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Since 2015 there have been 12 Running Backs selected in the first round of the NFL draft. This season didn’t see a single RB drafted in the first round with Breece Hall being the top RB off the board in round two. While drafting RBs high in the draft has become a thing of the past, the first-round RBs since 2015 have been largely successful in their rookie year. Travis Etienne is one of those backs that went in the first round in 2021 but his season was derailed before it got started and he missed his entire rookie season. Etienne was the 19th RB off the board based on ADP, behind backs like David Montgomery and Cam Akers. Let’s compare this to the first-round RBs drafted since 2015.


  • 2015

Todd Gurley (10th overall)

Melvin Gordon (15th overall)


  • 2016

Ezekiel Elliot (4th overall)


  • 2017

Leonard Fournette (4th overall)

Christian McCaffrey (8th overall)


  • 2018

Saquon Barkley (2nd overall)

Rashaad Penny (27th overall)

Sony Michel (31st overall)


  • 2019

Josh Jacobs (24th overall)


  • 2020

Clyde Edwards-Helaire (32nd overall)


  • 2021

Najee Harris (24th overall)

Travis Etienne (25th overall


Most of these RBs had a good workload in their first season and returned RB2 value at minimum. Of the 11 RBs, only Melvin Gordon and Rashaad Penny failed to not finish top 25 in standard scoring in their first year. Here are the results of each of the twelve drafted RB’s rookie seasons.



Player

Year

STD

PPR

Points

Todd Gurley

2015

5

9

224

Melvin Gordon

2015

55

50

108

Ezekiel Elliott

2016

2

2

349

Christian McCaffrey

2017

15

10

232

Leonard Fournette

2017

8

9

244

Saquon Barkley

2018

2

1

415

Rashaad Penny

2018

60

67

72

Josh Jacobs

2019

14

21

203

Clyde Edwards-Hellaire

2020

21

22

180

Najee Harris

2021

4

3

310



Collectively these players averaged 225 total fantasy points in their first season. That would have been RB13 a season ago. If you take Rashaad Penny out of the mix the average shoots up to 241, which would have been RB7. Also, consider the timeshare that Melvin Gordon was in with Danny Woodhead and company in year one. In year 2 he exploded and finished as RB7 in PPR formats and scored 261 points himself.




Player

Top 12 STD Finish

Top 12 PPR Finishes

Best Finish

Todd Gurley

3

3

1st

Melvin Gordon

3

3

5th

Ezekiel Elliott

6

5

2nd

Christian McCaffrey

2

2

1st

Leonard Fournette

2

3

6th

Saquon Barkley

2

2

1st

Josh Jacobs

1

1

3rd

Najee Harris

1

1

3rd





Every single Running Back on this list has posted at least one 1000-yard season, outside of Penny. Penny has also had his flashes but has not been able to stay healthy long enough to put it all together. Last season he was the number one overall RB from weeks 14-18, so the talent is clearly there.


As talented as each of these first-round Running Backs are, Travis Etienne could potentially be the best of the bunch. In 55 college games, he was absolutely electric, finishing with over 6100 yards and 78 TDs in his career. He did this as a dual threat back averaging over 7 yards per carry on the ground and adding another 11 plus yards per reception through the air. Keep in mind he did this all with Trevor Lawrence as his college QB, and they should pick up right where they left off at the NCAA level.



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Lawrence, who was the prize of the 2021 NFL Draft class, struggled mightily in his first season. He did show flashes, but also inherited a Jaguars squad largely devoid of talent. The Jaguars did bring in Christian Kirk in the offseason, but a healthy Etienne should be the primary offensive piece on this team. Some are concerned about James Robinson, and while he has had an amazing story in his NFL journey, he is coming off of a historically unforgiving achilles injury. As someone who was a 7th-round pick, his opportunities should be limited in this offense. It is possible that Etienne starts slowly, coming off of his own Lisfranc injury, but it’s only a matter of time before he should take over entirely. If he stumbles out of the gate, he is an incredible buy-low candidate early in the season. As long as he stays healthy, he should have no problem joining the likes of the previously drafted first-round running backs.



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