U.S. markets open in 8 hours 44 minutes

Early NFL Draft RB Rankings (Analytics)

Hayden Winks

For modeling running back prospects, we can’t have a complete projection until we are through the Combine because athletic testing holds some predictive value. In the meantime, we’ll check out each running back’s college production, which is a lot more predictive than athleticism anyways. I’ll share each NFL Combine invitee’s historical ranking in predictive on-field metrics, write up what I see on film with some statistical evidence to back up my opinions, and post the results of my pre-Combine model.

 

Pre-Combine RB

 

In terms of projected NFL production, there is a big difference between the top seven running backs and the rest of the 2020 RB class. J.K. Dobbins, Jonathan Taylor, D’Andre Swift, and Clyde Edwards-Helaire are in the top tier as very likely Day 1 or Day 2 picks. Zack Moss, Cam Akers, and Eno Benjamin round out the top of the class and have the most to gain/lose during the underwear olympics at the end of the month. The rest of the class can largely be ignored for now until we get athletic test results because they aren’t profiling as probable starters or notable committee backs right now.

If you’re curious about what goes into this model, it’s a combination of age-adjusted production, career production and efficiency, receiving ability, strength of college team and schedule, and draft capital, which is a decent way to factor in a film grade. You’ll see how each prospect turned out in some of these categories below:

 

2020 RB Prospects

 

Dobbins

Predicted Overall Draft Pick: 36th

 

J.K. Dobbins (5’10/217) is a probable three-down bellcow with an ability to run inside and catch passes out of the backfield. His elite vision, paired with his speed and power, make him a strong inside runner. He can work in space with decisive elusiveness, too, particularly using a great jump cut and spin move. He led college football in both rushing yards (1,526) and rushing touchdowns (16) against FBS teams with a winning record thanks to his explosive running style. The junior finished with the most 20+ yard rushes (20) in the draft class. More importantly, he finished in the 99th percentile in my predictive adjusted production metric that accounts for age, strength of schedule, and other things like receiving. Speaking of that, two different Ohio State coaching staffs featured him as a pass-catcher, totaling at least 22 receptions in each of his three college seasons. If Ohio State wasn’t busy winning by 100 points each week, then Dobbins would’ve tested better in the receiving production metric above.

 

Situational Stats:

1st Down % on 1st Down: 17% (10th out of 29 Combine invitees)

1st Down % on 3rd Down: 61% (8th)

 

JonathanTaylor

Predicted Overall Draft Pick: 43rd

 

Jonathan Taylor (5’11/219) is a probable two-down back with above-average strength, speed, and vision. He eclipsed 1,975 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns in each of his three seasons at Wisconsin, but totaled 926 carries. His elite rushing production stems from his urgency to find a hole and his strength to break tackles or at least fall forward. He’ll be an asset in short-yardage situations, as evidenced by his college leading 97 first downs last season. A former New Jersey 100 meter high school champion and a proud member of Bruce Feldman’s “Freak’s List” for his work in the weight room, it’s safe to say that Taylor has high-end weight-adjusted speed. He easily had the most 10+ yard runs (61) last year. His two primary weaknesses are fumbles -- his six fumbles were tied for the most among FBS running backs --and as a receiver out of the backfield. PFF credits him with 8 drops on 50 career targets and he wasn’t asked to pass protect often. Perhaps he can develop on third downs because of his athleticism but receptions are somewhat sticky from college to the NFL

 

Situational Stats:

1st Down % on 1st Down: 23% (1st)

1st Down % on 3rd Down: 53% (17th)

 

DAndreSwift

Predicted Overall Draft Pick: 33rd

 

D’Andre Swift (5’9/215) is a probable three-down back with three years of efficient rushing and receiving against SEC competition. He runs with great vision and patience before making decisive, sudden movements at the line of scrimmage. He has plus weight-adjusted speed and wiggle when he gets in space, which happens often. He picked up at least 10 yards on 20% of his runs, the most of the Combine invitees this season. He is also not afraid of running with power inside. Making him an inside runner would be a waste of his talent, however. His best attribute is his pass-catching ability. He only dropped three passes in three seasons per PFF, despite catching 73 total balls. Georgia moved him all over the formation to utilize his versatility and that’s what we should expect in the NFL.

 

Situational Stats:

1st Down % on 1st Down: 21% (2nd)

1st Down % on 3rd Down: 57% (14th)

 

Clyde Edwards-Helaire

Predicted Overall Draft Pick: 72nd

 

Clyde Edwards-Helaire (5’8/209) is an unconventional two- or potentially three-down prospect. He is undersized but definitely more than strong enough to be productive in the NFL. His leg strength and quick feet allow him to plow through defenders when running between the tackles, which led to an elite 70% first down rate on third down carries. He also plays with burst and moderate speed in the open field, as evidenced by his 8.2 YPC on his 122 first down carries. He is at his best as a pass-catcher out of the backfield. He has natural hands, is smooth out of his breaks, and is one of the best at avoiding tackles in one-on-one situations. He caught 55-of-64 targets for 453 yards and PFF credited him with just three drops. In total, his adjusted production score placed him in the top 5th percentile among running back prospects since 2005. It’s possible that he becomes an Austin Ekeler-type talent in the NFL.

 

Situational Stats:

1st Down % on 1st Down: 19% (6th)

1st Down % on 3rd Down: 70% (3rd)

 

Zack Moss

Predicted Overall Draft Pick: 81st

 

Zack Moss (5’10/222) is a productive, tackle breaker with some three-down potential but has a semi-serious medical history. Between the tackles, he runs with power and aggression. However, his best trait is contact balance, as his stocky frame and footwork make him a very difficult back to tackle one-on-one. He wants to win with power moves but also forced missed tackles in space as a runner and receiver with solid agility. Per PFF, he had the third-highest single-season broken tackle per attempt rate of any back since at least 2014. He also caught 28 and 29 passes in his two fully healthy seasons and can be used as an occasional pass-catcher in the NFL. His lack of top-end speed and history of leg injuries likely limit his career ceiling, but he can be a rookie contract starter with a Day 2 pick. Moss figures to be on the Jay Ajayi/Kareem Hunt spectrum as an NFL player.

 

Situational Stats:

1st Down % on 1st Down: 16% (15th)

1st Down % on 3rd Down: 57% (13th)

 

Cam Akers

Predicted Overall Draft Pick: 92nd

 

Cam Akers (5’11/212) is a boom-or-bust back with three-down potential, particularly if he can be more consistent in the passing game. His inconsistent play, however, can be attributed to his struggling Florida State offense and his youth (age-21 rookie), but those things make him an underrated prospect. His impressive contact balance, play strength, and cutting ability played into his solid short-yardage conversion and yards after contact numbers. Per PFF, 3.9 of his 4.9 yards per carry came after contact last season. His primary weakness as a runner is his vision but it’s not a fatal flaw at all, especially since he is a high-end tackle breaker. As a receiver out of the backfield, he’s a tad above average, although he did compile (a very nice) 69 receptions in three college seasons. His versatility gives him three-down upside even if it takes a couple of developmental seasons for him to reach his potential.

 

Situational Stats:

1st Down % on 1st Down: 17% (11th)

1st Down % on 3rd Down: 60% (9th)

 

Eno Benjamin

Predicted Overall Draft Pick: 116th

 

Eno Benjamin (5’9/195) is likely too small to handle more than a dozen or so touches per game in the NFL, but he was an elusive, three-down bellcow at Arizona State. In the open field, he can break tackles with wiggle (particularly jump cuts) and with occasional power if a defender slows down because of the threat of his agility. Per PFF, he broke 0.28 tackles per carry in 2018 and 0.25 tackles per carry last season, both really strong numbers. His size and troubles with fumbles -- his six fumbles were tied for the most among FBS running backs -- make his transition to the NFL as an inside runner tricky. His strong receiving profile does translate, however. He caught 35 and 42 passes in his two seasons as a starter, which landed him in the top 13th percentile among running back prospects since 2005. Ultimately, Benjamin profiles as a versatile committee back like Giovani Bernard.

 

Situational Stats:

1st Down % on 1st Down: 11% (22nd)

1st Down % on 3rd Down: 51% (18th)

 

Page 2 has the rest of the RB profiles.

Ke'Shawn Vaughn

Predicted Overall Draft Pick: 132nd

 

Ke’Shawn Vaughn (5’10/205) is a small, committee back who can win in space, particularly as a pass-catcher. He can beat some defenders to the edge with quality straight-line speed and burst after cuts. These traits led to an above-average 3.7 yards after contact average in 2018 and 2019 per PFF, but his size and strength prevent him from working in short-yardage situations, as evidenced by his weak 44% first down conversion rate on third down carries last season. His quickness and natural hands made him a semi-productive pass-catcher (28 receptions) as a redshirt senior, but Vaughn needs a quality NFL Combine to somewhat make up for being an older prospect (age-23 rookie) who had to transfer from Illinois after his sophomore season. Vaughn profiles like a committee back similar to DeAndre Washington.

 

Situational Stats:

1st Down % on 1st Down: 19% (7th)

1st Down % on 3rd Down: 44% (21st)

 

Antonio Gibson

Predicted Overall Draft Pick: 250th

 

Antonio Gibson (6’2/221) was extremely underutilized at Memphis because of his other NFL-caliber offensive teammates, but he was arguably the most efficient player in the entire country. PFF credits him with 16 broken tackles on 33 carries and 17 broken tackles on 38 receptions, not to mention his elite 28.0-yard average on his 23 kickoff returns. Because of his lack of total production (77 career offensive touches), it’s impossible to have a firm grasp of his projection to the NFL. He did run with a lot of power and was elusive with the ball in his hands, but he is raw. His vision and top-end speed are potential concerns as a running back, and he didn’t look like a natural receiver when he lined up in the slot. To be a legit prospect, he’ll need to show well at the Combine, but there is some Day 3 sleeper appeal as a versatile weapon with special teams experience. As you can see by the bar chart, my model was broken by his crazy profile. 

 

Situational Stats:

1st Down % on 1st Down: 32% on just 22 carries (NA)

1st Down % on 3rd Down: 100% on just one carry (NA)

 

Lamical Perine

Predicted Overall Draft Pick: 144th

 

Lamical Perine’s (5’11/211) is a powerful, physical inside runner with some experience as a pass-catcher, but his athletic limitations likely limit his overall upside in the NFL. Perine dropped weight last season, which allowed him to set career highs in receiving categories (40-262-5) and total touchdowns (11), but the weight loss did not appear to make him much faster or shiftier. His 0.17 broken tackles per carry rate was below-average for an FBS running back, particularly for an older player. His versatile role does give him some value, but I’ll be curious to see how he tests at the Combine.

 

Situational Stats:

1st Down % on 1st Down: 16% (13th)

1st Down % on 3rd Down: 25% (28th)

 

AJ Dillon

Predicted Overall Draft Pick: 160th

 

AJ Dillon (6’0/250) is a productive, but limited, power back with potentially rare weight-adjusted athleticism. Per Bruce Feldman’s “Freak’s List” column, he could have a 40-inch vertical with near 4.4 speed thanks to his sub-6% body fat despite weighing around 250 pounds. On tape, this athleticism was hit and miss. He would wear down opponents with his size and elite strength -- he led college football with 23 rushing first downs in the fourth quarter -- but rarely broke off big runs and was limited to just 21 receptions in three seasons. He profiles as a short-yardage bruiser with more straight-line athleticism than other power backs, although it’s strange that he only had a 45% first down rate on third down carries (20th out of 29 NFL Combine invitees). 

 

Situational Stats:

1st Down % on 1st Down: 12% (21st)

1st Down % on 3rd Down: 45% (20th)

 

 

Scottie Phillips

Predicted Overall Draft Pick: 144th but this seems too high

 

Scottie Phillips’ (5’8/207) profile will be posted after the NFL Combine if he generates more buzz.

 

Situational Stats:

1st Down % on 1st Down: 11% (24th)

1st Down % on 3rd Down: 30% (27th)

 

Anthony McFarland

Predicted Overall Draft Pick: 177th

 

Anthony McFarland’s (5’9/198) profile will be posted after the NFL Combine if he generates more buzz.

 

Situational Stats:

1st Down % on 1st Down: 19% (5th)

1st Down % on 3rd Down: 30% (26th)

 

Joshua Kelley

Predicted Overall Draft Pick: 150th

 

Joshua Kelley’s (5’11/214) profile will be posted after the NFL Combine if he generates more buzz.

 

Situational Stats:

1st Down % on 1st Down: 11% (25th)

1st Down % on 3rd Down: 54% (15th)

 

Darrynton Evans

Predicted Overall Draft Pick: 207th

 

Darrynton Evans’ (5’10/191) profile will be posted after the NFL Combine if he generates more buzz.

 

Situational Stats:

1st Down % on 1st Down: 15% (16th)

1st Down % on 3rd Down: 42% (23rd)

 

JJ Taylor

Predicted Overall Draft Pick: 197th

 

J.J. Taylor’s (5’6/184) profile will be posted after the NFL Combine if he generates more buzz.

 

Situational Stats:

1st Down % on 1st Down: 19% (4th)

1st Down % on 3rd Down: 47% (19th)

 

Michael Warren

Predicted Overall Draft Pick: 223rd

 

Michael Warren’s’ (5’10/218) profile will be posted after the NFL Combine if he generates more buzz.

 

Situational Stats:

1st Down % on 1st Down: 12% (19th)

1st Down % on 3rd Down: 62% (7th)

 

Benny LeMay

Predicted Overall Draft Pick: 232nd

 

Benny LeMay’s (5’8/222) profile will be posted after the NFL Combine if he generates more buzz.

 

Situational Stats:

1st Down % on 1st Down: 12% (17th)

1st Down % on 3rd Down: 53% (16th)

 

DeeJay Dallas

Predicted Overall Draft Pick: UDFA

 

DeeJay Dallas’ (5’10/220) profile will be posted after the NFL Combine if he generates more buzz.

 

Situational Stats:

1st Down % on 1st Down: 16% (12th)

1st Down % on 3rd Down: 20% (29th, last)

 

Rico Dowdle

Predicted Overall Draft Pick: UDFA

 

Rico Dowdle’s (5’11/214) profile will be posted after the NFL Combine if he generates more buzz.

 

Situational Stats:

1st Down % on 1st Down: 20% (3rd)

1st Down % on 3rd Down: 36% (25th)

 

LeVante Bellamy

Predicted Overall Draft Pick: 219th

 

LeVante Bellamy (5’8/191) is an undersized speedster who profiles as a late-round committee back and special teamer in the NFL. Bruce Feldman notes in his “Freak’s List” column that the redshirt senior has recorded a laser-timed 4.28 forty with a 41.5-inch vertical jump, making him a contender for fastest back in the class. That elite speed and explosiveness was evident on tape once he found open space. His major concern is his size and play strength, which will likely be magnified against much better, more physical defenders. Even against non-Power 5 competition, he was breaking tackles at an FBS average rate. He also will be well into his age-23 season when his rookie year kicks off. If not for his speed and his 23 rushing touchdowns (tied for the most in 2019), Bellamy would be completely off the Day 3 radar.

 

Situational Stats:

1st Down % on 1st Down: 12% (20th)

1st Down % on 3rd Down: 58% (12th)

 

Salvon Ahmed

Predicted Overall Draft Pick: UDFA

 

Salvon Ahmed’s (5’11/193) profile will be posted after the NFL Combine if he generates more buzz.

 

Situational Stats:

1st Down % on 1st Down: 10% (27th)

1st Down % on 3rd Down: 58% (12th)

 

Javon Leake

Predicted Overall Draft Pick: UDFA

 

Javon Leake’s (6’0/206) profile will be posted after the NFL Combine if he generates more buzz.

 

Situational Stats:

1st Down % on 1st Down: 10% (26th)

1st Down % on 3rd Down: 70% (2nd)

 

Raymond Calais

Predicted Overall Draft Pick: UDFA

 

Raymond Calais’ (5’8/182) profile will be posted after the NFL Combine if he generates more buzz.

 

Situational Stats:

1st Down % on 1st Down: 18% (8th)

1st Down % on 3rd Down: 64% (6th)

 

Darius Anderson

Predicted Overall Draft Pick: UDFA

 

Darius Anderson’s (5’10/195) profile will be posted after the NFL Combine if he generates more buzz.

 

Situational Stats:

1st Down % on 1st Down: 12% (18th)

1st Down % on 3rd Down: 88% (1st but small sample)

 

Patrick Taylor

Predicted Overall Draft Pick: UDFA

 

Patrick Taylor’s (6’2/223) profile will be posted after the NFL Combine if he generates more buzz.

 

Situational Stats:

1st Down % on 1st Down: 16% (14th)

1st Down % on 3rd Down: 60% (10th)

 

Brian Herrien

Predicted Overall Draft Pick: UDFA

 

Brian Herrien’s (5’11/201) profile will be posted after the NFL Combine if he generates more buzz.

 

Situational Stats:

1st Down % on 1st Down: 11% (23rd)

1st Down % on 3rd Down: 43% (22nd)

 

Tony Jones

Predicted Overall Draft Pick: UDFA

 

Tony Jones’ (5’11/222) profile will be posted after the NFL Combine if he generates more buzz.

 

Situational Stats:

1st Down % on 1st Down: 18% (9th)

1st Down % on 3rd Down: 57% (11th)

 

Sewo Olonilua

Predicted Overall Draft Pick: UDFA

 

Sewo Olonilua’s (6’3/232) profile will be posted after the NFL Combine if he generates more buzz.

 

Situational Stats:

1st Down % on 1st Down: 5% (29th, last)

1st Down % on 3rd Down: 67% (5th)

 

JaMycal Hasty

Predicted Overall Draft Pick: UDFA

 

JaMycal Hasty’s (5’8/203) profile will be posted after the NFL Combine if he generates more buzz.

 

Situational Stats:

1st Down % on 1st Down: 8% (28th)

1st Down % on 3rd Down: 67% (4th but small sample size)

 

James Robinson

Predicted Overall Draft Pick: UDFA

 

James Robinson’s (5’9/222) profile will be posted after the NFL Combine if he generates more buzz.

 

Situational Stats:

1st Down % on 1st Down: NA

1st Down % on 3rd Down: NA

 

 

What's Next?

1. Position-Adjusted SPARQ

2. Early QB Rankings (Analytics)

3. Early TE Rankings (Analytics)

4. Early RB Rankings (Analytics)

5. Early WR Rankings (Analytics)

6. 2020 Adjusted SPARQ Rankings

7. Analytics Top 300

8. Winks Top 300

9. Mock Draft

10. Analytics Draft Grades