidently, he is a good running back. At least in the system he was in last year. New coach Urban Meyer clearly felt that his system requires a new type of running back. Given how back the Jaguars were last year at just 1-15, drafting a player at a position that is seemingly not a need in the first round no less illustrates just how little faith the Jaguars have in Robinson. I fully expect Etienne to have the majority of touches in this backfield similar to how Melvin Gordon took over the backfield in Denver despite undrafted free agent Phillip Lindsay being supposedly really good the two years prior.


Overall: Etienne is being drafted as the RB25 which is equal to the RB3 on a fantasy team. I would draft him there with full confidence this year. At worst, he should be a flex option and at best is most likely a very reliable RB2. With Trevor Lawrence at QB, the Jags are going to want to lean on Etienne more to ease Lawrence into the NFL. At his ADP, there is minimal risk and tons of upside.



Javonte Williams:

PROs


Javonte Williams burst onto the scene this year with an unbelievable junior season. Williams 1,140 yards on just 157 carries. That is equal to 7.3 yards per carry! Williams is strong with solid burst for a running back of his size. Tony Pauline of Pro Football Network described Williams as “strong” and “explosive.”


Williams is best when he’s running downhill and is not afraid of contact whatsoever. His vision is very respectable as well. Additionally, Williams was a good pass catcher with 25 receptions for 305 yards. He isn’t perfect as a receiver but he definitely has potential to improve a ton. He projects as a three down back in the NFL. He literally could not be stopped this past year with the University of North Carolina. Just take a look at this run against Miami:

CONs


Williams, as a runner, doesn’t have the top end speed to make huge plays downfield. He isn’t the most agile back either and is not the best at making a defender miss in open space. To add on to that, Williams is not nearly as proven a runner as Harris or Etienne who are very accomplished collegiate players.


Not to mention the fact that Melvin Gordon is coming off a season in which he had 986 yards and nine touchdowns. While Melvin Gordon is a free agent next offseason, he will definitely take away carries from Williams this season. Without preseason happening yet, it is hard to tell exactly what the carry split will look like.


Therefore, at his ADP of RB28, it can be a risky pick. Gordon is not this terrible running back who will be replaced immediately but if Williams can outplay him early on, Williams could be a massive steal at his ADP.


Overall: Williams is a risky player with upside if he 1) outplays Melvin Gordon substantially to earn more touches or 2) if Melvin Gordon sustains an injury. I would draft Williams ideally as my RB4 given how his situation is so unknown at the moment. The talent and potential are there though so don’t pass on Williams lightly because you could be missing out on a star. His ADP may be a bit high but fantasy football is all about taking risks. Risks can win championships.


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