Najee Harris and Travis Etienne could both go in the first round of the NFL Draft, but which college star would you rather have on your favorite NFL team?
Star college running backs Najee Harris and Travis Etienne could go in the first round in 2021.
The Alabama football team was able to win a national title last season thanks in large part to its Doak Walker Award winner Harris. While much of Alabama’s acclaim went to Davey O’Brien winner Mac Jones and Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith, the Crimson Tide do not win the national championship without its star running back. His NFL Draft stock has been rising of late.
Etienne had been a staple in the Clemson football backfield for years. He has been there the entire time with Trevor Lawrence. While he did not win a national title in his final two years in school, Clemson absolutely dominated the ACC throughout his college experience. Etienne will go down as one of the greatest running backs in Clemson football and ACC history. He has been a top-40 pick all along.
Though we only saw one first-round running back from a season ago, we are very likely to get two this spring. The best part is we probably will not have to wait until pick No. 32 for a running back to get taken. Let’s find out now the pros and cons with these two players, what the NFL Draft experts think of them and what picks these guys are expected to be taken and where they will go?
Travis Etienne or Najee Harris?: The pros and cons
With Etienne, you have to like his combination of backfield versatility, as well as his ability to carry a large workload. Had he have not returned to Clemson for his senior season, he may have gone ahead of Clyde Edwards-Helaire and been the first running back taken last spring. As for the cons, he has had his issues with fumbling the ball and you have to wonder about the ACC competition.
For Harris, he is every bit the bell-cow back you would expect he would be coming out of Alabama. Though not quite the workhorse of Derrick Henry, because no human being is that, he is a better receiver out of the backfield than the 2015 Heisman Trophy winner. As for cons, he did run behind an elite offensive line, played with a ton of stars everywhere and wasn’t a first-rounder until 2021.
Travis Etienne or Najee Harris?: NFL Draft expert opinions
NFL Draft experts Mel Kiper Jr., Todd McShay and Daniel Jeremiah are all over the place with their opinions of Harris and Etienne. Keep in mind that Kiper and Jeremiah’s most recent mock drafts were conducted prior to the series of trades made by the Miami Dolphins with the San Francisco 49ers and the Philadelphia Eagles. McShay’s is the most current of the three.
Neither Kiper nor Jeremiah had Etienne going in the first round in their respective mock drafts. Kiper had Harris going to the Buffalo Bills at No. 30 towards the tail-end of the first round. Jeremiah was considerably higher on Harris, having him going to the Dolphins at No. 18 with their second first-round pick of the 2021 NFL Draft. That is about as early as either of these running backs could go.
Interestingly, McShay has Etienne coming off the board first and heading to the New York Jets at No. 23 with their second first-round pick this year. Harris does not have to wait too long after that, as he is projected to go with the very next pick to the Pittsburgh Steelers at No. 24. After having to wait until No. 32 for a running back to be drafted in 202, we may have two off the board by No. 25.
Travis Etienne or Najee Harris?: Who is coming off the board first and to where?
Overall, there are about four teams picking in the back half of the first round who could conceivably go running back: Miami at No. 18, New York at No. 23, Pittsburgh at No. 24 and Buffalo at No. 30. So what we are looking at is for these two talented tailbacks to go to one of these four AFC teams picking inside of the top 30. Who will be coming off the board first?
While I fully understand the Steelers’ and the Bills’ issues in the ground game, I find it difficult to see them using a precious first-round pick on a senior running back. I mean, they could do it, but these two franchises will be scrutinized if they take either Etienne or Harris and they don’t pan out with other needs to address like at quarterback for Pittsburgh and at pass rusher for Buffalo.
That leaves us with the Dolphins picking at No. 18 and the Jets picking at No. 23. Miami has the No. 6 pick to do whatever it wants, while New York has the No. 2 pick to draft quarterback Zach Wilson out of BYU. With Tua Tagovailoa in his second season, get him his former college teammate Harris at No. 23. Wilson could use an elite running back to hand the ball off to in Etienne at No. 23.
Predictions: Najee Harris No. 18 to Dolphins, Travis Etienne No. 23 to Jets