Believe it or not, we are merely weeks away from the National Championship and two of the premier college showcase games, which means that draft season will soon be underway. While the 2020 NFL Draft is loaded with a talented surplus of intriguing players at the skill positions, I decided to take a look at three of the running backs in the 2020 NFL Draft that will have a chance to significantly boost their draft stock in the coming months.
This article highlights the NFL prospects of J.K. Dobbins, Travis Etienne, and Chuba Hubbard.
When all is said and done, I believe J.K. Dobbins will be the first of the 2020 NFL Draft running backs off the board.
Despite standing at 5-foot-10 and weighing 217 pounds, there are more layers to Dobbins’ game than his sturdy, compact build would lead you to believe. After clearing the 1,000-yard rushing mark in his first two seasons at Ohio State, Dobbins turned in a massively productive junior season that placed him squarely on NFL radars. His 301 carries bested his previous career-high by nearly 71 totes, and his 2,003 rushing yards surpassed his gaudy freshman total by 600 yards; he found the end zone 21 times. In addition to his ground production, Dobbins managed to reel in 23 receptions for 247 yards and two touchdowns. His lofty rushing total was second-most in college football, behind only Oklahoma State’s Chuba Hubbard.
I liken Dobbins’ skill set to Baltimore Ravens running back Mark Ingram, in that he is a bigger back that can do many of the things a smaller back can. He has the required power to rip off chucks of yards between the tackles, yet demonstrates the athleticism and agility to bounce it outside. To me, Dobbins’ contact balance is better than any running back in this draft class, but his top trait may very well be his unparalleled vision. He shows unwavering patience at the line of scrimmage, waiting for his blocks to set up so he can burst through the crease.
Earlier this week, Dobbins announced that he will forego his senior season, and enter the 2020 NFL Draft. The Ohio State star has the talent to surge up draft boards and contend for supremacy among 2020 NFL Draft running backs, provided he runs a respectable time in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine and shines in the on-field drills.
Travis Etienne has been a remarkably productive player the past two seasons for the Clemson Tigers, despite somewhat limited usage. In fact, the 5-foot-10, 210-pound running back set the Clemson rushing record and became the first player in program history to produce three 200-yard rushing performances.
In 14 games in 2019, Etienne rushed for 1,536 yards and 18 touchdowns on 192 carries. He added 32 receptions for 396 yards and four touchdowns through the air, firmly establishing himself as a legitimate all-purpose running back. He finished second in the Atlantic Coast Conference in rushing yards after leading the conference a season ago.
Etienne is one of the top running backs in college football, and yet, I still feel like he is being overlooked as we inch closer to the pre-draft process. One thing in particular that stands out about Etienne’s game, is that he nearly picks up a first down every time he runs the football, as his 7.9 yards per carry would indicate. He lacks the rocked up physique of some of the other running backs in the 2020 NFL Draft, but it is his impressive leg drive and his long arms to deny would-be tacklers are the key to his massive average. Etienne is a smooth runner in the open field, so much so, that it sometimes seems as if he’s effortlessly gliding when making his cuts.
Since Etienne has largely been a one-cut runner at Clemson, his rushing style would seemingly cater more towards teams that implement zone-blocking concepts. While not the twitchiest of running backs, Etienne has the athleticism and balance to navigate through traffic and force defenders into taking poor angles. One concern that I have about Etienne’s game, however, is his upright running style, which tends to lead to a increase in fumbles at the next level and leaves players more susceptible to injury.
Etienne will have a chance to further improve his draft stock with a strong performance in the National Championship against LSU on January 13. One of my favorite skill players in this draft, expect the criminally overlooked Etienne to emerge in the coming months.
Chuba Hubbard has the talent to become the best running back in this draft class. The 6-foot-1, 207-pound runner is electric with the football and is a threat to score from anywhere on the field.
The Oklahoma State standout finished his sophomore season as the nation’s leader in rushing attempts (328) and rushing yards (2,094), and tied for third-most in rushing touchdowns (21). The Sherwood Park native compiled four 200-yard outings in 2019, against Oregon State (221), Tulsa (256), Kansas State (296), and TCU (223). Hubbard earned All-American, first-team All-Big 12, and 2019 Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year honors for his efforts.
There is a lot to like about Hubbard’s game; for one, his patience when approaching the line of scrimmage is, dare I say, Le’Veon Bell-like. Hubbard has a tendency to wait for the crease to open, put his foot in the ground, and go. His acceleration through the hole is a joy to watch, as he seemingly switches gears without hesitation. He is an effective runner between the tackles, and shows exceptional balance when encountering defenders in the hole. While he doesn’t have great long speed and is decidedly raw as a pass protector, he’s demonstrated that he has next-level star potential in just two years.
When I watch Hubbard play, I distinctly see shades of Arian Foster, as both runners share superlative patience, vision, lateral agility, and fluidity as a pass catcher. Though Hubbard has yet to make a decision regarding his NFL future, he has the makings of a Day 1 starter whenever that day comes.