This is an interesting time for the running back position in the NFL. Only the very best backs get big-dollar, long-term extensions, and often only after they hold out or threaten to hold out. That would seem to make finding productive, cheap RBs in the draft even more important, but teams don’t want to use a first-round (or maybe even a second-round) pick on a back, figuring they can find a capable player in the later rounds or on the free-agent market.
What does this mean for the top backs in the 2020 NFL Draft class? It’s tough to say, but one thing we do know is there are several who have the potential to provide an immediate impact. D’Andre Swift, J.K. Dobbins, and Jonathan Taylor form a powerhouse top three on the RB big board, but several other backs farther down the list could be just as impactful as rookies if they land in the right spots.
Sporting News breaks down the top 10 running backs in this year’s draft class:
NFL Draft 2020 running back rankings
1. D’Andre Swift, Georgia
Swift excelled at UGA despite working in a multi-back system during his three years there, averaging 6.6 yards per carry and posting 1,000-yard seasons as both a sophomore and junior. He also proved to be a capable receiver, catching 73 passes for 666 yards during his college career. The 5-9, 215-pound Swift ran a 4.48 40-yard dash at the Combine, and he has shown the speed and elusiveness to be a complete back in the NFL. He should be an impact starter/committee back for whatever team drafts him in the first round.
2. J.K. Dobbins, Ohio State
Dobbins posted three straight 1,000-yard seasons for Ohio State, including a 2,003-yard junior campaign that also yielded 23 total touchdowns. He declined to run the 40-yard dash at the Combine, but we know Dobbins is a dynamic playmaker. He averaged 6.2 yards per carry during his college career, and at 5-10 and 213 pounds, he has enough size to hold up well in the NFL. There’s a case to be made that he’s the top back in this draft, because he, too, has shown adequate receiving skills (66 receptions, 645 yards over three seasons). Dobbins should be immediate impact player.
3. Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin
Had Taylor run for just 23 more yards as a freshman, he would have posted three straight 2,000-yard seasons during his time at Wisconsin. Even by Badger standards, that’s seriously impressive. The 5-11, 219-pound Taylor also impressed at the Combine when he ran a 4.39 40-yard dash. Taylor even showed more in the receiving game as a junior, catching 26 passes for 252 yards. His heavy college workload (926 rushing attempts) is both a blessing (shows he’s durable) and a curse (suggests he could wear down sooner), but he should be drafted in the first two rounds and churn out yardage right away.
4. Clyde Edwards-Helaire, LSU
Edwards-Helaire broke out during his junior season, rushing for 1,414 yards and adding another 453 receiving yards on 55 receptions. At 5-8 and 209 pounds, it’s unlikely he’ll be an “every-down” back, but it’s clear he’s a capable runner and solid receiver. His 4.60 40-yard-dash during the Combine was a bit of a disappointment, but he could put up solid overall stats in the mold of Austin Ekeler. Given the importance of passing in today’s NFL, Edwards-Helaire will be highly sought after.
5. Zack Moss, Utah
Moss impressed during his last three seasons at Utah, rushing for 1,000-plus yards each year and totaling 39 TDs. His 4.65 40-yard-dash time at the Combine left a lot to be desired, but the 5-10, 222-pounder is a tough runner and solid receiver (66 receptions, 685 yards despite playing sparingly as a freshman and missing several games as a junior). He could be a touchdown machine early as he continues to develop as a complete NFL back.
6. Cam Akers, Florida State
Akers is one of the most talented backs in this year’s draft, but an inconsistent college career (brought on, at least in part, but Florida State’s overall inconsistencies) and fumbling issues have dropped his stock lower than it should be. The 5-11, 212-pound back ran a 4.48 40-yard-dash at the Combine and posted 1,000-yard seasons as a freshman and junior. He also caught 69 passes for 486 yards in three years, showing he can handle three-down duties at the next level.
7. Eno Benjamin, Arizona State
Benjamin regressed stats-wise during his junior year, rushing for almost 600 fewer yards (1,083) than his breakout sophomore campaign (1,642 yards). He still impressed as both a runner and receiver (77 receptions, 610 yards his final two seasons), and his size (5-10, 210 pounds) and speed (4.57 40-yard-dash time) are both NFL-caliber. He will likely be a mid-round pick who will work behind an established starter early in his career, but if he can handle his blocking duties, his receiving skills could get him on the field more than expected.
8. Anthony McFarland, Maryland
McFarland’s college stats were decent (1,648 rushing yards, 6.7 yards per carry in two seasons with the Terrapins), but it was his 4.40 40-yard-dash time at the Combine that really turned heads. He’s a bit undersized at 5-9 and 198 pounds, but if he adds weight and continues to develop, he could pay off as a mid- to late-round pick.
9. A.J. Dillon, Boston College
Dillon was productive in his three years at BC, rushing for at least 1,000 yards and 10 TDs in each campaign (4,382 yards and 38 TDs total). He was rarely called upon as a receiver (21 career receptions), so that will hurt his draft stock, but his 4.53 time in the 40-yard dash was decent enough, especially given his size (6-0, 250 pounds). He could be a punishing closer around the goal line. It’s unclear if he’ll get a chance to do more than that in the NFL, but he’s an intriguing late-round prospect.
10. Joshua Kelley, UCLA
Kelley posted 2,303 yards and 25 total TDs in his two seasons at UCLA, though he regressed in his second year in both yards per carry (4.6, down from 5.5) and receptions (11, down from 27). The 5-11, 219-pound back ran a solid 4.49 40-yard-dash at the Combine, so even though he has to work on his overall game, he has enough tools to merit a late-round selection.
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