This group of running backs for the 2021 NFL Draft is shaping up to be another deep group. The key to any class, though, is finding the sleepers. I still remember when Alfred Morris went from being a sixth-round pick in 2012 to being one of the draft and fantasy steals of the season. Fast forward to 2020 and we are seeing it happen again with Jaguars’ running back James Robinson.
Robinson buried himself into everyone’s psyche when the Jaguars released former first-round pick Leonard Fournette, in part because Robinson impressed the team during training camp. Then we had Ryquell Armstead test positive for COVID and Devine Ozigbo land on IR which cleared the way for UDFA James Robinson to be in the pole position.
Now, if you were able to grab Robinson off waivers or you were one of the few who drafted him late in rookie drafts you’re sitting on a jackpot lottery ticket. The current RB5 according to Fantasy Pros, Robinson has been one of the few bright spots on a one-win Jacksonville team, and even with a potential change at the head coaching position next year, Robinson may have played himself into a long term role.
To get a leg up on your leaguemates, it’s smart to look ahead at this deep running back class. For the purposes of this article, I’m specifically looking at potential day three players and even some UDFA guys who could earn meaningful reps in 2021.
Javian Hawkins, Louisville
Hawkins has become a hot name in the draft and devy communities with some people having him as high as RB3! I don’t see that much upside in him because whenever I watch Hawkins I notice his vision is very lacking on top of his questionable decision making. For example, when you watch his game against Virginia Tech last week he finished with 17 carries for 129 yards. 95 of those yards came on one run. This skews his stat line and further solidifies the importance of watching these games back to see the lack of qualities I mentioned.
That being said, that 95 yard run of his showcased his home run hitting ability so that when he des find a hole its game over for the defense as you can see below.
.@JavianHawkins. To. The. House!!!!
— Louisville Football (@UofLFootball) October 31, 2020
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Pooka Williams, Kansas
One of the intriguing players of the 2021 running backs, Pooka Williams has already announced that he is leaving Lawrence to get ready for the draft and be with family. Williams is not a day three or UDFA talent but he comes with some off-field baggage ( domestic assault charge his freshman year) as well as a lack of consistency. From a pure football standpoint, Williams is underweight but is explosive as a runner and shows natural ball catching ability and technique.
In the play below you see he also has excellent vision along with patience to let his line create running lanes for him before committing to one. This is something rare from a player with so few reps and as young as Williams.
Really enjoyed my initial viewing of Kansas RB Pooka Williams (5-10, 170, Jr.). His best game of the year came against Texas. Vision, quick feet, and a competitive runner. pic.twitter.com/QnW1uPSOgn
— Jordan Reid (@JReidNFL) June 6, 2020
Shane Simpson, Virginia
To wrap this piece up I want to talk about one of my favorite players entering the year but one I have cooled on in Shane Simpson. Simpson transferred from FCS Towson to Virginia after being an All-American last year and getting recognition from Phil Steele as one of the nation’s best playmakers at any level. Simpson demonstrates versatility as a runner and receiver as well as returning kicks. While he isn’t on many watchlists when it comes to the 2021 running backs, he should be soon.
His role isn’t what many expected at Virginia but this past week he finally broke through. His performance was capped off by this big play where he shows his ability to break away with any touch he gets.
— Virginia Football (@UVAFootball) November 1, 2020