The NFL Draft is inching closer. With a serious lack of sports-related events on the calendar, there’s extra excitement surrounding the draft. Although the draft won’t be happening as usual, I’m completely ok with that. The virtual draft will keep everyone safe and give me some sports. It’s a win-win.
With Draft Day inching closer, I will be listing my top-5 players at each fantasy football relevant position. You can check out my quarterback rankings here. This blog will focus on the running backs.
1. Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin (5’10”, 226 lbs)
Combine results: 40-yard dash: 4.39 sec, bench press: 17 reps, vertical jump: 36.0 inches, broad jump: 123 inches, 3-cone drill: 7.01 seconds, 20-yard shuttle: 4.24 sec
2019 stats: G: 14 YDS: 2,003 AVG: 6.3 TD: 21 REC: 26 REC YDS: 252 AVG: 9.7 REC TD: 5
Taylor’s resume is certainly the most robust of the high-end running back prospects. Averaging more than 300 rushing attempts per season in three years as a Badger, he’s been extremely productive as the focal point of Wisconsin’s offence. While his heavy college usage may point to longevity concerns, that’s not something I’m worried about. The bigger issue with Taylor is ball security, as he fumbled 18 times during his college career. In addition to a strong college resume, Taylor put on an absolute clinic at the NFL Combine. He’s got the size, speed and talent to succeed as a bell-cow back at the next level.
Player comparison: Ezekiel Elliott
Both players have similar builds and running styles. Neither are necessarily specialists in the passing game, but both players are capable of catching the ball. Similarly to Elliott, Taylor is capable of being “the guy” in a backfield.
2. J.K. Dobbins, Ohio State University (5′ 9″, 209 lbs)
Combine results: Bench press: 23 reps
2019 stats: G: 14 YDS: 2,003 AVG: 6.7 TD: 21 REC: 23 YDS: 247 REC TD: 2
Dobbins is a complete running back. He has great footwork which he couples with stellar vision. He’s a very physical runner who can run up the gut or bust it to the perimeter. He has room to grow in the passing game, but he has good hands and can catch the ball out of the backfield. When he gets the ball in space, he’s explosive and very hard to bring down. He’s a capable home run hitter who could benefit from being a little more aggresive.
Player comparison: Miles Sanders
Sanders is the better receiver, but both players have similar builds, really good footwork and excellent vision.
3. D’Andre Swift, Georgia (5′ 8″, 212 lbs)
Combine results: 40-yard dash: 4.48 sec, vertical jump: 35.5 inches, broad jump: 121 inches
2019 stats: G: 14 YDS: 1,218 AVG: 6.2 TD: 7 REC: 24 REC YDS: 216 REC TD: 1
Great instincts are the first thing I notice when watching Swift. He picks a running lane and uses his great burst to hit the hole quickly. He runs with excellent balance and doesn’t shy away from contact. He never had large workloads, averaging just under 16 touches per game in his junior season, but is a capable three-down back. Really excels at catching passes.
Player comparison: Alvin Kamara
Both are smaller backs, not necessarily burners, but have solid speed. Kamara and Swift are both very balanced runners who can run it between the tackles or outside. They are shifty backs who are very strong in the passing game as well.
4. Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Louisiana State University (5′ 7″, 207 lbs)
Combine results: 40-yard dash: 4.60 sec, bench press: 15 reps, vertical jump: 39.5 inches, broad jump: 123 inches
2019 stats: G: 15 YDS: 1,414 AVG: 6.6 TD: 16 REC: 55 REC YDS: 453 REC TD: 1
LSU was certainly loaded with athletes on its roster last season, but quarterback Joe Burrow anointed Edwards-Helaire the very best. At the pro level, he is going to be a problem for defences to cover in the passing game. He is the second-best passing-down running back in this draft class, only behind Antonio Gibson out of Memphis. He’s a very elusive runner who sees the field extremely well. Edwards-Helaire is not a burner and lacks high-end speed, but has good burst and explosiveness as evident by his near 40-inch vertical jump at the combine.
Player comparison: Devin Singletary
Both are smaller backs who don’t possess game-breaking speed. Singletary and Edwards-Helaire, however, are shifty runners who are very hard to bring down. They can catch the ball well out of the backfield.
5. Cam Akers, Florida State University (5’11”, 212 lbs)
Combine results: 40-yard dash: 4.47 sec, bench press: 20, vertical jump: 35.5 inches, broad jump: 122 inches, 20-yard shuttle: 4.42 sec
2019 stats: G: 11 YDS: 1,144 AVG: 5.0 TD: 14 REC: 30 REC YDS: 225 REC TD: 4
The elephant in the room when discussing Akers’ prospect profile is the horrendous offensive line he ran behind at Florida State. Of the 130 FBS teams, Pro Football Focus ranked the Seminoles’ o-line 129th in 2019. When it comes time to retrospectively grade this class of running backs, there’s a good chance that many were too low on Akers for this reason. He’s an elusive running back who doesn’t shy away from contact when he’s running. A very athletic prospect with great size for the position and is an ok pass catcher. Needs to improve in pass protection at the next level.
Player comparison: Marlon Mack
Both running backs are tremendous athletes who can accelerate once they hit the open field. Mack and Akers move well and are great at bouncing a run to the outside. Neither were excellent pass-catchers coming out of school and both struggled in pass protection.