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2021 NFL draft prospects: Running backs are back in vogue

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Roar Guru
29th May, 2020
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My preview of college football’s top prospects heading into season 2020 kicks off the offensive side of the ball today with the running back group.

Travis Etienne – senior, Clemson – 5’10’’, 210 pounds
It was a mild surprise when Etienne decided to return to the Tigers for his senior year. Had Etienne declared, it’s likely he would have been the first running back selected in the 2020 NFL draft. Having rushed for just over 4000 yards in his first three seasons at Clemson, Etienne will return for his senior year to improve his already impressive average yards-per-carry number of 7.8, as well as try and carry Clemson to its third national title in five seasons. While Etienne might not feature as a number one running back in the pros, his potential as a pass-catching back (56 catches for 567 yards and six touchdowns) and a home-run hitter out of the backfield will entice head coaches and general managers.

Chuba Hubbard – red-shirt junior, Oklahoma State – 6’1’’, 207 pounds
He is a Canadian who won the rushing title in college football last season with 2094 yards and 23 touchdowns. He was a consensus All American selection in his second season as a starter after managing 740 yards in 2018. He is a north-south runner who lacks elite feel for the position, but if linemen can create in front of him, he can take any play to the house. He will be strongly considered in the Heisman Trophy discussion after finishing eighth in voting last year, when his 2094 rushing yards set the second highest single-season total in school history, trailing only Barry Sanders’ Heisman Trophy-winning season of 1988. Oklahoma State haven’t had a running back selected in the first round of an NFL draft since Sanders in 1989. That could change in 2021.

American football generic

(Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)

Najee Harris – senior, Alabama – 6’2’’, 230 pounds
He decided to return to Alabama for his senior season after being entrenched as the Tides’ starter in 2019 and rushing for 1224 yards in 13 games. He crossed the 100-yard threshold six times in 2019, while contributing 20 scores (13 rushing and seven receiving). His seven receiving touchdowns is the most ever from an Alabama running back in a single season. Harris will return in 2020 off a strong finish to the 2019 season when he rushed for a career-high 136 yards and two touchdowns in the Tides’ Citrus Bowl victory over Michigan. Harris will once again be relied upon to be a big presence for the Crimson Tide as coach Nick Saban and the offensive look to break in a new quarterback in 2020.

Kenneth Gainwell – red-shirt sophomore, Memphis – 5’11’’, 183 pounds
He was red-shirted in 2018 after seeing action in just four games, however he tallied an impressive 91 yards and a touchdown on just four rushing attempts. He improved mightily in his red-shirt freshman season last year, tallying 1459 yards and 13 touchdowns while catching three more in 14 games. He became Memphis’ first player since 1997 to eclipse 200 yards receiving and 100 yards rushing in a single game against Tulane in Week 7. He finished ninth in the country in all-purpose yards gained (2069) in 2019 despite not fielding a single kick or punt return. He rushed for over 100 yards seven times in 2019 and will be a player to watch at the position in 2020.

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Max Borghi – junior, Washington State – 5’10’’, 197 pounds
He played immediately as a true freshman in 2018 and has tallied 1183 yards and eight rushing touchdowns across his first two college seasons. He has also contributed out of the backfield with 139 catches for 971 yards and nine touchdowns in same time span. In 2019, Borghi had 800-plus rush yards while also leading all running backs nationally with 26 missed tackles forced after the catch. He had the most catches from all running backs with 85, which was the most by a running back in school history. He was used lightly as a runner through two seasons (199 attempts) and consequently will be watched closely as a dual-threat back next season.

Other players to watch are Ohio State’s Master Teague, Georgia’s Zamir White, Mississippi State’s Kylin Hill, Auburn’s JaTarvious Whitlow and Buffalo’s Jaret Patterson.

The best non-draft-eligible player to watch is Tennessee’s Eric Gray.