Rookie running back rundown: D'Andre Swift among top fantasy options in 2020 NFL Draft

·11 min read

With just a couple days until the 2020 NFL Draft, football analyst Liz Loza offers a snapshot of the top prospects at each position that will include their pro comparison and best fantasy fit. Here, you have the top running backs in the class: Georgia Bulldogs’ D’Andre Swift, Ohio State Buckeye J.K. Dobbins, Wisconsin Badger Jonathan Taylor, Florida State Seminole Cam Akers, and LSU Tiger Clyde Edwards-Helaire.

Versatile D'Andre Swift offers three-down potential

Origin Story

Swift grew up in Philadelphia watching Eagles games with his grandfather, Henry Holloway, to whom he was strongly bonded. Holloway sadly passed when Swift was only six years old but continued to leave an impression on his grandson. Determined to honor his grandfather’s memory, Swift wrote “RIP Pop-Pop” on the game tape around his wrists and cleats before every contest in high school and college.

Super Power

From eagle-eye vision to outstanding balance, there’s a lot to like about Swift’s game. What stands out the most, however, are his feet. Even at 5-foot-8 and 212 pounds, there’s an ease to the way he runs. Still plenty powerful and explosive, his steps have nuance and tempo.

Greatest Weakness

Swift knows how to lower his shoulder, but he doesn’t do it consistently enough. His relatively high pad level leaves him exposed to would-be tacklers who could prevent him from gaining yardage or, even worse, sideline him with an injury.

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Overview

One of the most complete backs in this year’s class, Swift is a dynamic runner with excellent vision and instincts. He has the strength and elusiveness to win up the middle, as well as the quicks and know-how to bounce it outside. An effective pass-catcher, Swift has soft hands and advanced route-running ability. He can sometimes force runs rather than staying patient and doesn’t always finish with authority, but his overall skill set is one of creativity and reliability.

Key Stat

Converted 32 (RB14) of 34 (RB14) catchable targets in his second year at Georgia while working in tandem with Elijah Holyfield, per SIS.

Comp

Dalvin Cook.

Fantasy Fit

The Lions are a popular landing spot for Swift in the second round, but I don’t think they need another RB with an upright running style that invites injury. Instead, I’d prefer to see the Georgia product land in Miami working as the No. 2 to Jordan Howard.

Follow Him: @dreswift_ on Instagram, @DAndreSwift on Twitter

J.K. Dobbins could be the RB1 Chiefs are looking for

Origin Story

J’Kaylin lost his father, Lawrence Dobbins, when he was just 15-years-old. The elder Dobbins — who suffered a terminal stroke on Valentine’s Day of 2014 — was also a star running back at La Grange High School in Texas. Dobbins credits his late father with his love of football.

Super Power

Well-built with a #thicc lower half, Dobbins is hard to take down. He’s a downhill runner with plus power and fearless determination. His ability in short-yardage and goal-line situations is particularly eye-popping, as evidenced by his 21 rushing touchdowns (the most in the Big Ten) in 2019.

Greatest Weakness

Dobbins has more of a run-you-over than a run-around-you skill-set. He’s not fantastically creative when crowded, and he lacks the second-level speed to effortlessly outrun defenders in the open field.

Overview

Likely a Round 2 selection, the former Buckeye has the potential to be a feature back at the next level. In possession of instinctive vision, astounding contact balance, and plus acceleration, Dobbins isn’t afraid of employing a punishing stiff arm or lowering his shoulder and trucking a would-be tackler. In addition to being a physical rusher who consistently finishes with authority, he’s also a capable pass-catcher out of the backfield (71 grabs for 645 yards), though his route-running is far from refined.

Key Stat

Dobbins started 40 of the 42 games in which he played and never missed a contest in three years.

Comp

Dobbins chose to sit out the final day of testing at the NFL Combine in February. It was assumed that an ankle injury he suffered during the College Football Playoffs was the reason. However, as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, OSU’s pro-day was canceled and now teams don’t have speed or agility times on the 21-year-old. While he’s two inches taller, his running style is reminiscent of an early-career Ray Rice.

Fantasy Fit

Despite tapping a rotation of suitable rushers throughout 2019, Kansas City is still searching for their bell-cow. Recent reports suggest that the team is interested in Dobbins, as they’ve conducted FaceTime interviews with the prospect. It’s unlikely, however, that he’ll still be on the board when the Chiefs pick in the second round (No. 63, via the 49ers).

It’s hard to believe any franchise would spend a first-round selection (No. 32) on a running back in 2020, but stranger things have happened. If Kansas City doesn’t nab Dobbins then the Chargers might look for his goal-line prowess to replace Melvin Gordon’s with the 34th-overall pick.

Follow Him: @Jk.dobbins2 on Instagram, @Jkdobbins22 on Twitter

GLENDALE, ARIZONA - DECEMBER 28: Running back J.K. Dobbins #2 of the Ohio State Buckeyes rushes the football against the Clemson Tigers during the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl at State Farm Stadium on December 28, 2019 in Glendale, Arizona. The Tigers defeated the Buckeyes 29-23. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Ohio State running back J.K. Dobbins could make an immediate fantasy impact depending on his NFL landing spot. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Is Jonathan Taylor the next Nick Chubb?

Origin Story

A high school track star with athletic bloodlines (his dad, Jonathan James, played basketball at San Francisco State), the New Jersey native won back-to-back state championships in the 100-meters and the 4x100 his junior and senior years. He begged his mom (Elizabeth Taylor) to let him play football, not because he loved the game, but so that he could hang out with his cousin Amani Justice.

He was also a diligent student and was accepted to Harvard but ultimately chose to attend Wisconsin, as he believed that competing in the Big Ten would provide a more likely path to the NFL.

Super Power

Taylor’s second (and third) level speed isn’t just evident in his tape, it was confirmed when he posted one of the fastest 40-yard dash times for running backs at the combine (4.39 seconds). At over 220 pounds, the former Badger is a literal force in the open field when he hits his highest gear.

Greatest Weakness

Averaging 308 totes per year over his three seasons at Madison, concerns over Taylor’s odometer reading make sense. I’m more troubled, however, by his lack of experience in the passing game (62 percent of his catches came in his final year) and his issues with drops (per SIS, Taylor recorded 26 receptions on 39 targets in 2019, 31 of which were deemed catchable).

[2020 Draft Rankings: Overall | QBs | RBs | WRs | TEs | DST | Kickers]

Overview

As a three-year starter in Wisconsin’s run-heavy approach, Taylor gained experience (and found success) in zone and man/gap schemes, making him a solid fit for a variety of offenses. A resilient spirit, Taylor’s running style illustrates urgency and authority. Advanced patience and power allow him to churn his way through holes and muscle his way past defenders while a compact build (5-foot-10 and 226 pounds) and remarkable contact balance keep him upright.

While his physical approach is impressive, it has led to ball security issues, as Taylor accrued 18 fumbles (15 lost) over his college career.

Key Stat

Second player in FBS history to rush for over 2,000 yards in back-to-back seasons.

Comp

Nick Chubb.

Fantasy Fit

Taylor is no stranger to climbing his way up the depth chart. After all, he was the RB5 when he first arrived in Madison. By the end of the 2017 season, however, he had piled up 1,977 rushing yards and 13 TDs. The backfield in Pittsburgh may be crowded, but James Conner can’t stay healthy, Jaylen Samuels isn’t a running back, and Benny Snell (as much as I appreciated his plug-and-play/chug value in fantasy last year) is slow.

Taylor’s power, speed, and playing style are a solid match for the Steelers, who currently hold the No. 49 pick in this month’s draft.

Follow Him: @jayt23 on Instagram, @JayT23 on Twitter

Cam Akers is a trick-play waiting to happen

Origin Story

Akers’ cites his mother’s valiant fight to beat cancer — she was diagnosed with Stage II breast cancer when he was just 10 years old — as a constant source of inspiration and motivation. Thankfully, Ms. Angela Michael Neal has been cancer-free since the summer of 2011.

Super Power

Akers runs with a never-say-die attitude that requires constant focus from defenders. More than shifty, he is darn near acrobatic when squeezing through holes and dodging would-be tacklers in the open field.

Greatest Weakness

Like most rookie RBs, Akers’ pass-protecting skills are lacking. His technique isn’t refined enough to stay on the field for three downs at this point, which obviously dings his overall fantasy potential.

Overview

A former high school QB, Akers is a highly athletic runner with the size, speed, and burst to produce at the next level. With trick-play appeal and the juice to break off a long run at any moment, the Mississippi native brings grit and determination to each touch. He’s also a solid pass-catcher in possession of natural hands and ball-tracking skills. His production at Florida State was inconsistent, but that can be explained by the team’s subpar offensive line. While ball security has been an issue (10 career fumbles) and his pass protection needs improvement, Akers’ solid showing at the combine helped boost his overall stock.

Key Stat

Per SIS, 67 percent of Akers’ total rushing yards (1,144) came after contact (768).

Comp

Lamar Miller.

Fantasy Fit

Assuming the Chiefs pass on the position in the first round, Akers feels like a get at the end of the second (No. 63). Given the similarities between Akers and Kareem Hunt (slippery and tenacious runners who can also execute as receivers), Kansas City feels like a logical fit for the former Seminole. His presence would add depth to a backfield that struggled with consistency throughout 2019.

Follow Him: @camakers3 on Instagram, @thereal_cam3 on Twitter

Is Clyde Edwards-Helaire the perfect fit alongside the GOAT?

Origin Story

Fifteen years ago, while playing park ball in his hometown of Baton Rouge, Edwards-Helaire (then six-years-old) met Derrius Guice (who was eight-years-old at the time). The two became fast friends and would go on to play together in high school, college … and maybe the NFL.

Super Power

Compactly built and low to the ground, Edwards-Helaire is impossible to take down. With jaw-dropping contact balance, the Louisiana native has the ability to bowl over, between, and through defenders.

Greatest Weakness

At 5-foot-7 and 207 pounds, the former Tiger doesn’t possess prototypical size for the position, particularly in short-yardage situations. He’s also lacking elite long-speed, as evidenced by his forty-yard dash time of 4.6 seconds.

Overview

Like Sonic the Hedgehog without the turbo gear, CEH is a creative runner and savvy pass-catcher. More than an undersized space back, he’s a fierce competitor in possession of stunning lateral quickness, soft hands, and a build that lends itself to successful pass protection. If given sufficient reps, Edwards-Helaire has the potential to become a three-down back in the NFL and a PPR stud for fantasy managers.

Key Rushing Stat

Per SIS, in 2019 Edwards-Helaire managed a broken tackle percentage of 34% (RB9).

Key Receiving Stat

In the passing game, Edwards-Helaire posted a top-THREE completion percentage of 84.62%, which was actually better than his ultra-reliable teammate, Justin Jefferson (an actual WR, who completed 82.8% of the passes thrown his way).

*As discussed on The Rookie Snapshot Pod, CEH’s otherworldliness is deserving of TWO key stats.

Comp

Maurice Jones-Drew … from the size to the playing style to the hyphen.

Fantasy Fit

Less than two months ago, Bruce Arians touted the importance and need for a back who can catch. Edwards-Helaire, who reeled in 55 balls last year, fits the bill. He’s tough and versatile … just like BA, which makes him a perfect fit for the Bucs.

Follow Him: @clyde_22 on Instagram, @Clydro_22 on Twitter

What about these running backs intrigues or concerns you the most? Engage with Liz on social @LizLoza_FF.

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