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Early Top 10 Running Backs (2020 NFL Draft)

by Raju Byfield | @FantasyContext | Featured Writer
Jan 27, 2020

D’Andre Swift is likely one of the top three running backs on the draft boards for most NFL teams.

With the 2020 NFL Combine less than a month away, this is a good time to take a look at the top 10 running back prospects in the class. There is a general consensus on the top five backs in this class, with the true debate beginning from six onward. As always, film and analytics are combined to give context to one another and to fill any knowledge gaps. This class took a sizable hit when Najee Harris, Travis Etienne, Chuba Hubbard, and Kylin Hill all decided to return to school, but is still one of the more talented running back crops in recent memory. Let’s dig in.

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D’Andre Swift (RB – Georgia)
D’Andre Swift is likely one of the top three running backs on the draft boards for most NFL teams. He blends a compact frame with the type of power and speed that makes pro scouts salivate. He has soft hands and is strong in pass protection, two aspects of his game that could make him a day one starter for whatever team drafts him. Swift recorded 32 receptions in 2018, good for 13.27 percent of his team’s receptions. He took a step back in 2019 with Jake Fromm struggling and recorded 24 receptions or an 8.71 percent market share. Running behind a relatively strong offensive line Swift racked up 1,063 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns at 6.4 yards per carry in 2018 and followed that up with 1,218 rushing yards and seven touchdowns at 6.21 yards per carry in 2019. Swift is a joy to watch with the ball in his hands and utilizes an array of violent cuts which he couples with great vision and contact balance to be one of the most electric running backs in this draft class.

 

Jonathan Taylor (RB – Wisconsin)
One of the consensus top running backs in a talented draft class with multiple day one starters is Jonathan Taylor. Taylor is a true power back with good speed and elite contact balance. He has incredible leg churn which allows him to move the pile five or more yards with regularity. He answered speed concerns with this run, and finally flashed plus receiving skills as a junior. From a stats perspective, Jonathan Taylor has been sensational since his freshman season. Running behind one of the country’s top offensive lines over the last three seasons, Taylor has bullied his way to 6,194 combined rushing yards in three seasons of action. He posted a 1,997 rushing yard, 13 touchdown, 6.6 yards per carry season as a freshman. He added eight receptions for 95 receiving yards. As a sophomore Taylor ran for 2,194 yards and 16 touchdowns on 7.1 yards per carry. The receptions totals still were not there as he hauled in just eight receptions for 60 receiving yards.  In 2019 as a junior he rushed for 2,003 yards and 21 touchdowns on 6.3 yards per carry. He was finally more involved as a receiver and posted a 26-252-5 receiving line, or 12.74 percent of his team’s receptions. He is in the mix to be the first running back off the board.

J.K. Dobbins (RB – Ohio State)
J.K. Dobbins is a powerful back with good short area quicks, and good speed. He is a big play threat that had 16.94 percent of his carries go for more than 10 yards, and 6.64 percent of his carries go for more than 20 yards (the highest rate of any back on this list). Dobbins combines great cutting ability with great vision which make him a tough tackle once he hits the open field. He was surprisingly quiet during Dwayne Haskins final season when he posted a 1053-10-4.6 rushing line with a 26-263-2  receiving line, but was one of the best freshman in the country in 2017 when he posted 1,403 rushing yards, seven touchdowns and 7.2 yards per carry. He had a terrific junior season as he exploded for 2000 rushing yards in 2019. He ran for 2,003 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns on 6.7 yards per carry with 23 receptions, 247 receiving yards, and two touchdowns. Dobbins remains in the mix to be the first running back off the board, and could solidify top spot on some team’s draft boards if he has as good of a combine as some expect. He has an every down skillset, and depth chart permitting, will be a day one starter. 

Cam Akers (RB – Florida State)
Cam Akers may very well be the most talented running back in this draft class. Unfortunately, he ran behind such a poor offensive line that it is hard to truly judge. According to Football Outsiders Florida State’s offensive line ranked 120th out of 130 in 2019, a stark difference to the lines of the three players listed above him on this list (all three backs had a line ranked in the top 20 percent in the country). His game film shows a surprisingly shifty running back with good power, speed, and vision. Akers may be the back most well suited to have immediate NFL success as he has spent years learning how to contend with poor blocking, and will not have to land on the ‘right’ team to hit the ground running. Despite the poor offensive line, Akers was still able to rip off 35 chunk plays (carries of 10 yards or more) during the 2019 season. His numbers do not scream instant workhorse, but the film does not lie. Akers’s best season from a raw stat perspective came this past season when he posted a 231-1144-14-5.0 rushing line with a 30-225-4 receiving line. Akers is undoubtedly a top two or three back on the draft boards of at least a handful of teams and should hear his name called by the end of the second round. 

Clyde Edwards-Helaire (RB – LSU)
Clyde Edwards-Helaire (CEH) exploded in 2019. He was arguably the top running back in the country from an eye-test perspective and propelled himself from a day-three prospect to the top running back on some draft boards. CEH shined in a pro-style offense in which he ran for 1,414 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns on 6.6 yards per carry. He added an elite level 55 receptions for 453 receiving yards and a touchdown. CEH is an elusive, athletic back with great hands. He shined against a team stockpiled with NFL talent by posting four touchdowns and 77 receiving yards against Alabama. He possesses good contact balance and cutting ability, and shows more power than one would expect from his frame. He has likely vaulted himself into the top three consideration on some NFL teams’ draft boards, and could even top the board of teams looking for a running back with 80 reception upside. CEH was always likely to be gone by the end of day two, but may now be an early second-round pick with all of the talented junior backs that decided to go back to school.

Ke’Shawn Vaughn (RB – Vanderbilt)
Ke’Shawn Vaughn is a redshirt senior who transferred from Illinois to Vanderbilt. His age hurts his draft stock, but his production and tape will make him an interesting prospect for teams looking for a potential starter in the third round or later. Vaughn had a solid freshman season in which he ran for 723 yards and had 119 receiving yards off 16 receptions. However, he saw just 69 touches as a sophomore as he fell behind fellow 2020 draft prospect Reggie Corbin on the depth chart. He would transfer to Vanderbilt but had to sit out what would have been his junior season in 2017. He would return to the field to post a 157-1244-12-7.9 rushing line with a 13-170-2 receiving line as a redshirt junior and followed that up with a 198-1028-9-5.2 rushing line with a 28-270-1 receiving line as a senior. On tape, Vaughn is a talented, physical runner who consistently fights for extra yards, a running style that will instantly endear him to his future coaching staff. He is explosive once he finds a crease, but vision issues will likely keep him out of the top half of day two. 

Zack Moss (RB – Utah)
Zack Moss is an exciting bowling ball of a runner with a fan favorite type of running style. He loves to punish would-be defenders and can shine behind a strong run-blocking offensive line. Moss has elite contact balance and displays good cutting ability and patience. He can break tackles with ease and averaged 3.54 yards after contact in 2019. It was a bit of a disappointment that he did not declare for the 2019 NFL Draft, but as he was able to improve on a relatively down junior season, he appears to have made the right choice. Moss posted an impressive 214-1173-10-5.5 rushing line with a 29-243-0 receiving line in 2017 as a sophomore, but took a step back with a 179-1096-11-6.1 rushing line with a 8-50-1 receiving line in 2018. He had the type of senior season that he was hoping for as he recorded 1,416 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns on 6.0 yards per carry with 28 receptions, 388 receiving yards and two scores through the air. Moss has the tape and skill set to be drafted to be an immediate starter, but will likely need to have a good combine to avoid being put in a position where he has to compete for a committee role. With that being said, he will be one of the more talented running backs in the league and should be able to quickly ascend most NFL depth charts. He should hear his name called by the end of day two. 

Eno Benjamin (RB – Arizona State)
Eno Benjamin is a talented running back that profiles as the potential lead back in a committee. He has the upside of a workhorse, but his Senior Bowl measurements of 5’9 and 195 lbs may force teams to pair him with another back until he proves he can make it through a full high touch season. Benjamin has day two talent but may need to put together a strong combine to solidify that status. He is a strong runner with good vision and contact balance who can shine in a talented offense. He looked much better in 2018 with N’Keal Harry still on the team as he ran for 1,642 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns on 5.5 yards per carry, with 35 receptions, 263 receiving yards and two touchdowns as a sophomore, before slumping to a 253-1083-10-4.3 rushing line with a 42-347-2 receiving line as a junior. Benjamin could prove to be one of the top draft day values if he lasts to the end of the third or the early fourth round. 

A.J. Dillon (RB – Boston College)
A.J. Dillon is a massive running back who may be seen as more valuable to NFL teams after Derrick Henry’s historic run stretch to end the season. Dillon has great size at 245 lbs, and has enough game speed to be a 300 carry runner. He flashes great contact balance and runs with good pad level, but will need to learn how to utilize his obvious power more effectively to truly reach his potential. Dillion broke out as a freshman for Boston College with a 300-1589-14-5.3 rushing line in 2017 (he had zero receptions). He followed that up with a still solid 227-1108-10 rushing line with a 8-41-1 receiving line in 2018 as a sophomore. He lived up to expectations as a junior with 1,685 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns on 5.3 yards per carry, with 13 receptions for 195 yards and touchdown. Dillon has an intriguing blend of size, power, and burst, and should hear his name called by the end of day two unless he bombs the combine like Elijah Holyfield did last season. 

Lamical Perine (RB – Florida)
This was the hardest spot to pick a running back for. Michael Warren of Cincinnati is better suited for a workhorse role, while DeeJay Dallas shows unique acceleration. Perine may, however, be the highest on the draft boards of NFL teams due to his experience in the SEC. Perine moves like scatback but was measured with feature back size at the Senior Bowl. It is a little concerning that he was never able to assume a true lead runner role with Jordan Scarlett in the NFL, but he was able to improve his draft stock by displaying soft hands and the instant burst to be a difference-maker in the passing game. Perine is likely headed to a committee role in the NFL but could be a lead back if he lands on the right depth chart. He was solid in 2018 with 826 rushing yards, seven touchdowns, 13 receptions, 170 receiving yards, and two more scores through the air. He took a step back as a runner with 676 rushing yards and six touchdowns in 2019, but that can be attributed to starting offensive tackles Jawaan Taylor and Martez Ivey both leaving for the NFL. His 40 receptions for 262 receiving yards and two touchdowns is what has NFL scouts talking. 

On the bubble: Salvon Ahmed, Michael Warren, DeeJay Dallas, LeVante Bellamy, Reggie Corbin

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Raju Byfield is a featured writer for FantasyPros. For more from Raju, check out his profile and follow him @FantasyContext.

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