Najee Harris Favored to be First Running Back Selected at 2021 NFL Draft

The 2021 NFL Draft is right around the corner as the multi-night event is slated to begin on Thursday, April 29. So far, a lot of people are talking about the talented quarterbacks and offensive linemen that will be available in the first round. However, the running back position also has talented options like Najee Harris and Travis Etienne.

Drafting a running back in the first round can be risky. For every franchise back like Christian McCaffrey that gets drafted high in the first, there’s a disappointment like Trent Richardson around the corner. With that being said, with the available talent, it won’t be surprising to see one or two running backs get drafted in Round 1. Now, only one question remains: who will be the first to go?

According to Bovada, Alabama RB Najee Harris is favored to be the first at his position off the board at the draft. His odds of being the first running back drafted are -170.

2021 NFL Draft Odds: Who Will Be the First Running Back Drafted?

Odds via Bovada as of Monday, April 12

  • Najee Harris (Alabama) -170
  • Travis Etienne (Clemson) +140
  • Javonte Williams (North Carolina) +500
  • Kenneth Gainwell (Memphis) +4000
  • Trey Sermon (Ohio State) +4000
  • Chuba Hubbard (Oklahoma State) +4000

Full odds list available at

Will Najee Harris Be the First Running Back off the Board?

Najee Harris has been absolutely impressive at Alabama. While he started his career off slowly with fewer opportunities, things have picked up over the last two season. In 2020, Harris rushed for 1,466 yards and 26 touchdowns in 13 games. He was all a lethal pass-catching threat, recording 425 receiving yards and another 4 touchdowns.

Najee Harris has also been on multiple All-SEC teams and even won two SEC Championships with Alabama, including in 2020 when he was awarded the SEC Championship Game MVP Award. A running back-starving team like the Pittsburgh Steelers or Atlanta Falcons could wind up wanting to use some early draft capital on him.

Etienne’s Odds of Being First Running Back Drafted

As great as Najee Harris is, Clemson’s Travis Etienne (+140) has pretty good odds of being the first running back off the board later this month. Etienne spent all four of his college seasons at Clemson. In total, he played in 55 games and racked up 6,107 all-purpose yards while adding 78 total touchdowns. Etienne also came into his pro day and ran a 4.4-second 40-yard dash, impressing scouts in attendance.

Not only does Etienne have an impressive collegiate and physical resume, but experts are high on his potential. Pro Football Focus’ (PFF) scouting reports on the Clemson back compare him to former NFL prospects like Marshawn Lynch and DeMarco Murray. If Etienne could end up like either of those players, whichever team drafts Etienne won’t regret taking him in the first round.

Could Javonte Williams Be Selected Before Najee Harris, Travis Etienne?

While somewhat of a long shot, North Carolina RB Javonte Williams has +500 odds of being the first running back selected at the 2021 NFL Draft. In his 2020 college season, Williams put up video game-like numbers. He played in 13 games and recorded 1,445 total yards and 22 touchdowns. These numbers have some experts wondering if he could get drafted above Najee Harris and Travis Etienne or at least give them a run for their money.

PFF is also comparing Williams to current NFL running backs like Mark Ingram and Kerryon Johnson to give you a better idea as to how he plays. Another thing that Williams has going for him is his age. He’s only 21, which means he has less mileage on his body than Harris and Etienne do. If an NFL team values that more than his overall upside, Williams could be the first back off the board on April 29.

Devon Platana
Devon Platana

After graduating with a Masters degree in Journalism, Devon joined USGS to improve his sports writing skills. As a lifelong sports fan, one of Devon’s favorite things to do is analyze statistics across all sports.