By Alex Kurpeski & Hunter Giordano
In today’s NFL, passing is the name of the game. With so many prolific passers operating as the fulcrum for offenses across the league, the days of the superstar running back appeared to be numbered. That was until the rise of players like Todd Gurley, Ezekiel Elliott, and Christian McCaffrey, who have helped to evolve the position by displaying their pass-catching chops in conjunction with the old school power-running that has always been characteristic of the position. While there is no can’t miss running back prospect in this year’s class, the crop of runners is still extremely talented, with numerous high-upside fantasy contributors ready to be unleashed upon the league in 2020. Even with no Saquon Barkley-level prospect in this year’s class, we may see a few first rounders emerge from this group.
10. Lamical Perine, Florida
Pro Comparison: Jamaal Williams
Pro Ceiling: Peyton Barber
Pro Floor: Zach Zenner
Perine is your run-of-the-mill power runner who could very well serve as a decent starting option on the right offense. Perine’s vision and ability to break tackles will be his trademarks in the NFL, as he isn’t elusive or shaky enough to fool defenders without initiating a bit of contact. Coming from a high profile SEC program, Perine will have his fans in NFL front offices. While he never eclipsed the 1,000 yard benchmark in his collegiate career, Perine was a key member of the Gators running back-by-committee approach during all four seasons he spent in Gainesville. He’s a decent receiving back who should get numerous opportunities to see the field if he can stick on a team’s roster. He could be a mid-round pick in this spring’s draft, with the upside to become a viable flex play (with a little help from the injury bug).
9. Ke’Shawn Vaughn, Vanderbilt
Pro Comparison: Carlos Hyde
Pro Ceiling: Jordan Howard
Pro Floor: David Fluellen
Vaughn is an intriguing sleeper prospect at this stage in the pre-draft process, as he has rushed for over 1,000 yards in consecutive seasons despite playing on a lowly Vanderbilt team. How his game translates to the NFL will depend almost entirely on the line he gets to run behind, as Vaughn does not create space for himself as well as a team may want from their lead back. What he lacks in “shake” he makes up for with his ability to break tackles, as Vaughn has been known to bowl over tentative tacklers when he gets a head of steam. I expect him to slot in as the RB2 or RB3 for a team, leaving him just an injury or two away from fantasy relevance.
8. A.J Dillon, Boston College
Pro Comparison: Legarrette Blount
Pro Ceiling: Jay Ajayi
Pro Floor: Toby Gerhart
While some may label Dillon as a “plodder” thanks to his gargantuan size (6’0, 250 lbs), his talents will likely be appreciated by teams in need of a power runner to move the sticks on short-yardage situations. Dillon is your classic downhill style runner, an archetype best exemplified by Titans RB Derrick Henry. In fact, Henry’s team could very well take a long look at Dillon in this draft if they don’t intend to ink the NFL’s rushing champion to the lucrative contract he is expected to command. Dillon’s best avenue to fantasy relevance will come through his touchdown production, as this was his bread-and-butter at BC (he scored 38 on the ground in three seasons). His complete lack of receiving ability could limit his upside, however if Dillon can figure out a way to run hard and break loads of tackles, he will be a very effective NFL running back.
7. Eno Benjamin, Arizona State
Pro Comparison: Damien Williams
Pro Ceiling: James White
Pro Floor: Paul Perkins
Prior to his nightmarish 2019 season, Benjamin was one of the most hyped prospects in this class. Even with his struggles last season, Benjamin’s upside is still relatively high, thanks to his lightning speed and agility. With Travis Ettiene, Najee Harris, and Chuba Hubbard staying in school, Benjamin will have a great chance to rise up the draft boards with good combine workouts. While the bust potential is considerable with Benjamin, he could very well be a diamond in the rough if scooped up by the right team. Although he profiles as more of a change-of-pace type back, Benjamin is exactly the type of player that could thrive in an offense like Kansas City’s.
6. Joshua Kelley, UCLA
Pro Comparison: Sony Michel
Pro Ceiling: Frank Gore
Pro Floor: Benny Snell
Kelley has rushed for over 1,000 yards in both of his seasons as the lead back for the Bruins, punching in 12 touchdowns in each season. Kelley runs hard and runs smart, two qualities that will always appeal to an NFL club. If given the opportunity to get significant touches as a rookie, Kelley may very well be a breakout fantasy star in 2020. It’s going to take a bit of luck, but don’t be surprised if Kelley is locked into a starting role sooner rather than later.
5. Cam Akers, Florida State
Pro Comparison: Mark Ingram
Pro Ceiling: Devonta Freeman
Pro Floor: T.J Yeldon
Akers is a player who many insiders see as the top sleeper prospect at the running back position in this year’s class, as the former five-star recruit was a record-setting tailback in high school thanks to his elite athletic profile who was held back by the incompetence of HC Willie Taggert and his staff while on the Seminoles roster. Even while running behind one of the most porous offensive lines in the nation, Akers managed to rack up over 1,000 yards on the ground in two of his three seasons in Tallahassee. Having to overcome adversity is a big trait for a young running back to possess at this juncture in their career, so Akers should be prepared for any situation he is thrust into. Still just 20 years old, Akers will be one of the younger backs in this class and thus his potential to grow is still very much untapped. I expect him to be one of the first players from this list to be selected in April’s draft, with an immediate RB2 upside depending upon which team he ends up on (I would love to see him on the Bills or Cardinals personally).
4. J.K Dobbins, Ohio State
Pro Comparison: Kenyan Drake
Pro Ceiling: Aaron Jones
Pro Floor: Bishop Sankey
Dobbins was criminally underrated in 2019, as he rushed for 2,003 yards and 21 touchdowns for the Big 10 champions, the Ohio State Buckeyes. With Mike Weber off to the NFL, Dobbins was used in a more exclusive role this past season, operating as the primary catalyst for the Buckeyes balanced offensive attack. If there was one thing to knit-pick about Dobbins, it would be his ability to protect the ball, as fumbles plagued him throughout the 2019 season. It’s hard to say whether Dobbins is a star in the making or just a very steady running back capable of anchoring a rushing attack. Either way the OSU product is one of the most pro-ready runners in this class and he could be an immediate fantasy asset if given the opportunity. With Melvin Gordon seemingly on his way out the door, Dobbins could be a perfect complement to pass-catching specialist Austin Ekeler with the LA Chargers.
3. Zack Moss, Utah
Pro Comparison: Doug Martin
Pro Ceiling: Joe Mixon
Pro Floor: Jalen Richard
Zack Moss is one of the more underrated RBs in this 2020 class. Moss is at the top of the list in forcing missed tackles, with impressive size at 5’10” and 222Lbs, he is built very similarly to 2019 first-round pick Josh Jacobs and can run through tacklers like the aforementioned. However, Moss brings more than just the physical aspect to the RB position, as he has the “shake” to stop on a dime and make defenders look silly. Moss leads all draft eligible RBs with 87 forced missed tackles while also being extremely efficient at around 0.45 forced missed tackles per attempt.
As far as production goes, Moss has had no issue putting his tools to work, having tallied over 1,000 yards and 10 TDs each of the past 3 seasons as the lead back for the Utes. Moss has shown he can be a good pass catcher as well, and as we have seen in the past few seasons, pass catching RBs are the gold standard in fantasy football. Moss’s usage has remained in the 200 attempt range in each of his final 3 seasons at Utah, an important statistic considering most NFL teams are looking for a fresh pair of legs to add to their RB group. If Moss ends up on a team like the Chiefs or Rams where he can be used creatively, I think the RB1 upside is very possible, however those teams are a fantasy wonderland, so a more realistic expectation for Moss in year 1 is an RB2/3 with high efficiency.
2. Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin
Pro Comparison: Chris Carson
Pro Ceiling: Melvin Gordon
Pro Floor: Joique Bell
As great as Taylor’s career with the Badgers was, he certainly earned his fair share of doubters. Many perceive Taylor to be a non-factor as a receiver, with “hands of stone” and a severe lack in pass protection abilities. However, even with his shortcomings, Taylor remains a stellar NFL draft prospect thanks to his unreal college production.
In three years as the lead back in Wisconsin’s backfield Taylor compiled 6,174 yards while averaging 6.7 yards per carry and scoring 50 touchdowns on the ground. Few players have matched Taylor’s dominance on the ground, so while he has his flaws in the passing game, there’s nothing wrong with his ability to run with the ball. Unfortunately, one issue that may arise for Taylor is his high usage rate in college, as he tallied nearly 1,000 carries in just three seasons (by comparison Christian McCaffrey has only rushed the ball 623 times in his three year NFL career). Even if he can only be a two-down back to start his career, Taylor will almost certainly be a key fantasy contributor from the jump, as he will likely see a good chunk of his usage near the goal-line.
1. D’Andre Swift, Georgia
Pro Comparison: Alvin Kamara
Pro Ceiling: LaDanian Tomlinson
Pro Floor: Chase Edmonds
Swift is the clear-cut RB1 in this class for good reason. While Chuba Hubbard and Travis Ettiene would have been hot on his heels for the title of top RB prospect — had they declared for this year’s draft — Swift’s combination of dynamic one-cut running abilities combined with his dangerous receiving out of the backfield make him the complete and total package, something every NFL team is looking for out of their starting running back in 2020. Swift is elusive in space and should have no issue shaking tacklers at the NFL level. Many draftniks have compared him to Alvin Kamara from a skill-set perspective, and while this is a gaudy comparison, it is warranted once you look over Swift’s tape during his time with the Bulldogs.
It’s unlikely that Swift is taken within the top 10 or 15 picks of this year’s draft, however it is entirely possible that some team swings for the fences by taking him earlier than expected, a real possibility given the steep drop-off in talent from him to his peers. I fully expect Swift to slot in as a high-end RB2 regardless of landing spot, as he should take on a high touch count from the get-go. It is my expectation that Swift is locked into the 1.01 spot in dynasty rookie drafts, with a third round price tag in redraft leagues.