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Betting on How Many Running Backs Will Be Drafted in the First Round of the 2021 NFL Draft

| April 23, 2021 11:42 am PDT

With more and more teams moving toward a running back by committee, less of an emphasis is being placed on reaching for an RB early in the draft.

There are simply too many viable options lurking on day two and day three to justify spending a top-32 pick on someone whose production is mostly predicated on having a superior offensive line.

Having said that, we must go back to 2014 to find the last time an RB wasn’t chosen on day one of the draft.

# of Running Backs Drafted in the First Round Since 2015
Year # of Running Backs Picked in Round 1
2020 1
2019 1
2018 3
2017 2
2016 1
2015 2

Keeping that in mind, one of the props that caught my attention is how many running backs will be drafted in the first round in 2021.

Hence, I dove into the topic.

Odds for How Many RBs Will be Drafted in Round 1

Over 0.5-250
Under 0.5+170

Odds from MyBookie

The three RBs in consideration to be taken in round one are Najee Harris, Travis Etienne, and Javonte Williams.

Harris and Etienne have each appeared in the top 32 in a sizable number of mocks; Williams is more of a longshot to hear his name called in the first round.

If you were among those who bet this when the top NFL betting sites originally installed NFL Draft props, you may have latched on at “1.5 RBs drafted in the first round.”

Due to an influx of money being bet, along with information and mock drafts being published since, the number is down to 0.5 at all of the reputable spots.

It comes down to a simple question. Will we see at least one running back selected on day one for the seventh consecutive draft, or is 2021 the year that the trend gets snapped?

Let’s begin by looking at the teams who could potentially draft an RB in the first round.

Miami Dolphins at #18

Miami is almost certainly going to take a pass-catcher or an offensive lineman with their first pick at #6. There are murmurs that they could trade down and target Micah Parsons, but nothing substantial has been reported.

Considering the Phins also own the 36th and 50th picks, Chris Grier would have to be hellbent on landing his top RB to rationalize nabbing him at #18.

However, if Miami is in fact infatuated by either Najee Harris or Travis Etienne, they’ll have to reach with their 18th pick. One, if not both, could very well be gone in the top 35.

The Dolphins clocked in 29th in the NFL in yards per carry last season and hardly addressed the position during free agency.

Adding Malcolm Brown to a room that consists of Myles Gaskin (7th-round pick) and Salvon Ahmed (undrafted) isn’t exactly exciting.

Washington Football Team #19

While the Dolphins ranked 29th in the league in yards per tote (3.9 yards per/carry), the Football Team wasn’t much better at #28 (4.0 yards per/carry).

Antonio Gibson shined as a rookie and looks like he could be headed for a three-down role, but NFL Network’s Peter Schrager knows a lot more about how to execute a mock draft than I do.

According to Schrager’s latest mock published on April 20th, the “mock savant” had Etienne penciled in at the 19th slot to Washington. As unlikely as it may seem, it’d be naïve to discount insight that came from Peter Schlager’s account.

Pittsburgh Steelers at #24

The most likely destination for a running back in round one is without a doubt Pittsburgh at #24.

James Conner signed a deal with the Cardinals leaving the Steelers with just three RBs on their roster.

  • Benny Snell Jr. (3.3 ypc in 2020)
  • Anthony McFarland Jr. (3.4 ypc in 2020)
  • Kalen Ballage (3.3 ypc in 2020)

As inconsistent as Miami and Washington were running the football in 2020, Mike Tomlin’s bunch was abominable when it came to sustaining production on the ground.

Pitt ranked dead last in both rushing yards/game and yards/carry. They tied for 27th with 12 rushing TDs.

The Steelers used to be able to get away with a lackluster running game due to Big Ben’s ability to carry the team through the air. That luxury has gone out the window.

Of all the GMs who have their eye on a running back in round one, Kevin Colbert’s name appears at the top of the list.

Pittsburgh Steelers Draft Predictions for 2021

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Jacksonville Jaguars at #25

It seems highly unlikely that Jacksonville would utilize the 25th pick on a running back. However, it’s not out of the realm. Especially if reuniting Travis Etienne and Trevor Lawrence is something Urban Meyer is interested in.

The wrinkle is the Jags own 33rd and 45th picks, in addition to having the first pick in round three (#65) in their back pocket. Being strapped with a trio of selections on day two makes it difficult to defend spending a first-round pick on a complementary piece to James Robinson.

Then again, we’ve seen stranger things happen.

My Pick for How Many RBs Will Be Drafted in Round 1

Over 0.5-250

If you’re being ambitious, go ahead and throw Buffalo (#30), Kansas City (#31), and Tampa Bay (#32) into the collection of teams who could be targeting an RB in round one.

That gives us as many as seven possible first-round destinations for a tailback.

With Harris and Etienne firmly in the conversation to come off the board on day one, do you envision all seven of these organizations taking a pass?

I don’t.

Miami and Jacksonville have enough ammunition in the second and third rounds to validate drafting an RB early, and Pittsburgh’s running back room is in a serious world of hurt.

Seeing multiple running backs get drafted in round one would catch me off guard, but….

Seeing no RBs get drafted in the first round would be even more surprising.

Michael Wynn

As a former Division I collegiate golfer, Michael Wynn loves writing about golf. He's also an expert in most of America's most popular sports, writing extensively for GamblingSites.com on football, basketball, and baseball.

Michael's a Las Vegas native and has been with the company since 2017.

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