2020 NFL Draft Stock - Running Backs

Hayden Winks
Rotoworld
Hayden Winks projects where the 2020 running backs will be drafted. Plus notes on D'Andre Swift, Jonathan Taylor, Travis Etienne, and other prospects. (Getty Images)
Hayden Winks projects where the 2020 running backs will be drafted. Plus notes on D'Andre Swift, Jonathan Taylor, Travis Etienne, and other prospects. (Getty Images)

Draft capital is the single most important stat for projecting NFL production for rookies, and the goal of this “NFL Draft Stock” series is to accurately project where prospects WILL be selected in the 2020 NFL Draft, not where I think these prospects SHOULD be drafted. I’m using consensus mock draft data, player production and efficiency stats, and historical draft data to guide my draft capital projections. You’ll probably think your favorite draft prospect is projected too low, but the reality is there are more legit draft prospects than actual draft picks. 

Round

RBs Picked on Average Since 2010

1

1.6

2

2.7

3

2.6

4

4.3

5

3.2

6

4.8

7

4.1

Total

23.3

 

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The plan is to update the projections every month. And with each update, my projections will become more precise. The goal of the first round of projections is to separate prospects by which day they’ll be drafted, but I’ll get down to the actual pick eventually. As always, hit me up on Twitter @HaydenWinks if you have any questions. 

 

2020 Draft Stock

 

 

D’Andre Swift (Georgia, JR) - Day 1 Projection

Receiving Ability: D’Andre Swift has caught 49-of-61 career targets for 450 yards (7.4 YPT) with only three drops, making him the best pass-catching back among Day 1 and Day 2 prospects. Last season, Swift caught 19-of-22 targets coming behind the line of scrimmage and turned them into 152 yards. And that’s his specialty. He just wins on those short-yardage dump-offs, turning nothings into somethings with elite speed. I project Swift for 257 receiving yards in 2019 and that number could be a lot higher in the NFL. 

Elusiveness/Broken Tackles: Per PFF, Swift averaged 3.89 yards after contact (above average) and averaged 0.23 missed tackles per carry (average) last season. Swift can make defenders miss with strength, speed, and wiggle. The trifecta. In space, Swift will beat defenders to the edge with high-end speed, and he can bounce off tackles with power up the middle. 

Rushing Production: D’Andre Swift racked up 618 rushing yards as a freshman despite playing alongside Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, and Elijah Holyfield. Even in a group that talented, Swift stood out because of his athleticism and three-down skill set. Last year, the backfield was primarily his and he broke out for 1,049 yards (74 YPG) and 10 touchdowns while averaging 6.4 yards per carry. It should be more of the same in 2019; I project Swift for 1,091 yards (99 YPG) and 11 touchdowns over 11 regular season games. Swift should be checking all analytical boxes -- breakout age, total production, etc. -- if he stays healthy. 

Athleticism: Swift (5’9/215) has a chance to crack the 4.40 mark at the Combine after recording a 4.43 forty in high school. His speed has been called the best in the class and his agility looks insane, too. There shouldn’t be any concerns with Swift’s athleticism.

A Play That Summarizes:

 

Jonathan Taylor (Wisconsin, JR) - Day 1 Projection

Receiving Ability: Jonathan Taylor has caught 16-of-28 career targets for 155 yards (5.5 YPT) with four drops. And it’s really notable that Taylor has zero (0) third-down receptions according to Sports Info Solutions. Mind-blowing. Maybe it’s the system -- Taylor lined up outside of the backfield on just 5-of-427 snaps last year per PFF -- but it’s hard to see past the drops and low YPT. The good news is Taylor knows this and how the status-quo will threaten his Day 1 projection. Taylor has reportedly spent the summer running routes, catching passes, and working on pass protection in an attempt to be a three-down back. I originally projected Taylor for 82 receiving yards for the 2019 season, but I’m upping that towards 150 yards (still not a lot) after hearing how serious Taylor has been about becoming a better pass catcher. If Taylor can’t reach my low receiving projection, then I’ll be out on Taylor as a late first-round prospect.

Elusiveness/Broken Tackles: Per PFF, Taylor averaged 4.28 yards after contact (above average) and averaged 0.22 missed tackles per carry (average) last season. Taylor’s speed and power are noticeably better than his elusiveness in space, which explains his above-average YAC and average missed tackle numbers. There’s not enough of a sample to judge his elusiveness as a pass-catcher, but I’d guess Taylor would be average. 

Rushing Production: Taylor has a chance to be the career college rushing leader, and he’d be doing it in three years, not four. As a freshman, Taylor picked up 1,977 rushing yards with 13 touchdowns and followed it up with 2,194 yards and 16 touchdowns last year. Incredible. For 2019, I project Taylor for 1,669 yards (152 YPG) and 13 touchdowns across 11 regular season games. The rushing projection is over 200 yards more than the second-place projected finisher. 

Athleticism: Taylor (5’11/219) is a freak athlete. As a high schooler, Taylor had two New Jersey high school records in the 100-meter dash, and he’s developed even further at Wisconsin. Bruce Feldman of The Athletic reports Taylor has run a 4.3 forty. That equates to an insane 128.7 speed score if Taylor hits that time at his listed 220-pound weight. Taylor can also squat 605 pounds leading to a 37.5 vertical jump. Agility scores are the only potential concerns in Taylor’s athletic profile.

A Play That Summarizes:

 

Travis Etienne (Clemson, JR) - Day 1 Projection

Receiving Ability: Travis Etienne is straight-up not comfortable as a receiver right now, and he admits that. "I feel nervous I guess. Cause the ball is coming, and I always feel like the defender is right there, so I run before I catch the ball and get spooked by my surroundings." Last year, Etienne dropped four of his 17 targets, and Clemson knows how one-dimensional he is right now. Etienne only had 19 offensive snaps coming from somewhere outside of the backfield and 14-of-17 targets were behind the line of scrimmage. It matters that Dabo Swinney is choosing to not utilize Etienne as a receiver and that worries me. I project Etienne for only 66 receiving yards in 2019 and that would keep me out on Etienne as a late first-round prospect, even if he is a stud runner. 

Elusiveness/Broken Tackles: Per PFF, Etienne averaged 4.33 yards after contact (above average) and averaged 0.25 missed tackles per carry (above average) last season. Etienne’s burst is the primary reason he has high-end YAC numbers because he gets away from defenders quickly after contact. With the small sample, there’s nothing to make of Etienne’s 0.33 missed tackles per reception average. 

Rushing Production: Etienne picked up 766 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns on just 107 carries as a freshman while splitting carries with RB Tavien Feaster and QB Kelly Bryant. In 2018, Etienne established himself as the clear lead back, forcing Feaster into a backup role. Etienne finished the year with 1,658 and 24 touchdowns (!!!) across 15 games. This season I project Etienne for 1,322 yards (120 YPG) and 16 touchdowns across 11 regular season games. Production is not an issue. In fact, it’s a major plus.

Athleticism: Etienne (5’10/215) has recorded a 4.38 forty before and looks every bit that fast on tape. Speed is his best athletic trait, especially considering he’s listed at 215 pounds, and athleticism is probably his best trait overall. There’s a chance Etienne finishes with the top-three forty time among 2020 running backs.

A Play That Summarizes:

 

Eno Benjamin (Arizona State, JR) - Day 2 Projection

Receiving Ability: Eno Benjamin has caught 40-of-49 career targets for 278 yards (5.7 YPT) with four drops. The 40 receptions indicate that he’s at least capable as a three-down back in the NFL, but many of them are empty calories. Last year, 19 of his 35 receptions were behind the line of scrimmage and between the numbers. You know, the closest and easiest ones to haul in. I don’t think Benjamin is the next CMC or Kamara in terms of being the total package as pass catcher, but Eno has reliable hands and makes people miss in open space. That’s good enough for me to give him the green light as a running back prospect. I project Benjamin for 207 receiving yards in 2019, making him closer to D’Andre Swift than Travis Etienne.

Elusiveness/Broken Tackles: Per PFF, Benjamin averaged 3.43 yards after contact (above average) and forced 0.28 missed tackles per carry last season (above average). Benjamin is definitely more elusive than he is strong. He has one of the best jump cuts in the class and sets up defenders well in space. This is especially true after the catch. Last year, Benjamin forced 0.46 missed tackles per catch, which only trailed Mekhi Sargent, Darwin Thompson, and Trey Ragas among running backs with at least 15 receptions. 

Rushing Production: Benjamin was limited to just 23 carries as a freshman (not ideal), but broke out in a huge way last year. As a sophomore, Benjamin picked up 1,642 yards and 16 touchdowns on a ridiculous 300 carries. In 2019, I project Benjamin for 1,418 yards (129 YPG) and 13 touchdowns across 11 regular season games. That’s the second-highest yardage projection in the nation.

Athleticism: Benjamin (5’10/201) is on the smaller side -- I’m hoping his listed size is his actual size and he’s not actually smaller -- so he’ll need to make up for it in speed and agility. His broken tackle metrics and tape indicate he’ll do well in agility and weight-adjusted strength, but I couldn’t dig up anything verified.

A Play That Summarizes:

 

J.K. Dobbins (Ohio State, JR) - Day 2 Projection

Receiving Ability: J.K. Dobbins has caught 48-of-56 career targets for 398 yards (7.1 YPT) with just 2 drops. He’s obviously comfortable as a receiver, and the Buckeyes know it. In fact, Ohio State will sometimes put Dobbins at receiver (slot and wideout) and half of his targets last year were beyond the line of scrimmage, something that’s really rare for a college running back. I project Dobbins for 259 receiving yards in 2019 and he should be considered one of the better pass-catching backs in the 2020 NFL Draft. This part of his profile is pretty straight-forward. The rest is not.

Elusiveness/Broken Tackles: Per PFF, Dobbins averaged 2.68 yards after contact (below average) and averaged 0.16 missed tackles per carry (below average) last season. Yikes. Dobbins couldn’t break away from defenders with speed and didn’t have the elusion his recruiting profile suggests. If Dobbins doesn’t improve in 2019, his draft stock could tumble. There probably isn’t a back I’m more curious to keep track of.

Rushing Production: Dobbins has elite early-age production. As a freshman, Dobbins ran for 1,403 yards and seven touchdowns on 194 carries (7.2 YPC). Things proved more difficult last year -- his YPC dropped to 4.6 -- but Dobbins still managed 1,053 yards and 10 touchdowns on a big workload. Admittingly a difficult projection, I project Dobbins for 853 yards (78 YPG) and 9 touchdowns across 11 regular season games. I’m likely to increase these totals when my final projections come out in August.

Athleticism: Dobbins’ (5’10/217) athleticism in 2017 and in 2018 were noticeably different. As mentioned above, Dobbins had a 2.68 yards after contact average last year. That number was 4.25 the season prior. My guess is Dobbins was playing through an injury in 2018 because his burst and top speed were average at best. However, in high school, Dobbins’ athleticism was off the charts. He recorded a 4.44 forty and a 43.1-inch vertical, earning Dobbins elite SPARQ scores. 

A Play That Summarizes:

 

Kylin Hill (Mississippi State, JR) - Day 2 Projection

Receiving Ability: Kylin Hill has caught 26-of-33 career receptions for 214 yards (6.5 YPT) with four drops. Hill’s athleticism is apparent when he’s in space after dump-offs or when he’s making over-the-shoulder contested-catch touchdowns on 23-yard wheel routes (video). The breakout candidate could clean up his hands, I guess, but he’s definitely an asset as a pass-catcher. I project Hill for 199 receiving yards in 2019, but he should have more than that in the NFL. 

Elusiveness/Broken Tackles: Per PFF, Kylin Hill averaged 4.03 yards after contact and averaged 0.26 missed tackles per carry last season. That’s solid and is a testament to his insane strength (he can bench 400 pounds and squat 600). But he was even better at making defenders miss after the catch. Last season, Hill averaged 0.41 missed tackles per catch, which is a good measure of how much wiggle a back has since most running back receptions come in open space. Overall, he can make defenders miss with both strength and wiggle. Another reason to be moderately optimistic with Hill as a prospect.

Rushing Production: Hill doesn’t have ideal early-age production, but it’s better than nothing. As a freshman, Hill averaged 5.0 yards on 78 carries before picking up 734 yards and four touchdowns last year. With QB Nick Fitzgerald leaving campus, I project Hill for 1,084 yards (99 YPG) and 8 touchdowns across 11 regular season games with carries up for grabs. 2019 is a make or break season for his production profile. I’m buying his breakout hype. 

Athleticism: Hill (5’11/215) has impressive strength (400-pound bench, 600-pound squat) according to The Athletic’s Bruce Feldman. His coach Joe Moorhead claims Hill has “as many tools, physically, as a ball-carrier, as a pass-catcher, as any back I’ve been around.” Moorhead has coached Saquon Barkley. In high school, Hill recorded a 4.64 forty with a 37.6 vertical. 

A Play That Summarizes:

 

Najee Harris (Alabama, JR) - Day 2 Projection

Receiving Ability: Najee Harris has caught 10-of-14 career targets for 52 yards (3.7 YPT) with one drop. It’s hard to take much from this since he’s been a backup, but at first look, it doesn’t look lIke Harris will be an asset as a pass-catcher in the NFL. I project Harris for 136 receiving yards in 2019

Elusiveness/Broken Tackles: Per PFF, Harris averaged 4.38 yards after contact (above average) and averaged 0.32 missed tackles per carry (above average) last season, which only trailed Trey Sermon and Marcel Murray for the most among returning backs with at least 100 carries. Harris has the strength to break tackles, has enough wiggle for his size to occasionally make a defender miss in space, and has the huevos to try and hurdle defenders, which sometimes works (video) and sometimes doesn’t (video). Overall, running through defends is probably his best trait and it could be good enough to give him a shot at being a top-100 pick despite concerns with his receiving skills. 

Rushing Production: As is the case with most Alabama backs, Harris was used sparingly as a freshman, adding 370 yards and three touchdowns on 70 carries. The depth chart remained too big of a hurdle for Harris to break out with Josh Jacobs (first-round) and Damien Harris (third-round) still in Tuscaloosa. The backfield should be primarily his in 2019, so I project Harris for 1,061 yards (96 YPG) and 11 touchdowns across 11 regular season games

Athleticism: Harris (6’2/230) ran a 4.66 forty with a 33-inch vertical as one of the biggest high school running backs in the country. On tape, his speed doesn’t compare to other backs in the class and his agility looks pretty average. Harris’ athletic profile could limit his draft stock, even if he is one of the stronger backs in the class.

A Play That Summarizes:

 

Day 3 Projections

A.J. Dillon (Boston College, JR)

Cam Akers (Florida State, JR)

Zack Moss (Utah, SR)

Trey Sermon (Oklahoma, JR)

Anthony McFarland Jr. (Maryland, rSO)

Ke’Shawn Vaughn (Vanderbilt, SR)

Kennedy Brooks (Oklahoma, rSO)

Chuba Hubbard (Oklahoma State, rSO)

Lamical Perine (Florida, SR)

Joshua Kelley (UCLA, SR)

Scottie Phillips (Ole Miss, SR)

Juwan Washington (San Diego State, SR)

Tavien Feaster (Transfer Portal, SR)

Reggie Corbin (Illinois, SR)

J.J. Taylor (Arizona, JR)

Larry Rountree (Missouri, JR)

Patrick Taylor Jr. (Memphis, SR)

 

Read my Top 50 College Running Backs of 2019 column for more quarterback evaluations and advanced stats, and I also have 2019 stat projections here.

 

Winks’ Preseason Top 10

1. D’Andre Swift (Day 1/2 grade)

2. Eno Benjamin (Day 2 grade)

3. Jonathan Taylor (Day 2 grade)

4. Travis Etienne (Day 2 grade)

5. Kylin Hill (Day 2 grade)

6. J.K. Dobbins (Day 2 grade, pending his athleticism returning to 2017 form)

7. A.J. Dillon (Day 2/3 grade, pending him not weighing 250 fricken pounds)

8. Zack Moss (Day 3 grade, pending injury news) 

9. Trey Sermon (Day 3 grade)

10. Cam Akers (Day 3 grade)

 

For quarterback draft projections and rankings, read the 2020 NFL Draft Stock - Quarterbacks column.

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