The value of the running back in today’s NFL is a topic that is up for debate. The current product is a pass-happy league, which has enhanced the success of the product. Whether we like the rules associated with the current NFL, there is no denying that the league is making more money than ever.
Gone are the days of Barry Sanders and Emmitt Smith. Over the past 20 years, we have seen quarterbacks such as Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, and Drew Brees re-write history. Passing records have been demolished, while the longevity of the modern-day running back has diminished. With that said, there are three players that are potential first-round running backs in the 2020 NFL Draft.
History tells us that a big financial investment in a running back coming out of their rookie contract is not a wise decision. Two years ago, the Los Angeles Rams gave Todd Gurley a record contract extension worth $45 million in guaranteed money. Now, two years later, the Rams are trying to find a way to move on from Gurley. Similarly, in 2018 the Arizona Cardinals gave David Johnson a big three-year contract extension. Today, the Cardinals are rumored to be evaluating whether to outright release Johnson.
The wear and tear on running backs, who touch the ball as much as any player in football outside the quarterback, is very real. NFL defenders are bigger, faster, stronger, and hitting harder than ever. If running backs touch the ball as much as any player, and signing them after their rookie contract isn’t wise, it would suggest the best time to invest in one is in the NFL Draft, allowing you to maximize their usage while they’re on a rookie contract. With that said, there are some running back prospects in the 2020 Draft that are worthy of being in the conversation of being a first-round draft pick.
The potential first-round running backs 2020 class lost some of its luster when Clemson’s Travis Etienne, Alabama’s Najee Harris, and Oklahoma State’s Chuba Hubbard announced their intentions to return to school, rather than enter the draft. Despite this, the 2020 running back group is sensational. Let’s take a look at the three running backs that could hear their names called on the first day of the 2020 NFL Draft.
J.K. Dobbins, Ohio State (5’10”, 217 pounds)
When I watch tape of J.K. Dobbins, I am reminded of Ray Rice when he was in his prime with the Baltimore Ravens. He was spectacular for the Buckeyes in 2019, running for 2,003 yards, and 21 touchdowns, while averaging an astounding 6.7 yards per carry. His prospects for the NFL are exciting.
Dobbins’ vision and contact balance are elite. He is a physical, downhill runner that shines when the lights are the brightest. In an article I wrote in January, I thoroughly examined the brilliance of Dobbins. He has a compact build and runs with a unique blend of power, patience, and speed. He has all the makings of a bell-cow running back.
One of my favorite Dobbins clips is his brilliant run against the Clemson Tigers in the Fiesta Bowl. Look at this vision and burst:
— Sideline Report (@SidelineReport_) December 29, 2019
While Dobbins is a brilliant player, I don’t see him being selected in round one. He will go high on day two, with teams like the Detroit Lions and Miami Dolphins making a lot of sense.
D’Andre Swift, Georgia (5’9″, 215 pounds)
The most likely NFL comparison you will get for Georgia running back D’Andre Swift is New Orleans Saints’ stud, Alvin Kamara. Unlike the above mentioned Dobbins, Swift was a bit of a disappointment in 2019, as he battled injuries and just couldn’t seem to get fully healthy. With that said, he still ran for 1,218 yards and 7 touchdowns, while averaging an impressive 6.2 yards per carry.
Every time Swift touches the ball, he is a threat to take it all the way. He is the most explosive player at the position, possessing insanely quick feet, and has the ability to hit a gear that most running backs don’t have. He is far more than a speed player, as he has strong legs and can consistently run with tremendous power. His ability to cut, stop-and-start, and make defenders miss is unparalleled in the 2020 draft class. To add to his value, Swift is a natural pass catcher, making him a threat in the passing game as well.
As evident in the clip below, Swift’s ability to make defenders miss is special:
D'Andre Swift, making everyone miss. pic.twitter.com/xYr2dQus3J
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) November 3, 2018
D’Andre Swift is the running back most likely to be selected in round one of the 2020 NFL Draft. His explosiveness and playmaking ability is just too much to pass on. Ultimately, I predict a team like the Baltimore Ravens or Kansas City Chiefs will select Swift at the end of round one.
Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin (5’11”, 216 pounds)
In terms of production, Jonathan Taylor is one of the most productive running backs in college football history. During his tenure as a Wisconsin Badger, Taylor carried the football 926 times, rushing for 6,174 yards and a mind-blowing 50 touchdowns, while averaging 6.7 yards per carry. There is no doubt about the production, but there has to be concerns about the mileage on Taylor’s tires.
Taylor’s most impressive quality is the power he runs with. He rarely goes down on initial contact and consistently fights for extra yardage. When you watch film on Taylor, you will notice that he always runs at a good pad level. He is a patient runner, allowing his blockers to engage and finding lanes off of them. One thing to note: Taylor improved as a receiver in 2019 and is strong at picking up the blitz.
The clip below will highlight that Taylor possesses underrated speed:
This play always stands out to showcase Jonathan Taylor's explosiveness and how he accelerates so quick – then he's gone! pic.twitter.com/QVAq0TDh61
— The Peebles Champion (@FFPeeblesChamp) February 19, 2020
I really like Taylor, but view him as a mid-to-late second-round pick. He will be a productive runner early on in his career, but there are some questions surrounding his longevity.
2020 NFL Draft: Neal Driscoll’s Running Back Rankings
|1||J.K. Dobbins||RB||Ohio State||JR||5″10||215 lbs.|
|2||D’Andre Swift||RB||Georgia||JR||5″9||215 lbs.|
|3||Jonathan Taylor||RB||Wisconsin||JR||5″11||216 lbs.|
|4||Clyde Edwards-Helaire||RB||LSU||JR||5″8||209 lbs.|
|5||Zack Moss||RB||Utah||SR||5″10||215 lbs.|
|6||Eno Benjamin||RB||Arizona State||JR||5″10||201 lbs.|
|7||Cam Akers||RB||Florida State||JR||5″11||210 lbs.|
|8||Lamical Perine||RB||Florida||SR||5″11||218 lbs.|
|9||Anthony McFarland, Jr.||RB||Maryland||rSO||5″9||195 lbs.|
|10||Ke’shawn Vaughn||RB||Vanderbilt||SR||5″10||215 lbs.|
|11||A.J. Dillon||RB||Boston College||JR||6″0||245 lbs.|
|12||Michael Warren||RB||Cincinnati||JR||5″11||219 lbs.|
|13||Salvon Ahmed||RB||Washington||JR||5″11||196 lbs.|
|14||Joshua Kelly||RB||UCLA||SR||5″11||204 lbs.|
|15||J.J. Taylor||RB||Arizona||JR||5″6||170 lbs.|
|16||DeeJay Dallas||RB||Miami||JR||5″10||220 lbs.|
|17||Javon Leake||RB||Maryland||JR||6″0||206 lbs.|
|18||Antonio Gibson||RB||Memphis||SR||6″2||221 lbs.|
|19||Patrick Taylor||RB||Memphis||SR||6″3||223 lbs.|
|20||Tony Jones, Jr.||RB||Notre Dame||JR||5″11||224 lbs.|
|21||Jordan Cronkrite||RB||South Florida||SR||5″11||205 lbs.|
|22||Rodney Smith||RB||Minnesota||SR||5″11||210 lbs.|
|23||Scottie Phillips||RB||Mississippi||SR||5″11||211 lbs.|
|24||Darius Anderson||RB||TCU||SR||5″11||212 lbs.|
|25||JaMycal Hasty||RB||Baylor||SR||5″9||205 lbs.|
|26||Reggie Corbin||RB||Illinois||SR||5″10||200 lbs.|
|27||B.J. Smith||RB||Troy||SR||5″9||203 lbs.|
|28||James Robinson||RB||Illinois State||SR||5″10||220 lbs.|
|29||Rico Dowdle||RB||South Carolina||SR||6″0||215 lbs.|
|30||Antonio Williams||RB||UNC||SR||5″10||210 lbs.|
|31||Sewo Olonilua||RB||TCU||SR||6″3||225 lbs.|
|32||Artavis Pierce||RB||Oregon State||SR||5″11||203 lbs.|
|33||Tavien Feaster||RB||South Carolina||SR||5″11||220 lbs.|
|34||Benny LeMay||RB||Charlotte||SR||6″0||218 lbs.|
|35||Darrynton Evans||RB||Appalachian State||JR||5″11||190 lbs.|
|36||Toren Young||RB||Iowa||JR||5″11||220 lbs.|
|37||Moe Neal||RB||Syracuse||SR||5″11||195 lbs.|
|38||Marvin Kinsey||RB||Colorado State||SR||6″1||206 lbs.|
|39||Levante Bellamy||RB||Western Michigan||SR||5″9||190 lbs.|
|40||Adrian Killins||RB||UCF||SR||5″8||164 lbs.|
|41||Deshawn McClease||RB||Virginia Tech||JR||5″9||190 lbs.|
|42||Peter Guerriero||RB||Monmouth||JR||5″10||190 lbs.|
|43||Raymond Calais||RB||Louisiana||SR||5″9||185 lbs.|