2021 NFL Draft Rookie RB Landing Spots: Rounds 4-7

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After only four running backs were drafted over the first three rounds of the 2021 NFL Draft, we saw an astounding 15 go off the board on day three. Four were selected in Round 4 alone. This probably didn’t surprise you if you read Marvin Elequin’s recent article on draft capital and its correlation to early-career fantasy production. If you haven’t read it, go do that now. I’ll wait.

OK, you probably also noticed that even though the amount of running backs drafted goes up in later rounds, the production goes way down. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a productive fantasy running back from Rounds 4-7 in recent years. Myles Gaskin was a seventh-round pick in 2019 but didn’t produce for fantasy until 2020. In fact, we’ve seen more success from undrafted rookies like Phillip Lindsay in 2018 and James Robinson in 2020.

That being said, there were some seriously good running back prospects that fell to the third day of the 2021 NFL Draft. Let’s take a look at how they fit on their new teams and what that could mean from a fantasy football perspective.

If you haven’t already, make sure to check out Robert Wilson’s analysis on the running backs selected in Rounds 1-3

Round 4

Michael Carter – New York Jets

Round 4, Pick 2 (107th overall pick)

It didn’t take long for the Jets to make Carter the first running back off the board on Day 3. He was part of the dynamic backfield with second-round pick Javonte Williams at North Carolina. While Williams profiles as the bell-cow type back, Carter has been cast as more of a change of pace pass-catcher, despite the fact that he produced more rushing yards than Williams in 2020. For a deeper look at Carter, check out his Rookie Profile from Matthew Betz.

Now he enters a crowded backfield in New York with no real incumbent. Many expected the Jets to spend a higher pick to lead their backfield but instead, they took Carter to compete with the likes of La’Mical Perine, Tevin Coleman, and Ty Johnson 

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Fantasy Outlook: Given the ambiguous backfield he’s joining, there’s a legitimate chance that Carter becomes fantasy relevant in 2021. His combination of pass-catching skill and big-play potential makes him worth a late-round stash in redraft leagues. He could also be a sneaky second-round pick in dynasty leagues, as there’s a non-zero chance he becomes the lead back of the future for the Jets.

Kene Nwangwu – Minnesota Vikings

Round 4, Pick 14 (119th overall pick)

It was a bit of a shock to see Nwangwu taken as the sixth running back off the board in the draft. He’s an athletic freak with a 97th percent speed score according to Player Profiler but he comes with very little on-field production. He only rushed for 744 total yards over four seasons played at Iowa State, playing behind David Montgomery and Breece Hall (remember that name for this time next year). He’ll be in a similar spot with the Vikings behind Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison.

Fantasy Outlook: Nwangwu’s best-case scenario for 2021 is to be Minnesota’s next Mike Boone. That is to say, if Cook and Mattison both go down he’ll be a waiver wire darling. He shouldn’t be touched in redraft leagues and is even pretty risky in dynasty.

Rhamondre Stevenson – New England Patriots

Round 4, Pick 15 (120th overall pick)

Stevenson runs with a bruising style that seems to fit the offensive style New England appears to be headed towards in 2021. For an in-depth look at his path to the NFL, measurables, production, and film study, check out the Rookie Profile I wrote on him before the draft. The Patriots’ backfield is crowded with Damien Harris, Sony Michel, and James White, so it might be tough for Stevenson to get on the field early in his career. 

Fantasy Outlook: The New England backfield has been frustrating for fantasy managers in recent years and that isn’t likely to change in 2021, especially if Cam Newton starts the season under center. Stevenson shouldn’t warrant a pick in redraft leagues but is worth a late-round dynasty pick, especially considering his profile is reminiscent of LeGarrette Blount, the last running back to take hold of the backfield in New England.

Chuba Hubbard – Carolina Panthers

Round 4, Pick 21 (126th overall pick)

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The former Oklahoma State star would’ve likely been a day two pick if he had declared for the 2020 NFL Draft. Instead, he returned to Stillwater and put up a lackluster season, which resulted in him dropping to the back half of the fourth round. Check out the Rookie Profile on Chuba Hubbard for a deeper dive.

Fantasy Outlook: Hubbard should instantly leapfrog Reggie Bonnafon and Trenton Cannon as the immediate backup to Christian McCaffrey. That doesn’t amount to much week-to-week value but as we saw with Mike Davis last season, McCaffrey’s backup instantly becomes fantasy relevant if CMC goes down. Consider Hubbard a lottery ticket fantasy pick in the vein of Tony Pollard or Alexander Mattison.

Round 5

Kenneth Gainwell – Philadelphia Eagles

Round 5, Pick 6 (150th overall pick)

Many analysts expected Gainwell to be a top 100 pick in the NFL draft, so seeing him fall to pick 150 was a bit of a surprise. As covered in his Rookie Profile, Gainwell may be the best natural pass-catching back in the 2021 rookie class. It’ll be an uphill battle for him to overcome the Eagles running back depth chart given his fifth-round draft capital but he’s arguably the second-most talent back in Philly behind Miles Sanders

Fantasy Outlook: If the Eagles roster stays static between now and August you can’t in good conscience draft Gainwell in redraft formats. However, he’d become interesting if Boston Scott, who’s on a cheap one-year contract, becomes a camp casualty.

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Ben Mason – Baltimore Ravens

Round 5, Pick 40 (184th overall pick)

I’m only mentioning Mason, the first and only fullback selected in the 2021 NFL Draft, to appease fellow staff writer and fullback enthusiast, Jeff Greenwood.

Fantasy Outlook: None

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Round 6

Elijah Mitchell – San Francisco 49ers

Round 6, Pick 10 (194th overall pick)

Mitchel is an undersized but athletic running back that put up strong production in college at Lousiana. His measurables are similar to those of Jerick McKinnon, who was given multiple chances by the 49ers coaching staff that just drafted Mitchell.

Fantasy Outlook: He’s likely just going to be a special teams player but you never know who can emerge from a Kyle Shanahan backfield. Still, he’s so deep on the depth chart that he can’t be touched in redraft leagues.

Gary Brightwell – New York Giants

Round 6, Pick 12 (196th overall pick)

Nothing stands out about Brightwell’s athletic measurables or his college production. He was not on my pre-draft radar and I’m honestly not sure why the Giants drafted him.

Fantasy Outlook: None

Larry Rountree III – Los Angeles Chargers

Round 6, pick 14 (198th overall pick)

Rountree was a four-year player at Missouri with solid production but below-average athleticism for an NFL running back. He profiles as a slower Johsua Kelley.

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Fantasy Outlook: It’s possible that Rountree could eventually displace Justin Jackson or Joshua Kelley as a compliment to Austin Ekeler. Possible, but not likely. He’s not worth a look in fantasy football this season.

Chris Evans – Cincinnati Bengals

Round 6, Pick 18 (202nd overall pick)

Evans is a former four-star recruit but, like so many other top recruits, he could never get it going at Michigan. He was suspended in 2019 and fell out of favor with the Wolverines in 2020, seeing just 16 carries over six games. Has great athletic upside but an uphill battle to climb to get on the field.

Fantasy Outlook: Evans will get a chance to compete with Samaje Perine and Trayveon Williams for touches behind Joe Mixon but it’s tough to imagine him having any week-to-week fantasy value in 2020. He’s nothing more than a late-round flier in dynasty.

Demetric Felton – Cleveland Browns

Round 6, Pick 27 (211th overall)

Felton is one of the most intriguing athletes of the 2021 rookie class. He’s bounced back and forth between wideout and running back over his football career, which you can read more about in the Rookie Profile I wrote on him. He’s been listed as a wide receiver in the draft by some outlets but the Cleveland Browns official website currently has him listed as a running back.

Fantasy Outlook: Felton could’ve had some PPR upside in another offense but with the Browns, he’s probably nothing more than a gadget player and/or return man. While he might produce a few electric plays here and there, you probably won’t be able to rely on any fantasy football production from him.

Khalil Herbert – Chicago Bears

Round 6, Pick 33 (217th overall)

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Herbert spent four semi-productive seasons with Kansas before posting his best numbers after transferring to Virginia Tech for a fifth college season. Eric Ludwig wrote a full Rookie Profile on Herbert before the draft that’s worth checking out. He showed some skill as a kick returner in college, something that Chicago could be looking to replace now that Cordarrelle Patterson is gone.

Fantasy Outlook: Herbert will probably start the season as the fourth-string running back in Chicago. Unless you play in a points-per-kick-return-yard league, Herbert doesn’t offer any fantasy football value on the Bears roster.

Round 7

Jake Funk – Los Angeles Rams

Round 7, Pick 5 (233rd overall)

Funk is an athletic back out of Maryland but he didn’t top 500 rushing yards in a season until his senior year. His best quality may be the endless nickname possibilities his last name presents.

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Fantasy Outlook: None

Gerrid Doaks – Miami Dolphins

Round 7, Pick 17 (244th overall)

Miami, quite surprisingly, didn’t select a running back until very late in the draft. As a seventh-round pick without much college production or elite athleticism to lean on, Doaks will start the season buried on the depth chart behind Myles Gaskin, Malcolm Brown, and Salvon Ahmed

Fantasy Outlook: None

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Kylin Hill – Green Bay Packers

Round 7, Pick 29 (256th overall)

Kylin Hill was the last player covered in our Rookie Profile series and the second to last running back selected in the NFL draft. He had massive production during his junior year at Mississippi State before opting out after three sub-par games to start his senior season. Now he joins a Green Bay backfield that already includes the recently paid Aaron Jones and last year’s second-round pick A.J. Dillon.

Fantasy Outlook: Given the presence and contract situations of Jones and Dillon it’s difficult to envision any path to fantasy relevance for Kylin Hill in the foreseeable future.

Jermar Jefferson – Detroit Lions

Round 7, Pick 30 (257th overall)

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Jefferson had impressive college production, as covered in his Rookie Profile, but the draft capital as the final running back off the board doesn’t bode well for his NFL production. It appears he’ll get a chance to battle Kerryon Johnson for third-string running back in Detroit, whatever that’s worth.

Fantasy Outlook: Shoot your shot in dynasty leagues if you’d like, but stay away from Jefferson in redraft.

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