Notre Dame Football Recruiting

Who is the Top Running Back in 2021?

April 23, 2020

On Wednesday night, I had an interesting question posed to me. Who is the best running back in the country in the 2021 recruiting class? 

I said Camar Wheaton and then I was asked why. Speed and more speed came to mind, but at the same time, it bugged me I couldn't pinpoint another reason why, so I found myself on Hudl at 1:30am. 

Here's how I would rank the top three backs in the country. Yes, I'm sure you disagree, but I'll quickly break it down. 

1. TreVeyon Henderson‍ 
Henderson may be the most gifted athlete out of this bunch, but he also might be the rawest, which also makes him intriguing. 

The Ohio State commit reminds me of Greg Bryant as he can do things only a few people can. Henderson might not have the power of Bryant, but he's not afraid of contact. 

I do think he has to learn the nuances of the position as he's only really played running back for a year. I do like Henderson's patience and that will benefit him at the next level as he grows his game. Henderson's ability to make a quick cut and get to top speed is also rare. 

If there was one knock on him, it would be his size and he’ll need to prove he pass block. It's not overly important for the position, but he'll need to add some weight before he starts his college journey and he has plenty of time to do that. 

2. Will Shipley‍ 
Shipley also has a unique skill set as he's able to do more than Henderson, right now. The Weddington (N.C.) star had over 500 yards receiving and that's what makes him such an interesting prospect to me. Sure, you can line Henderson up in the slot, but Shipley catches the ball with ease. 

Now, these are highlights, so I'm not seeing every carry. Shipley runs with more power, where Henderson has more wiggle to his game. I do think Shipley can run even more physical and attack defenders head-on versus trying run around them at times. 

Shipley is also a 200-pound back now. Once he adds weight in a college lifting program, Shipley's game could take off even more.

I do think out of this group, Shipley is the most likely to be an every-down back first because of his strength. I don't think Shipley has the natural cutting ability of Henderson or the next guy on the list, but that's not really a negative as he has no problem getting the corner or into open space. 

Shipley is special when it comes to attacking the corner. He understands angles and when to get up the field at just the right time. He also shows incredible patience to let his blockers get up the field when pulling, which you don’t see from most backs at this age as they try to get the corner as fast as they can. 

Shipley might be the more complete back right now, but the difference to me right now is Henderson's ability to cut and explode.

3. Camar Wheaton‍ 
Wheaton's initial explosion is special. He is also able to make some elite cuts despite not being one of the most naturally agile backs. 

He also has good vision and enough body coordination to see an open area and then get to it. Not all backs, especially at the high school level, can do that. Many backs see the opening, but don't have the speed or athleticism to make a guy miss and get to space or vice versa. Wheaton can do that. 

You rarely see Wheaton get physical and I'm not sure he is going to break many tackles initially once he gets to college. I could see Wheaton being more of a  specialty back than an every-down back until he proves he can play bigger. Like Henderson and most backs, Wheaton needs to fill out a little bit more. The good news is few backs carry it 20 times a game, so similar to Chris Tyree, it might not ever be an issue pending how his future school uses him. 

Texas running back LJ Johnson Jr‍ would be No. 4 and Ohio running back Corey Kiner‍ is my fifth. 

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