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Joshua Kelley, Ke’Shawn Vaughn, And The Pass-Catching Upside Of The 2020 RB Class, Part 3

The 2020 draft class of RBs has been billed 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, With this information in mind, let’s turn back to the vaunted 2020 class. If there’s one mark 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:

  • We’ll be working with 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.
PlayerADPGamesruYPGREC/GreYDS/GPPR/GPPR Rec %MS of RB RECs
Kylin Hill21.81166.721614.639.5%61.1%
Ty Chandler82.31157.31.716.612.938.9%52.8%
Deon Jackson1365.2219.514.633.3%89.7%
Chuba Hubbard23.41356.91.717.613.332.9%52.4%
D'Andre Swift1.51474.92.321.217.532.6%60.4%
Cam Akers5.21258.81.912.11331.7%56.1%
CJ Verdell87.61378.32.124.217.930.3%60.0%
Andrew Clair1163.81.79.312.929.1%38.0%
J.K. Dobbins10.41475.21.918.816.428.0%45.6%
Jatarvious Whitlow63.81360.51.213.312.227.9%27.8%
Salvon Ahmed59.61443.41.512.110.127.0%46.7%
Trey Ragas1484.41.816.416.126.5%46.3%
Sewo Olonilua117.91348.81.26.67.623.8%55.5%
DeAndre Torrey1375.21.915.818.923.5%51.0%
Mekhi Sargent1357.31.31212.923.1%27.9%
Lamical Perine113.61363.5113.112.422.4%41.9%
Eno Benjamin10.913126.32.720.225.722.0%74.5%
Joshua Kelley114.3111132.517.522.119.1%60.0%
Patrick Taylor Jr.1131480.11.214.118.419.0%21.0%
Tavien Feaster119.31529.30.74.76.518.5%42.3%
Michael Warren II81.312110.82.119.325.118.0%71.4%
Ke'Shawn Vaughn5612103.71.114.219.917.6%27.7%
Stephen Carr69.4942.70.92.96.817.4%24.2%
Reggie Corbin1290.41.314.716.317.1%53.3%
Scottie Phillips116.81184.40.99.517.916.5%45.4%
Clyde Edwards-Helaire119.31350.60.87.49.916.0%31.4%
Trey Sermon23.31467.60.912.914.514.8%44.4%
Darrynton Evans120.31391.30.96.714.414.2%0.0%
J.J. Taylor12119.51.311.117.414.0%80.0%
Anthony McFarland48.61286.20.66.111.810.1%36.8%
Zack Moss47.49121.80.95.621.69.8%47.1%
Juwan Washington91111.18.119.79.8%45.4%
Larry Rountree III96.31393.51.14.8169.7%36.8%
AJ Dillon20.510110.80.84.118.99.6%28.6%
Travis Etienne3.315110.50.85.222.89.3%46.2%
Kennedy Brooks68.411960.95.217.68.1%37.0%
Spencer Brown91.61487.60.61.416.86.8%42.1%
Najee Harris19.31552.20.30.57.14.4%8.7%
Jonathan Taylor4.413168.80.64.625.34.3%20.5%
Mohamed Ibrahim83.1101160.42.617.73.7%30.8%
Brian Robinson Jr.103.4930.2004.40.0%0.0%

Tier 3

Tier 3 prospects generally have prolific rushing numbers coupled with average to good receiving profiles. They aren’t expected to be drafted extremely high which does limit their upside. But given a strong final season, we could see them rise next spring.

Joshua Kelley, UCLA

Kelley began his college career at UC Davis before transferring to UCLA in 2017. After sitting out the 2017 season, he rushed for 1,243 yards and 12 TDs last season. He also served as the primary receiver in the Bruins’ backfield with 57% of the team’s RB targets. I do worry about his age as a redshirt senior. But assuming he’s a late-round pick, there’s enough theoretical upside in his comps list to keep me interested.

Patrick Taylor, Jr., Memphis

Despite sharing a backfield with both Darrell Henderson and Tony Pollard for the last three seasons, Taylor has still been plenty productive. Pollard easily led Tigers’ RBs in targets last season, but Taylor actually out-targeted Henderson 27 to 23. His current comp list is underwhelming. But I anticipate his rushing and receiving production to increase this season with Henderson and Pollard gone. His size and pass-catching acumen have him firmly on my radar.

Michael Warren II, Cincinnati

Warren was quietly one of the best, most versatile RBs in the entire country last season. He was also a target hog accounting for 78% of the Bearcats’ RB targets in 2018. Cincinnati returns all but one skill position player from last season so there’s probably not much room for Warren to see an expanded role. In a deep 2020 class, there’s a chance Warren gets lost in the shuffle, especially if he’s not an athletic standout. He’s a priority watch list guy right now.

Ke’Shawn Vaughn, Vanderbilt

As a freshman in 2015, Vaughn led Illinois in rushing, but eventually transferred to Vanderbilt in 2017. He was incredibly efficient as both a runner and a receiver last season. But it’s worth noting that he wasn’t even the main pass-catching RB on his team, seeing just 33% of the Commodores’ RB targets. That role was occupied by Khari Blasingame who is now gone. History tells us that 23-year-old rookies tend to hit at a lower rate compared to their younger counterparts. But if Vaughn remains productive on the ground, improves as a receiver, and runs a sub-4.5-second forty at 215 pounds, he’ll force his way into the rookie draft discussion.

Reggie Corbin, Illinois

Corbin is another older prospect (23) who was crazy efficient last season averaging 8.5 yards per carry. He saw 62% of his team’s RB targets with 17% of his PPR total coming through the air in 2018. Corbin’s touches have been limited in the run up to the regular season. But all indications point to him again being the focal point of the offense. A bit undersized at 200-pounds, Corbin will likely need to hit the low range of his forty-yard-dash projections to get a serious look next spring.

J.J. Taylor, Arizona

Taylor was an absolute workhorse for the Wildcats last season accounting for 63% of the non-QB rushes and 76% of the RB targets. All signs point to a similar distribution again in 2019. Taylor is undersized at 5-foot-6, 184 pounds. And his 14% PPR Rec% isn’t all that special, especially considered what we normally expect from an RB of his size. Arizona does lose four of its top five WRs from last season, so it’s possible Taylor sees more opportunity. He’s on my radar as a potential late-round rookie draft pick depending on draft capital.

Image Credit: Jordon Kelly/Icon Sportswire. Pictured: Joshua Kelly.

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