In a year when the RBs were far from exciting outside of a few players, the NFL Draft happened and it did not disappoint. Well, it was a letdown when two of the top three prospects on most everyone’s boards went to what appear to be committee situations. It was like that scene in Star Wars where Han Solo utters, “I have a bad feeling about this.”
Then it was un desmadre filled with players going to crowded backfields, and teams like the Falcons, Dolphins and Bills not taking any RBs when it looked like there might be a need. Atlanta, surprisingly, has Mike Davis atop its depth chart in the backfield. Let’s see how that goes.
Since we already did a quick overview of the first-rounders, let’s take a look at the RBs taken after the first 32 who could have an impact in their rookie seasons. Warning, do not look further if you’re allergic to committees.
35. JAVONTE WILLIAMS, BRONCOS
Do the Broncos hate fantasy managers? On top of it, they traded up for the chance to upset those with visions of Williams going to the Falcons to take over that backfield. Instead, he goes to Denver to a share the backfield with Melvin Gordon. On the positive side, Phillip Lindsay is leaving behind 118 carries. Also, Gordon has played a complete season just once in his six-year career and is going into the final season of his two-year contract in Denver.
Williams’ FBS-leading 47 broken tackles and 831 yards after contact (#4) were stellar, and should lead to Williams getting his name called plenty of times in short-yardage and goal-line situations. The outlook for the Tar Heel product is that he splits carries with Gordon from the start of the season. From there it comes down to whether he can outperform the veteran or stay on the field in case Gordon misses time later in the season. This could also be a situation like in Baltimore last year, when J.K. Dobbins outperformed Mark Ingram II, leading the veteran to be benched most of the second half of the season.
88. TREY SERMON, 49ERS
Looking at this one, the 49ers accumulated 437 carries as a team in 2020. A year earlier, when they went to the Super Bowl, they were second in the league with 498 totes. With more consistent (aka “healthy”) QB play, they could trend more toward the higher figure.
The 49ers return Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson, who combined for 230 carries last year (Mostert had 104 carries in eight games). The 49ers have a solid O-line led by Trent Williams that will open plenty of holes in HC Kyle Shanahan’s running game. At worst, Sermon shares carries with Mostert and Wilson in a pretty even committee. He will have some big games, but they will be hard to predict and may depend on injuries to others in the backfield. Oh yeah, Wayne Gallman is here, too. I’m still pretty amazed that only four RBs went in the first three rounds.
107. MICHAEL CARTER, JETS
This could be a good pick in an underrated draft for the Jets, as Carter may already be the most talented RB on the roster. Frank Gore and Le’Veon Bell leave behind 206 carries, and HC Robert Saleh brings with him an offensive braintrust from San Francisco that really likes to run the ball. Figure that the Jets will make a jump from the 406 rushing attempts they had last year.
Carter is small at 5-8 and 201 lbs., but he has quick feet and still outrushed his fellow Tar Heel Williams by finishing with 1,245 yards. The Jets have a mostly young backfield with Ty Johnson and La’Mical Perine sharing carries last year, and Tevin Coleman coming in. Carter could be a player who gets a combination of rushing and receiving touches to become an RB2.
120. RHAMONDRE STEVENSON, PATRIOTS
Damien Harris. Sony Michel. James White. Yup, that’s what Stevenson is looking at when he walks into the RB room for the Patriots. White is a receiving back, and Stevenson only caught 18 balls in six games last year. So it’ll come down to how much he plays alongside Harris and Michel, the latter of whom battled a foot injury last year and didn’t have his fifth-year option exercised.
Stevenson’s talent is intriguing, as one of the Oklahoma announcers and I both saw some Marcus DuPree in the young runner’s style. Still, the Patriots are infamous for not relying on a single back, so this should be muddy for much of the season unless injuries clear things up.
126. CHUBA HUBBARD, PANTHERS
Hubbard’s 2019 film is eye-popping. It’s hard to think that this guy lost it in a COVID season when he’s just 22. But let’s not get too excited about his prospects being anything more than a change-of-pace back to give Christian McCaffrey a breather now and then. In 2019, CMC amassed 403 total touches. Then he missed 13 games last year, though none resulted in surgery and appear to be healed up. He’s 25 and has a big contract, so Hubbard is headed for a backup role like Davis was supposed to have last year.
150. KENNETH GAINWELL, EAGLES
How much you like Gainwell is commensurate with how much faith you have in Miles Sanders. A year ago, Sanders was a darling going into the redraft season due to his big finish in 2019. Then came hamstring injuries, after he’d had similar battles with his legs in 2019.
Gainwell is similar in size to Carter, and is likely to be a complement to Sanders. The Memphis production – more than 2,000 all-purpose yards in 2019 – is made all the more impressive when they happened while keeping Antonio Gibson outside of a starting role. Gainwell should see some receptions, and could be a cheap DFS play if Sanders were to miss any games.
Captain America (aka Chris Evans) is going to Cincinnati where Joe Mixon missed 10 games and Giovanni Bernard is leaving behind 171 touches from last year.
Demetric Felton, yes, I know, he’s a UCLA guy and I have a thing for the university (my wife is a Bruin and our oldest daughter born at the hospital). He’s in Cleveland with HC Kevin Stefanski and his beautiful mind. He’s behind several bigger mouths that need to be fed, though.
Javian Hawkins to the Falcons is a guy to keep an eye on. They didn’t take any RBs, and have Mike Davis as the primary back. Could Hawkins become a poor man’s Alvin Kamara in Atlanta?