2021 NFL Draft Odds: RB

Odds, trends and analysis

This year’s NFL Draft is top-heavy with quarterbacks but teams are not exactly tripping over themselves in trying to trade up in the draft to grab a running back. This year’s RB class is a bit thin, but there are some names that could certainly be game-changers. Here we look at NFL Draft RB odds and more.

NFL Draft odds: First RB drafted

Barring a complete surprise, either Alabama’s Najee Harris or Clemson’s Travis Etienne will be the first RB selected. There are a few teams that are in need of a running back, chiefly the New York Jets (pick second and 23rd), the Pittsburgh Steelers (pick 24th), and the Buffalo Bills (pick 30th). Speculation points toward the Jets being the most likely team to pull the trigger on either Etienne or Harris in the first round, with the other two teams having more pressing needs.

There’s a very real possibility that no running back comes off the board in the first round and that Etienne and Harris wait until Day 2. Other backs that are near the top of the running back board that could be drafted in the second round include North Carolina stars Javonte Williams and Michael Carter.

First RB Drafted

Najee Harris
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-140
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-170
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-165
Travis Etienne
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+200
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+150
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+150
Javonte Williams
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+450
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+500
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+400
Michael Carter
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+3500
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+1900
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+4000
Kenneth Gainwell
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+4000
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+1000
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+4000
Trey Sermon
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+4000
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+2500
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+4000
Chuba Hubbard
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+5000
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+3900
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+5000
Jaret Patterson
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+6000
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+21000
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+10000
Kylin Hill
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+7000
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+2900
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+10000

How to bet on first RB drafted

Most sportsbooks have a full slate of NFL Draft bets including the first player drafted at each position. To find this section click the NFL tab and find a tab for “First Pick by Position” then view the odds listed below. There, you can find the odds for each of the running backs to be drafted first, like Najee Harris (-140) and Travis Etienne (+200).

NFL Draft: 2021 RB profiles

Travis Etienne, Clemson: It was a surprise to most when Etienne opted into his senior year at Clemson, foregoing the 2020 NFL Draft. He was already projected to be one of the top backs along with guys like Jonathan Taylor and D’Andre Swift, but Etienne wanted one more crack at a National Championship. He finished his Clemson career with a staggering 78 total touchdowns in 55 games. Etienne is a true offensive weapon– being able to create explosive runs with remarkable shiftiness while also posing as a real threat in the passing game.

Etienne’s game mirrors that of the Saints’ Alvin Kamara almost exactly, with both displaying elusiveness on an elite scale. He could be drafted as high as 23rd or he could slip into the early second round, often being associated with the Jets, Dolphins, and Falcons. Etienne fits nearly any NFL scheme that could also be a surprise pick earlier than expected. His versatility and big-play ability will likely land him as the first back taken off the board.

Najee Harris, Alabama: Najee Harris is the next up in a long line of bruising Alabama backs that have recently included Derrick Henry and Mark Ingram. The former is the ultimate comparison for Harris, right down to how he looks on the field. The scariest aspect to Harris that he has all the power and size of Henry, but with potentially more athleticism. Harris is capable of hurdling defenders and turning knees to jelly in the open field while also posing an added threat in the passing game.

Harris is a projected to go anywhere between the late first round and the mid-second; teams often associated with him include the Buffalo Bills (30) and Miami Dolphins (36). The appeal for Harris to potentially be the first running back off the board is his receiving ability, where he was very much utilized at Alabama (11 receiving touchdowns in 2019 and 2020). Like Etienne, Harris isn’t system-dependent and will excel no matter where he lands.

Javonte Williams, North Carolina: At 5′ 10″, 220 pounds, Javonte Williams is a straight bruiser. He’s a punishing runner who prefers a north-south, straightline route that goes through as many defenders as possible en route to touchdown after touchdown. Williams was a touchdown machine at UNC, recording 22 touchdowns in 2020 (11 games). He knows his angles when taking on tacklers, often forcing them into arm tackles that ultimately failed, although Williams has plenty of highlights where he tosses linebackers aside like a ragdoll (see: Miami game).

He’s relatively not talked about during the draft process and could become a serious weapon in the NFL. As far as draft stock goes, Williams is valued in the second round and could go to a team that may have missed out on Najee Harris. What makes Williams such a desirable prospect is his ability to catch passes and take any ball to the house. However, he was surrounded with plenty of playmakers like Sam Howell and complementary back Michael Carter at UNC, the scheme of which opened some doors for Williams and gave him light boxes to run against.

Michael Carter, North Carolina: Despite splitting the backfield with Javonte Williams, Michael Carter still picked up over 1,500 scrimmage yards and 11 touchdowns in 11 games. Many of his touchdown opportunities were sapped by the bruising Williams, who saw plenty of goalline carries. Carter’s biggest strength has been his vision, often finding cutback lanes and picking the right hole to rip off chunk plays often. Carter is also dangerous in the receiving game– like most other top backs are– but his size (5′ 8″, 202 pounds) would likely remove him as an option around the goalline.

The utility back is becoming more of a commodity in the NFL after the successes of guys like J.D. McKissic and Austin Ekeler. This makes Carter a sought-after player that could land on almost any team with a few exceptions (Cleveland, New England, other teams with a set multi-back backfield). Similarly to his counterpart Javonte Williams, the concern surrounding Carter was the scheme and weapons around him at UNC like Sam Howell that kept boxes light and opportunities aplenty for him. Carter is rated as a late second-rounder or third-round guy.

Kenneth Gainwell, Memphis: Who doesn’t want a piece of another Memphis utility back after what Antonio Gibson was able to do in his rookie year? Although far from a prototypical NFL back, Gainwell can line up all over the field and make plays happen anywhere. Gibson was the Guinnea Pig for true utility backs that saw limited time a season ago and Gainwell is following hot in his tracks.

His sophomore year, Gainwell averaged 6.3 yards per carry on 231 carries and picked up over 2,000 scrimmage yards. His one-cut explosiveness makes him a dangerous player on screens and swings, but did benefit from facing the AAC’s defenses (or lack thereof). However, he is scheme-dependent, best used in spread offenses like New Orleans, Baltimore, and Kansas City. Gainwell is currently valued as a Day 2 guy, likely falling in the late second or early third round.

Will a RB be drafted in the first round?

Sportsbooks will have more specific position props available as we get closer to Draft Day.

NFL Draft RB history

Here is a list of the first RB taken in each NFL Draft going back to 2010.

YearTeamPlayerCollegePick (No. overall)
2020Kansas CityClyde Edwards-HelaireLSUNo. 32
2019OaklandJosh JacobsAlabamaNo. 24
2018NY GiantsSaquon BarkleyPenn StateNo. 2
2017JacksonvilleLeonard FournetteLSUNo. 4
2016DallasEzekiel ElliottOhio StateNo. 4
2015St. LouisTodd GurleyGeorgiaNo. 10
2014TennesseeBishop SankeyWashingtonNo. 54
2013CincinnatiGio BernardUNCNo. 37
2012ClevelandTrent RichardsonAlabamaNo. 3
2011New OrleansMark IngramAlabamaNo. 28
2010BuffaloCJ SpillerClemsonNo. 9

NFL Draft strategy and trends

The movement toward analytics-based football has created a mass exodus from running backs being drafted early in drafts. Last season, Clyde Edwards-Helaire was taken with the final pick of the first round, avoiding the first draft that was devoid of first-round running backs since 2014. The past three drafts haven’t seen a back drafted in the top 24 after four straight drafts of backs being drafted in the top ten.

Only one first-round back has been selected in each of the last two drafts (Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Josh Jacobs) while eight were taken in the four drafts before that. However, many of the league’s top backs haven’t been high-capital picks. Derrick Henry and Dalvin Cook were each taken in the second round, Alvin Kamara was drafted in the third round, and Aaron Jones was picked in the fifth round. James Robinson notably went undrafted this past year while still picking up over 1,000 yards on the ground.

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