The value of a running back has completely changed over the past 10 years. Teams that have paid huge money to their backfield have continued to regret it year-after-year, as the running back is seemingly only as good as their offensive line.
Unless you’re named Derrick Henry, injuries occur so often for running backs, and their backups are typically able to replicate the same stats as the starter.
If you play fantasy football every year, that’s why you always “handcuff” running backs in case the No. 1 player gets hurt because the No. 2 guy can typically step in and produce at a similar level.
Paying a running back an extremely high salary is risky, as is drafting one in the first round. You can find a stud with a top pick, but you can also find one in the third round.
For example, the 2017 NFL Draft shows two different examples of teams being successful, despite going down different paths.
In 2017, Alvin Kamara was named NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, but was drafted in the third round. In that same draft, Christian McCaffrey was selected No. 8 overall.
Are the Carolina Panthers upset that they took McCaffrey that high? Definitely not, because he’s turned into one of the best players at that position.
Although Carolina is happy with the pick, the Saints look way smarter because they were able to select three other players before taking Kamara No. 67 overall. New Orleans drafted a safety, tackle, and cornerback, which they needed, all before getting a world-class running back.
So when you look at the 2021 NFL Draft, although the Jets may be able to select the “best” running back in the draft, it may be best for them to wait and take their chances with a lower pick.
Speaking of which, here are four running backs the Jets should target in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Next: 4. Najee Harris
4. NY Jets draft target: Najee Harris (Round 1-2 Projection)
Although we just spoke about stealing a running back later in the draft, the first two players we’ll talk about today are players the Jets could draft with the No. 23 or No. 34 selection.
With three picks inside the top 34, the Jets have the luxury of drafting one of the top projected running backs. Although it may make sense to wait, if they think one can make an impact in the NFL right away, it’s worth using a high pick on them.
Najee Harris could be that selection worth drafting with No. 23 or No. 34.
Harris is a beast and a common NFL comparison has been Derrick Henry, who is arguably the best running back in football. It’s not likely that Harris will replicate what Henry has done in the NFL, but if he can become 80 percent of what Henry is, you want him on your football team.
He’s a powerful runner with huge legs and a low center of gravity. He drives defenders crazy because he’s such a hard player to tackle. Not only does his size provide an issue for his opponent, but he has tremendous speed.
Want your voice heard? Join the The Jet Press team!
Drafting a running back with a high pick can obviously have concerns because although his comparison is Henry, he also draws similarities to Eddie Lacy.
Just like Harris, Lacy was a standout at Alabama and was eventually a second-round pick. Unfortunately, his career didn’t work out as he only played 60 total games in the NFL.
That’s the risk you take when you draft a running back high, so it’s possible that Harris is the next Henry, but he could also be the next Lacy.
Next: 3. Travis Etienne
3. NY Jets draft target: Travis Etienne (Round 1 Projection)
Etienne is arguably the No. 1 running back in the 2021 NFL Draft, so if he’s still available at the No. 23 selection, the Jets would be crazy not to think about selecting him.
Although it would probably be smart to wait, he’s been projected to become “one of the NFL’s most dangerous offensive weapons,” according to Joe Marino of The Draft Network.
During his career at Clemson, Etienne was a touchdown machine, scoring an ACC-leading 57 total touchdowns. Not only is he an explosive running back, who can score on any given play, but his receiving from the backfield has improved, making him a dual-threat.
The two-time ACC Player of the Year has drawn comparisons to Dalvin Cook and Alvin Kamara, which is massive praise. The one thing with Cook and Kamara, though, is that neither of them was considered the best running back heading into the draft.
Here are the first running backs selected in their respective drafts over the past five years: Clyde Edwards-Helaire (2020), Josh Jacobs (2019), Saquon Barkley (2018), Leonard Fournette (2017), and Ezekiel Elliott (2016).
Although each player has been spectacular at times, it’s only been in bursts, not longevity. Elliott has regressed, Fournette got cut, Barkley’s been injured, while Jacobs and Edwards-Helaire have been fine in their short tenure.
Although Etienne seems like the sure-thing, he may just end up being good, not great. However, it could still be worth taking that risk and selecting him if he’s still available at No. 23, and especially at No. 34.
Next: 2. Trey Sermon
2. NY Jets draft target: Trey Sermon (Round 4-5 Projection)
If the Jets select Justin Fields with the No. 2 overall pick in the draft, they could end up with two of Ohio State’s top offensive players.
At 6-foot, 220 pounds, Sermon has good size for an NFL running back. By all projections, he has the capability to become an every-down player and someone who can be a No. 1 running back in the NFL.
The one benefit of Sermon and why NFL scouts seem to like him is because he has fresh legs. Over his last few collegiate seasons, he’s yet to eclipse 200-plus carries in a season, so he shouldn’t be bruised and battered heading into training camp.
Sermon was splitting action as the No. 1 running back in college, but really turned it on near the end of the season, where his team eventually lost in the National Championship.
In a game against a No. 14 ranked Northwestern team, Sermon ran for 331 yards, including two touchdowns. He followed that up with a 193-yard performance against Clemson in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.
Sermon’s projected later in the draft because he’s had trouble with third-down efficiency, but if he’s still available in the fourth or fifth round and New York has yet to draft a running back, they could end up with a steal by selecting Sermon.
Next: 1. Chuba Hubbard
1. NY Jets draft target: Chuba Hubbard (Round 3-5 Projection)
The former track star took a step back during his 2020 season, but he could be a late-round steal for the Jets.
Chuba Hubbard is one of the best running backs to ever play for Oklahoma State and put himself on the map during the 2019 season, finishing eighth in Heisman voting.
Entering the last month of the 2019 season as the NCAA’s leading rusher, Hubbard finished with 2,094 yards and 21 touchdowns.
More from The Jet Press
- 3 hypothetical trades the NY Jets could make on draft night
- NY Jets: Kent State WR Isaiah McKoy talks NFL Draft in interview
- NY Jets: 3 tight ends to target in the 2021 NFL Draft
- Why the NY Jets should trade down instead of taking Zach Wilson
- NY Jets select Alabama DT Christian Barmore in puzzling mock draft
Although there are some deficiencies in Hubbard’s game, he’s an incredible athlete who excels in the open field.
If the Jets really want to improve their team, they should invest in offensive linemen near the top of the draft and find a running back later. Although there’s a ton of talent in the first round, that rusher will only be as good as his blockers are in front of him.
Hubbard’s 2019 season should be more than enough evidence that he can excel in the NFL. Although his pass-blocking skills aren’t elite, he can catch the ball from the backfield and score touchdowns at an efficient rate.
We’ve continued to see multiple examples of later-round running backs turn into Pro Bowl players, and Hubbard could easily be that next example.