J.K. Dobbins, Ohio State
While playing in a great system at Ohio State, Dobbins looked elite in his freshman year (1,538 combined yards with eight TDs and 22 catches on 216 touches while seeing about 55 percent of the running back opportunity.
His game regressed in 2018 (1,316 combined yards with 12 TDs and 26 catches). Mike Weber (172/954/5) outplayed Dobbins on many days.
Last year Dobbins regained his bounce in his step, which led to a high volume opportunity (301/2003/21 plus 23 catches for 247 yards and two TDs).
Strength is a big part of his success. Dobbins brings a fighter’s mentality to the run game. His mission is to drive the ball forward with quickness, vision, and against the grain cuts. He’ll take a hit and lose his balance, but Dobbins finds a way to stay upright on many plays while offering a stiff arm.
Draft Prediction: Miami Dolphins (Round 1, Pick 26)
Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin
Taylor comes to the NFL with an edge in size (5’10” and 225 lbs.) and speed (4.39 forty yard dash). His game is built of running up the middle in tight quarters. I see a better version of Jordan Howard while needing to develop as a pass-catcher. Taylor has the vision and quickness to turn a relatively small run into a big gainer. His speed also allows him to make plays on the outside.
Over three seasons at Wisconsin, he gained 6,174 rushing yards with 555 touchdowns and 42 catches on 968 touches. Taylor had success each year on the ground (2017 – 299/1977/13, 2018 – 307/2194/16, and 2019 – 320/2003/21) while flashing at times in the passing game (26/252/5) last season.
His one strike is his battle with fumbles in his career while showing more fight at the end of inside runs when facing early contact.
A team in need of an early-down back with scoring ability should target Taylor in this year’s draft.
Draft Prediction: Pittsburgh Steelers (Round 2, Pick 17)
D'Andre Swift, Georgia
As the lead rusher for Georgia over the last two seasons, Swift ran for 2,267 yards on 359 carries with 17 rushing touchdowns. He also picked up 56 catches for 513 yards and four more TDs. His season ended with only three carries for 15 yards over his final two contests.
Even with a productive resume in 2018, he failed to rush for over 75 yards in ten of his 14 games while working almost in a 50/50 split role with Elijah Holyfield. Swift flashed his explosiveness over a two-game stretch in early November (33/342/3 plus seven catches for 61 yards). He only had one game with over 20 touches.
Last year Swift played well in Week 1 (16/147) while earning a full load midseason over a five-game stretch (647 combined yards, five TDs, and 11 catches on 114 touches). His best success came against Kentucky (21/179/2).
He missed time with a left shoulder issue last year while battling a groin issue in 2018.
Swift runs with vision and a feel for daylight. His top gear hurts him over the long field while needing to improve his value in short-yardage situations when faced with multiple big bodies. He earns his edge accelerating out of short chopping steps in tight quarters thanks to his ability to get to a full stride quickly. Swift projects well as a receiver, but he'll have to prove his worth in pass projections.
I don’t view him as a workhorse lead running back at the next level until he improves his durability.
Draft Prediction: Atlanta Falcons (Round 2, Pick 23)
Clyde Edwards-Helaire, LSU
After an unimpressive sophomore campaign at LSU (146/658/7 with 11 catches for 96 yards), Edwards-Helaire broke out in 2019. He gained 1,867 yards with 17 TDs and 55 catches on 270 touches. His growth came after Joe Burrow emerged as an elite passer.
Over the first five games in 2019, Edwards-Helaire rushed for 360 yards, and five TDs on 65 carries with some success in the passing game (10/59). His stats blossomed over a four-game stretch (814 combined yards with nine touchdowns and 27 catches on 92 touches) starting in late October. Edwards-Helaire had his highlight game against Arkansas (253 combined yards with three TDs and seven catches).
He’s an undersized back (5’7” and 205 lbs.) with NFL RB par speed (4.6 forty yard dash). Edwards-Helaire needs to get stronger, which may limit his initial value in pass protection. His running style offers patience with quickness over the short areas of the field. He’ll make quick cuts to create space while having the wiggle to make defenders miss at the second level of the defense.
Edward-Helaire proved to be durable when asked to carry a heavy workload. His value in the passing game should lead to more touches in his rookie season.
The trick for an NFL team is gauging his value within their expected offense. More of a complementary player to a good offense than a running back to build a franchise around.
Draft Prediction: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Round 3, Pick 12)
Cam Akers, Florida State
At this year’s combine, Akers graded well in speed (4.47 forty yard dash) and the bench press (20 reps of 225 lbs.). His short-area quickness isn’t ideal. His free-flowing style works well in space while showing the vision to add yards at the second level of the defense if given open field to make plays. Akers will break free in space with a feel for scoring in close.
Over three seasons at FSU, Akers gained 3,361 combined yards with 34 touchdowns and 69 catches on 655 touches. His highlight season came in 2019 (1,369 combined yards with 18 TDs and 30 catches).
He’ll make plays in the passing game, but his pass protection skills may be below par even with strength as an asset.
His path to running back came via the quarterback position, which helps his play-making ability.
Draft Prediction: Las Vegas Raiders (Round 3, Pick 16)
Zack Moss, Utah
Moss flashed upside in 2017 when he gained 1,416 combined yards with 10 TDs and 29 catches on 243 touches. The following season he shined again on early downs (179/1096/11) while losing value in the passing game (8/50/1). His season ended after nine games due to a right knee injury that required surgery. In 2019, Moss regained his previous form while delivering a special season (1,804 combined yards with 17 TDs and 28 catches on 263 touches).
Strength and power are his calling cards while ranking below the top running backs in the NFL in speed (4.65 forty yard dash) and quickness. After the snap, his first instinct is to find the open field while allowing a play to develop. Moss slides to running lanes with a plan to step on the gas at the first sign of daylight. He lacks home-run speed while offering the ability to break tackles.
Moss has three-down potential while projecting well in pass protection. The key here is the medical reports with his knee injury.
A.J. Dillon, Boston College
Dillon comes to the NFL with a full back’s body (6’0” and 245 lbs.) and speed (4.53 forty yard dash). His game is all about power. When asked to run up the middle, he drifts and weaves rather than driving and accelerating after the snap if faced with tight quarters. Dillion needs almost two full strides to hit top speed in the open field. If given daylight, his game plays well while gaining more yards after breaking arm tackles.
Dillon has a strong lower half of his body with minimal upside in the passing game.
He shined in his freshman season (300/1589/14) while losing some value in 2018 (1,149 combined yards with 10 TDs and eight catches on 235 touches). Dillon matched his early success (318/1685/14) in the run game last season while adding a few catches (13/195/1).
Thunder running back that makes sense for an NFL team that already has a high-volume, pass-catching back on the roster. He would fit well with a team like the Chargers.
Darrynton Evans, Appalachian State
At first glance, Evans jumps off the rookie running back rankings due to his combination of speed (4.41 forty yard dash) and strength (20 reps in the bench press at the NFL combine). He comes to the NFL undersized (5’10” and 205 lbs.).
Evans attacks quickly after the snap with the idea of making big plays. His movements in space will threaten every level of the defense. He’ll break tackles with the moves and quickness to beat defenders to the hole. Evans needs to improve as an inside runner. I expect him to hold his own in pass protection while having the upside feel in the passing game.
In 2018, he worked more as a change-of-pace back (179/1187/7), which led to 6.6 yards per rush and minimal chances in the passing game (12/87/1). Last year Evans developed into a lead runner with value on three downs (1,678 combined yards with 23 touchdowns and 21 catches on 276 touches). His best game came in Week 2 against Charlotte (19/234/3).
Evans should be an excellent value running back in this year’s draft.
Eno Benjamin, Arizona
In his sophomore season, Benjamin looked to be an upside option at running back. He gained 1,905 combined yards with 18 TDs and 35 catches on 335 touches. Last year he had a plodding feel on early downs (253/1093/10 – 4.3 yards per rush) while maintaining his value in the passing game (42/347/2).
Benjamin can’t match Darrynton Evans in speed (4.57 forty yards dash) or strength (12 reps in the bench press). He does show more power than expected. His running style appears to be ragged in tight quarters, which leads to some flat-footed motions trying to create misses when the net result is minimal extra yards. At the next level, this approach will lead to some hard hits and possible fumbles.
I sense a hot and cold type player with his best value coming in the passing game early in his career. Benjamin may be challenged early in his career in pass protection.
Anthony McFarland, Maryland
Injuries have been a problem for the development of McFarland early in his career. He missed almost two years (one in high school and one in college) with a broken leg. Last year his production (114/614/8 and 17 catches for 126 yards and one TD) was less than expected due to a battle with a high ankle issue.
In 2018, McFarland lit up Indiana for 210 yards on 29 carries in early November. The following week, his stock soared after drilling Ohio State for 298 yards and two TDs on 21 rushes. In that game, he had runs of 52, 75, and 81 yards. Even with his success, McFarland only gained 1,034 rushing yards on 131 carries. Almost half of his success (50/508/2) came in his two best contests. He did gain 6.5 yards per rush on his other 81 chances.
His speed (4.44 forty yard dash) and quickness separate him from the field. McFarland has a Chris Johnson style of running in the open space. His only gear to full throttle is electric if given room to clear the line of scrimmage. He looks to have some fight and the moves to make defenders miss.
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