There seem to be three reasonable candidates to be the first running back drafted -- maybe only two. Alabama's Najee Harris, Clemson's Travis Etienne and perhaps North Carolina's Javonte Williams; those are the players most frequently mentioned. In rookie drafts, you'll most likely be weighing Harris or Etienne.

All three can be considered at least potential three-down backs. Harris (6-2, 230) and Williams (5-10, 220) are bigger than Etienne, who showed up at 5-foot-10 and 215 pounds at his pro day, but is listed at 205 at the Clemson Tigers website and 210 elsewhere. Etienne has the best receiving stats (37 and 48 catches the last two seasons), but Harris also caught 43 balls last year, and Williams 25. How big a role each will have in the passing game might be greatly influenced by landing spot -- winding up with a team that prefers a full-time back or a specialist in passing situations.

Focusing too much on landing spot, however, can result in costly mistakes. Last year the Bucs drafted KeShawn Vaughn in the third round, and he drew a lot of interest in early drafts on the idea he'd fill a James White-type role in Tom Brady's offense. Not that anyone knew Leonard Fournette would become available, but I think you need to evaluate players first, then consider how landing spot might affect usage.

In any case, Etienne has the best timed speed of the three, running a 4.40 40 at his pro day. Harris didn't run, and finding a trustworthy 40 time is elusive. Probably 4.50 is reasonable (I'm not putting any stock in an Alabama publication saying he runs a 4.45). Williams ran a 4.55 at North Carolina's pro day.

Etienne's 48 receptions went for 588 yards, which is 12.3 per reception. That's a decent amount better than Harris (9.9), although only slightly better than Williams (12.2) -- albeit on twice as many receptions. I pulled the final year of college numbers for all running backs drafted in the first two rounds over the last 10 years, who caught at least 20 balls in their final year of college. Only five averaged more yards per reception than Etienne, and all have been credible receivers in the NFL (Jacobs probably would be, if the Raiders gave him the opportunity). Granted, the guy just behind him hasn't amounted to anything in the pros.

20172Dalvin CookFlorida State17653348814.8225320
20172Joe MixonOklahoma12743753814.5181216
20101C.J. SpillerClemson12123650314.0171516
20111Mark IngramAlabama8752128213.4115714
20191Josh JacobsAlabama6402024712.488715
2021?Travis EtienneClemson9144858812.3150216
20152Ameer AbdullahNebraska16112226912.2188022
2021?Javonte WilliamsNorth Carolina11402530512.2144522
20102Montario HardestyTennessee13452530212.1164714
20181Saquon BarkleyPenn State12715463211.7190321
20121Trent RichardsonAlabama16792933811.7201724
20142Bishop SankeyWashington18702830410.9217421
20202J.K. DobbinsOhio State20032324710.7225023
20132Giovani BernardNorth Carolina12284749010.4171817
2021?Najee HarrisAlabama1466434259.9189130
20202Jonathan TaylorWisconsin2003262529.7225526
20101Jahvid BestCalifornia867222139.7108016
20112Shane VereenCalifornia1167222099.5137616
20121Doug MartinBoise State1299282559.1155418
20202D'Andre SwiftGeorgia1218242169.014348
20132Eddie LacyAlabama1322221898.6151119
20171Christian McCaffreyStanford1603373108.4191316
20201Clyde Edwards-HelaireLouisiana State1414554538.2186717
20122Isaiah PeadCincinnati1259393198.2157815
20182Kerryon JohnsonAuburn1391241948.1158520
20161Ezekiel ElliottOhio State1821272067.6202723
20202Cam AkersFlorida State1144302257.5136918
20112Daniel ThomasKansas State1585271716.3175619
20121David WilsonVirginia Tech1709221295.9183810
20192Miles SandersPenn State1274241395.814139
20102Ben TateAuburn1362201055.3146710
20132LeVeon BellMichigan State1793321675.2196013

I don't know which of these three running backs will be selected first next week. Landing spot will certainly be a factor in outlook (if the Steelers take one, for example, that will be very intriguing). But I'll be interested in Etienne regardless, for his potential to make plays in the passing game wherever he winds up.

--Andy Richardson