1. Jonathan Taylor - Colts - Age: 21
The University of Wisconsin continues to churn out high-volume running backs and Taylor has to be in the conversation as one of their best ever. In only three seasons, he is second in career yards (behind Ron Dayne) and third in rushing TDs (behind Montee Ball and Dayne). For all you young folks not familiar with these names, know this is a major accomplishment at a program known to run the ball a lot. Taylor should immediately challenge Marlon Mack for the starter’s job. Mack is a solid talent, but let’s not pretend all of a sudden he’s an immovable piece of the Colts’ offense. Mack is also in the last year of his contract, so it appears the writing is on the wall.
2. Clyde Edwards-Helaire - Chiefs - Age: 21
A lot has been made about the track record of head coach Andy Reid and his RB usage as the primary logic for Edwards-Helaire’s high ranking. I think that ignores the talent CEH brings to the table. The guy is a little bowling ball with good vision and a sharp change of direction. He does lack that “next-gear” speed when he finds the open field but the Chiefs don’t need him to be a world-beater. He’s going to be in a ton of situations where Patrick Mahomes is in a shotgun spread formation, and if CEH can make one guy miss, he’s in the second-level of the defense. Plus, he’s got good enough hands that you can keep him on the field on third down. Ultimately, there’s a lot to like here. In the end, I like Taylor’s upside and raw talent a little more than the ideal fit CEH has with Kansas City.
3. J.K. Dobbins - Ravens - Age: 21
The Buckeyes leaned heavy on Dobbins a year ago and Baltimore will likely do the same whenever Dobbins plays his way into the starting lineup. Mark Ingram is only in his second year of a three-year contract, but the Ravens can cut him loose after this season for a minimal ($1.3M dead cap) amount if they feel Dobbins is the much better option. This is a high-volume rushing attack if anything Dobbins makes a great handcuff to both Ingram and Gus Edwards.
4. Cam Akers - Rams - Age: 20
Many are assuming Akers is going to hit the ground running in Los Angeles, but the Rams are going to lean on Darrell Henderson and they still have Malcolm Brown. Akers was one of the few bright spots on a FSU team that’s really fallen off lately. Akers should have far way more opportunities to show what he can do but the Seminoles were often playing from behind. I have a gut feeling, again as most do, that Akers is going to separate early. There is a slight learning curve to the zone-blocking scheme and hopefully the rookie can take to it quickly. One major problem that could throw a wrench in it all: the Rams’ offensive line is now, “hot trash.” That’s the technical term we use in the fantasy industry.
5. D'Andre Swift - Lions - Age: 21
It goes to show how much those pre-draft dynasty rankings are worth since Swift was often near the top of those lists. Now, he's outside the top tier for rookie RBs. That said, this may be an over-adjustment. We conveniently seem to be forgetting that Kerryon Johnson has missed 14 games in his two NFL seasons. It’s not safe to assume he’s 100-percent either when he returns and obviously the Lions used plenty of draft capital on Swift. I really like the former Georgia back as a third-down option, but we’re looking at a backfield split in the immediate short-term.
6. Antonio Gibson - Redskins - Age: 21
7. AJ Dillon - Packers - Age: 22
I’m very confident the Packers are going to let Aaron Jones walk in free agency. He will command a high-dollar contract when he hits free agency in 2021. So that said, I foresee Dillon getting his chance then. If you own Jones or Jamaal Williams in dynasty, you definitely want Dillon as a long-term handcuff.
8. Ke'Shawn Vaughn - Buccaneers - Age: 23
I believe we’re seeing a bit of the Tom Brady effect here with some very high on Vaughn. Yet I’m also drawn to him as well. He is a hard-runner and is a nice contrast to Ronald Jones’ more slippery play style. Brady may only be around for a season or two, but you can’t get too caught up thinking years and years down the line with any running back.
9. Zack Moss - Bills - Age: 22
I’d be a little higher on Moss but I have a years-old crush on Taiwan Jones and I’m just waiting for him to breakout somewhere. Obviously Devin Singletary has a hold on the starting job, but he was just a third-round pick a year ago. Third-round RBs aren’t that overwhelmingly great that they can’t be unseated and Moss will certainly have a crack at starter’s snaps.
10. Lamical Perine - Jets - Age: 22
If you’re like me and you’re waiting for the wheels to officially come off for Le’Veon Bell, Perine is a nice sleeper play. Then again, the Jets offensive line is so tragically underwhelming that unless Perine is the second-coming of Barry Sanders, it may not matter. Last season, the Jets offensive line averaged 0.7 rushing yards before contact per attempt. That means somebody had their hands on a Jets RB after 0.7 yards on average per attempt. I don’t know why I felt compelled to repeat what that stat means, but it’s atrocious and ranked worst in the league.
11. Darrynton Evans - Titans - Age: 21
12. Anthony McFarland - Steelers - Age: 22
13. Joshua Kelley - Chargers - Age: 22
14. Lynn Bowden - Raiders - Age: 22
15. Eno Benjamin - Cardinals - Age: 21
16. DeeJay Dallas - Seahawks - Age: 21
17. James Robinson - Jaguars - Age: 21
18. Michael Warren - Eagles - Age: 21
19. Raymond Calais - Buccaneers - Age: 22
20. Javon Leake - Giants - Age: 21