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2021 Rookie Running Backs: Ideal NFL Landing Spots

Rookie Running Backs: Ideal Landing Spots
by Alan Seslowsky – Twitter: @Alanseslowsky

With a few weeks until the NFL draft, you can’t help but get sucked into reading “mock draft version 10,000.” When we consume mock drafts we start to visualize the player in the team uniform, racking up points for our fantasy teams. Below are three rookie running backs along with realistic landing spots that RosterWatch would like to see in order to maximize their fantasy outputs.

RB Javonte Williams to Arizona Cardinals (Pick 49)

Kenyan Drake is no longer with the team, leaving for Las Vegas. Currently, Chase Edmonds and Eno Benjamin are the top two options. Experienced fantasy players are assuming that Arizona makes a move by either signing a veteran or taking a rookie in the upcoming draft. The Cardinals’ first pick is 16th overall. That is too early to take a RB in this class. Arizona is likely to look at the defensive side of the ball in round one. It gets interesting in round two, where Arizona picks at 49th overall. This is a prime spot to take one of the top three runners in this class. Arizona does not have a third or fourth-round pick, so it is possible they address a different position here. 

Most credible mocks have both Najee Harris and Travis Etienne off the board by this point. That leaves North Carolina RB, Javonte Williams, as a realistic option. Williams has power and an early-down mentality, along with the size and catching ability, to stay on the field for third-downs. He can undoubtedly be a starter in year one for the Cardinals. Should Williams get drafted by the Cardinals in round two, that would solidify him as a top 15 RB in redraft leagues. 


RB Najee Harris to Atlanta Falcons (Pick 35)

Last off-season Atlanta signed Todd Gurley to a one-year deal. Fantasy drafters were split if Gurley could somehow recapture his peak days with the Rams. Gurley’s 2020 ADP settled into the third round. The perception is that Gurley was a bust since his efficiency metrics were well below his career averages. However, Gurley did pay off for fantasy in weeks 1-9. During the first two months of the 2020 season, Gurley was the RB6 overall. He was heavily TD dependent. The logical conclusion is that despite a major drop off in Gurley’s performance the Atlanta offense as a whole was good enough to create fantasy production for the Atlanta RB. 

In 2021 Atlanta hired one of the most forward-thinking offensive coaches in the game, Arthur Smith. Atlanta has not re-signed Gurley or Brian Hill. They did add Mike Davis, a 28-year-old journeyman who showed well for the Panthers last season. Davis will undoubtedly be part of the Atlanta offensive attack, but there is room for a rookie RB to prosper in this offense. 

Atlanta owns pick four overall. There is no chance they would use that pick on a runner. Atlanta does have the 35th pick, which is a prime spot to land their top rated rookie RB. Alabama’s Najee Harris has all of the tools, size, and skills to be an instant three-down runner in the NFL. The fit with Harris and Atlanta is perfect. Harris also gives Head Coach Smith a workhorse runner similar to how he built the Tennessee offense with Derrick Henry. Harris is a different player than Henry, but Smith’s best attribute is adapting his scheme to talent; not forcing the talent to fit “his” scheme. Najee Harris to the Atlanta Falcons at pick 35 is firmly on the RosterWatch wishlist. 


RB Travis Etienne to New York Jets  (Pick 34)

The Jets hired former San Francisco defensive coordinator Robert Saleh, who immediately appointed Mike LaFleur to run the new-look offense. The new Jets coaches promptly signed former 49er running back Tevin Coleman. Though Coleman never lived up to expectations, it is a clear signal of the type of running back the Jets prefer to have. The Jets are set up perfectly to use their early second-round pick on a better and younger version of Coleman, Travis Etienne. Etienne was described by PFF’s Tony Pauline as: 

“Smart, hard-working ball carrier with a well-rounded game. Patiently waits for blocks to develop and finds the hole. Displays solid short-area quickness cuts back against the grain, and consistently runs north and south. Tough to bring down, keeps his feet moving, and picks up yardage off initial contact.”

Another match made in heaven, if the Jets decide to use this pick on a running back. 

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