The Cleveland Browns have added some additional running back depth late in the 2021 NFL Draft. The team spent a sixth round pick, No. 211 overall, on UCLA running back Demetric Felton. He can also play wide receiver.
With the NFL growing increasingly flexible when it comes to non-prototypical players, Felton has the opportunity to carve out a sizeable niche. Officially listed as a running back as a senior, Felton also spent significant time working as a wide receiver, ultimately proving himself capable of handling both roles. That versatility could make Felton a dangerous weapon at the next level.
Felton’s arrival comes on the heels of similar players achieving success in dual roles. The Carolina Panthers used Curtis Samuel all over the formation during his final two seasons with the club, producing 1,808 scrimmage yards and 12 touchdowns during that stretch. The Washington Football Team enjoyed similar production from the likewise versatile Antonio Gibson, who managed double-digit touchdowns and more than 1,000 scrimmage yards as a rookie in 2020.
Felton’s skill set and college output suggest a similarly rosy upside. During his junior campaign, he served primarily as a receiver and gained 594 or his 925 scrimmage yards as a pass catcher. The balance flipped last year as Felton spent more time in the backfield, rushing for 668 yards while adding another 159 as a receiver. In the NFL, Felton’s workload might strike a different balance, especially for offenses that lean on no-huddle, no-substitution approaches to keep defenses in disadvantageous personnel groupings.
Felton put his versatility on full display during the 2021 senior bowl, showing remarkable polish on his routes while also still possessing the size and skill to handle traditional backfield work. That showcase put to bed most concerns about Felton’s ability to split out into the slot against a higher level of competition.
But while Felton’s intrigue derives from his versatility, some front offices likely soured on him given his below-average athletic testing. At UCLA’s pro day, Felton ran the 40-yard dash in a disappointing 4.59 seconds (1.62-second 10-yard split), the 3-cone drill in 7.31 seconds, and the short shuttle in 4.5 seconds. He also delivered a subpar 31.5-inch vertical. Considering his meager size — 5-foot-9 and 189 pounds — Felton’s composite athletic profile rates among the very worst of both running backs and wide receivers.
But while athletic profiles hold increasing value in the NFL, Felton can overcome his shortcomings with skill and the ability to stay on the field in myriad roles. That, ultimately, mattered the most to his draft stock.
Because Felton can line up in a number of spots, his fantasy value doesn’t depend quite so heavily on whether or not he starts as a rookie. Once Felton finds his footing, he could become a viable flex option in PPR leagues with an even higher ceiling if he becomes a de facto starting running back or slot receiver (he’ll serve in both roles regardless of his official designation).
The aforementioned Samuel likely provides the best roadmap for Felton’s career. Once the Panthers stopped forcing Samuel into a more typical receiver role, he received no shortage of touches as a runner or wideout and rarely left the field (86% of offensive snaps in 2019, 64% in 2020). Felton has similar tools and should benefit from a more flexible attitude toward versatile players than the one that existed when Samuel arrived in the NFL four years ago. Felton probably won’t become a superstar fantasy option. However, if health and his coaching staff allow, he should become a coveted player in all formats early in his career.