Who is the Top Rookie Running Back? (2020 Fantasy Football)
Last week we asked our writers for their top rookie wide receiver of the current NFL Draft class. This week, we’ll turn to the backfield and see who they believe to be the top rookie running back of 2020.
Q: Who is the top rookie running back in the 2020 NFL Draft class?
Jonathan Taylor (Wisconsin)
While Jonathan Taylor isn’t Saquon Barkley in terms of talent, for me, he’s just as much of a lock as the best running back in this class as Barkley was in 2018. I can’t fathom what more you could want from a prospect. Taylor touched the ball over 300 times each of his three collegiate seasons. He amassed over 2,000 yards every season. He broke out at age 19. He proved in his junior year that he can catch the ball out of the backfield. We are entering a new era of professional football where a true three-down back is becoming more of a unicorn. Taylor is not just that guy, he might be the only true three-down back in this class. Taylor will almost certainly be the first running back off the board, and it won’t be any later than the second round, giving him the draft capital to go along with the talent. Taylor will be drafted to start immediately. He is the RB1 and the 1.01 in dynasty rookie drafts unless he shockingly bombs the NFL Combine.
– Jason Katz (@jasonkatz13)
It’s razor-thin between Jonathan Taylor and D’Andre Swift, and both are excellent. These are the two true bell-cow upside running backs, with dynamism in both the ground game and strong ability as pass-catchers. Taylor gets the edge here because Swift never fully operated as a bell-cow in college. While all indicators are that he can and will in the NFL, the edge goes to the player who has already done it. Both are highly talented, have feature-back size, and are active in the passing game. They both essentially check all the boxes you need as a premium rookie pick, and they will likely end up as the top two picks in most leagues. However, if Taylor faceplants in athletic testing and Swift tests well, things can change — athleticism matters at the running back position more than the wide receiver position — so the NFL Combine could shake up the landscape some. It’s unlikely, but J.K. Dobbins and Cam Akers are also great propsects and could vault up the board with a strong Combine.
– Mark Leipold (@LeipoldNFL)
When evaluating college prospects, one of the first things I’m looking at is production. If a player can’t produce at the college level, why should we think he’ll produce against better competition? There has been nobody at the running back position better than Taylor over the past several years at putting up gaudy numbers. Taylor finished 32 of his 41 career games with at least 100 yards rushing, and he scored 50 rushing touchdowns over his three years at Wisconsin. His fumbling is certainly a concern (18 fumbles in three years), but that’s outweighed by his unique vision and ability to break off a long run on any given play. Finally, he showed, albeit in a limited sample, that he’s not just one-dimensional and can make a play out of the backfield. His 26 receptions in his junior year were a career-high, and he was able to convert five of those into touchdowns. Taylor has a nose for the end zone and can fit into any offense right away as a three-down back.
– Sam Hoppen (@SamHoppen)
Wisconsin running backs have been among the most productive in the NCAA over the past 30 years, but that has not always translated into NFL success. Playing behind a powerhouse offensive line on a run-heavy offense allows for great college success but does not always translate to the NFL. Ron Dayne is the all-time leading NCAA rushing yardage leader and Montee Ball is 19th, yet neither had a long and productive NFL career. However, there has been some Badger success at the next level. Melvin Gordon has had a solid start to his career with the Los Angeles Chargers and New England Patriots running back James White is one of the best receiving backs in the NFL. I believe Taylor has a chance, in the right system, to be a very productive running back in the NFL. Taylor looks like a player that is motivated to be great, he finished his career as the sixth-leading rusher in NCAA history with 6,174 yards in just three seasons. Some players would have been fine with that, but Taylor realized he needed to be better than 16 receptions in his first two years if he wanted his game to translate to the NFL. He worked on his receiving ability, and the result was a junior season that saw him post 26 receptions for 252 yards and five receiving touchdowns. He is a natural runner with a great work ethic, and if a team is committed to featuring their running game around his abilities, he has a chance to have early success at the NFL level. He will have to work on fumbling issues, which will be crucial to him staying on the field as a rookie, but given his commitment to becoming a better receiver, I think that is something he will continue to improve on as well.
– Derek Lofland (@DerekLofland)
It has not been easy for most of us to rank the top-five 2020 rookie running backs. D’Andre Swift, J.K. Dobbins, and Jonathan Taylor seem to be the top three according to most analysts, with Cam Akers and Clyde Edwards-Helaire not far behind. The reason I am favoring Taylor ahead of the Combine is that there does not seem to be any red flags. Swift, Dobbins, and Taylor all have >30 BMI, all are 21 years of age, and all are built like three-down backs. Taylor has been the most productive with regards to number of rushing yards, yards per touch, and average. Although he has had less involvement in the passing game, in 2019 Taylor took a huge step. He had 26 receptions for 252 yards and five touchdowns. Taylor is a touchdown machine — scoring 50 rushing and five as a pass-catcher. Dobbins had 12 fewer touchdowns while playing three more games. Swift only had 25 touchdowns during his three seasons. While Taylor and Dobbins are clearly ahead of Swift in terms of college production, I believe that Taylor and Swift will test better athletically than Dobbins. Therefore, Taylor is the total package. He has the size, the on-field dominance, and projected athleticism to be at the top of this rookie running back class.
– Marc Mathyk (@masterjune70)
D’Andre Swift (Georgia)
Swift passes the eye test for a workhorse running back. He has rock-solid vision, displays patience when approaching the line of scrimmage, is big enough to absorb hits, but not big enough where you have to take him off the field on third downs, and he’s not going to get caught from behind very often. Whoever drafts him should thrust him into a 15-plus-touch role right away.
– Mike Tagliere (@MikeTagliereNFL)
Of the top 20 running backs in 2019 based on PPR scoring, 18 were targeted 45 or more times. Of the two that weren’t (Derrick Henry and Mark Ingram), their inclusion was boosted by a combined 33 touchdowns. Being a receiving option is nearly essential to success for fantasy production at the running back position in today’s NFL, and D’Andre Swift forecasts as the top back in this class to supplement ground volume with consistent usage in the passing game regardless of down and game script. Swift’s reliability in pass protection will immediately earn him the trust of his coaches to stay on the field, and with just 513 touches on his body coming out of Georgia (Jonathan Taylor, in comparison, has 968), there’ll be no concerns about the 21-year-old needing his workload managed. Parlay on how smoothly his skillset-with elite vision, change of direction, and body control-should translate to the NFL, and Swift should be well on his way to a stellar rookie season in the right setting.
– Peter Gofen (@PeterJaguars)
I am going to play Devil’s Advocate. The majority of my colleagues tend to side with Jonathan Taylor, and I find it hard to disagree. He’s averaged approximately 2,000 rushing yards per season over his three years at Wisconsin and scored 26 total touchdowns in 2019. He’s a dynamic runner with great speed and can produce with a large workload. It’s hard to watch his tape and not be impressed. However, not everything is black and white, and I’d like to mention some advantages former Georgia Bulldog D’Andre Swift has over Taylor that could make him the RB1 in this rookie class. Swift has the underrated trait of being one of the best pass-protecting backs in this draft. Now, staying in to block won’t get you any fantasy points, but it’ll keep the running back on the field more often and open up the opportunity for him to garner more touches. We’ve seen Josh Jacobs leave the field in favor of Jalen Richard due to Richard’s pass-catching and protection prowess. Jacobs did great, but his ceiling was limited without the reception upside. While I believe Taylor is the overall better runner, Swift has proven to be a better pass protector and receiver out of the backfield, and he will get more opportunity because of it. Swift has 73 career receptions for 666 yards and five touchdowns, while Taylor only has 42 receptions for 407 yards and five touchdowns. Granted, Taylor did slightly outgain Swift in receptions and receiving yards in 2019, but Swift’s career pedigree gives him the edge. Given they each have a similar yards per carry average, taking the running back with a greater pass-catching ability could provide an edge in PPR leagues. Lastly, Taylor’s fumbling issues are a notable concern. Taylor fumbled the ball on 1.9 percent of his touches (18 times) in his three years at Wisconsin. No matter how great of a running back Taylor may be, he will get benched at the NFL level if he fumbles the football. That is one thing coaches will not tolerate today. Swift, on the other hand, has only fumbled the ball on 1.4 percent of his touches (seven times) in his college career. Again, these backs are close in value, and if I had to make the decision now, I would still probably lean Taylor’s way because of his overall production. However, if Swift shows more favorable metrics at the combine and lands in a better situation come draft day, I could easily see Swift becoming the first running back taken in rookie drafts.
– Dan Ambrosino (@AmbrosinoNFL)
J.K. Dobbins (Ohio State)
It seems the consensus among my FantasyPros cohorts is that Jonathan Taylor will be the top rookie rusher of 2020. I’m largely inclined to agree, but for the sake of argument, let’s give another potent prospect some love. D’Andre Swift may still yet emerge as the best rookie running back in this class, and there are a few other rushers like Zack Moss, Cam Akers, and Clyde Edwards-Helaire who boast impressive college resumes as well. However, J.K. Dobbins has drawn comparisons to both Clinton Portis and Ray Rice due to a mixture of styles and traits. The Power-5 alum rushed for over 2,000 yards, scored over 20 touchdowns, and caught over 20 receptions, joining a club that includes Taylor, Rice, Larry Johnson, and Chuba Hubbard. Some will point out that Dobbins only had one season of elite production in college. Nonetheless, he’s a 99th percentile athlete who should shine at the NFL Combine, and he put together standout performances in big games during his final collegiate season. Who will be the top rookie running back of 2020? It likely comes down to draft capital, but Dobbins has the talent to rival the other big names in this draft.
– Paul Ghiglieri (@FantasyGhigs)
Despite the sound of his name, J.K. Dobbins isn’t an epic hero from “Lord of the Rings” or a common house-elf from the “Harry Potter” universe-but you better believe he’s got “fantasy” written all over him. During his tenure at Ohio State, Dobbins demonstrated remarkable strength and stamina, carrying the ball 725 times for 4,459 yards and 38 touchdowns in 42 consecutive games. In other words, Dobbins dominated D1 defenses without missing a single game. Combine his endurance with a low center of gravity and high-octane burst, and this kid has all the makings of an NFL workhorse. As such, I think the former Buckeye can make an immediate impact as an RB1 on RB-needy teams such as Miami, Houston, Tampa Bay, and Atlanta-or as a top-tier flex option with an opportunity to rise on teams like Buffalo, Washington, and Pittsburgh-especially in standard and half-PPR formats.
– Jim Colombo (@WideRightNBlue)
J.K. Dobbins is my rookie RB1, and he edges out Jonathan Taylor because Dobbins’ superior athleticism gives him a higher likelihood of becoming a true game-breaking player. All the top running backs in this class have outstanding production, but only Dobbins has the elite athleticism to consistently juke would-be tacklers inside of a phone booth. Dobbins is an athletic freak – if his high school workout metrics are any indication, Dobbins is going to destroy the NFL Combine. At the 2016 Nike Football Opening, Dobbins recorded the highest SPARQ score of any high school recruit in his class, and he has only gotten faster and stronger at Ohio State. Dobbins is also an asset in the receiving game with 71 catches over the last three seasons (only two fewer catches than D’Andre Swift, whom some of my colleagues argue for as RB1 based on his receiving production). Dobbins can do it all and undoubtedly has the highest upside of any running back in this class.
– Jarad Evans (@Jarad_Evans)