Draft Notes: 2020 NFL Draft Dynasty Running Backs
Proper preparation prevents poor performance. The closer we get to draft season it’s always important to have a full gauge of the incoming talent, their burgeoning skill sets and their path towards fantasy relevancy. Everybody loves a good list, but don’t forget they’re pretty useless if there’s no context or accompanying information that helps you understand their strengths and weaknesses. These aren’t rankings or tiered breakdowns just reflections based off watching game film from the current batch of running backs. If you don’t watch much College Football then use this as a reference point and introduction to the recent draftees. Enjoy!
Clyde Edwards-Helaire, LSU – Drafted by Kansas City (1st round, 32nd overall) 5″7 209 pounds
- Led the Tigers in all-purpose yards in 2018 and 2019; career statistics of 370 carries, 2103 yards, 5.7 yards per carry 23 touchdowns (1 receiving), 69 receptions for 595 yards
- Rarely allows the first defender in the backfield to impede his forward progress. Phone booth agility in tight spaces, has a vast array of spin moves and jump cuts that allow him to quickly change directions and stop on a dime when defenders are attempting to tackle him
- 4.6 40 time he recorded at the combine is a product of his long speed and acceleration not his elite stop-start agility among backs in this class
- Uses his vision and awareness as a runner to string together multiple moves on one rush; can plant his hard foot in the ground and keep his movements fluid while maintaining his balance up the field. This makes him difficult to square up for defenders as you rarely see them get big hits on him, which may be a good sign for his long term durability as a smaller back.
- Combination of his pass catching ability and pass protection should make him a natural fit as a 3rd down running back in short order once he earns the trust of the Chiefs coaching staff during training camp and early in his career due to having a high football IQ
- Led the country with 25 first-down receptions out of the backfield, and had the nation’s seventh-most broken tackles after the catch [PFF]
- Not contact averse as a runner but not a bruiser who’ll be running through linebackers between the tackles at the next level; can occasionally take on a defensive backs with a full head of steam
- Dynasty outlook: Edwards-Helaire was seen as a consensus top 5 back in the class by most scouts but ended up being the first running back taken in the draft. Cant ask for a more friendly landing spot than being attached to an Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes high powered offense. Should be a fixture in the passing game which gives him a stable floor; with Damien Williams set to be a free agent next season the possibility Kansas City
D’andre Swift, Georgia – Drafted by Detroit (2nd round, 35th overall) 5″9 215 pounds
- Career statistics of 440 rushes, 2885 yards 6.6 yards per carry 25 touchdowns (5 receiving) , 73 receptions for 666 yards
- Solid footwork and vision. Regularly makes defenders look silly in open field scenarios. Legs are constantly churning even while defenders are attempting to take him down, which allows him to run bigger than his physical dimensions. Picks up speed after planting his foot violently into the ground into his cuts
- Defenses will pay if they take poor contain routes when trying to tackle Swift. Evasive instincts with the ball in his hand. Sets up his cuts well as a runner and mixes in an array of spin moves, head fakes and misdirection false steps
- Due to his low paid level and sudden burst that he has out of his cut it allows him to keep his balance through arm tackles and off balance lunges by defenders
- Contorts his body well as a receiver out of the backfield which allows him to always be in position to rip chunk gains up the field. Instinctual with strong hands in the way he snatches the ball the ball out of the air and turns himself into a runner
- Ball security: 7 fumbles in 515 career touches
- Questions about his NFL usage: Not contact averse as a running back can have success working between the tackles; however running him through the tackles 20 times a game probably isn’t the best formula for success. Using him in a creative fashion will allow his best traits to shine at the next level in a scheme that spreads out the defense and allows him to use his change of direction ability optimally.
- Is this a negative in the modern NFL? With the increased presence of running back committees, I would say no as this would allow him to pair well with a larger running back who can take care of the lesser dirty work
- Dynasty Outlook: Kerryon Johnson hasn’t played more than 10 games in either of his first two seasons in the NFL making Swift’s path to taking a sizable load of the RB workload in Detroit one more injury away. The upside here is immense as the Lions offense can use another spark plug on offense that can break off big plays; he has a strong job to snatch the job away inside his first two years.
Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin – Drafted by Indianapolis (2nd round, 41st overall), 5″11 219 pounds
- 2018 & 2019 Doak Campbell recipient for most outstanding running back in College Football (first running back since Darren McFadden to accomplish); back to back 2000 yard seasons; career statistics 926 carries 6174 yards 6.7 ypc 55 touchdowns (5 receiving)
- The premier running back in this class in terms of running with raw strength, balance and the ability to prolong rushes several yards by carrying several defenders at a time
- Takes linebackers and defenders head on in the hole, possesses the requisite physicality to shake them off; running style lends itself to carrying a workhorse load
- Pro ready back capable of handling short yardage and important goal like situations due to his success as a north/south runner
- Light on his feet with choppy footwork that allow him to quickly change direction fluidly. Consistently tacks on additional yardage after initial contact and gains momentum as he picks up speed going downhill
- 4.39 40 time he ran at the Underwear Olympics gives credence to his long speed and that we aren’t being duped by him running away from Big 10 athletes
- Makes defenders miss by using subtle change of pace movements which can lead to defenders take sub optimal routes while attempting to tackle him due to underestimating his speed
- Ball security: Susceptible to ball security issues which is his biggest flaw as a prospect. Quickest way to ending up in any coaches dog house is by making a habit of putting the ball on the ground.
- Fumbling issues are correlated to his never say die running mentality which gives defenders additional chances to strip him loose towards the end of plays
- Not used as a major part of the receiving game at Wisconsin but flashed decent hands and should be able to develop into more of a weapon out of the backfield on the next level
- Indifferent in pass protection; often whiffs or ends up in no mans land and blocking no one; needs to show more consistency to keep himself on the field on third downs
- Dynasty outlook: The Colts obviously like Marlon Mack. But drafting a running back in the 2nd round indicates they probably don’t love him enough to get on their knees and propose to him the second contract as he enters free agency next year, especially with Nyheim Hines already masquerading as their trusted third down back. Indianapolis has the luxury of letting him get up to speed with the NFL level and work on his flaws with pass protection and ball security, don’t let the cloudy year one situation let you miss out on the workhorse upside that exists.
Cam Akers, FSU – Drafted by Los Angeles Rams (2nd round, 52nd overall), 5″11 212 pounds
- Broke Dalvin cook’s freshman record for most rushing yards at Florida State with 1025 yards
- Career production: 586 rushes for 2875 yards and 34 career touchdowns (7 receiving), 69 receptions for 486 yards
- Had to fight for his life and every yard due to a lack of a functional offense around him at Florida State and consistently had to attempt to make something out of nothing
- Blocking on plays regularly would breakdown and lead to several men in the backfield before his first cut; despite this Akers show a good combination of power and speed as a runner
- Hits the hole with purpose when its there, but can get happy feet and dance a bit too much behind the line of scrimmage. Has the tendency to run into his blockers at times, but once again we can blame that on the muddy situation he dealt with at FSU; this is a correctable flaw in a more functional offense
- 4.5 40 yard dash; has the speed to beat defenders to the perimeter and break big plays down the sideline.
- Has the frame to add strength and improve his contact balance at the next level which would unlock another level of potential for Akers; runs through arm tackles and lunges from defenders but does get tripped up often
- Plus route runner for a back; mismatch against linebackers if covered 1 on 1; can run downfield routes; strong hands
- Ball security: 10 fumbles in 656 career touches.
- 89th percentile speed score according to Player Profiler analytics
- Dynasty outlook: Akers is entering a backfield that just vacated 272 touches last season due to the departure of Todd Gurley; has a good opportunity to emerge on the other side as the most dynamic playmaker in Sean McVay’s offense and should get many more chances to make plays out in space. Darrell Henderson & Malcolm Brown still lurk in the shadows but Akers has the potential to provide both short and long term upside if he capitalizes.
J.K Dobbins, OSU – Drafted by Baltimore (2nd round, 55th overall) 5″10 217 pounds
- Buckeye pride: Three year starter at Ohio State. 2nd all time leading rusher in program history. Career production: 725 rushes for 4,459 yards 6.2 yards per carry 38 touchdowns (5 receiving), 71 receptions for 645 yards
- Among the storied running backs in team history: Ezekiel Elliot, Eddie George, Beanie Wells, Maurice Clarett, Carlos Hyde, J.K Dobbins is the only running back in school to rush for 1000 yards in his first three seasons on campus and record a 2000 yard campaign which he did during his junior collegiate season.
- Shows patience as a young running back with his ability to allow his blocks to develop in front of him before he attacks the hole.
- Physical running back who should excel on Sundays in short yardage scenario’s due to his comfort lowering his shoulder and finishing runs with his grown man strength
- Considering his acumen as a physical runner his tape shows the distinct attribute of being able to go 0 to 100 rapidly after he decelerates, allows him to use his speed to get to the edges and break big plays
- Ball security: Only 5 fumbles over three seasons as a workhorse on his 796 touches on campus in Columbus
- High probability as a 3 down running back: compounds his between the tackle capacity as a runner with the competency to make plays out of the backfield on basic dump offs, screens, and angle routes
- Combines his pro level contact balance with agility in tight spaces and a low center of gravity which allows him to avoid tailing defenders
- Dynasty outlook: Dobbins will need plenty to go right for him during his rookie year in Baltimore to make a considerable impact on fantasy rosters, but don’t make the mistake of letting him fall too far in your dynasty drafts due to the presence of Mark Ingram, Justice Hill and Gus Edwards. The chance to attach stock to what will continue to be a dynamic running game during Lamar Jackson’s prime years is too much to pass up. Buy while you can, the roster glut will work itself out through injuries or if the ghost of 30 comes for Mark Ingram.
A.J Dillon, Boston College – Drafted by Green Bay (2nd round, 62nd overall) 6″0 247 pounds
- At 6″ 247 pounds Dillon is one of the most physically imposing running backs in the 2020 class. Nimble feet for a big back and the flexibility of his lower half allows him to stay patient and balanced as he chooses the most efficient route to attack
- Ran against a stacked box on 75% of his carries during his last season at Boston College; for comparison Jonathan Taylor faced a stacked box on 42% of his rushes
- Running against more stacked boxes than any back in D1 last year accentuates his intelligence and vision as a runner as he proved to be efficient at finding holes and making the most of the lanes provided to him
- Aggressive north-south runner who attacks incoming defenders with reckless abandon; stiff arm from hell
- One of the true winners of the underwear Olympics. His 4.5 40 time at the combine highlighted the fact that he isn’t just your run of the mill lumbering power back.
- Don’t expect him to be a constant home run threat at the next level but he has enough burst to beat linebackers to the edge and break off chunk plays in a more spread out offense than the one he played in at Boston College.
- However, his speed and power combination gives him bellcow and early down potential at the next level and should see a healthy amount of goal line work
- Ranked in the 97th percentile in Speed and Burst score according to Player Profiler analytics
- Dynasty Outlook: Aaron Jones enjoyed a breakout 2019 season free from the reigns of Mike Mccarthy as the HC in Green Bay, his future contract negotiations will have a major effect on the upside of Dillon as a dynasty play. Either way, Jones is better used in space than being solely as a between the tackles runner which is where the bruising Dillon comes in. It shouldn’t take him too long to usurp Jamaal Williams as the short yardage and goal line back in Green Bay; if the rationale for using a second round pick comes to fruition its possible he could get more work than expected.
Ke’Shawn Vaughn, Vanderbilt – Drafted by Tampa Bay (3rd round, 76th overall) 5″10, 218 pounds
- Career production: 572 rushes for 3296 yards, 5.8 yards per carry 33 touchdowns (3 receiving), 66 receptions for 648 yards
- Balanced runner who has enough power to get through arm tackles tight creases between the tackles and 4.5 speed enough to beat linebackers to the boundary on stretch plays
- Despite being an upright runner he can take initial contact from defenders and possess enough contact balance to fall forward for additional yards in short yardage situations.
- Has the tendency to get antsy while waiting for plays to develop and break his runs off to the outside prematurely; however this may be a product of a over matched Vanderbilt offensive line when going up against SEC defenses
- Has good feet for a back which lets him transition through his cuts and get into top speed quickly
- Ball security: 7 fumbles over 639 career touches
- On the speed spectrum, he grades out as faster than he is quick; possesses the long speed to run away from defenders in a straight line but doesn’t make defenders miss in the open field as much as you’d like to see for someone with his speed
- Competency as a pass catcher out of the backfield allows him the potential to stay on the field for third downs; solid hands
- 74th percentile speed score according to Player Profiler analytics
- Dynasty Outlook: Considering his raw talent, Vaughn is probably one of the best draft day values at the running back position. His competition with Ronald Jones for the lead back in Bruce Arians offense will be one of the most important battles for redraft and dynasty leagues. Jones will probably get the first shot as RB1 but Vaughn makes plays when the ball is in his hands and should get a boost in PPR leagues.
Zack Moss, Utah – Drafted by Buffalo (3rd round, 86th overall) 5″10 222 pounds
- 712 carries for 4,067 yards and 38 touchdowns on the ground. 66 receptions for 685 yards and three touchdowns in his collegiate career as a three year starter
- Family ties: Related to former Miami Hurricanes & NFL receivers Santana and Sinorice Moss
- Plays faster than his recorded 4.6 40 time. Let the combine tell the story and you would think he was slow on the field but on film his wiggle and agility in tight spaces shines week after week.
- Impressive athlete laterally who consistently makes quick cuts and picks up speed and power through his cuts; Spry with his footwork for a powerful running back. Flexible and can dip his hips low in and out of his cuts which make him a difficult to handle.
- Arm tackles are of no deterrent as he easily runs through them. Physical running style and excelled on inside zone runs due to his patience to navigate through creases
- The Punisher: Enjoys lowering his pads and delivering contact at the end of his runs; Shows great contact balance. Have to square him up pretty good to knock him off his base. Can make plays with his hands out of the backfield in space.
- Ball security: 8 fumbles over 778 career touches. 1 Fumble during his senior year on 263 touches.
- One of my favorite backs in this class; I like to stay away from comps but his running style is something like Frank Gore meets prime Marion Barber
- Dynasty Outlook: Over the past two drafts Bills GM Brandon Beane has definitely shown that he has a type when he’s drafting running backs. Zack Moss & Devin Singletary are both hard nosed backs where the whole is greater than the sum of their parts. Last year Singletary had 151 carries to Gore’s 166, and while he unquestionably will lead the backfield this year it may end up being closer to a 60-40 share than we would’ve anticipated before the draft.