In a league built more and more around the passing game, there's still a lot of value to be round in the running back position, and few teams know that as well as the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The Jaguars' best player last season was undrafted rookie running back James Robinson, who rushed for over 1,000 yards and broke numerous undrafted rookie rushing records. The formerly hidden rusher took over Jacksonville's running game in 2020, but the Jaguars are still looking to add even more to the position.
"James [Robinson] obviously had a tremendous year, especially when you factor in how he entered the league as a college free agent, 1,000 plus yards, very consistent performer week in and week out, tough, has a great mindset, the type of player we’re looking for. But we have to add some explosiveness to that room as well and we have to be able to take some of the carries off of James," Jaguars general manager Trent Baalke said in March.
"You can only ride a horse so long. He’s done a great job, he will continue to do a great job for the organization, and we feel he’ll even take a step forward from where he was a year ago. But adding some competitiveness to that room, we feel we’ve got some guys in house that can compete for roles, but we’re certainly looking to add to that room as well.”
So, which prospects make sense for the Jaguars to look at to add that explosiveness and competition to the running back room? We take a look at prospects who fit the Jaguars' need in a running back at each turn in the draft.
Picks: No. 1, No. 25 (via Los Angeles Rams) overall
Alabama RB Najee Harris: If the Jaguars want a more explosive option over James Robinson, I am not so sure Najee Harris makes much sense. He is an immensely productive and talented back with short-area quickness and is a terrific receiving threat out of the backfield, but he lacks a home run element to his game -- much like James Robinson to an extent. With that said, he seems like the type of running back that Trent Baalke and Urban Meyer would covet due to his track record of production as a rusher and receiver in one of college football's elite programs.
Clemson RB Travis Etienne: From a pure skillset standpoint, there isn't a better solution for what the Jaguars are missing in the backfield than Clemson's Travis Etienne, a teammate of future Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence. The value wouldn't be good for obvious reasons, but Etienne scored 78 touchdowns in four seasons for Clemson and recorded 102 catches for 1,155 yards (11.3 yards per catch) and eight scores during that span. His speed and hands out of the backfield would make him a pass-catching weapon the Jaguars just don't have on their current roster. He compliments Robinson's skill set perfectly, too.
Picks: No. 33, No. 45 (via Minnesota Vikings), No. 65
Memphis RB Kenneth Gainwell: Another speed back with versatility, Kenneth Gainwell is the latest in a long line of Memphis running back prospects with bright NFL futures. Gainwell lined up out wide at times in the Memphis offense during his tenure, showing a good ability to win on the outside, after the catch, and in the screen game. He has limited tread on his tires after spending just two seasons in Memphis, rushing 235 times for 1,550 yards (6.6 yards per carry) and 14 touchdowns, along with 57 catches for 662 yards (11.6 yards per catch) and three touchdowns. A running back with 4.47 speed, Gainwell would give the Jaguars a player with a much different skill set than Robinson.
UNC RB Michael Carter: One of my favorite players in the draft, Michael Carter ran for 2,247 yards and 12 touchdowns over the last two seasons but also made a huge impact as a receiver. An undersized but explosive back who runs with intensity and purpose, Carter ended his collegiate career with 82 catches for 656 yards and six touchdowns. We like him as a fit for the Jaguars more than his teammate Javonte Williams, since Carter is better in the passing game.
Picks: No. 106, No. 130 (via Los Angeles Rams), No. 145, No. 170 (via Cleveland Browns), No. 249 (via Tennessee Titans).
Ohio State RB Trey Sermon: Trey Sermon never played for Urban Meyer, but Meyer likely knows him well due to his strong connections to Ryan Day and the rest of the Ohio State program and staff. An explosive back in short areas, Trey Sermon brings a physical and tough element of running to an offense. He only caught 20 passes in the last two seasons, but Meyer would likely feel comfortable with him in his offense thanks to the fact that he knows Day and his staff so well.
Oklahoma State RB Chuba Hubbard: Chuba Hubbard only caught eight passes last year but caught 45 for 427 yards in the previous two seasons. He has legitimate track speed and is a big-play threat waiting to happen every time he touches the ball. There are some questions about his NFL projection after almost 650 touches in college, but he is a terrific athlete who would add speed to Jacksonville's running back depth.
Michigan RB Chris Evans: While Chris Evans didn't have eye-popping numbers at Michigan, he was always a reliable pass-catcher out of the backfield. He did a great job of utilizing angle and swing routes, showing great speed and creativity after the catch. He caught 49 passes for 479 yards (9.8 yards per catch) and two touchdowns during his college career and then had an elite day of athletic testing at his pro day.
Iowa State RB Kene Nwangwu: The most athletic running back in the draft, Kene Nwangwu had an unreal pro day and posted an elite Relative Athletic Score via Kent Lee Platte. He only caught seven passes in his college career so projecting him to a passing-down role is a complete guessing game, but he did return 92 kicks for 2,470 yards (26.8 yards per return) and one touchdown. Considering Urban Meyer's love for special teams and speed, he is a name to watch.
Mississippi State RB Kylin Hill: Kylin Hill has a lot of touches during his career but he is also one of the best fits for the Jaguars in this draft. Hill, who has already met with the Jaguars, has great routes, hands, and ability to create yards after the catch thanks to balance, vision, and quickness. He caught 67 passes for 631 yards and six touchdowns during his college career, making him one of the most productive pass-catching backs in the class.
Maryland RB Jake Funk: Another elite athlete in this running back class, Jake Funk ran a 4.49 40, a 6.71 three-cone, and recorded a vertical jump of 38-inches, all at 204 pounds. He had limited production in college, especially as a pass-catcher, but he has the type of athleticism one could bet on in the later rounds.