Reviewing the 2020 Rookie RB Class (Fantasy Football)

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In the Fantasy Footballers’ 2020 Rookie Review episode, Andy, Mike, and Jason recapped the 2020 season for the group of fresh faces. Before we dive into the discussion, I want to give a few statistical benchmarks to give context for this group. Rookie RBs were league-winners in 2020 if you were able to withstand some of the early season bumps.

Since 2012, there have been at least two Rookie RBs in the Top-24 every single year. 2020 gave us a whopping six rookie RBs who made a ton of noise:

Year RBs Total Top-24 Rookies
2012 Doug Martin (RB2), Alfred Morris (RB6), Trent Richardson (RB8), Mikel Leshoure (RB21) 4
2013 Eddie Lacy (RB7), Giovani Bernard (RB13), Le’Veon Bell (RB14), Zac Stacy (RB20) 4
2014 Jeremy Hill (RB10), Andre Williams (RB23) 2
2015 Todd Gurley III (RB7), David Johnson (RB9) 2
2016 Ezekiel Elliott (RB2), Jordan Howard (RB10) 2
2017 Alvin Kamara (RB3), Kareem Hunt (RB4), Leonard Fournette (RB8), Christian McCaffrey (RB11) 4
2018 Saquon Barkley (RB2), Phillip Lindsay (RB12), Nick Chubb (RB16) 3
2019 Miles Sanders (RB15) & Josh Jacobs (RB18) 2
2020 Jonathan Taylor (RB6), James Robinson (RB7), Antonio Gibson (RB12), D’Andre Swift (RB18), J.K. Dobbins (RB20), Clyde Edwards-Helaire (RB21) 6

Those six rookie RBs balled out especially in the second half of the season. We’ve divided up each position into three categories:

Impressive– This is the cream of the crop.

You Have Our Attention– At least they did something in their rookie season.

Better Luck Next Year– Ummmm… so did they really play in 2020?

Let’s dive into the 2020 Rookie RB class, highlight some of their strengths and weaknesses and speculate where they might be drafted in 2021.

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Impressive… We Want More!

I won’t go into full detail with these first six RBs. All of them were detailed in the RB Truth Episodes if you want to go back and listen to Andy, Mike, and Jason discuss their consistency metrics from the 2020 season.

Jonathan Taylor | Round 2, Overall 41 | Indianapolis Colts

  • RB6 Finish — Consistency Rank 9
  • 15 games — 232/1169/11 — 39 targets for 36/299/1

Taylor had an incredible finish to the season after he was stuck in the muck and mire known as the Colts backfield rotation. But from Weeks 11-17, he was on a 16-game pace of 1,976 rushing yards & 19 rushing TDs. The Footballers go into full detail about Taylor’s 2020 season in the RB TRUTH Episode Part 1.

James Robinson | Undrafted | Jacksonville Jaguars

  • RB7 Finish — Consistency Rank 8
  • 14 games — 240/1070/7 — 60 targets for 49/344/3 — 3 fumbles

We just witnessed the greatest season ever for an undrafted rookie. Robinson was a usage monster with the most touches (289) ever by an undrafted rookie RB. The previous record-holder was Indianapolis’ Damien Rhodes in 2001. Robinson was one of the names highlighted in April as an undrafted free-agent to remember after the NFL Draft. Hopefully, you scooped him up!

Antonio Gibson | Round 3, Overall 66 | Washington Football Team

  • RB12 Finish — Consistency Rank 18
  • 14 games — 170/795/11 — 44 targets for 36/247/0

You know Mike is smiling with the type of season Gibson had as his pre-season fantasy MVP. Gibson is the only rookie RB EVER with double-digit rushing TDs & 35+ receptions in fewer than 15 games played. He’s a special player who likely will be drafted as RB12-15 in 2021.

D’Andre Swift | Round 2, Overall 35 | Detroit Lions

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  • RB18 Finish — Consistency Rank 2nd Half: 10
  • 13 games — 114/521/8 — 57 targets for 46/357/2 — 3 fumbles

It took a while for him to get going but once Swift was unleashed, he was everything the Lions wanted in their second-round draft pick. Since 1990, only two rookie RBs had 45+ receptions in fewer than 14 games playedLev Bell & D’Andre Swift. That’s it. The question for 2021 is how well will this new Detroit offense function with Jared Goff at the helm. The wide receiver group in Detroit is thin with Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones Jr., and Danny Amendola all free-agents. How many targets is Swift going to see? There have already been lots of offseason chatter from coaches about his 3-down skillset.

J.K. Dobbins | Round 2, Overall 55 | Baltimore Ravens

  • RB20 Finish — Consistency Rank 2nd Half: 13
  • 15 games — 134/805/9 — 24 targets for 18/120/0

If you held on long enough, Dobbins likely paid off down the stretch. From Weeks 11 to 17, he was the RB8 averaging 16.7 fantasy points per game. His nine TDs are the most ever by a rookie RB with fewer than 140 carries. With Mark Ingram IV out of the picture, expect Dobbins’ workload to increase in 2021. He was impressive and perhaps he gets even more involved in the passing game as well.

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Clyde Edwards-Helaire | Round 1, Overall 32 | Kansas City Chiefs

  • RB21 Finish — Consistency Rank 23
  • 13 games — 181/803/4 — 54 targets for 36/297/1

Based on his draft cost (RB5/1.05), it probably felt like CEH was a major bust and a bit disappointing. His four rushing TDs were extremely unfortunate for a player with that type of workload. But if we look at the total body of work, he compiled a solid rookie season. Since 1990, here are the rookie RBs with 1,100 total yards in fewer than 14 games played: Marshawn Lynch, Lev Bell, Todd Gurley, Leonard Fournette, Josh Jacobs & CEH. That’s an impressive list.

You Have Our Attention

Cam Akers | Round 2, Overall 52 | Los Angeles Rams

  • RB43 Finish / Consistency Rank: 49 /2nd Half: 26
  • 13 games — 145/625/2 — 14 targets for 11/123/1

Akers honestly probably belongs on the previous list but we really didn’t see the wheels churning until the final month of the season. In two playoff games, averaged 24.5 touches for 136 yards and a touchdown, good enough for 21.4 fantasy points per game. With Malcolm Brown likely gone, he should be given lead-back duties and already has been talked up by Mike on the early top-24 episode as a borderline 1st round pick.

Zack Moss | Round 3, Overall 86 | Buffalo Bills

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  • RB45 finish — Consistency Rank 42
  • 13 games — 112/481/4 — 18 targets for 14/95/1

Moss suffered a toe injury and missed Weeks 3-5. It was hard to trust him in fantasy given the fact Josh Allen functions as this team’s goal-line back. Devin Singletary and Moss basically cannibalized each other’s fantasy production on the year. Jason was not so kind to the rookie giving a back-handed compliment stating “Moss had an impressive season… for Moss“. There have been rumblings that Buffalo might take an RB (like Alabama’s Najee Harris) with its late 1st round pick. 

Salvon Ahmed Undrafted | Miami Dolphins 

  • RB64 — Consistency Rank 23
  • 6 games — 75/319/3 — 14 targets for 11/61/0

The undrafted rookie RB was another RB on our preseason UDFA watch list even if you had no idea who he was. In his four starts, he was an RB1 in two of them mostly based on volume. Ahmed likely will be playing backup to Myles Gaskin who averaged 18+ touches a game. There is some speculation that Miami adds another back in the NFL draft. If not, it’s the Gas Man and Ahmed. Sounds like a comic book title…

Better Luck Next Year

Does anyone from this list stick out for 2021? / Who WILL have better luck this year?

A.J. Dillon | Round 2, Overall 62 | Green Bay PackersAaron Jones‘  status in free agency is the key to Dillon’s future. Against Tennessee in Week 16, we saw him showcased as he went 21/124/2 doing his best Derrick Henry impersonation.

Ke’Shawn Vaughn | Round 3, Overall 76 | Tampa Bay Buccaneers –  Despite being a 3rd round selection, Vaughn saw ten total rushing attempts up until Week 15. Bruce Arians notoriously doesn’t trust rookie RBs. If Fournette doesn’t come back, he’s a name worth monitoring for redraft leagues.

Darrynton Evans | Round 3, Overall 93 | Tennessee TitansThe former Appalachian State standout was inactive for most of the season until Week 15 when he caught a TD. He’s firmly behind Derrick Henry and saw only 18 opportunities the entire season

Joshua Kelley | Round 4, Overall 112 | Los Angeles ChargersIn 14 games, he went 111/354/2  and caught all 23 of his targets for 148 receiving yards. It was some of the most inefficient running in football. He was supplanted at one point by Kalen Ballage who came in off the street. Kelley looks like a plodder and destined for backup backup duties in Los Angeles.

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La’Mical Perine | Round 4, Overall 120 | New York JetsPerine had a moment where it looked like he would secure a role in the Jets backfield but his season was mostly injury-plagued.

Anthony McFarland Jr. | Round 4, Overall 124 | Pittsburgh Steelers – McFarland is a 5’8 satellite back who runs like he’s 220 pounds. He had only 33 total rushing attempts behind James Conner and Benny Snell Jr. With Conner a free-agent, he could be someone worth buying on the cheap in dynasty although Pittsburgh must improve its porous offensive line.

DeeJay Dallas | Round 4, Overall 144 | Seattle Seahawks – The former Miami Hurricane was thrust into a starting role in Week 8 due to injuries in the Seattle backfield. He scored twice but was relegated to 3rd string as the season progressed. If Chris Carson doesn’t resign, it will be Dallas and former 1st round draft pick Rashaad Penny to battle it out.

Jason Huntley | Round 5, Overall 172 | Detroit Lions

Eno Benjamin | Round 7, Overall 222 | Arizona Cardinals

Raymond Calais | Round 7, Overall 245 | Tampa Bay Buccaneers 

Malcolm Perry | Round 7, Overall 246 | Miami Dolphins

JaMycal Hasty | Undrafted | San Francisco 49ers – Hasty had a moment in Weeks 7 & 8 where he saw double-digit opportunities in the San Francisco backfield while they were dealing with injuries. With Jerick McKinnon and Tevin Coleman free-agents, Hasty could find his way into the rotation behind Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson Jr. in the ever-changing 49er backfield.

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