2020 NFL Draft: Top Ten Running Backs

Recently, we analyzed the top ten quarterbacks in the 2020 NFL draft. Now, it’s time to look at a flashier, but far less valuable position- running back. Considering that their production requires elite athleticism and usually a strong offensive line, running backs tend to only be at their peak throughout their rookie contract, but considering how cheap said contract is, teams target the position heavily in the middle rounds. It’s unclear if there will be a running back taken in the first round, but surprisingly, I’ve assigned first-round grades to two players on this list, while there are plenty of other players who have very intriguing skills. So, who are the top ten running backs that are entering the 2020 NFL draft? Let’s discuss.

#1: D’Andre Swift, Georgia

NCAA Football: SEC Championship-Georgia vs Louisiana State
Photo Cred: CBS Sports

Year: Junior

Height: 5’9″ Weight: 216 lbs

Pro Comparison: Alvin Kamara

Best Fits: KC, TB, ATL

Overall Grade: 90.64 (Late 1st)

STRENGTHS

Where do we start? D’Andre Swift is as close to a flawless running back prospect as you’re going to get; hence, my illustrious comparison to Alvin Kamara. His contact balance is incredible, as he always finds a way to stay on his feet upon initial contact, which is a trait that could make him one of the best running backs right away. Plus, it’s not as though Swift is running right into would-be tacklers, as he’s very patient, lets his blocks develop, and then attacks them with tremendous explosiveness- he’s a true home run threat. If you’re going to be an elite running back worthy of a first-round pick, you have to be productive as a receiver, and to his credit, the Georgia product is definitely the best receiver out of the backfield in this class. Whether it’s running between the tackles, getting to the outside, or receiving out of the backfield, he’s the complete package at the running back position.

WEAKNESSES

Though he has plenty of explosiveness and shiftiness, Swift may not have the elite long speed that you’d want, and he could be a little more consistent using his strength to break tackles. For whatever it’s worth, he’s also not the most refined pass protector.

OUTLOOK

Due to his versatility, Swift will fit in any NFL offense, and will be an explosive playmaker right off the bat. I’d love to see him in Andy Reid’s offense in Kansas City, as his receiving prowess and elusiveness would be on full display, but as mentioned, there are no bad fits for him. Between Kamara, Christian McCaffrey, Dalvin Cook, Aaron Jones, and Saquon Barkley, we’ve seen the importance of having a dual-threat running back who can contribute in a variety of ways. Swift may not be as talented of a prospect as those players, but he’s got all the tools you want for a running back to consider using a first-round pick on him, which is quite the compliment.

#2: Clyde Edwards-Helaire, LSU

edwardshelaire
Photo Cred: New York Post

Year: JR

Height: 5’8″ Weight: 209 lbs

Pro Comparison: Mark Ingram

Best Fits: TEN, TB, ATL

Overall Grade: 90.44 (Late 1st/Early 2nd)

STRENGTHS

Similarly to Swift, Clyde Edwards-Helaire is a tremendous running back prospect, and it’s his contact balance and vision that stand out. With excellent lower-body strength and a great jump cut, he’s extremely difficult to tackle in the open space, especially since he runs with the type of effort desired. Due to his impressive patience, he’ll also be able to work in either a gap or zone heavy rushing scheme, as he develops creases upfront with superb anticipation. Additionally, despite being a bigger running back, the LSU product’s footwork is incredible, as he’s super light on his feet and is very quick. The finishing touch with Edwards-Helaire has to be his receiving ability, as he runs a diverse route tree and was very reliable in LSU’s dynamic, opened-up offense.

WEAKNESSES

Although he’s much quicker than you’d expect, Edwards-Helaire may not have elite speed or burst that teams will covet, as he’s not super dynamic in the open field.

OUTLOOK

As with Swift, Clyde Edwards-Helaire is the type of running back prospect that should have teams picking in the late first-round or early second-round very intrigued. His combination of size, intelligence, receiving ability, and athleticism is fantastic, and he’s also a much better power runner than Swift is. It’s really close between the two running backs, making it a matter of preference, though Edwards-Helaire has the benefit of having less wear and tear. In fact, I think he’ll be a much better running back than my comparison for him, Mark Ingram, is; he’s much more explosive and a better receiver. To be a first-round running back, you have to have no glaring flaws whatsoever, and must be versatile to any scheme. That describes Edwards-Helaire perfectly, and since his stock isn’t quite as high as some of the other players on this list, he figures to be a steal in the second day of the draft.

#3: JK Dobbins, Ohio State

dobbins
Photo Cred: http://www.thelantern.com

Year: JR

Height: 5’10” Weight: 216 lbs

Pro Comparison: Josh Jacobs

Best Fits: TB, TEN, ATL

Overall Grade: 87.495 (2nd)

STRENGTHS

Though there are many smart runners in this class, JK Dobbins, in my opinion, has the best approach and vision in this draft class. He seemingly never misses a hole, knows when to attack, and when he does so, he commits to it with excellent effort. Furthermore, he’ll be able to create yards after contact due to his contact balance; not only is he creating leverage with his reads, but he’s adding onto it once met by a defender. With good burst and acceleration, he’ll be a great perimeter runner is zone schemes, but can certainly run between the tackles with good power. Though he’s not a crisp route runner he was utilized as a receiver a lot in Ohio State’s offense, and overall, is a rather flexible piece for offenses.

WEAKNESSES

As mentioned, Dobbins could use some work with route running, though he has the tools to develop in that area. He’s also not super dynamic in the open field, lacks elite lateral agility, and was given a lot of a natural space in an explosive offense. Since he’s also a strong rusher, he sometimes seems to eager to initiate contact, but if that’s his biggest red flag, then that tells you what you need to know about Dobbins’ skillset.

OUTLOOK

Dobbins isn’t as talented of a prospect as the first two players on this list, but if Josh Jacobs was a first-round pick who succeeded right away, there’s no reason the Ohio State product can’t follow suit. He’s nearly as talented of a prospect as Jacobs was a year ago, and possesses several important qualities that’ll immediately translate to the NFL. I like him best in a zone-running scheme, but he’s a good mid-round fit for several teams.

#4: Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin

jonathan taylor
Photo Cred: Madison.com

Year: JR

Height: 5’11” Weight: 214 lbs

Pro Comparison: Demarco Murray

Best Fits: TEN, IND, SEA

Overall Grade: 86.685 (Late 2nd/Early 3rd)

STRENGTHS

From a pure rushing standpoint, Jonathan Taylor is the best prospect of this group. Not only is he a true power rusher with great size, but he’s also a home run hitter. In fact, you have to look for Derrick Henry to find a player with the blend of power, size, and speed he possesses, and since he reads his rushing lanes well with excellent patience, he’s able to always run hard through his holes. He’s an easy accelerator, and whenever you need that extra yard, he’s always able to provide it. The Wisconsin product is very tough to tackle, and with that explosiveness, would thrive in a zone-rushing scheme, especially behind an athletic offensive line.

WEAKNESSES

Taylor may be an excellent rusher, but his complete lack of receiving ability completely limits his value, as several offenses (Chiefs, Cardinals, Bucs, Texans) won’t have a place for him. He’s also not very shifty, struggles to get back to top speed, which isn’t great anyways, and has significant tread on his tires. Oh, and he fumbles A LOT

OUTLOOK

Jonathan Taylor has plenty of exciting abilities with his power, size, speed, and intelligence combination, but he can’t contribute to the passing game, making him a scheme-dependent player. Ironically, his best fit is with the Titans, who’ve thrived with a running back in Derrick Henry that has a very similar skillset, though one can only imagine the damage he could do behind the Colts’ offensive line. He’s the classic running back that is a high volume rusher, but doesn’t provide much value at all after his rookie contract runs out.

#5: Antonio Gibson, Memphis

gibson
Photo Cred: The Commercial Appeal

Year: JUCO Senior

Height: 6’2″ Weight: 220 lbs

Pro Comparison: Tony Pollard

Best Fits: ARI, WSH, JAX

Overall Grade: 86.24 (Early 3rd)

STRENGTHS

As a converted receiver, Antonio Gibson figures to be a strong receiving threat for a running back, though when you watch him run his routes, it’s clear to see why he changed positions. In fact, it’s his running ability that really excites me, as he’s extremely explosive and is a terror to tackle with the ball in his hands. He’s able to bounce is and out of cuts without losing speed, and if you want to use him as a kick returner, he’s a weapon there as well. Plus, with a thick lower body build, he has more power than you’d expect for someone who hasn’t been a full-time running back.

WEAKNESSES

Gibson is a little high-waisted, which prevents his contact balance from truly being elite, and as alluded to, he’s not the type of route runner you’d expect for someone who played mostly receiver in college. In the end, the main red flag with the Memphis product is his lack of experience as an actual running back, as he doesn’t have the type of field vision that the top running backs in this draft class have.

OUTLOOK

Antonio Gibson doesn’t figure to be a bell-cow running back, but he doesn’t need to be. He’s an excellent complementary threat with a more nuanced rusher, and can add a layer to an offense that several teams could use. His explosiveness would fit in opened-up offenses such as the Cardinals and Chiefs, though he’d complement a power rusher great, making teams like Redskins, Jaguars, and Bills logical landing spots as well. After a strong Senior Bowl performance, his stock appears to be on the rise, and if used properly, he could be a terrific pick at the end of day two of the draft.

#6: Anthony McFarland

mcfarland
Photo Cred: Baltimore Sun

Year: RS Soph.

Height: 5’9″ Weight: 198 lbs

Pro Comparison: Matt Breida

Best Fits: SF, CIN, IND

Overall Grade: 85.89 (Late 3rd)

STRENGTHS

If you’re searching for an explosive running back, look no further than Anthony McFarland, who is simply a big play waiting to happen. If he gets any sort of space, he’s an absolute menace; he showcases his elusiveness, acceleration, and slippery running ability almost any time there is a hole. For a smaller running back, McFarland also absorbs contact better than you’d expect, runs very hard, and has all the abilities to thrive in a zone-rushing scheme.

WEAKNESSES

Though McFarland is an excellent zone-rusher, he’s very limited to a zone-rushing scheme, as he lacks field vision and between the tackles rushing ability. Given his size, he’s also unlikely to handle a major workload, and wasn’t used much as a receiver at Maryland. With his issues with his instincts – he isn’t a very creative runner in terms of creating chunk plays when a hole isn’t there – and pass protection, he’s a great athlete, but needs more experience as a rusher.

OUTLOOK

McFarland will never be a power rusher and isn’t a refined runner, but he’s almost a track runner in terms of his speed and acceleration, and will be an excellent piece to a smartly ran zone-rushing offense. That makes teams like the 49ers, Bengals, and Rams all come to mind, but pairing him with an offensive line also makes sense, as creating any sort of rushing lane for him could result in a touchdown at any time. If you’re looking for upside at the running back position, then McFarland will be a smart pick in the end of day two or beginning of day three of the draft.

#7: Zack Moss, Utah

zackmoss
Photo Cred: Utah Athletics

Year: SR

Height: 5’10” Weight: 222 lbs

Pro Comparison: Devin Singletary

Best Fits: ATL, TEN, DET

Overall Grade: 84.885 (Late 4th)

STRENGTHS

Unlike Gibson and McFarland, Zack Moss is the type of polished running back prospect who will be ready to contribute right away. He’s a true bowling ball runner with his ability to finish off runs, and has proven to be a bell-cow running back with strong contact balance. He’s able to hit holes with decent explosiveness and timing, is able to make quick cuts, and has the type of field vision that teams covet. I really like his footwork, and though he’s not a complete receiver, he was great in Utah in the screen game.

WEAKNESSES

Though Moss is a powerful inside rusher, he tries to bounce it to the outside too often, and he doesn’t have the ability to do that. Without high-end speed or shiftiness, he’s not the type of runner that create positing yardage on what should be a negative play, and is not a home run threat. Speaking of his processor, he tends to try to initiate contact way too much and also had very few targets past the line of scrimmage.

OUTLOOK

I like Zack Moss as a complimentary power rusher due to his ability to create yards after contact, and because of that, he’ll definitely have a place in the NFL. However, his athletic limitations and inconsistency will likely prevent him from ever being more than that, as he’s scheme dependent. A role that would fit him well is the role Latavius Murray had in New Orleans, as he was used in screens, but was used mostly as a between the tackles rusher for the Saints when Alvin Kamara needed a breather. That’s worth a late fourth-round pick, though depending on team needs, I’d much rather take a chance a running back prospect with greater upside.

#8: Cam Akers, Florida State

akers
Photo Cred: FSU

Year: JR

Height: 5’11” Weight: 212 lbs

Pro Comparison: Terrance West

Best Fits: IND, BAL, NYG

Overall Grade: 84.615 (Early 5th)

STRENGTHS

Cam Akers was a five-star recruit out of high school, and it’s easy to see why. He’s super quick with his cuts, and with his terrific speed and athleticism, has plenty of upside. Akers’ impressive physical traits don’t stop there, as he absorbs contact really well, is naturally elusive, and is also powerful as a runner. Sure, his production was not ideal at Florida State, but he also played behind a putrid offensive line, and if put in the right situation, could thrive.

WEAKNESSES

Perhaps because of the offensive line, Akers rarely trusts his reads, and often tries to do too much as a runner. Therefore, he’s essentially a tunnel-vision runner, and will be a major work in progress in the NFL. That’s not ideal for a running back, especially one who also needs work with his route running and pass protector; Akers also may be scheme limited to a zone-blocking scheme.

OUTLOOK

Cam Akers is a superbly talented running back, which is why so many schools coveted him when he was a five-star recruit. However, his development stalled at Florida State, and although one could blame the situation, there’s a chance he won’t be in the greatest of situations in the NFL either. Running backs are expected to contribute right away, and at the moment, he’s a change of pace back who will need really strong coaching.

#9: Reggie Corbin, Illinois

reggiecorbin
Photo Cred: News-Gazette

Year: RS Senior

Height: 5’10” Weight: 200 lbs

Pro Comparison: Darren Sproles

Best Fits: GB, DEN, DET

Overall Grade: 83.375 (Late 5th)

STRENGTHS

The nickname “Human Joystick” tends to be overused, but if one player deserves that label, it’s Reggie Corbin. The Illinois product’s agility and shiftiness are unprecedented, as he makes plays that will simply make your jaws drop.  He’s able to change directions with complete ease, and for being a smaller running back, he breaks tackles at a high rate. If used on kick and punt returns, he also figures to be an explosive asset in that area as well.

WEAKNESSES

Due to his size limitations and ugly bounce-out decisions, Corbin is more of a 5-10 carries runner than a bell-cow. Plus, he was essentially a one-year wonder at Illinois in terms of production, isn’t a natural receiver, and is more quick than fast. He certainly isn’t your prototypical running back.

OUTLOOK

Every team can use a strong returner who can be a terrific complementary running back, and that’s what Reggie Corbin can be for them. He draws instant comparisons to Darren Sproles and Austin Ekeler, and has to be one of my favorite prospects in this entire draft class. It’s hard to gauge how teams will value him, but there are so many teams that aren’t getting any sort of production from their return specialists, while others need an explosive weapon in their backfield. Why not have both for the price of one?

#10: Darius Anderson, TCU

dariusanderson
Photo Cred: http://www.nbcdfw.com

Year: SR

Height: 5’11” Weight: 212 lbs

Pro Comparison: Tevin Coleman

Best Fits: SF, KC, WSH

Overall Grade: 83.09 (Early 6th)

STRENGTHS

Darius Anderson is yet another late-round running back prospect that may excite teams with his physical tools. He’s a quick runner who runs with a lot of urgency, and with tremendous athleticism, is dynamic if given open space. He’s almost a lock to create a big play if he gets to the perimeter as a runner or receiver, as he hits his full speed at a rapid pace, and he’s a lot better absorbing contact than you’d expect. Therefore, he’s quick, elusive, and compact, which is exactly what you want from a running back.

WEAKNESSES

Anderson, similarly to Akers and Corbin, always is looking to bounce to the outside, which can lead to some brutal plays- he never accepts a minimal gain. Plus, he tends to be only effective when given space, so he’ll need to go to a team that schemes up plays for him, such as the 49ers or Chiefs. It’s easy to see that he’s not an experienced running back, and if you’re counting on him on short-yardage situations, you’ll most likely be disappointed by the result.

OUTLOOK

In the right situation, Darius Anderson could be a nice role player when a big play is needed. However, giving him touches is also a risk, as he makes a lot of questionable reads and also lacks ball security. He’s an intriguing option on day three of the draft, but probably won’t be a starting-caliber running back.

Here are the other running backs that were evaluated, ranked with their overall grade:

11) Eno Benjamin, Arizona State (82.78/6th)

12) Ke’Shawn Vaughn, Vanderbilt (82.38/6th)

13) DeeJay Dallas, Miami (82.36/6th)

14) Kylin Hill, Mississippi State (81.79/Early 7th)

15) JaMychal Hasty, Baylor (81.57/Early 7th)

16) Lamical Perine, Florida (81.11/7th)

17) Trey Sermon, Oklahoma (80.29/Late 7th)

18) Stephen Carr, USC (80.19, Late 7th)

19) AJ Dillon, Boston College (77.01/UDFA)

20) Joshua Kelley, UCLA (76.84/UDFA)

It’s well known that the running back position is likely the least valuable in the NFL, as they’re easily replaceable and tend to be a product of their situation. However, it’s still important to have a dynamic option, and in D’Andre Swift and Clyde Edwards-Helaire, there are two elite running back prospects in this draft class, while JK Dobbins and Jonathan Taylor are two intriguing options as well. If you’re looking for a complementary running back, Antonio Gibson, Anthony McFarland, and Reggie Corbin are will be valuable assets, while Zack Moss, Darius Anderson, and Cam Akers are also legitimate running back prospects as well. I like the star talent of this running back class rather than its depth, but there are many more talented running back prospects than there were last year.

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