Which RBs Make The List?
By: Joe Mason @josephmason94
The NFL offseason is upon us and lucky for you if you play dynasty, there is no offseason! The best way to build your team is through the rookie draft, so which guys should you target? These six rookie gems need to be on the top of everyone’s draft boards for their raw talent and upside. Let’s dive in!
*Please note the below measurements are not official and the player age is their age at the time of the upcoming NFL draft.
DeVonta Smith (WR / Alabama)
Age: 22 / Height: 6’1” / Weight: 175 lbs.
What better prospect to start with than the 2021 Heisman winner. Smith put up 117/1856/23 in his senior season while also dropping 12/215/3 in the national title game. Just wow. The electric player can create separation with ease, has shown strong hands, and has been a go-to in the redzone for quarterback Mac Jones.
Some people give Smith a hard time for his below average frame (175 lbs) which is smaller than Marquise “Hollywood” Brown (180 lbs). I don’t see this being an issue for his on the field production, but this could cause him to fall in rookie drafts. All that means is you get him at a discount. Also, something to note, he had a better 2020 season than Henry Ruggs, who was the first WR taken in the 2020 NFL draft. I had him better than Ruggs last year, so the sky is the limit for this kid.
If you can play in the NFL, teams won’t hold you back, especially if they drop first round draft capital. Players with below average height/weight have had success in the NFL. Some examples are Darren Sproles, Kyler Murray. Tyreek Hill, Delanie Walker, and Tarik Cohen.
Smith is currently going at the 1.04 in 1QB rookie mock drafts. I anticipate him falling to the 1.05-1.07 range after other rookies head to good landing spots and the hype starts moving their ADP. I will take that value all day. Although he is not my rookie WR1 in this draft class, you can’t go wrong with DeVonta Smith. I have his ideal landing spot as the Miami Dolphins where they reunite him with Tua Tagovalioa.
Kyle Pitts (TE / Florida)
Age: 20 / Height: 6’6” / Weight: 246 lbs.
At only 20 years old, Kyle Pitts won the John Mackey Most Outstanding Tight End Award, joining the likes of T.J. Hockenson, Mark Andrews, Kellen Winslow, and Dallas Clark. His 6’6” height and slim frame should put him as the second pass catcher off the draft board, and as long as he stays a tight end in the NFL, he drops in as the dynasty TE4 right off the bat only behind Kelce, Kittle, and Waller.
Pitts junior year at Florida was a productive one. In only 8 games he recorded 43/770/12 on a 17.9 yards per catch. He finished fifth in the SEC in touchdowns and sixth in receiving yards even with the low number of games played. The only knock on him currently is his blocking which to evolve in the NFL he will need to put on weight and work on his pass/run blocking ability. His NFL comp is Darren Waller but Pitts has the ability to stretch the field. He has a release off the line similar to George Kittle and is a matchup nightmare for linebackers due to speed and cornerbacks due to his height.
There are a couple potential landing spots where Pitts could contribute right away. The Chargers would be intriguing with Justin Herbert, and the Cowboys would be a complete offense if they snag Pitts. I have his ideal location as Arizona where the Cardinals would benefit greatly from a presence over the middle and would help Hopkins out with another legitimate target in the offense.
Javonte Williams (RB / UNC)
Age: 21 / Height: 5’10” / Weight: 220 lbs.
The most intriguing guy on this list is Javonte Williams. Since we entered the offseason, Williams has seen all the twitter hype and is currently the dark horse for the RB1 of this class. Williams does everything well and put up 157/1140/19 even with a strong RB2 at UNC with him in Michael Carter.
He is currently going at the 1.07 in rookie mocks, but I fully expect him to be a top 5 rookie pick if he finds a good home in the NFL draft. Clyde Edwards-Helaire was rookie RB4 or RB5 last year and catapulted up to the 1.01 in most rookie drafts. This easily could happen to Williams. If he goes to a bad landing spot with a crowded backfield, all it means is he can be acquired for a discount in the draft or via trade. His talent level belongs in the top six rookies. Something I have learned since playing dynasty is talent > landing spot every time.
Where could Williams utilize his talent fully? His ideal landing spot for me is the San Francisco 49ers. I have not seen the 49ers spend high draft capital on a running back since Carlos Hyde in 2014. Williams is a projected early day two pick, so he would need to fall in the draft to make John Lynch interested in him. One thing for sure is if coach Shanahan likes a running back, he tells the GM to go get his guy.
Najee Harris (RB / Alabama)
Age: 23 / Height: 6’2” / Weight: 230 lbs.
The consensus 1.01 pre-landing spot in the 2021 class is Alabama’s Najee Harris. His size and speed combo make him a lethal prospect who can run between the tackles and also catch the ball. In his senior season in 2020, Harris put up his best production with a 251/1466/26 rushing line and a 43/425/4 receiving line. Many considered this the best Alabama offense of all time and they delivered in a big way winning the national championship game over Ohio State.
Harris is a bit of a late bloomer, but he did have to play behind guys like Damien Harris and Josh Jacobs at Alabama. Harris will be 23 by the time the NFL draft kicks off, and he is less than a year younger than Josh Jacobs who is entering his third year in the NFL. The age isn’t a deal breaker for me, but if you read my article on how to evaluate a trade in dynasty, just know Harris might have a smaller fantasy relevant window than some of these other younger running backs. One thing for sure is when he leads the backfield, he produces.
So where would Najee land and have a chance to produce right away? I have his ideal landing spot as the New York Jets. The Jets have recently invested in their offensive line, and have two first round picks (2) (23 from Seattle). Paired with a new top QB, Harris would be the lead back right away. In the NFL, I expect him to put up plays and make the highlight real on ESPN like he did against Notre Dame in the Rose Bowl.
Travis Etienne (RB / Clemson)
Age: 22 / Height: 5’10” / Weight: 205 lbs.
In the loaded 2020 rookie running back class, some analysts had Travis Etienne as their RB1. He surprisingly decided to return to Clemson for the 2021 season. Etienne is arguably the best pass catcher we have seen come out of college in a long time.
In his senior season, Etienne put up 168/914/14 on the ground while catching 18/588/2 through the air. His best season came in 2019 where he put up his 2nd straight 1600+ rushing year going 207/1614/19 on 37/432/4 through the air. What a 2019 year Etienne had.
Some people question Etienne’s ability to be a true three down back citing he has some problems running between the tackles. In fantasy we have seen running backs with the ability to produce without running the ball efficiently, and just being able to catch the ball brings true upside and value. I see his pass catching ability as tremendous upside that would put Etienne near the top if he can land in the right place.
Just from viewing the tape, its safe to say Etienne will thrive if he can land in the right place that will throw him the ball in space, and allow him to use his skills to make defenders miss while breaking big plays. I have his ideal landing spot as Pittsburgh. Big Ben throws the ball to the running back position and this surrounding cast with the volume Etienne would get would make him an RB1 candidate out the gate.
Ja’Marr Chase (WR / LSU)
Age: 21 / Height: 6’0” / Weight: 208 lbs.
Many have Ja’Marr Chase as the top wideout in the class, and I have to agree with the majority. Chase offers the physical specimen, the athletic ability, and the high football IQ to be a successful NFL player at the next level.
Chase only has one full season of college production to show for, but boy was it a season. In his sophomore year at LSU, he put up 84/1780/20 which by the way was better than Justin Jefferson’s (111/1540/18). Chase ended up opting out on the 2020 season due to COVID concerns. He has been spending his time focusing on preparing his body for the speed and toughness of the NFL. This recent picture of Devonta Smith, Justin Jefferson, and Ja’Marr Chase show that Chase has put on the muscle to go break presses and win contested catches at the next level.
Chase is the best all-around WR talent in this class. He brings a safe floor with plenty of upside giving me a valid reason to take him as the top wideout in this class. I have his ideal landing spot at the Eagles where he would lead the WR room and produce immediately with Jalen Hurts. The Eagles need a true alpha WR and Chase is the perfect fit for this system.