News Trending Viral Worldwide

NFL Draft Big Board: Ranking The Best Running Backs By Tier

Projecting out running backs in the NFL Draft is difficult, if only because so much goes into evaluating that position in 2020. How much emphasis should teams place on the amount of touches a player has had — can you make any sort of definitive conclusions off of a light workload, or should you be more scared if a guy has taken a beating over the course of his career? Should pass-catching be critical, or merely a tool in the toolbox? Are subpar numbers the result of bad offensive line play, a weak passing game that let foes zero in on the running back, or a guy just not being that good?

While we are not paid by NFL teams to figure out that formula, it doesn’t take much to figure out which members of this draft class have what it take to become really solid contributors at the next level. There’s talent in this class from top-to-bottom, even if there are some question marks. There’s a chance we don’t hear any names read on Day 1 of the draft, but don’t be surprised if a number of these guys stick around and end up being really valuable backs for a long, long time.

Previous 2020 NFL Draft Big Boards:

Tier 1

DeAndre Swift: This year’s running back class is extremely solid, even if there’s not a top-10 caliber guy and all three in this top tier have reason to think they’re the best back in the class. Swift can do it all, as he’s comfortable running between the tackles, has breakaway speed, and is capable as a receiver out of the backfield. He has the pedigree of coming through the Georgia pipeline that just pumps out productive running backs and he figures to be the latest immediate impact player at the next level as a three-down back. What might help Swift the most is he’s proven, but has less tread on his tires compared to the two Big Ten backs in this tier.

J.K. Dobbins: Like Swift, Dobbins projects as an immediate starter in the NFL and is capable as a receiver. He rushed for 2,000 yards last year and really there aren’t any questions his tape can’t answer for a team. He, like Swift, has a great combination of power, speed, and agility. The biggest hurdle facing this year’s crop of backs isn’t talent, but how many teams have more pressing needs to address in the draft at positions other than running back. All three in this first tier are first round talents, but it’s possible that only one ends up a first round pick.

Jonathan Taylor: Taylor has the main issue that we’ve come to expect out of Wisconsin running backs: At a time where NFL teams look for running backs who have not taken a beating during their collegiate career, Taylor has ran the ball 926 times. It’s an obvious question mark, but the good news is he has shown a whole lot in those 926 carries, from speed, to power, to decisiveness. Taylor has 4.39 speed in a 5’11, 220 pound frame, and even though this isn’t the main part of his game, he has enough shake to make defenders miss. Still, as a back who can run by or through a defender, Taylor is a beast. We’ll see if his pass catching — not exactly a hallmark of his game — comes along, and how much more mileage he can put on his tires.

Tier 2

Clyde Edwards-Helaire: The former LSU standout can flat-out play, as he showed during the 2019 campaign, his first (and only) one in a featured role. He’s a bit undersized (5’8, 209) and doesn’t really have speed that pops (4.6-second 40), but he is a bowling ball who is not afraid to take a hit, in part because he is quite good at staying upright — his feet are quick and his spin move is nasty. He’s a smart back who can catch the ball and will help whatever team he is on. That may never be as a clear-cut RB1, but the stuff he does well and the lack of hits he has taken in his career means a team on Day 2 could — and should — take him. His tape against Alabama, where he just would not stop attacking the vaunted Tide defense, is some of the most fun you will have today.

Tier 3

Cam Akers: Akers is an interesting case study. He has gobs of talent, showed the ability to take over games, and can make an impact as a runner or as a pass catcher (although that second thing could use a little work). He also struggled to consistently produce, but the question teams will need to answer is whether that was because of himself or because he played on a Florida State team that has completely fallen off over the last few years. The good news for Akers is he’s able to blend speed and power well, running a 4.47 in a 5’10, 217 pound frame, and can be quite the violent runner. If he shores up some questions regarding ball security, some team is going to fall in love.

Zack Moss: It is time to appreciate another Utah player. Moss isn’t the fastest guy, but has solid functional speed in pads. He’s a powerful runner at 5’10, 220 pounds, and has plenty of shake in the hole to make defenders miss. His tape against Cal last year is some of his best against a good defense and he has years of production that could make him a mid-round steal in terms of value.

Eno Benjamin: The classic guy who isn’t outstanding at anything but does everything well, Benjamin is a floor raiser, the kind of player who will slide right into a backfield and make it better even if he might not have a path to being an All-Pro. He ran a 4.57 at 5’9 and 207 pounds, and while he’s not the biggest, fastest, strongest, or quickest dude in this draft, he can run, he fights for every yard, and he knows how to make opposing players miss. A tough and productive back out of Arizona State, Benjamin had four straight games of 149+ yards in 2018, and even if he’s merely a one-cut runner in the league, he’ll end up being a good one, especially for a Day 3 pick.

Anthony McFarland: Our thinking on McFarland goes like this: NFL teams are constantly on the lookout for guys who have not been asked to do a ton, but have shown that they’re capable of impacting games. McFarland, with 245 career carries and 24 career receptions, is one such dude. A former blue-chip recruit, McFarland had his ups and downs at Maryland. His downs weren’t great — the Terps were decidedly not good the last few years, something that makes being a running back particularly difficult — but when he was cooking, he was able to do things like hang 298 yards on 21 carries against Ohio State in 2018. His speed (4.44 40) and explosiveness are quite impressive, and while his size (5’8, 208) and lack of physicality are concerns, he has a place in the modern NFL due to the fact that it looks like he got shot out of a cannon when he gets a chance to turn on the jets.

A.J. Dillon: Would you like a 6’0, 247 pound running back that can run a 4.53 in the 40? Of course you would. Dillon was a workhorse and lead Dude at Boston College, rushing for over 4,000 yards in three seasons. He’s a physically imposing runner, but once he hits the open field, he will run away from you. He’s not Derrick Henry, but given his size, he’ll elicit some similar reactions from people the first time they see him break a tackle at the line and then start running away from DBs. The reason he’s further down in this tier is the lack of productivity as a pass catcher, but he can pass protect and absolutely tote the rock.

Tier 4

Darrynton Evans: Teams might pass on Evans if they’re looking for someone who will win battles between the tackles when they need to lower their pads and run through a linebacker. He’ll try, that’s just not his game. What he does do very, very well, though, is hit home runs — the former Appalachian State standout has game-changing speed (his 4.41 40 was the second-best time among backs at the combine) and is good at making dudes miss in the open field. As a change-of-pace back, there are few better in this draft than Evans, who put up some impressive numbers as a senior: 255 carries, 1,480 yards, and 18 touchdowns on the ground with 21 receptions for 198 yards and five scores through the air. A potential return man, Evans also returned three kickoffs for scores, one in each of his three collegiate seasons.

LaMichal Perine: There are two things Perine has going for him when put up against other back in this range. First is his productivity as a receiver, as the sure-handed Gator caught 40 balls out of the backfield last season, meaning he could come in and immediately help out as a third-down back. The other is that he’s got relatively low tread on his tires given that he’s gotten steady playing time for all four years of college. He’s had right around 130 carries the last three years after 90 as a freshman, which means despite four years of experience, he has carried the load of a two year back in a run-heavy offense. He’s productive (5.12 YPC) but not overused, and while not the speediest (4.62 in the 40), he’s a powerful runner and, as mentioned, great catching the ball out of the backfield.

Ke’Shawn Vaughn: Vanderbilt was terrible last year and, in particular, they were abysmal in the passing game. This meant Vaughn regularly faced stacked boxes and he still averaged over five yards per carry, a year after he averaged 7.92 yards per carry as a junior on 157 carries. A fun fact about last year’s Vandy offense: Vaughn’s 5.2 yards per carry only narrowly trailed the ‘Dores 5.4 yards per passing attempt this past season. He was also Vandy’s third leading receiver on the season and is a well-rounded back that put forth a solid combine performance (4.51 in the 40). He’s likely a Day 3 selection, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he can be a helpful addition to a running back room immediately.

Wild Cards

Antonio Gibson: I want to be clear on one thing, Gibson isn’t behind Tier 4, he just exists on his own plane of existence here as a RB/WR/KR hybrid. If this were recruiting, he’d just have that ATH designation, but we included him with RBs because the WR class is deep, as you’ll see in our next installment. He did a little bit of everything at Memphis, catching 38 passes (with nearly 20 yards per catch) and rushing the ball 33 times (at over 11 yards per rush). He is a dynamic playmaker (4.39 in the 40) that could hear his name called on Day 2 as offenses around the league look for versatile players that can work out of the backfield or in the slot. He’s also a terrific kick returner and can immediately bring value on special teams. Hopefully he goes somewhere with a creative OC, because he can be moved all over the field and the number one rule is just find ways to get him the ball in space cause he is electric, as evidenced by his SMU tape.

Joshua Kelley: Time to play everyone’s favorite game: Is A Running Back Good Or Did He Just Play For Chip Kelly? Kelley is a big (5’11, 212 pounds) back with good numbers at the combine, namely a 4.49 40 and a 4.28 shuttle. He was productive, too, running for 5.1 YPC over two seasons in Westwood with 12 scores each season (especially notable given UCLA’s issues in the passing game). Our guess is he’s a high floor, low ceiling guy, someone who can reliably tote the rock but will never be a game-changing back. That is perfectly fine, and for a team that wants a dude who will put on his hardhat and go to work, he’s a dream.