Are the Pittsburgh Steelers destined to draft yet another running back this year? It certainly appears that will wind up being the case and the likelihood of one being selected in the first three rounds of the 2021 NFL Draft certainly seems very plausible as well. As part of my annual study of the top running backs in a draft class, I like to look at the explosive factors of each as they exit college. That means looking at the percentages of runs each had that gained either 10 or more yards or 20 or more yards.
Below is a list of the perceived top running backs in the 2021 NFL Draft class along with their career stats related to runs that gained 10 yards or more and 20 yards or more. The percentages of each are based off the running back’s total carries in college.
A bit surprisingly, Alabama running back Najee Harris, who many have slotted as the top at his position in this year’s draft class, registered a very pedestrian 4.1% run rate on carries that produced 20 or more yards. He also had the third-most number of total carries of the 11 running backs on this list.
For the amount of carries they had in college, North Carolina running back Michael Carter and Clemson running back Travis Etienne both posted nice explosive play rates on runs of 10 yards or longer and 20 yards or longer.
In case you’re curious, the Steelers selected running back Le’Veon Bell in the second-round of the 2013 NFL Draft and he exited Michigan State having just a 3.9% 20-yard run rate and an 11.9% 10-yard rate. Bell also registered 671 total carries during his college career. Probably not surprisingly, Bell didn’t turn out to be an explosive run running back in the NFL for the Steelers. In fact, Bell, to date, has just 27 (1.7%) runs of 20 yards or longer to his credit on 1,556 carries and 148 (9.5%) runs of 10 yards or longer.
Below are charts of the explosive run rates of several running backs from the 2020 and 2019 classes as well.
As a continuation of this post, I plan on contextualizing the 2020 explosive runs from several of the top running backs in this year’s draft class so we can see how exactly how those runs hhappened. Harris is the first player of that group I am currently working on. I will also be looking at successful run rates in a future post as well.