With loaded classes coming in free agency and the draft, these five NFL teams are lined up to get their running back of the future in 2021.
There is no more disposable position in today’s NFL than the running back position. Teams generally don’t use an old school-style workhorse, and if they do it’s only for a short time before they consider moving on from someone and certainly it’s before said back is in line to get paid handsomely.
Running backs have to maximize their window, which makes it risky (and in some ways admirable) when top college players at the position stay in school all four years. Clemson’s Travis Etienne is doing so this year, with a high level NFL comp or two for evaluation. If there’s a 2020 college football season and he produces well again, Etienne has a good chance to be the first running back drafted next April.
The risk of committing long-term to a running back when they’re in line to be paid, at age 26 or so, is real. Look at the deals recently given to Todd Gurley, Devonta Freeman and even Le’Veon Bell as evidence, and ample reason for caution.
As ESPN’s Field Yates tweeted, with short deals, 2020 franchise tags/final years of rookie contracts and options not picked up all in the mix, the 2021 free agent class of running backs looks loaded right now.
And Senior Bowl Executive Director Jim Nagy added to that with a look at the what looks to be a great 2021 draft class of running backs.
Depending on specific needs, any NFL team in the market for a running back in 2021 will have plenty of options. More directly, these five teams will be in good position to get their running back of the future.
Maybe all Kenyan Drake needed was a genuine opportunity. In eight games for the Cardinals last year, after a trade from the Miami Dolphins, he had 643 rushing yards (5.2 yards per carry) and eight touchdowns along with 28 catches for 171 yards.
Drake is set to play the 2020 season for $8.5 million on the transition tag. Before the draft Cardinals general manager Steve Keim said they want to sign him to a multi-year deal, and the selection of Eno Benjamin in the seventh round surely didn’t change that stance. But it’s wise to want to see Drake do it again, over a full season, before taking along-term leap with him.
While quarterback Kyle Murray is
on his rookie contract, the Cardinals could (and should?) look to spend aggressively in free agency at certain spots. That doesn’t mean they won’t ultimately keep Drake around for a few more years as their lead back, but some other possibilities (Etienne? Alvin Kamara?) are pretty intriguing for a team that’s on the rise.