2020 NFL Draft Rookie Profile: AJ Dillon (Fantasy Football)

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With the NFL Draft coming up soon and dynasty startup drafts ramping up, be sure to check out the 2020 rookie profiles series. This will be my third and final rookie profile having completed one for Zack Moss from Utah and Joshua Kelley from UCLA. This profile covers AJ Dillon who is the most punishing back in this rookie class and is the scariest combination of size and athleticism since Derrick Henry.

Editor’s NoteFor more on the 2020 rookie class, check out all of our 2020 NFL Draft content and stay tuned to the Fantasy Footballers podcast for April’s Rookie Preview show where the Ballers breakdown each position heading into the draft.

College Production
Year Games Rush Attempts Rush Yards Yards/Att Rush TD Receptions Receiving Yards Receiving TD
2017 13 300 1589 5.3 14 0 0 0
2018 10 227 1108 4.9 10 8 41 1
2019 12 318 1685 5.3 14 13 195 1

AJ Dillon was the Boston College offense. His 845 carries over 35 games resulted in an average of over 24 carries per game. Despite the heavy workload, durability was not an issue missing only three games in his sophomore season due to an ankle injury.

NFL Scouting Combine Measurements
Height Weight 40 Yard Dash Vertical Jump Broad Jump 3 Cone Drill
6’0” 247 lbs 4.53 sec (10th) 41″(1st) 131″(1st) 7.19(10th)

For reference, Derrick Henry also weighed 247 coming out of college although he measured in at 6’3″. Henry ran the 40-yard dash in 4.54 seconds with a 37″ vertical jump, 130″ broad jump, and 7.2 seconds 3-cone drill. It may not have been by much, but Dillon actually edged Henry out in all of those events (and also had 23 bench reps – one more than Henry’s 22).

What’s on Tape
AJ Dillon displays the power you would expect out of a volume big back, but that power is punctuated by chunk yardage plays enabled by his surprising speed and agility.

Games viewed: Florida State (2018), Clemson (2019), Notre Dame (2019), NC State (2019)

The Good

1. Short Yardage
Boston College’s offense was designed around the power-run game. Defenses could stack the box on situation-neutral plays and be particularly queued in on short-yardage plays. Some big backs are not as tough as you would expect in short-yardage situations and dance around too much. Dillon is not one of those. He quickly finds the hole, lowers the shoulder pads, and pushes defenders back.

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His size/strength combination will provide him an early role on an NFL team on short-yardage plays and near the goal line. The “Blount-role” was all the rage following LeGarrette Blount‘s 18 TD season in 2016. Dillon could easily fill a “Blount-role.”

2. Trails of Destruction

I love seeing what RBs leave in their wake. This single play demonstrates a few of his strengths. Dillon will break arm tackles, make defenders bounce of his upper-legs, and drag defenders a few yards during the process of the tackle. He’s just not fun to tackle.

3. Plus Athleticism for a Big Back

He has enough athleticism to flip his hips and bounce a play to the outside if there’s an opportunity. He recognizes the space outside, flips his hips, and uses his speed to beat the linebacker outside and the safety to the goal line on this play:

The Bad

1. Pass Blocking

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Pass blocking is by far his biggest liability to the point that it may keep him off the field without drastic improvement. He has no feel for getting into a good position to make a block. Even if he gets into a good position, he’s not good at using leverage and strength to engage defenders.

2. Going from East-West to North-South

Dillon is an absolute truck and his momentum alone can add yards to the end of runs. That same momentum becomes a problem when running outside. He has trouble cutting inside. If he doesn’t have enough room to get around the defense going outside, then his outside runs often get strung out resulting in a loss of yards where more agile RBs would have been able to take advantage of small creases in the defense to cut back upfield.

Other Considerations

1. Pass Catching

Pass catching was not something he was asked to do very often on the Boston College’s offense. It’s not necessarily a weakness, which is great news when you compare him to players like Jordan Howard or Derrick Henry. Still, his work as a receiver will be more of a bonus than anything you will be able to count on week-to-week.

2. Production

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Dillon’s 5.3 yards per carry place him in a pedestrian 40th percentile for RBs and it’s well behind the top RBs coming out of this draft class, but he did it against ACC competition on a one-dimensional offense. Dillon’s 78 broken tackles were second only to Jonathan Taylor for rookie RBs coming from Power-5 programs and resulted in a respectable 24.5% broken tackle rate.

Fantasy Outlook

AJ Dillon won’t be regarded highly in redraft because his ceiling is capped. He’s never going to end a season as one of the top-3 RBs in any sort of PPR league (Blount finished PPR RB8 despite his 18 TDs). Because that upside doesn’t exist, he’s likely to be a value play. His size and abilities compare pretty closely to players like Derrick Henry, Jordan Howard, and Brandon Jacobs, but he’s even more athletic than they were coming out of college. Henry is a different animal altogether, but even Howard and Jacobs have had fantasy-friendly stretches.

As much as we groan about Howard, he was a Fifth-Round pick who started his career with three straight years with 1,000+ yards from scrimmage and seven or more TDs. Jacobs had six or more TDs in his first eight consecutive seasons including a year where he rushed for over 1,000 yards and had 15 TDs. If Jacobs and Howard are Dillon’s floor and Henry is his ceiling, then there’s plenty of value there especially if you’re picking him up late in drafts or off the waiver wire.

In dynasty leagues, Dillon is being drafted right around the early third-round of rookie drafts. Most people like to chase the higher upside players, but there’s quite a bit of value there for a player that could easily be a 900-1,400 yard guy with double-digit TD upside a few years out of his career. At his current dynasty price, there’s not a lot he would have to do to return value and he’s more than capable of doing it.

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