Travis Steffen’s 2020 NFL Draft Positional Rankings: Running Backs

  • 2020 NFL Draft
  • A.J. Dillon
  • Cam Akers
  • clyde edwards-helaire
  • D'Andre Swift
  • Darrynton Evans
  • Eno Benjamin
  • J.K. Dobbins
  • Jonathan Taylor
  • Joshua Kelley
  • Running Backs
  • zack moss
By Mike Brez April 14, 2020 0 Comment
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With the 2020 NFL Draft right around the corner, Travis Steffen takes a look at the running back class, ranking this year’s top prospects at the position.

The 2020 NFL Draft is loaded at the running back position. Even with names like Travis Etienne, Chuba Hubbard, and Najee Harris returning to school. All three of those running backs would have been early Day 2 backs most likely on any given year.

Given the value of running backs in recent years, the loaded running back class, and the top-heavy positions of higher need, it’s unlike we see any of these names go in the top half of the first round. Even so, five or six of these running backs will be gone by the end of the second round.

Running back value has become one of the big discussions around social media. In free agency, several running backs elected to wait on signing a new deal. In return, most of those names ended up signing smaller contracts. Previous high draft picks were let go from their teams, including Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon.

The position group is in a tough crossroads at this point. They’re drafted during their prime, and most running backs will not be able to meet their contract value if they sign a massive deal. Furthermore, running backs are asked to play several roles within an offense. In today’s NFL, running backs carry the expectations to not only run the ball, but catch the ball out of the backfield, split out wide as a receiver, and pass block.

Despite the crossroads of the position, the rankings in this article do not take that into account. The evaluation of these players does not take into account the position value. They are strictly based on their overall talent and the projected potential of each player. Who will make the top ten running backs in the 2020 NFL Draft?

Top ten 2020 NFL Draft running back prospects

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1. D’Andre Swift, Georgia

D’Andre Swift projects as a starting three-down back at the next level who is scheme diverse. Displaying excellent acceleration, short-area quickness, field vision, and elusiveness, Swift is a big play waiting to happen any time he touches the ball. His ability to contribute on passing downs will provide him more playing time in the NFL with a good ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. He has a good understanding of blocking assignments and more than willing to take on bigger opponents. The technique will need improvement in pass pro, but the effort is surely there. Overall, Swift is a patient runner who has an unreal ability to make defenders miss. He quickly surveys the field and generates positive yardage. A featured back in the NFL if he can stay healthy.

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2. J.K. Dobbins, Ohio State

J.K. Dobbins projects as a downhill, pound the rock future three-down running back at the next level. His downhill run style mixed with his back-side cut vision make him a fit in either man or zone blocking schemes. With the ability to contort his body to get skinny between the tackles and pound forward for extra yards, he makes for a tough tackle in short-yardage situations. He also displays the quick-twitch athleticism to bounce inside or out when defenders penetrate gaps into the backfield. With natural, soft hands to pluck the ball out of the air, Dobbins provides a valuable receiver out of the backfield when needed. Pass pro will need some work with occasional missed assignments, but the effort to go toe to toe with blitzing linebackers is there.

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3. Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin

Jonathan Taylor projects as a three-down starter in the NFL with his rare blend of power, size, and acceleration. His punishing run style will wear defenses down throughout the game. While he can thrive in both zone and gap blocking schemes, he’s best utilized in a gap scheme. Taylor has proven the ability to be a bell-cow back averaging 2,000 yards per season at Wisconsin, but that will also bring the question of his longevity. Given his style of running and the number of touches he has already taken, durability will be a concern down the road. The fumbling issue will need to be cleaned up as well.

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4. Clyde Edwards-Helaire, LSU

Clyde Edwards-Helaire projects as a starting running back that would be beneficial in a one-two punch combo. He brings patience, and a punishing run style with excellent contact balance to wear down defenses. Showcased his ability in 2019 to be a dynamic pass-catching back who can split out wide. Given his blend of agility, power, and route running, he projects as a running back that can line up on any down, in the backfield or out wide.

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5. Cam Akers, Florida State

Cam Akers projects to be a three-down feature back in the NFL best suited in a zone-blocking scheme. Without reliable quarterback or offensive line play, Akers proved the ability to make something out of nothing. His explosiveness, violent run demeanor, and versatility in the passing game will grant him a significant role in the NFL. However, ball security has been an issue. Akers also has severe vision and patience concerns.

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6. Darrynton Evans, Appalachian State

Darrynton Evans is an intriguing running back that split roles between slot receiver and running back early in his career. He became the featured back midway through the 2018 season. Evans excelled in the outside zone scheme at Appalachian State and benefitted from big holes between the tackles pretty consistently. He wins with speed getting outside of the tackles and utilizing good field vision and agility in the open field. Does a good job of altering his speed to set up defenders. His vision is a question mark along with his lack of size and physicality to pound it through the middle. Another area that needs work is his pass pro, as he lowers his head too often. He has the potential to become a starter down the road.

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7. Zack Moss, Utah

A three-year starter at Utah, Zack Moss had success primarily lining up in shotgun running both gap and zone blocking schemes. He has the quick decisiveness and one-cut ability to be successful in a zone-blocking scheme at the next level. While not a powerful back, Moss flashed the ability to get skinny between the tackles. He provides a solid contribution in the passing attack as a pass-catcher. Moss has the skillset to be an early success in the NFL, but his extensive injury history will be a concern. If he can stay healthy, he has the potential to be an every-down back.

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8. Joshua Kelley, UCLA

Joshua Kelley is a two-year starter for UCLA that runs downhill with an attitude. UCLA didn’t seem to fully utilize him to the best of his abilities in the passing game as he recorded only 11 catches his final season. When he got to the Senior Bowl, he was one of the better route runners showing off the ability to easily snatch the ball out of the air away from his frame. He thrived in the zone run blocking scheme as well, showing off his vision and explosiveness. Kelley is a bit of a wild card coming into the draft, but he would, at the very least, be a good one-two punch that brings a heavy hit.

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9. Eno Benjamin, Arizona State

Eno Benjamin’s best traits are his vision and jump-cut elusiveness. He showed a good ability to process what was happening working laterally in Arizona State’s outside zone blocking while demonstrating quick burst to fire through the hole when it presents itself. Putting together multiple moves working through the trash, Benjamin does a good job of setting defenders up to break loose. Excellent body control and contact balance make him difficult to bring down, despite his smaller size. He showed to be effective in short-yardage situations. Most of his experience is in a zone-blocking scheme, but he would have success in gap/power schemes as well. Limited catching opportunities in college, but he flashes the ability and possesses the traits to further improve in this area. If he can put that together, he has the potential to be an any down back in the NFL.

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10. A.J. Dillon, Boston College

If you want to talk about a big, powerful running back that pounds the football in short-yardage situations, A.J. Dillon is your guy. Dillon projects best in a gap/power blocking scheme in the NFL. His best work will come primarily on first and second down who won’t contribute much to the passing game with next to none experience in college. He will require a running mate, but his size, toughness, and surprising athletic ability to make defenders miss makes for a good power back.

Check back tomorrow for Travis Steffen’s 2020 NFL Draft Top Ten Wide Receivers

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Founder of The Brawl Network, Writer, Podcast Host for The Bears Brawl, NFL Draft Analyst and Reporter

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