<
>
EXCLUSIVE CONTENT
Get ESPN+

Projecting the 2021 NFL draft's top running backs: Travis Etienne, Najee Harris, Chuba Hubbard, more

play
Travis Etienne bringing his big-play ability to the NFL (1:40)

Check out the highlights that make Clemson's Travis Etienne a coveted RB prospect ahead of the 2021 NFL draft. (1:40)

Anyone who has played fantasy football knows that a quality running back can quickly emerge out of nowhere. Although many of these players later fade back into obscurity, several have staying power. Terrell Davis, for example, went from a sixth-round pick to two Super Bowls and the Hall of Fame.

Could this year's draft contain a late-round gem? The odds are always against it. However, BackCAST, Football Outsiders' system for projecting running back success, believes that this year's draft has an unusual number of promising late-round prospects who could surprise.

BackCAST projects NFL running back success based on statistics that have correlated with success in the past. Historically, a college running back who has a good size-speed combination, gained a high average yards per carry and represented a large percentage of his college team's running attack is more likely to succeed at the NFL level. BackCAST considers these factors and projects the degree to which the running back will exceed the NFL production of an "average" drafted running back during his first five years in the NFL. For example, a running back with a +50% BackCAST is projected to gain 50% more yards than the "average" drafted running back. BackCAST also projects whether each running back is likely to be heavily involved in the receiving game or is more of a ground-and-pound back. Check the bottom of the story for more about how BackCAST works.

What follows are some of the most notable BackCAST projections for the running back prospects available in the 2021 NFL draft.