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:

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 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:

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

RankPlayerPositionSchoolYearHeightWeight
1J.K. DobbinsRBOhio StateJR5″10215 lbs.
2D’Andre SwiftRBGeorgiaJR5″9215 lbs.
3Jonathan TaylorRBWisconsinJR5″11216 lbs.
4Clyde Edwards-HelaireRBLSUJR5″8209 lbs.
5Zack MossRBUtahSR5″10215 lbs.
6Eno BenjaminRBArizona StateJR5″10201 lbs.
7Cam AkersRBFlorida StateJR5″11210 lbs.
8Lamical PerineRBFloridaSR5″11218 lbs.
9Anthony McFarland, Jr.RBMarylandrSO5″9195 lbs.
10Ke’shawn VaughnRBVanderbiltSR5″10215 lbs.
11A.J. DillonRBBoston CollegeJR6″0245 lbs.
12Michael WarrenRBCincinnatiJR5″11219 lbs.
13Salvon AhmedRBWashingtonJR5″11196 lbs.
14Joshua KellyRBUCLASR5″11204 lbs.
15J.J. TaylorRBArizonaJR5″6170 lbs.
16DeeJay DallasRBMiamiJR5″10220 lbs.
17Javon LeakeRBMarylandJR6″0206 lbs.
18Antonio GibsonRBMemphisSR6″2221 lbs.
19Patrick TaylorRBMemphisSR6″3223 lbs.
20Tony Jones, Jr.RBNotre DameJR5″11224 lbs.
21Jordan CronkriteRBSouth FloridaSR5″11205 lbs.
22Rodney SmithRBMinnesotaSR5″11210 lbs.
23Scottie PhillipsRBMississippiSR5″11211 lbs.
24Darius AndersonRBTCUSR5″11212 lbs.
25JaMycal HastyRBBaylorSR5″9205 lbs.
26Reggie CorbinRBIllinoisSR5″10200 lbs.
27B.J. SmithRBTroySR5″9203 lbs.
28James RobinsonRBIllinois StateSR5″10220 lbs.
29Rico DowdleRBSouth CarolinaSR6″0215 lbs.
30Antonio WilliamsRBUNCSR5″10210 lbs.
31Sewo OloniluaRBTCUSR6″3225 lbs.
32Artavis PierceRBOregon StateSR5″11203 lbs.
33Tavien FeasterRBSouth CarolinaSR5″11220 lbs.
34Benny LeMayRBCharlotteSR6″0218 lbs.
35Darrynton EvansRBAppalachian StateJR5″11190 lbs.
36Toren YoungRBIowaJR5″11220 lbs.
37Moe NealRBSyracuseSR5″11195 lbs.
38Marvin KinseyRBColorado StateSR6″1206 lbs.
39Levante BellamyRBWestern MichiganSR5″9190 lbs.
40Adrian KillinsRBUCFSR5″8164 lbs.
41Deshawn McCleaseRBVirginia TechJR5″9190 lbs.
42Peter GuerrieroRBMonmouthJR5″10190 lbs.
43Raymond CalaisRBLouisianaSR5″9185 lbs.