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Nothing against the 2019 NFL draft, but the 2020 talent pool could blow this most recent draft class out of the water at the skill positions.
Fantasy football alert: We need a little more clarity at quarterback before we can make a call on the strength of this position, and tight end admittedly looms as a less-thrilling position. But at running back and wide receiver? It might be the best combined group at those two positions we’ve had in years.
“Running backs and receivers this year, this draft is loaded,” an AFC national scout said this week. “We might not have that top-10 guy [at running back] like we’ve had in the past — the [Leonard] Fournette, the Saquon [Barkley] or [Ezekiel Elliott] — but the depth is really pretty incredible if we start hearing about some more of these juniors [coming out].
“It’s already strong at receiver, and it should get even more strong.”
If you scan our 2020 NFL draft Underclassman Tracker, you might notice that a slew of running backs and wide receivers have declared for the 2020 draft just in the past few days alone. Among those are three talented backs — Arizona State’s Eno Benjamin, Boston College’s A.J. Dillon and Maryland’s Anthony McFarland Jr. — but the class is so deep that none of the three are absolutely certain to be picked in the first two days.
As the national scout pointed out, even with the lack of the elite RB prospect who is guaranteed to go in the top 20 or so picks, Rounds 2, 3 and 4 could be the “sweet spot” for a lot of ready-made talent, but that the depth could “last into Round 6 even.” It’s that deep a class we’re looking at this coming spring.
He added: “It’s really deep in guys who do a lot of different things. Pick your different skill set, whatever you need, and there is someone in this group that can offer you something. So it’s not just deep, as I see it, but so many different types [of backs] to choose from.”
Which RBs are the best in 2020?
We polled a few personnel people over the past few weeks, and there appears to be no clear-cut RB1 in this class.
The leading candidates for that mantle appear to be Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor, Georgia’s D’Andre Swift and perhaps Clemson’s Travis Etienne. But bounce-back seasons for Ohio State’s J.K. Dobbins and Utah’s Zack Moss and breakout seasons from Alabama’s Najee Harris, Oklahoma State’s Chuba Hubbard and LSU’s Clyde Edwards-Helaire make this a difficult class to stack, rank and project for landing spots.
In April, only one running back was selected before the 53rd overall pick — Josh Jacobs, who went 24th overall to the Oakland Raiders. Between picks No. 53 and 87, a run at the position unfolded with five more backs going off the board. Another mini-RB run arrived with five backs drafted between picks 102 and 128.
“That’ll start earlier this year, I suspect, but it’ll last longer,” the national scout said.
That’s because this class also should include Florida State’s Cam Akers, Mississippi State’s Kylin Hill and others who could end up top-100 picks. In the past decade, the average number of backs drafted in the first 100 picks (roughly Rounds 1 through 3) has been 6.8, with a high-water mark of eight selected four different years in that span.
“I could see that number hitting 10, depending on who comes out,” the national scout said. “That is, if there are enough teams needing one.”
For the fantasy folks out there, help is on the way. And for the draft fans of teams who need immediate help in the run game — such as the Miami Dolphins, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Atlanta Falcons and others — the talent is incredibly appealing, especially outside of Round 1.
“There are some teams that took running backs last year who might be regretting that a bit now,” the scout said. “This class is just flat-out better all around. You need the smaller, quicker back, he’s there; the bigger, more powerful ones [and] the pass-catching backs, some who can be returners, it’s just a fun class to evaluate.”
Added an NFC scouting director we spoke with: “You watch ... someone in what I call that top group [Swift, Taylor, Etienne, Dobbins and perhaps Moss] will go a lot later than you’d expect. There are more backs than teams really needing backs, I think.”
Don’t forget about the wide receivers
We posed a question to the two evaluators: Is this also the deepest, most talented receiver class they’ve seen?
“I wasn’t in the league yet for that 1996 group,” the scouting director said of the group that included Hall of Famers Marvin Harrison and Terrell Owens, along with Muhsin Muhammad, Keyshawn Johnson, Eric Moulds and others. “But most recently, I think you look at 2014 and stack it against that one. It might be right there.”
The 2014 WR class was indeed loaded: Odell Beckham Jr., Mike Evans, Davante Adams, Allen Robinson, Brandin Cooks, Jarvis Landry, Sammy Watkins and John Brown were among the headliners that year. Could 2020 surpass that impressive lot?
“I’m not sure yet,” the director said, “but it could be close.”
Said the national scout, “I love this group of receivers. Like we talked about with the running backs, you have all shapes and sizes. We still don’t know all the [underclassmen], but I think it has a chance.
Our most recent mock draft reflects this class’ depth: Only one running back made our top 32, but six receivers went off the board. We haven’t had that many in Round 1 since 2015, with only 11 first-round receivers the past four years combined.
Alabama alone has a chance to land at least two and possibly three wideouts in Round 1 — Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs III and DeVonta Smith, who has been the breakout production-wise for the Crimson Tide this season.
Oklahoma’s CeeDee Lamb and Clemson’s Tee Higgins will be in the running for our personal WR1 rankings this season. Both could end up top-20 picks.
Colorado’s Laviska Shenault Jr. and TCU’s Jalen Reagor had disappointing seasons, production-wise, but are well-liked among scouts who have not forgotten how explosive they were in 2018.
Breakout stars such as Arizona State’s Brandon Aiyuk, Penn State’s KJ Hamler, LSU’s Justin Jefferson, USC’s Michael Pittman Jr., Boise State’s John Hightower, Minnesota’s Tyler Johnson and many more could add layers upon layers of depth, depending on who declares.
Like Bama, Michigan has three draftable receivers (Donovan Peoples-Jones, Tarik Black and Nico Collins) as well. Texas, Florida and Ohio State also could have multiple wideouts picks in April. And on and on ...
“I think there will be teams that double dip,” the director said, “because you have so many different flavors: speed, size, shiftier guys. There might not be that Calvin Johnson type of physical freak ... but there’s just about everything else here.”
Call it a fantasy footballer’s dream if you want, but the 2020 class might end up the best collection of backs and receivers we’ve had in the same draft in some time.
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