Running backs are unfairly devalued in the modern game, but good luck getting that point across to the college football programs now scrambling to replace the production of 2020 NFL Draft picks like Clyde Edwards-Helaire, D’Andre Swift, and Jonathan Taylor. The second installment of our “The Replacements” series looks at the college football running back battles taking place at LSU, Georgia, Wisconsin, Florida State, and Ohio State to replace 2020 NFL Draft picks.
Fresh off a National Championship victory, Edwards-Helaire’s storybook career-year reached new heights as the first running back selected in the 2020 NFL Draft. Edwards-Helaire might have been the only running back with First Round draft capital, but ten other running backs got selected on day two of the draft.
For further details on some of these prospects, take a look at my devy and way-too-early 2021 dynasty rookie rankings. You can also find my breakdown of the 2020 college football quarterback battles HERE.
2020 College Football Running Back Battles
2019 Starting Running Back: Clyde Edwards-Helaire (drafted No. 32 overall by Kansas City Chiefs)
2020 Running Back Battle: Chris Curry (rSO) vs. Tyrion Davis-Price (SO) vs. John Emery (SO)
Replacing stat-machine Edwards-Helaire will be no easy task, so expect LSU to employ a bit of a running back-by-committee approach to begin the year. Chris Curry seems likely to get first dibs on the starting job after a solid performance in relief of an injured Edwards-Helaire in the 2019 Peach Bowl, but he has a couple of young running backs hungry for playing time nipping at his heels.
While Curry has one advantage as the veteran of the group, Tyrion Davis-Price enters LSU’s 2020 running back battle as the team’s leading returning rusher from 2019’s college football season. He might have begun his collegiate career as an afterthought to top-ranked 2019 prospect John Emery, but Davis-Price earned almost double the number of touches in year one.
It wouldn’t surprise anyone if uber-talented Emery took reigns of the backfield, but nothing is guaranteed after his 2019 performance. I noted Emery’s struggles and lack of snaps all the way back in my Week 8 Stock Report, and those concerns remain the same heading into the 2020 college football season.
2019 Starting Running Back: D’Andre Swift (drafted No. 35 overall by Detroit Lions)
2020 Running Back Battle: Zamir White (rSO) vs. James Cook (JR)
To many, former Georgia running back D’Andre Swift was the most talented all-around running back selected in the 2020 NFL Draft. You’d think that would make him the toughest running back to replace, but Georgia sets up as one of the teams most likely to survive the loss of their top rusher.
While Swift is a unique talent, the Bulldogs backfield of Zamir White and James Cook should form a more-than-adequate replacement. White is a quicker-than-expected 6’1″, 215-pound chain-moving running back, while Cook brings a speed-dynamic to the backfield.
White entered college as 2018’s number one high school running back, but an unfortunate ACL tear forced him into a redshirt freshman season. Cook, brother of Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook, is explosive in and out of cuts while flashing potential in the passing game thus far in his career.
— Keith Niebuhr (@Keith247Sports) January 1, 2018
2019 Starting Running Back: Jonathan Taylor (drafted No. 41 overall by the Indianapolis Colts
2020 Running Back Battle: Garrett Groshek (SR) vs. Nakia Watson (rSO) vs. Isaac Guerendo (rSO)
While some teams are in a decent position to replace their running back production, I’m not as confident in Wisconsin’s ability to do that. Then again, not many running backs were as productive as former Badgers standout Jonathan Taylor.
With 6,174 career rushing yards and 55 total touchdowns over a sensational three-year career, Taylor’s production as the offensive centerpiece of Wisconsin’s power-run offense would be an unreachable goal for any rusher to replicate. But even if one runner doesn’t dominate like Taylor, Wisconsin’s scheme and their offensive line will help with any growing pains at the position.
Senior Garrett Groshek (891 career rushing yards, 5.6 yards-per-carry) and rising sophomore Nakia Watson (331 yards, 4.5 yards-per-carry in 2019) are the most likely candidates to lead the Badgers’ rushing attack. You should also keep an eye on sophomore Isaac Guerendo who wasn’t featured at all until Wisconsin’s 2020 Rose Bowl defeat to the Oregon Ducks.
Florida State Seminoles
2019 Starting Running Back: Cam Akers (drafted No. 52 overall by the Los Angeles Rams)
2020 Running Back Battle: Jashaun Corbin (rSO) vs. Khalan Laborn (JR)
Whichever running back wins Florida State’s 2020 running back battle will have his work cut out playing behind one of the consistently-worst offensive lines in college football. The fact that Akers was able to gain over 1,000 rushing yards two of his three seasons is a testament to how talented the newly-drafted Los Angeles Rams running back truly is.
The running back battle in Tallahassee features the incumbent, 2019 backup Khalan Laborn, against a late addition to the 2020 Florida State roster. Former Texas A&M running back Jashaun Corbin was recently granted immediate eligibility after deciding to transfer to his home-state Seminoles.
Former consensus five-star running back Laborn is as talented as anyone on the field, but he hasn’t quite been the same since his 2018 knee injury. Hopefully, another year removed from his injury will bring Laborn some of his old powers back, because he showed dynamic play-making ability pre-injury.
Ohio State Buckeyes
2019 Starting Running Back: J.K. Dobbins (drafted No. 55 overall by the Baltimore Ravens)
2020 Running Back Battle: Trey Sermon (SR) vs. Master Teague (rSO)
Similar to Georgia, Ohio State is in a fantastic position to replace former Buckeyes standout, J.K. Dobbins, without missing much of a beat. Ohio State’s succession plan always included former four-star signee Master Teague, but the graduate transfer of Trey Sermon from Oklahoma added an extra wrinkle to the Buckeyes backfield.
Related | 2020 Buckeyes’ RB Battle
You do wonder how much of an impact sharing the workload ultimately has on Teague and Sermon’s devy stock, but there’s little doubt about Ohio State’s backfield next season. No matter who’s on the field, the Buckeyes will have an impact runner lined up next to quarterback Justin Fields.
With so much to lose for one or both prospects, the Ohio State running back battle is one of the most important heading into the 2020 college football season. Both prospects’ NFL Draft stock will be directly impacted, either positively or negatively, by the running back pecking order this season.