“The most complete running back in the draft…To me the playing style is almost Alvin Kamara-like.” – Simms on Travis Etienne as his top RB prospect
“Michael Carter [is] the surprise of the draft to me. I couldn’t get over it. His quickness, his ability to make people miss is elite.” – Simms
“He’s a tough eval for me…I don’t think Najee Harris is a slam dunk No. 1 NFL running back. I think he’s a really good No. 2.” – Simms on ranking Najee Harris as his No. 4 RB
STAMFORD, Conn. – April 15, 2021 – NBC Sports’ Chris Simms unveiled his running back draft rankings, discussing this year’s top RB prospects heading into the 2021 NFL Draft, on the Chris Simms Unbuttoned podcast, listing Clemson’s Travis Etienne No. 1. In the episode, Simms ranks and breaks down Etienne, North Carolina’s Michael Carter and Javonte Williams, Louisville’s Javian Hawkins, Alabama’s Najee Harris, and more.
Simms, a third-round pick of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 2003 NFL Draft who played eight NFL seasons, is joined by NBC Sports’ Paul Burmeister on the podcast. The two offer in-depth breakdowns, rankings, and NFL comparisons for this year’s top running back prospects.
“Running back is one of those positions where, hey, they can come in a lot of different shapes and sizes,” Simms said about his rankings. “So, there’s a lot to take into account here, but I think we have five really good ones and it’s a decent class overall as you really look at it. The way I look at it, the top-five can all be really special, and we have a group behind them that can all be real good.”
In the lead up to April’s NFL Draft, Simms will rank and break down every position group, provide a list of mid-late round sleeper prospects, and issue a final mock draft.
Simms’ Top Five RB prospects in the 2021 NFL Draft:
|1.||Travis Etienne, Clemson|
|2.||Michael Carter, UNC|
|3.||Javian Hawkins, Louisville|
|4.||Najee Harris, Alabama|
|5.||Javonte Williams, UNC|
The following are highlights from Simms’ RB draft rankings:
No. 1: Travis Etienne, Clemson
“The most complete running back in the draft, there’s no doubt about that to me…To me the playing style is almost Alvin Kamara-like a little bit. Kareem Hunt [too]. Those are the two guys I came away thinking that’s who he plays like…Can run for 60-yard touchdowns, check. Can run between the tackles and break tackles – man, can he break some tackles…and not that he’s an ankle-breaker, but he’s got a smoothness to which he runs and subtle ability to change directions to make people miss and never really lose speed. It’s hard for me to explain. He can kind of just weave and flow through traffic…That’s where he’s really special to me.”
No. 2: Michael Carter, North Carolina
“Michael Carter [is] the surprise of the draft to me. I couldn’t get over it. His quickness, his ability to make people miss and then reaccelerate, it’s elite…His start-stop ability is phenomenal. Unlike Javion (Hawkins) who’s a little bit of a smaller running back, there is somewhat of a powerness to this guy’s game. Not that it’s going to run you over, but he certainly showed the ability to handle contact and he breaks a lot more tackles than you would think for a guy that’s 201 or 199 pounds…We’re talking elite route-runner out of the backfield in the pass game, and a willing blocker in the pass game too.”
No. 3: Javian Hawkins, Louisville
“It’s a risky one as far as (size) is concerned, but that to me is…where the negatives stop. That’s all there is to it. And if you watch his game and you watch him play, I wouldn’t sit there and think he’s 185 (pounds) by the way he plays. First off, there’s more power. Because of his quicks, he’s really awesome at never letting them hit him square…The ultimate thing with Javian is speed, speed, and more speed. When I watch him, I sit here and go, ‘I’m watching Matt Breida. I’m watching Raheem Mostert.’ Those are the guys I’m watching. Again, their careers may not last more than six years, any of them, but, man, they can go for 90 yards every week. That to me is where he’s really special. His acceleration is through-the-roof good.”
No. 4: Najee Harris, Alabama
“He’s a tough eval for me. It’s my first one where I go, ‘Maybe I’m wrong.’ … I think the first thing is lack of speed is a real issue…Just watching him break out in the open at Alabama, it’s underwhelming…Are there some things he does really well? There’s no doubt, but, man, is he running in a lot of space at Alabama and that’s where my first question is. If there’s nothing there in the NFL, what is he going to do for you that way? I guess that’s where I come down to making him No. 4. He does have great feet. He can jump-cut and make people miss in the hole, he’s really special that way…For his size at 6’2, 230, I would also tell you it’s below-average power for his size…I don’t think Najee Harris is a slam dunk No. 1 NFL running back. I think he’s a really good No. 2 is what we’re getting into, but he will have, I think, a real role in the pass game.”
No. 5: Javonte Williams, North Carolina
“He’s a ball of power…The name of his game is balance and breaking tackles and power. That’s what he really does. I’m not going to tell you that I think he’s going to be an awesome, superstar NFL-type player. I do think there’s a little bit of raw explosiveness and speed and acceleration that’s missing from his game, that’s why he would be my No. 5 guy altogether, but everything he does in his game is pretty good…Has very good feet, I think that’s the impressive thing about him, but really when it comes down to it, it’s the low center of gravity and the power with which he can run. Whether it’s breaking arm tackles or just lowering his shoulder and running people over, those were by far the most impressive things he did.”
Honorable Mentions: Chuba Hubbard (Oklahoma State), Trey Sermon (Ohio State), Kenneth Gainwell (Memphis), Rhamondre Stevenson (Oklahoma).
To hear the full episode with full prospect breakdowns, click here.
The Chris Simms Unbuttoned podcast is available for download on all major podcast platforms including: NBCSports.com/podcasts, NBC Sports’ Scores app, Apple, Stitcher, Spotify, Google Podcasts, TuneIn and iHeart.