2020 NFL Draft Running Back Breakdown

by Tyler Mulligan
2020 NFL Draft Running Back Breakdown

Running backs don’t matter.

At least this is the sentiment NFL GMs and owners have been pushing as of late.

Despite Christian McCaffery’s historic deal which nets the superstar $64 million over the next five years, running backs have seemingly lost their value across the NFL landscape. Notable holdouts from Le’Veon Bell, Melvin Gordon, and Ezekiel Elliott have illustrated the unwillingness of NFL franchises to shell out big bucks for their feature backs.

In the NFL draft, only one running back was selected in the first round, with the final pick. Meanwhile, five receivers and seven offensive linemen were chosen in the premiere round.

In fantasy football, however, running backs are arguably the most important position across leagues. The RB is the engine that propels the train, often the difference between championship glory and mediocrity.

In the 2020 NFL Draft Breakdown, we’re looking at this year’s cream of the crop at the most undervalued skill position in football. If you missed it, go back and check out the Quarterback breakdown.

2020 NFL Draft Running Back Breakdown

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Clyde Edwards-Helaire, RB, LSU
Kansas City Cheifs, No.32

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2019 Stats:

  • 1414 rushing yards
  • 6.6 yards per carry
  • 16 rushing touchdowns
  • 55 receptions
  • 453 receiving yards
  • 1 receiving touchdown

The only running back selected in this years first round came as somewhat of a surprise. Although he was a consensus top-5 back, many had other college prospects ahead of Clyde Edwards-Helaire.

Andy Reid, however, liked what he saw from the five-foot-eight rusher and pulled the trigger with the final pick of the first round.

Upon further review, the reasoning behind the selection of Edwards-Helaire makes sense.

The Chiefs are coming off a Super Bowl victory and didn’t have any glaring draft needs. Their offense is one of the most explosive units in the entire league and to increase the potency, they’ve added an adept pass catcher that will bolster their backfield.

Fantasy owners can expect solid usage out of Edwards-Helaire, as he provides more versatility than his counterpart Damien Williams, who brought in 30 receptions in 2019.

With a gunslinger like Patrick Mahomes at quarterback and the league’s biggest deep threat in Tyreek Hill, defenses often play the deep ball. This opens up short routes coming out of the backfield.

Edwards-Helaire will be usable in all formats, but the best pass-catching back in this year’s class is most lethal in PPR leagues.

D’Andre Swift, RB, Georgia
Detroit Lions, No. 35

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2019 stats:

  • 1,218 rushing yards
  • 6.2 yards per carry
  • 7 rushing touchdowns
  • 24 receptions
  • 216 receiving yards
  • 1 receiving touchdown

Since Barry Sanders’ retirement, the Detroit Lions have been chasing the dragon at the running back position. Since Sanders stacked ten-straight seasons with over 1,000 yards rushing, only two Lions eclipsed the mark —Kevin Jones in 2004 and Reggie Bush in 2013.

Many analysts pegged Georgia product, D’Andre Swift, as the first running back to be taken in the 2020 NFL Draft. Whether or not he joins the 1,000-yard club remains to be seen.

Swift joins Detroit’s running back rotation alongside of Kerryon Johnson and bruiser Bo Scarbrough.

Johnson has shown flashes of talent in the past two years but has been marred by injuries. In 2019, Johnson only appeared in eight games, procuring 403 ground yards.

While short-yardage situations will be tasked to Scarbrough, Swift can expect a decent number of snaps. When the Lions have healthy running backs, they use all of them. While this isn’t necessarily the best situation in fantasy, Swift should have the opportunity to show the Detroit brass why he should be the feature piece.

Fantasy owners need to keep in mind the high possibility of a time-share scenario and draft accordingly. Handcuffing Swift and Johnson is the most risk-averse option but could be less lucrative than gambling on one.

Considering Johnson’s injury history, Swift should be targeted in the middle rounds of redraft leagues.

Jonathan Taylor, RB, Wisconsin
Indianapolis Colts, No. 41

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2019 stats:

  • 2,003 rushing yards
  • 6.3 yards per carry
  • 21 rushing touchdowns
  • 26 receptions
  • 252 receiving yards
  • 5 receiving touchdowns

Jonathan Taylor was a true bell-cow running back at the University of Wisconsin, averaging over 300 carries per season in his three years at the program. He’s one of the most dominant running backs in NCAA history, averaging over 2,000 ground yards per season and totaling 55 touchdowns from scrimmage in his collegiate career.

Taylor also crushed the combine, posting a 4.39-second 40-yard dash—the fastest time of all running backs.

Marlon Mack is the biggest obstacle for Taylor to overcome. Mack is coming off a 1,091-yard season for the Colts, where he brought eight carries to paydirt. While Mack isn’t considered an elite running back, He’s been productive as a starter and worthy of fantasy rosters.

Bringing in Philip Rivers might be the biggest variable that affects the usage of Taylor within the Colts offense. Rivers is used to having a pass-catcher out of the backfield. Austin Ekeler had 92 catches last season.

Last season, Mack only had 14.

While Taylor wasn’t known for his receiving prowess in college, last year he proved his effectiveness in the passing game, catching five touchdown passes to go along with his 21 rushing touchdowns.

Once again, a handcuff situation might be the way to go for fantasy owners. Both Taylor and Mack are talented, but Taylor’s versatility might prove to be the deciding factor in the Colts’ deployment of the tailbacks down the stretch.

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Cam Akers, RB, Florida State
Los Angeles Rams, No. 52

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2019 stats:

  • 1144 rushing yards
  • 5.0 yards per carry
  • 14 rushing touchdowns
  • 30 receptions
  • 225 receiving yards
  • 4 receiving touchdowns

Now that Todd Gurley is out of the mix in Los Angeles, the Rams will turn to the next generation of running backs.

Cam Akers wasn’t as dominant in college as some of the other running backs in this year’s class. Despite this, he joins a Rams offense that lacks depth at the position.

Akers fits into the running back fold alongside Darrell Henderson Malcolm Brown.

Henderson was a stud in college but only rushed 39 times in his rookie campaign. Malcolm Brown averaged 3.7 yards per carry on just 69 attempts.

This is a dream scenario for Akers, who should become the day-one starter in Los Angeles.

While his talent level isn’t as high as Swift or Taylor, Akers faces little competition for in terms of touches. The former Seminole is a safe pick for fantasy owners and can potentially dazzle within Sean McVey’s offense that relies heavily on a zone-run scheme to open up the Jared Goff’s passing attack.

Look for Akers to slide within redraft scenarios because of his lack of notoriety coming out of college. Savvy fantasy owners might have a diamond in the rough in mid-to-later rounds by selecting Akers.

J.K. Dobbins, RB, Ohio State
Baltimore Ravens, No. 55

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2019 stats:

  • 2,003 rushing yards
  • 6.7 yards per carry
  • 21 rushing touchdowns
  • 23 receptions
  • 247 receiving yards
  • 2 receiving touchdowns

One of the most intriguing selections of the second round came when the Baltimore Ravens bolstered their rushing attack by picking J.K. Dobbins.

Dobbins was one of the most productive running backs in Ohio State history and comes from an offense that relied heavily on RPO reads. With Lamar Jackson at the helm, Baltimore used RPO’s more than any other team in 2019.

Dobbins enters a crowded backfield, but his elite ability to hit the right lane at the line of scrimmage should be highly utilized by the Ravens. His versatility as a pass-catcher is icing on the cake for John Harbaugh.

Running Back Mark Ingram was selected to the Pro Bowl last year but is now on the wrong side of 30. His durability hasn’t been a problem in the past, but his age does bring up questions. The Ravens may look to reduce his workload in favor of Dobbins to preserve the aging star for a Super Bowl run.

Because of Ingram and Gus Edward’s undeniable talent and production, Dobbins is tough for fantasy owners to trust. His big-play ability makes him a boom-or-bust pick in the middle to later rounds of drafts.

AJ Dillon, RB, Boston College
Green Bay Packers, No. 62

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2019 stats:

  • 1,685 rushing yards
  • 5.3 yards per carry
  • 14 rushing touchdowns
  • 13 receptions
  • 195 receiving yards
  • 1 receiving touchdown

AJ Dillon is a big boy.

At 250 pounds, he’ll make a living in the NFL by punching defenders in the mouth with his hard-nosed rushing style.

Aaron Jones is likely going to see the most touches in the upcoming season but Dillon— a true power back— will eat up goal-line carries for the Packers, which will produce fantasy numbers. He’ll be a touchdown vulture and the bane of Jones owners existence.

The Boston College product draws comparisons to Derrick Henry because of his size, but it took several seasons for Henry to be an every-down rusher. Dillon’s value has a chance to increase a few years down the line, which bodes well for dynasty rosters. As a rookie, however, Dillon lacks the versatility to be productive immediately.

Although he’s certainly intriguing because of his potential to be like LeGarrette Blount in redzone situations, fantasy owners will rely on Dillon to score touchdowns to be fantasy viable.

Bruisers like Dillon are risky, but with high risk, comes high reward.

Antonio Gibson, RB/WR, Memphis
Washington Redskins, No.66

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2019 stats:

  • 369 rushing yards
  • 11.2 yards per carry
  • 4 rushing touchdowns
  • 38 receptions
  • 735 receiving yards
  • 8 receiving touchdowns

Antonio Gibson is a wildcard.

Currently, Gibson sits behind Derrius Guice and Adrian Peterson on Washington’s depth chart.

But is he a running back?

In college, he only ran the ball 33 times. At the same time, he only caught the ball 44 times.

While he was uber-productive, the small sample size is scary for prospective fantasy owners.

He’s likely to become a gadget player in the Redskins offense, but his value as a pass-catcher coming out of the backfield is enticing. Expect Gibson to be sprinkled into Washington’s scheme on third-down situations.

His lack of reps in college and lack of position, for that matter, is problematic. He’ll be a wait-and-see prospect, but the question marks surrounding Gibson far outweigh his potential as a productive fantasy piece.

In dynasty leagues, he might have some later-round potential, but in redraft leagues, Gibbins should go undrafted.

Ke’Shawn Vaughn, RB, Vanderbilt
Tampa Bay Buccaneers, No.76

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2019 stats:

  • 1,028 rushing yards
  • 5.2 yards per carry
  • 9 rushing touchdowns
  • 28 receptions
  • 270 receiving yards
  • 1 receiving touchdown

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers nailed their third-round pick when they drafted Ke’Shawn Vaughn.

While everyone is swooning over the off-season signings of Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski, the Bucs shored up another hole in their offense by selecting Vaughn.

Vaughn was productive in the highly competitive SEC without an offensive line that featured zero NFL talent.

Now he’s stepping into a great situation in Tampa, where he faces little competition for the role of RB1.

Ronald Jones was underwhelming last season for the Buccaneers. As a starter, he only procured 724 yards on the ground. Jones was able to rack up another 309 receiving yards which isn’t terrible but the fact that Jameis Winston threw for over 5,000 yards minimizes the impressiveness of this stat line.

It’s no secret that head coach Bruce Arians likes to air it out, and with the receiving talent he has to go along with Brady, it should be expected. With weapons like Mike Evans and Chris Godwin getting the attention of defenders, Vaughn will have the opportunity to gash defenses from day one.

He’s not as talented as some of the other running backs in this year’s class but has the biggest upside as a starting running back. As a result, Vaughn will be in the RB1 conversation and should be scooped up in the third round at the latest in redraft formats.

In terms of dynasty leagues, he’ll have value later in the first round, or early in the second round.

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