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2021 NFL Draft: Scouting the draft’s tailbacks

This year’s draft features players ready to fill multiple roles for the team

With the drafting of Zack Moss in 2020, along with Devin Singletary the year before, it’s likely that general manager Brandon Beane and the rest of the Buffalo Bills’ front office probably assumed they had solved the running back position for years to come. Both players are versatile, can work in multiple schemes and receive passes out of the backfield. However, the team ended up ranked 24th in the NFL in rushing yards per game, after finishing within the top ten of teams the season before. Now, obviously some of that can be explained by changes and injuries along the offensive line, but Moss and Singletary shouldn’t be held blameless either.

As a response, the Bills may look to the draft to either provide a bit more competition with a player who provides a different skillset, or perhaps they could make a big investment in the position with a true bell-cow runner. Here are the tailbacks from the 2021 NFL Draft who the team may be evaluating.

Tier I

Najee Harris (Alabama)
Javonte Williams (UNC)
Travis Etienne (Clemson)

An elite runner with both speed and vision, Harris shouldn’t be pigeonholed as just a big back, despite a playing weight of 230 lbs. He has decent enough speed to be a threat to run past defenders as much as bowl them over, and his agility is off the charts, especially for a player at that weight. Like Harris, Williams has some of the more amazing game tape to watch, mostly thanks to his relentless contact balance. The Tar Heel has a nasty juke step at first, then can just as easily break defenders’ tackles. He doesn’t have many weaknesses, outside of a lack of long speed. That’s not a problem at all for Etienne, whose greatest strength is his ability to operate in space and completely speed by defenders. There are questions about his over-reliance on that speed and his ability to hold up against bigger NFL defenders though.

Tier II

Michael Carter (UNC)
Jermar Jefferson (Oregon State)
Kenneth Gainwell (Memphis)
Jaret Patterson (Buffalo)

Carter’s game is built on explosiveness, even if he tops out fairly quickly, and his receiving ability is one of the best in the class. Although he doesn’t posses high-level athletic traits, Jefferson is a well-rounded player with elite vision who had massive production in college. A smaller runner, Gainwell is very explosive and will step onto the NFL field immediately ready to contribute in the passing game. Patterson’s a smaller tailback who nonetheless runs like a much bigger specimen and has some nasty open-field moves. His lack of speed holds him back some.

Tier III

Trey Sermon (Oklahoma)
Demetric Felton (UCLA)
Kylin Hill (Mississippi State)
Javian Hawkins (Louisville)

Sermon is a pure power back who can excel with a team that wants to exert their will against a defense. Felton is ready to be this draft’s Swiss-Army knife, he can run some out of the backfield, but he can be just as deadly lined up in the slot. Hill burnished his resume in the receiving game this year, but he lacks any specific trait that you can point to that makes him particularly appealing as anything more than a rotational option. A prototypical speed back, Hawkins is wicked fast and surprisingly shifty as well, but he’s easily tackled by defenders.

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