Who Will Be the Top Fantasy Football RB from the 2020 NFL Draft Class?
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Last week we asked our writers who they felt would be the top wide receiver fantasy asset from the 2020 NFL Draft class. This week, we’re turning our attention to rookie running backs.
Q: Three years from now, who will be the top running back fantasy asset from the 2020 NFL Draft class?
Clyde Edwards-Helaire (KC)
Pairing with Patrick Mahomes would usually be enough, but the fact that CEH was a first-round pick is more important. The rookie contract for a first-round pick means he’ll be there at least four years, if not more. The money he’s being paid for that spot also means he’s officially the highest-paid running back on the Chiefs’ roster. What he offers in the passing game, to go along with the running game, makes him a complete offensive weapon. Which isn’t to say Jonathan Taylor won’t be very good too. He will. But he’ll get paid roughly 30% less while not having a fifth-year team option. Then there’s the quarterback situation, which may be solidified for 2020, but isn’t the next year or beyond.
– Michael Moore (@DLF_Moore)
It’s hard not to be excited about Edwards-Helaire’s long-term fantasy outlook. With improved pass blocking, the LSU product has the talent to become a three-down back in what should be the NFL’s most prolific offense. Edwards-Helaire runs with enough power and burst to be a reliable back in goal-line situations, and he caught 55 passes for the Tigers last season. Edwards-Helaire also might face the least resistance to becoming a bell-cow back. Damien Williams will likely handle some of the work in 2020, but his contract is up after this season. Jonathan Taylor has a better offensive line in front of him and might only have Marlon Mack in his way for one season. But Indy’s quarterback situation is a concern beyond the 2020 season, and pass-catching wasn’t Taylor’s forte at Wisconsin. While I love the fit for J.K. Dobbins in Baltimore, he’ll still have to compete with Mark Ingram for at least one more year and will ultimately lose production to Lamar Jackson. Cam Akers is a great sleeper pick in dynasty leagues, but we shouldn’t forget about Darrell Henderson, who was everyone’s deep sleeper last season. Plus, the Rams didn’t do much to improve their offensive line. I’ll take the tailback with a well-rounded skill set and Patrick Mahomes alongside him.
– Matt Barbato (@RealMattBarbato)
We know that landing spot is more important for a running back than it is for a wide receiver. For Clyde Edwards-Helaire, there was no better possible landing spot than the Kansas City Chiefs, who figure to have Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid around for the foreseeable future. The last time Reid’s offense had a running back as talented as CEH was with Kareem Hunt in 2017. That season, Hunt scored 18.4 fantasy points per game while finishing as the RB4 (PPR). For someone who plays so well as a receiver out of the backfield, there is ample opportunity for fantasy success in this offense. Edwards-Helaire walks into a crowded running back room this year, but Damien Williams, Darrel Williams, and DeAndre Washington are all free agents after this season. That leaves Darwin Thompson in a backup role beginning in 2021. CEH has the perfect mix of talent, opportunity, and scheme to wind up becoming the most valuable fantasy asset in this year’s rookie class.
– Brendan Tuma (@toomuchtuma)
There were a bunch of great running backs selected in the second round of this class, but I like the only first-rounder the most. Clyde Edwards-Helaire is a seasoned receiving option who tallied 55 receptions for 453 yards and a score in his final season at LSU. Being a first-round pick is also important, as he’ll sign a four-year deal with Kansas City to become the highest-paid RB on the team with the longest guaranteed deal too. The 28-year-old starting RB, Damien Williams, is owed $2.175M in 2020 and becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2021. The Chiefs could opt to keep the younger and, as of the next 12 months, more expensive RB. The Chiefs’ running backs combined for 87 receptions, 626 yards, and four touchdowns last season, and Williams led all the way with 30 receptions, 213 yards, and two touchdowns. CEH can at least be a third-down back and be a PPR threat as a rookie if he can’t beat out Williams before becoming Kansas City’s lead back in years two and three.
– Vaughn Dalzell (@VaughnDalzell)
Clyde Edwards-Helaire was the first running back selected off the board in the 2020 NFL Draft. The LSU product’s style resembles Brian Westbrook, a former fantasy stud RB under Andy Reid. Edwards-Helaire logged 215 carries for 1,414 yards and 16 touchdowns across 15 games in his junior year. It was reported that Damien Williams would be the Chiefs’ starting running back and the two would form a one-two punch. Williams, however, has never had more than 111 carries in a single season in his career. Chiefs GM Brett Veach described Edwards-Helaire as a “franchise running back, true playmaker, someone special and unique.” CEH is a polished pass-catcher and should thrive in Kansas City’s explosive offense. It won’t be long before he replaces Williams once and for all to become the Chiefs’ primary back. In such a prime landing spot, Edwards-Helaire has the potential to be a top-10 fantasy RB for the next three seasons.
– Brad Camara (@beerad30)
Jonathan Taylor (IND)
Jonathan Taylor entered the draft as my number one ranked running back, and I believe he’ll turn into a top-five back in the next couple of years. While Clyde Edwards-Helaire may provide more immediate upside, Taylor is set to dominate in this league for years to come. First, there has been nobody at the running back position better than Taylor over the past several years at putting up gaudy numbers. He 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. Second, the Indianapolis Colts continue to have one of the best offensive lines. After possessing one of the worst a couple of years ago, the Colts had the second-ranked run-blocking offensive line last season, according to Pro Football Focus. Finally, while he’ll have to compete with veteran Marlon Mack to start his career, Mack will become a free agent after this year, likely opening up the door for Taylor to handle the workhorse role. Without a clear answer at quarterback for the future, the Colts may lean on their running game more heavily, benefiting Taylor even more.
– Sam Hoppen (@SamHoppen)
There are pretty easy and clear cases that the top back could be either Clyde Edwards-Helaire — based on his landing spot primarily — or J.K. Dobbins once he stands alone in the backfield leading Baltimore’s prolific rushing attack. The best bet, though, is Jonathan Taylor. Taylor has the most complete profile of any running back in the class, with feature back size, absurd college production, and adequate receiving ability. While Taylor’s landing spot may look mediocre on the surface, it’s actually better than it appears. Indianapolis has one of the best run-blocking units in the league, and the team is now led by one of the dump-off kings in Philip Rivers. While Marlon Mack remains present on the roster, the Colts using an early second-round pick on Taylor is all you need to know about where they stand. Not only did they prioritize Taylor, but they traded up for him. Expect him to have lead-back duties from Week 1 and only expand his role from there. Taylor’s home run ability, all-around skill set, and opportunity on a strong offense (one that made Marlon Mack a back-end RB2 in 2019 with Jacoby Brissett at quarterback) make him the prime candidate to be the top back in the class both now and later.
– Mark Leipold (@LeipoldNFL)
After the 2017 season, Pro Football Focus ranked the Indianapolis Colts as the 25th-best offensive line. They used 18 different line combinations that year, as injuries forced 10 different linemen to play at least 140 snaps. That season was a disaster due to Andrew Luck missing the entire year, but the horrible state of the offensive line was another big reason they were 4-12. The Colts made fixing the offensive line a priority the following offseason. They selected Quenton Nelson with the sixth pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, giving them one of the best guards in the NFL. That selection was a big reason Pro Football Focus ranked the Colts as the third-best offensive line in 2018 and 2019. While the Colts have been thrust into a state of transition after Luck retired, they signed Philip Rivers this offseason and still have Jacoby Brissett as the backup. This team is going to use that powerful offensive line to run the football, which is the good news for Taylor. He is big enough at 5’10” and 226 pounds to be a featured back, but he also ran a 4.39-second 40-yard dash and has a 36″ vertical. The only things holding him back from being an instant star are lack of experience in a pro-style offense, a fumbling problem, and only one year where he was asked to be a receiving threat. Those are all shortcomings he can work on in 2020 and 2021. You cannot teach his blend of size and speed, which makes him a very special prospect. In three years, Taylor has a chance to be one of the best backs running behind one of the best offensive lines in the league. He should be a fantasy star for the duration of his rookie contract.
– Derek Lofland (@DerekLofland)
Jonathan Taylor is the rookie running back who will be the top fantasy asset three years from now. When projecting future value, especially at the running back position, it is important to consider future depth charts. This means attempting to forecast whether or not a running back will be able to survive a Day 1 or Day 2 rookie addition. Taylor is one of the top running back prospects in the last decade in terms of being a pure runner. This will allow him to maintain featured touches and 1,000-rushing yard, 10-touchdown upside, even with a passing-down back on the team to siphon some targets. D’Andre Swift, J.K. Dobbins, and Clyde Edwards-Helaire are viewed as the more versatile backs, but they are more likely to find themselves in a committee with a future addition who steals both carries and targets.
– Raju Byfield (@FantasyContext)
J.K. Dobbins (BAL)
It seems that all of the top running back prospects have landed in remarkable situations. Jonathan Taylor gets to run behind the dominant Indianapolis offensive line. Clyde Edwards-Helaire will play with Patrick Mahomes, and Cam Akers takes over Todd Gurley’s role in Los Angeles. Yet the best situation for running backs belongs to J.K. Dobbins, who is awarded the opportunity to play alongside the most dynamic quarterback rushing threat in the league in an offense that prioritizes running the football. Dobbins may not perform well in his first year, as he will share the workload with Mark Ingram, but he’ll have the opportunity to take over for the 31-year-old in 2021. We only have a 16-game sample size of what this rushing offense can do for a running back’s fantasy value, but it sure is a promising sign. Ingram finished as the PPR RB9 in 2019, accumulating over 1,250 total yards and scoring 15 touchdowns. Gus Edwards and Justice Hill combined for an additional 1,100 total yards and four touchdowns. While these numbers seem astronomical and primed for regression in the coming years, I don’t quite buy it. In Greg Roman’s five seasons as an offensive coordinator, his offenses have never finished outside the top-eight rushing units in the league. Before Baltimore, they averaged 2,269 rushing yards and 15.6 rushing touchdowns per season. His quarterbacks were Alex Smith, Colin Kaepernick, and Tyrod Taylor. Even if Lamar Jackson and the offense regress slightly, he will continue to churn out elite rushing offenses. Jackson and the running backs will benefit because of it. Dobbins proved in college that he can be a workhorse back, rushing over 300 times for 2,003 yards and 21 touchdowns last season alone. Given he is tied to Jackson for the foreseeable future, I like his chances of becoming one of the best, if not the best, fantasy running back three years from now.
– Dan Ambrosino (@AmbrosinoNFL)
Cam Akers (LAR)
Cam Akers finds himself on a team that produced the RB1 in two consecutive seasons (Todd Gurley in 2017 and 2018). Sean McVay took over for Jeff Fisher as head coach of the Rams in 2017, catapulting Gurley to fantasy stardom after finishing as the RB20 in 2016. Fast forward to this offseason, and the Rams let Gurley go to the Falcons in free agency before selecting Florida State’s Cam Akers with the 52nd overall pick. Yes, the Rams have two other “capable” running backs on their roster in Malcolm Brown and Darrell Henderson, but then why take another running back with your first draft pick in 2020 when the team clearly has glaring needs at other positions such as offensive line, defensive line, and linebacker? Because McVay and GM Les Snead see Akers as Gurley’s replacement. The Rams realize (albeit after just one season) they missed on Henderson in the third round of last year’s draft. Even when given the opportunity as the lead back, he couldn’t sniff out more than 49 yards rushing, and he doesn’t add much value in the passing game. Akers, on the other hand, can do it all. Per Pro Football Focus, he ran behind the 129th (out of 130) graded offensive line in the country last season, and yet he still managed to muster 1,144 yards and 14 TDs on 231 attempts, along with 30 receptions for an additional 225 yards and four scores. He averaged 3.91 yards after contact, which was the best among any running back in this year’s draft class. That’s important to note, as the Rams were graded as the second-worst offensive line by PFF in 2019. If Los Angeles can fix some of its issues up front, and Akers can showcase his ability to break tackles and make guys miss as a three-down workhorse back like Gurley was in 2017 and 2018, we could easily be talking about him as the overall RB1 three years from now.
– Adam Koffler (@AdamKoffler)