The 2020 class of running backs has been hyped as a potentially historic group. And while it’s generally wise to temper expectations about rookie classes, it’s easy to fall in love with this class. Rotoworld’s Hayden Winks predicts seven RBs could be selected in the first two days of next year’s Draft.
Thanks to recent work from Ryan Collingsworth, we know that the way in which elite NFL RBs score fantasy points is changing. When Collingsworth looked specifically at predicting college RBs transitioning to the next level, the importance of receiving ability became very apparent:
“Receptions per game, receiving yards per game and college PPR rec. % all produced correlational coefficients of r=0.40 or higher related to NFL PPR receiving percentage. Essentially, this means that if a running back was an elite receiver in college, he’s also more likely to be an elite receiver in the NFL.”
Blair Andrews added more context to the subject by explaining that raw counting stats are sometimes misleading and introduced the Backfield Dominator Rating to help remedy the misconceptions.
With this information in mind, let’s turn back to the vaunted 2020 class. If there’s one blemish on the class, it’s that several top prospects have poor receiving profiles. They’ve been wildly productive on the ground but seemingly lack the overall makeup of the truly elite RB1-types we currently see in the NFL.
What follows will be my attempt to gauge a realistic range of outcomes for the 2020 class of RBs. With their final seasons yet to come, this is obviously an imperfect science. But in devy formats, being ahead of the curve can pay massive dividends.
A few disclaimers before we start:
- I’ll be referencing the most recent season on record for these prospects. Their final seasons (we assume to be 2019) will tell us more about how we should value them moving forward.
- Draft capital is crucial, especially for RBs. I’ll do my best to fairly estimate draft position as an input in the Box Score Scout to generate reasonable comparables.
- ADP data is courtesy of Devy Watch.
|Player||ADP||Games||ruYPG||REC/G||reYDS/G||PPR/G||PPR Rec %||MS of RB RECs|
|Patrick Taylor Jr.||113||14||80.1||1.2||14.1||18.4||19.0%||21.0%|
|Michael Warren II||81.3||12||110.8||2.1||19.3||25.1||18.0%||71.4%|
|Larry Rountree III||96.3||13||93.5||1.1||4.8||16||9.7%||36.8%|
|Brian Robinson Jr.||103.4||9||30.2||0||0||4.4||0.0%||0.0%|
Tier 1 prospects should have an elite receiving profile and substantial draft capital. They may not always have incredible rushing production, but their 2018 performances signal a potential three-down role in the NFL.
D’Andre Swift, Georgia
Swift’s receiving ability is the main reason he’s being drafted as the first overall pick in devy mocks. One of just three RBs in the study who averaged at least 20 receiving yards per game last season, Swift ranked fifth in PPR REC % in 2018. The 5-foot-11, 215-pound junior will have competition for touches in a deep Georgia backfield that includes a now-healthy Zamir White. Despite reports that he may be fighting to retain the starting job, I fully anticipate him to lead the team in carries. His list of comps is promising if he finds his way into the first round:
Cam Akers, Florida State
Akers’ rushing production has been stifled thus far due in large part to atrocious offensive line play at Florida State. But as a receiver he absolutely belongs in the top cohort. He also has youth (20.2) and athleticism on his side. Devy owners are banking on a breakout season given his current ADP. But the elephant in the room is where will he be drafted if his rushing production doesn’t improve. His comps list is littered with land mines assuming middle-round draft capital. Although said land mines are much less athletic than we expect Akers to be.
J.K. Dobbins, Ohio State
Dobbins averaged nearly 2 receptions per game last season while splitting time with Mike Weber. Now with the likelihood of an increased role in 2019, it’s possible we have yet to see his true ceiling. Another relatively young (20.7) and extremely athletic prospect, Dobbins should see his draft stock rise following what I anticipate to be a strong combine. I could be too low on his estimated draft position, but in the mid-third-round, his comps are a bit of a mixed bag. I expect Dobbins to be as good, if not better, athletically as all the names listed below. But there is some downside based on his career production so far.
Eno Benjamin, Arizona State
Benjamin was dominant in every phase of the game as a sophomore last season. Of all the tier-one RBs, you could argue he has the most complete profile. He had 75% of his team’s RB receptions last year and I doubt that changes much in 2019. It’s tough to label a top-10 overall devy pick as underrated, but a case could be made that Benjamin currently belongs in the overall RB1 discussion. A Duke Johnson-like outcome1 is entirely possible assuming a mid-third-round draft slot:
Kylin Hill, Mississippi State
Speaking of underrated, Hill posted the best PPR REC% last season among all 2020 RBs currently with an ADP. He did so while splitting time with the incumbent starter Aeris Williams who is now off the roster. I hesitate to compare anyone to Saquon Barkley, but Hill is primed for a similar role in the same Joe-Moorhead-run offense in 2019 that propelled Barkley to stardom. If Hill does explode this season, his comps list will likely look much different. But his career production and assumed middle-round draft slot do give some hope for his outlook:
Chuba Hubbard, Oklahoma State
Hubbard is another RB with a second round ADP who should see a jump in value this season. The 207-pound junior is set to become the focus of the Cowboys’ offense with Justice Hill now off the roster. 33% of his total PPR scoring came through the pass game last season. And there’s a chance that increases based on his market share for RB receptions (52%) while splitting time with Hill. If he can climb into the fourth round, there’s plenty to like about his range of outcomes:
Stay Tuned for Part 2 where we examine the Tier 2 RB devy prospects for 2020.
Image Credit: Jacob Snow/Icon Sportswire. Pictured: Eno Benjamin.
- Preferably without being buried in depth charts for years and years (back)