2020 NFL Draft Rookie RB Rankings by Jason Moore
Every year I scout all the fantasy football relevant players before the NFL draft. It’s kind of my job. Then I keep my scouting to myself and hoard my special talent and expectation scores so no one can see them! This year, we all have a little bit extra time on our hands and I figured I’d publish my written thoughts on the 2020 rookie running backs. Again, I scout from the mindset of fantasy football. I look for traits that translate into delicious stats. My Talent Score is a personal evaluation metric I use from a combination of film study, college production, and a player’s scouting combine profile. This score is out of 10. To give you a feel of the range of scores, here is where I was on a few rookie RBs from the 2019 class:
- Josh Jacobs (8.8)
- Devin Singletary (7.8)
- David Montgomery (7.1)
Obviously, the NFL Draft will changes a player’s fantasy outlook, but I think it’s important to have educated opinions before draft capital weighs upon the player. Without further ado, here are my tiered rankings along with my talent score and thoughts on the most relevant fantasy RBs:
Editor’s Note: For more on the 2020 rookie class, check out all of our 2020 NFL Draft content and stay tuned to the Fantasy Footballers podcast for this week’s Rookie Preview show where the Footballers breakdown each position heading into the draft.
Tier 1: The Cream of the Crop
1. Jonathan Taylor– Wisconsin (9.0)
5’10” 226 lbs – 320 carries, 2,003 yards, 21 TD – 26 receptions, 252 yards, 5 TD
Jonathan Taylor (Thomas) is this year’s superhero at running back. Every year there seems to be a guy who put up huge numbers in college (he averaged 2,000 yards per season) and destroyed the combine measurables to back it up (226 pounds and ran a sub 4.4 40-time). He’s extremely powerful and his strong running style means you won’t be making arm tackles on him. A true workhorse who can carry the load in the NFL. He’s also a smart runner who has great vision and always falls forward. He needs to correct his fumbling problem and prove that he is a quality pass-catcher at the next level. I think he’ll do both of those things. In fact, just looking at his perceived pass-catching numbers doesn’t do him justice based on his offense. He actually had a larger target market share than “pass-catching back,” Clyde Edwards-Helaire did in their final seasons.
Comp: Saquon Barkley minus some receiving work
2. D’Andre Swift– Georgia (8.5)
5’8″ 212 lbs – 196 carries, 1,218 yards, 7 TD – 24 receptions, 216 yards, 1 TD
D’Andre Swift has the perfect surname for his running style. He is swift, shifty, and fast in the open field. He breaks a lot of tackles once he is past the line of scrimmage and he shows traits that will translate to the NFL when he is in the second level. A fluid pass-catcher with good hands and matching instincts gets people very excited for his 3-down capabilities in the NFL. He’s not a pile-pusher and his power is lacking in short-yardage situations. I don’t see him being used as the goal line, short-yardage back but that should be more than made up for with his passing work. Overall, he’s a smart, extremely shifty RB who can break big plays but might not be able to be a workhorse.
Comp: Alvin Kamara
Tier 2: Would Have Been Top Tier Last Year
3. J.K. Dobbins– Ohio State (8.0)
5’10” 209 lbs – 301 carries, 2,003 yards, 21 TD – 23 receptions, 247 yards, 2 TD
J.K. Dobbins comes with the ultimate Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings mashup name as well as elite college production. One of the most predictive stats for college RBs succeeding in the NFL is, surprisingly, rushing TDs. Dobbins had 38 rushing TDs including 21 in his final season against great competition. He is both quick and fast when it comes to different situations to use his speed. He is probably the most well-rounded back in this draft class when it comes to skillset. Like Swift, he is more speedy than powerful but he has great balance while taking a hit. He appears to be a true 3-down back, but I fear he’s undersized for that role in the NFL. If a team gives him the opportunity it is my belief that he will succeed, but I have fears that he will end up as a committee back.
Comp: Devonta Freeman
Tier 3: Highly Talented, But Less Hype
4. Cam Akers– Florida State (7.7)
5’10” 217 lbs – 231 carries, 1,144 yards, 14 TD – 30 receptions, 225 yards, 4 TD
Cam Akers is one of the most talented runners out there either in spite of, or because of, his offensive line. Plenty has been written about how putrid Akers’ O-Line was but until you scout it you just can’t believe it. Depending on your perspective, it’s either that he is so talented that he outshined that disgusting O-Line, or that the line was so foul that it made him look extra talented. I side with the former because Akers has everything I look for in a prospect. Speed to the edge, ability to catch the ball, ideal size, and quick feet. He breaks the tackles you would expect him to and can turn on the jets to get away from defenders. He doesn’t have quite the NFL hype as the top guys, so I expect draft capital could hamper his future production.
Upside Comp: Dalvin Cook
5. Ke’Shawn Vaughn– Vanderbilt (7.25)
5’10” 214 lbs – 198 carries, 1,028 yards, 9 TD – 28 receptions, 270 yards, 1 TD
Ke’Shawn Vaughn was a transfer after two years at Illinois to Vanderbilt where he really made a name for himself. Being late to the national stage, his hype is low and I don’t expect him to come into his rookie season inheriting an important role in the NFL. However, if he finds himself with an opportunity, I believe he can succeed. He showed good vision and a really nice burst of speed that can make guys miss. I really liked him as a runner due to his fearlessness, vision, and speed. That being said, he wasn’t a prolific pass-catcher and even though he had a good market share of the targets I saw several drops that make me doubt his proficiency at the next level.
Comp: Kerryon Johnson
Tier 4: A Lot of Hype and Some Talent
6. Clyde Edwards-Helaire– LSU (7.0)
5’7” 207 lbs – 215 carries, 1,414 yards, 16 TD – 55 receptions, 453 yards, 1 TD
Clyde Edwards-Helaire is one of the most hyped rookies coming out of a pretty stacked class this year. As a member of the high-flying national champion LSU Tigers, his numbers and efficiency metrics are top-notch. He certainly deserves some of the credit for both the numbers and his team’s success, but there is a balance to be struck with what having Joe Burrow and the #1 offense opens up for you in the running game. I saw a well-rounded running back who had good balance and a decent burst. He comes in with 55(!!) receptions which should help his fantasy outlook. The reason I’m not crazy about CEH as a prospect has to do with his running style matched with his size and speed. He initiates contact and plays powerfully. Will that work in the NFL at 207 lbs? He’s an MJD clone without MJD’s electric speed. Will that work in the NFL? Call me skeptical that he is a star in the NFL but his passing work should keep him relevant.
Comp: A slow version of Maurice Jones-Drew
7. Zack Moss– Utah (6.9)
5’9: 223 lbs – 235 carries, 1,416 yards, 15 TD – 28 receptions, 388 yards, 2 TD
Man, did I hate Zack Moss when I first scouted him. I saw a “big strong guy who seems to be not strong enough for the next level” according to my notes. I saw a guy who was slow. I never saw him pull away from college defenders as I wanted. What’s he going to do with NFL defenders? Due to how much I disliked what I saw, I gave it some time and went back and scouted him again. I’ve come around to saying stuff like “he’s well rounded,” he “can catch,” and he’s “built solid.” The reality is there will usually be a place for a 223 pound back who can catch the ball as well as Moss. I just don’t think he will succeed in the NFL at the things he succeeded at the most in college.
Upside Comp: Mark Ingram
8. AJ Dillon– Boston College (6.9)
6’0” 247 lbs – 318 carries, 1,685 yards, 14 TD – 13 receptions, 195 yards, 1 TD
AJ Dillon is a beast. His production is great. His combine was great. He really should be, on paper, a Derrick Henry clone. They both weigh 247 lbs and ran sub 4.5 40. Neither is a pass catcher. These are big, bruising, successful college backs. The problem is two things for Dillon. First, he might have run the same 40-time at the combine, but he doesn’t have near the same game speed that Henry has. Second, Henry was a Heisman Trophy winner whose 28 TDs helped him get drafted high in the 2nd round of the NFL draft. Dillon will be an important piece to an NFL team. A short-yardage bruiser. A goal-line TD machine. But without the investment and passing work, a poor man’s Derrick Henry is an awful fantasy option.
Comp: LeGarrette Blount
Tier 5: They’ll Be Drafted Too
9. Eno Benjamin- Arizona State (6.75)
5’9” 207 lbs – 253 carries, 1,083 yards, 10 TD – 42 receptions, 347 yards, 2 TD
Eno Benjamin is part of the reason I’m not hyped up on Clyde Edwards-Helaire. These two are so similar in so many ways: same height, speed, weight, pass-catching. Yet Eno wasn’t on the LSU National Champion offense and thus suffered the lack of hype bump. I actually think Eno made more guys miss in situations where it was 1-on-1 with a defender. He’s a great pass catcher but doesn’t play nearly as powerful as CEH. Without hype, I think he’ll merely be a successful timeshare back focused more on 3rd down duties in the NFL.
Comp: Duke Johnson
10. Anthony McFarland Jr.– Maryland (6.5)
5’8” 208 lbs – 114 carries, 614 yards, 8 TD – 17 receptions, 126 yards, 1 TD
Anthony McFarland is a ton of fun to watch. He’s got great speed, breaks tackles, and runs hard. Probably a little too hard. He hasn’t been able to stay healthy dating all the way back to high school. He’s also pretty tiny. Don’t let the 208 lbs fool you, he must have drunk several gallons of water right before weigh-in. I wish he had more receiving work to let someone take a flyer on him. I think he’s a talented running back who might not even get a shot.
Comp: CJ Spiller
Lamical Perine- Florida (5.5)
5’11” 216 lbs – 132 carries, 676 yards, 6 TD – 40 receptions, 262 yards, 5 TD
Remember the Painbot? Samaje Perine? Heeeeeee’s baaaaaaack. This is Samaje’s cousin, Lamical Perine. He has the exact same everything as his cousin minus a few pounds. Their style isn’t necessarily a mirror, but the results, athletics, expectations, and potential are all the same. They are tough guys, hard to tackle. Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter if it takes five guys to tackle you if you’re still at the line of scrimmage by the time you break that 4th tackle.
Comp: Samaje Perine
Jason, thanks for the extra insight into how you scout these backs. Enjoyed the article! Thanks for all that you guys do!!
Appreciate the extra rookie info! Can’t ever have enough of it.