2020 Draft: Running Back
This years class is reminiscent of last years class, where there was some depth of good players with only one clear top talent. There are some players that excel in one aspect of the game but fall short in other traits. Versatility, with the ability to have an impact in the receiving game seems to be key now for backs coming out of college or to be able to play in a committee and a lot of the class for this year will be more suited to playing in a committee role. However, the good old style power running back still has an impact and there is one player to look out for in that regard. I will get the controversial bit out of the way now: though there is at least some 1st Round potential talent, I do not think any of these players should go in the first round. Many teams have needs at running back however most teams have greater needs elsewhere and many of these backs will need good o-lines to run behind.
Lets start off with who I think and seems to be the consensus number 1 RB, D’Andre Swift from Georgia, who seem to continue to produce top running backs (most recently Nick Chubb and Sony Michel). D’Andre Swift has been compared to Josh Jacobs and there is a resemblance, they are both quick, agile runners with great vision. I feel that Swift may be slightly better, he is so so exciting to watch and so light on his feet, with a great ability to make would be tacklers miss, seemingly dancing or slipping through arms arm tackles or stopping and changing direction so fluidly that he sometimes seems to flow between defenders. He can break tackles as at 212lbs in a 5’8” frame he is stocky and shows this upper body strength in getting through traffic. What is more because of the momentum he can carry even in the tackle he is hard to hold up and falls forward, getting that extra yardage. Not all backs do this and certainly not in this years class, it is possibly an overlooked trait and that Swift does this well just shows how complete his game is. He has the patience to allow gaps to open and will create his own opportunities, with no tendency to bounce immediately to the outside, as often running up the middle as going off the outside of the tackle. A key aspect of his game is he has a degree of unpredictability and that comes from what is clearly game smarts, excellent spatial awareness and being able to read a situation quickly. Yes he may not have the top end speed of Jacobs, but he is quick (sub 4.5s at the combine) and does have good acceleration. He is fine in pass blocking and is willing to get involved in that aspect of the game, I think sometimes surprising bigger rushers in his ability to hold them up. He can get involved in the receiving game though a big negative to his game is a tendency to fumble, though this I think he can overcome through more reps. His strengths certainly out weigh the negatives and will have an immediate impact in who ever he goes to, I even think he might be able to run behind a relatively poor o-line, though would be worked hard. He may not be the outstanding excellent athlete of Saquon Barkley but he is a versatile and exciting prospect, a 1st Round tag in most other years where other needs were not more pressing.
Instead of going straight to who many consider the number 2 rb, I am going to one of my favourite and possibly the best power back in the draft, AJ Dillon from Boston College. The guy is big, 6ft and nearly 250lbs, built like a traditional running back. He holds the rushing records for Boston and immediately had an impact when he eventually got the starting role in 2017, helping turn Boston’s fortunes around to a winning season. His main downsides are that he does lack some degree of vision and patience to wait for holes to open (a red flag being he sometimes looked a bit Trent Richardson), in 2018 he had an ankle injury and in total had over 840 carries during his college career. He is quick for his size but not a high top end speed. He does rely on scheme and his blockers considerably and in that way he is disciplined and certainly runs where he is told to. So in some ways he could be considered one dimensional, as Boston would run the ball when he was on the field, 75% of the time Dillon would face a loaded box and still put up over 1000 yards. The best aspect of his game is that he is not afraid of contact and that he can flatten defenders or just break tackles. He has a lot of power, maybe not so much agility, though he can juke and has a solid spin move to escape at least one tackle. His stiff arm stops defenders and otherwise he will run smaller players over. In many ways he is like LeGarrette Blount, he will carry defenders and just power his way through. His game will benefit if he is also used in pass protection, because he can handle defenders, I mean he is solid and uses that build and upper body strength with that leg power to hold off would be rushers. Making sure he is not rushing every time he is on the field will hopefully see more of his game. Most of the time he ran on the inside and when he did bounce to the outside he showed he could do that fine as well, a strength of doing what he is told. He is another fun to watch player because of his physicality. Yes if he maybe lost weight and worked on his speed maybe he would be a starter, I quite like him in a committee, either in New England or for the Eagles. Because he is a threat, for either a TD or a first down if he gets the ball, just because he will power through. The second round might be a reach for him, maybe a good 3rdround pick up and a bargain in later rounds.
Jonathan Taylor (5’10”, 225lbs) is the solidly built runner from Wisconsin. Like Swift, he looks the part of an NFL back, he is stocky and has the strength and power combination to power out of contact and gain extra yards. He is pretty agile and has a good wiggle and weaves nicely, showing that he has pretty good feet, creating space and again forcing missed tackles. His combine of 4.39s feels different from watching his games as he does not look like a speedster, though he is quick he seems to reach his top speed quickly. I like his patience in letting blocks develop, though at times his decision making is questionable and I think there are some questions about his vision in seeing opportunities. Though he is hard to bring down, he does not always fall forward and more often seems to get held up, which is a shame because as a taller running back falling forward would certainly get an extra yard or two. In the passing game, he has OK hands in catching out in the backfield and can be used as an occasional receiver and he appears to be pretty solid in pass protection, Wisconsin did seem to use him often in that role and he was not easily beaten. I like him as a runner, he could develop into a solid 3 down back but would probably suit being part of a committee of backs, especially alongside more of a receiving back. One final slight concern is the number of carries he had over three years, totalling over 900. That is a lot of wear and that is always something to consider in relation to longevity. He is not the only back in this class with wear and tear issues and honestly he looks like an NFL back ready to slot in. In summary he is a solid good route runner, comfortable going up the gut as he is going on the outside, is versatile to play in any running scheme, possibly the best pure runner in this class, has patience though sometimes lacks vision, can break tackles but will also get held up so does not fall forward as often as he should to get those extra yards. He will be a bargain in the 3rd Round, expect him to go in the second and I would not be surprised if he does go on in round 1.
It is time for some J.K. Dobbins time, the Ohio State single season rushing yards record holder (more than Zeke Elliot by nearly 100 yards). He is a runner who can string moves together, cutting spinning and weaving through would be tacklers with very good change in speed and acceleration, which makes him exciting to watch. He can also break tackles which considering he is not as solid as Swift is impressive, as he has a good stiff arm and good reach. He is handy in the receiving game as well as being an OK pass blocker. For the Buckeyes he did add sparkle to their offence. There are issues though, mainly I think he is a bit predictable. Yes he will follow his blocks but worry that he does not always have the patience for letting blocks develop and too quickly decides to bounce to the outside to try and make a big run. This lack of vision is a bit worrying and figure his tendencies will be picked up on quickly in the NFL, though I think he can develop into a good back, maybe even a three down back, preferably with a team with a good run o-line. Depending on where some of the good tackles go, I think will influence where J.K. Dobbins goes. He could be a good fit in Tampa, maybe Jacksonville and weirdly maybe even the Rams. Dobbins is fun to watch and should develop into a good NFL back.
The next few backs I am going to group together, they all have some great aspects, mainly their speed, quick feet and agility, but have flaws that make them really suited to a committee back system. Going to start with Anthony McFarland from Maryland, who is a 5’8” 208lbs speedster, though he did not really show his speed at the combine. He is a change of pace back, great on the outside running the edge, light on his feet, quick acceleration and a good top speed once at the second level. He is not an every down back, but has good hands in the receiving game, especially out of the backfield. He does lack some vision and at reading fronts and waiting for opportunities to always develop. Should be a later round pick and needs to be matched with a more solid back, as once McFarland is touched he is pretty well down. He should play in the NFL because he can certainly be that change of speed that will catch teams off guard.
Another player who I think would be good out the back field in screens and jet sweeps is Zack Moss, the Utah three down back. The main concern is the heavy usage he had in Utah, sometimes being the main driving force of the offence. He is agile, cuts well and has an excellent spin move, which he uses a lot, to great effect. At 5’9” and 222lbs he is appears to be a solid back, who is able to run up inside as well as bounce outside. He is a pretty good pass blocker and in the pass game he is a good receiver and has good hands. He cuts well and he is agile and can force tacklers to miss, rather than actually always being able to power through or run tacklers over, it did seem at times that he went down easily. I also worry about his ability to always read what is happening in front of him and create opportunities if his blocks do not develop. However on the flipside he does show patience and maybe it is more his decision making is a bit off at times. Again I think he will work in a committee structure, offers strengths in blocking and the passing game and though not the quickest is explosive and agile enough to make important plays.
My final in this trio is Florida State’s Cam Akers, who at 5’10” and 217lbs again has the solid build of a powerful three down back. At times he was the best thing about the Seminoles offence and certainly was not helped by either the o-line or the QB. First thing that leapt out was his ability as a pass blocker, he is solid and able to hold off rushers, only occasionally getting flattened, rather than actually beat. He is a natural runner and has the ability to stop and change direction smoothly and rapidly. At the line he can get stuck in traffic and it was hard to necessarily always tell if that was due to poor blocking or poor vision. However, he does show patience, is a competitor and always trying to add more, so when he does find a gap he takes it and then is away, he is quick and has a deceptive explosiveness which means he forces missed tackles. He does also try to run through would be tacklers and has the power in his legs to make them work to bring him down. There are some ball security issues (at times, it is more an occasional off day) , I only bring this up because he is handy as a receiver, especially if can get him in some space then at the next level he has the vision to make any gaps count. I do like Cam, I think he could develop nicely in the NFL and behind a good o-line will be nice to see him blossom. I do see him as a starter somewhere, you know what, on the Chiefs, Titans, Saints, Falcons or Eagles, he could be quite something.
Just before I get into my final favourite two, I want to mention a possible exciting gadget player and returner, New Mexico State’s Jason Huntly. He is smaller and slight at 5’8” and 198lbs but he is versatile. He is excellent as a receiver and is a quick, agile and nimble runner, having to force tacklers to miss and wiggling through gaps, as pretty well get anything on him and he is down. He has the ability to find gaps and just slip through like water, he really does flow on the field. His strength really isn’t as an out and out running back, more someone to bring on to really mix things up a bit, sort of Tevin Coleman or James White light, because he lines up so well as a (small) receiver. However where he could certainly earn a spot on a roster is as a kickoff and punt returner, his hands are excellent and then his open field vision comes in. In his freshman season he returned three kickoffs for touchdowns, over his college time returned six. I like him as a returner and because his tape was fun to watch, if he ends up with the Niners, I think Kyle will have fun with him, though I kind of hope he goes to Chicago.
My final two are TCUs Jet Andersonand LSUs Clyde Edwards-Helaire. What these two players have in common is that they are up there with the considered top 2 Rbs in their pre-snap and immediate post-snap vision (I am aware of what it says about Jet on NFL.com). Jet Anderson is not an NFL starter, but I think eventually he could be. He is a good, above average all rounder, not excessively quick, just enough explosiveness to get through gaps, but has excellent spatial awareness. He is also good in pass protection and can be useful in the receiving game. He had a definite impact at TCU and if he bulked up a bit from 208lbs I think could break more tackles than he already does. He is an interesting prospect, because it is clear he has the game smarts, is able to create opportunities and I think shows enough patience for gaps to develop to then make the most of them. Importantly he always, always falls forward for that extra few yards. A late round pick, could be a gem.
Who is certainly a gem is Edwards-Helaire, the versatile short (5’7”) but solid (207lbs) three down back from LSU, the one that Joe Burrow is quoted saying as “the best player he has played with”. I am going to get the one concern I have about him out the way now. I am not sure how he is as a blocker, he seems actually OK if he is used as one, keeping to his assignment and forcing the rusher past Joe. When it comes to passing though, Clyde is more often used as a receiver, seen sometimes on the outside but often in the slot. And he is very good as a receiver, catches the ball well and then turns into a stocky running back who will take on tacklers, against Alabama both McKinney and Diggs ended up on the floor when they tried to take him. Clyde’s strength really is his excellent cutting ability and that outstanding lateral movement, which means he is able to work in different blocking schemes, draw in defenders to create a new gap for himself and then changes direction and powers through the new gap, with enough speed to make good yardage (not always taking it to the house though). At the next level he has the good vision and takes the best angles to make the most of what speed he does have. Because of his build he is hard to bring down and will lower pads into defenders. Yes LSU’s o-line was good and disciplined for the run game, however Clyde was successful because so many run options were available at each snap and he can make the necessary quick reads to then pull off the correct option. It is hard not to watch Clyde when he is on the field, even if you are meant to be watching LSUs opponents or Burrow. He has been compared to Devontae Freeman because of his running style but also Le’veon Bell in terms of his read and cutting ability as well as his receiving skills. Because of that I think he could do really well in Pittsburgh or even Tennessee.
This years draft class of running backs is deep mainly due to the different types of runners there are entering. The selection I’ve made are just some of the ones that have come up during my research as interesting options. There are of course more, the ones I have chosen are the ones I like.
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