Who Will Be the First Running Back to Be Picked in the 2021 NFL Draft?

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Who Will Be the First Running Back to Be Picked in the 2021 NFL Draft?
Najee Harris #22 of the Alabama Crimson Tide. Todd Kirkland/Getty Images/AFP

The 2021 NFL Draft is only one month away and there are some juicy prop bet lines coming available as free agency moves are underway. Draft experts are busy making predictions and trying to figure out where the top playmakers in a loaded class will land. One of the most difficult outcomes to project is who will be the first running back to be drafted.

There’s two stellar first-round candidates in the class between Alabama’s Najee Harris and Clemson’s Travis Etienne. Both finished their careers with monstrous production and boast phenomenal physical profiles. We’ll break down the argument for each and give a free bet at the end to place at top sportsbooks.

Why Najee Harris Will Be Picked First

The Alabama senior running back built his career exactly as any star would hope. He earned an increased role each year, eventually earning Heisman consideration in his senior campaign. He totaled almost 1,900 yards from scrimmage on 294 touches with a ridiculous 30 touchdowns. There’s no doubt that his absence will be felt next year in Alabama.

Harris’ freakish athleticism for a 6’2″, 230-pounder is notable as he prepares to take on bigger, more physical NFL athletes. He has the size advantage against almost every secondary player in the league, and matches some hybrid linebackers. His blend of speed, power and leaping ability makes him a terror in the open field.

His ability to impact the game on the ground is matched by a proven ability to catch the ball as well. He had several acrobatic catches over the last two years in particular with Mac Jones at quarterback. It’s clear he’s comfortable fighting through coverage to come down with the ball, and that alpha mindset translates to every aspect of his game.

More traditional front offices will love projecting Harris’ success because of his physical attributes and well-roundedness. He’s not the most refined runner between the tackles, needing more patience on outside zone runs and more feel for when to press the hole and cut back. Certain zone teams must either accept he’ll be more boom or bust, or adjust their scheme to feature more gap-blocking assignments to maximize Harris’ output.

Clemson will meet Notre Dame again in the Championship game
Running back Travis Etienne #9 of the Clemson Tigers runs against Notre Dame. Photo by Matt Cashore-Pool/Getty Images/AFP

Why Travis Etienne Will Be Picked First

Simply put, Etienne is the most explosive presence in the draft at the position. The 5’10”, 205-pounder is as fast as anyone on the field, and he raced to a wonderful 7.2 yards per-carry average in his four years. His production expanded from being almost exclusively on the ground in his first two seasons to being an excellent receiver in his final two years. 

Etienne’s ability to hit a hole and race into the secondary is much like Nick Chubb’s, even if the two don’t share a similar overall skill set. A slight hole gives Etienne enough runway to maximize yards before contact. And he’s so fast and generates enough power to break through any hit that doesn’t squarely connect. 

Etienne is a good enough pass catcher to move to receiver full-time, and a smart offensive coordinator will take advantage of him like the Saints do Alvin Kamara. Flexing him outside occasionally can strain defenses immensely. His ball skills and balance make him an intriguing weapon all over the field.

I’d argue there are more bountiful opportunities as far as pure offensive fits for Etienne than Harris. Etienne brings bigger play potential every down and some offenses will desire his knack for creating chunk plays in a zone scheme. These are opposite backs in many ways and offensive fits is one of them.

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I have these two graded similarly as first-round talents but opportunity matters when it comes to draft position. Miami is one of the first teams that could realistically draft a back and their connection to Harris due to Tua makes sense. But the Jets, Steelers, Buccaneers and Bills also make sense before we get to what happens if both fall to the second-round.

I believe teams will view Harris as the more unique athlete and potentially more durable than Etienne. It’s hard for teams to overlook the size difference, and Harris was better this past season on the field. Both should be standout starters quickly in their career, but I’m giving Harris the nod with a good value line for my off season NFL picks

Free NFL pick: Najee Harris to be 1st RB Picked in Draft at +100 with BetOnline (visit our BetOnline Review)

N. Harris to be 1st RB Picked in NFL Draft(+100)
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*The pick reflects the line at the moment the writer made the play, the odds at the beginning of this article show the live line movement. Since the lines might vary, don’t forget to refer back to our live odds.