Now that the NFL combine has passed, we have a plethora of new athletic data on this upcoming rookie class. That information can be applied to athletic models and used to shape out the full portfolio for prospects to go along with production profiles, which is a general overlay of what these players put on tape for NFL teams.
With that, we’re laying out the positional rankings for each position pre-NFL Draft from a fantasy stance. We’ve already laid out the rookie tight ends and broken up the wide receiver pieces among the top-10, the next 10 and then the remaining players at the position. You can follow these links to RB 6-15, and RB16-30 .You can also find the rest of the rookie rankings and all other 2020 rankings for seasonal and dynasty formats as they arrive in our 2020 rankings hub as they arrive and are updated throughout the offseason.
For purposes of having the most information, these early ranks will cover only the players invited to the combine at each position. Although I do models for each of the skill positions and will share the ranks for the players in those models, my personal ranks don’t strictly follow those models linearly. I use the prospect models in a similar fashion as I do projection models for the NFL season. We’re looking for immediate market inefficiencies in leagues where we’re drafting rookie prior to the actual NFL draft.
Athletic testing has low correlation to actual fantasy output and when it does, it’s typically counted twice from a very productive player in the first place. But when a prospect has subpar athletic testing paired with a limited or nonexistent production resume, then we’re playing with fire when attempting to elevate or count on that player for NFL production. Athletic testing doesn’t go heavily into the model, but when discussing a physical profile for wide receiver, we’re looking at weight-adjusted speed, explosion, and agility.
For running backs, nothing matters more to the position than invested draft capital. Over the past decade, draft capital among drafted running backs has an r^2 of .3105 to fantasy points years 1-3. While that correlation is also leaving a lot of room on the table for variance, it’s by far and away the most predictive measure for backs and early career fantasy output. Post-draft we’ll have the added influence of draft investment and landing spot to add to the layout.
2020 Pre-NFL Draft Rookie Running Back Rankings
1. Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin, Final Year Age: 21.0 (Model Rank RB1): No running back in this class has a more decorated career usage background that Taylor does. He handled 968 touches over three seasons at Wisconsin for over 2,000 yards from scrimmage in all three. While the touch count is high, there’s really no need to have that factor in as a concern. On a per-game level, Taylor’s 23.6 touches per game in college were fewer than Adrian Peterson (24.9) and Ray Rice (24.9) handled per game while his career touch count is below that of LaDainian Tomlinson (986), Michael Turner (983), DeAngelo Williams (1,039), and David Johnson (1,007) to name a few successful high-volume backs in college. From a physical stance, Taylor went out and crushed at Indianapolis. Given his production resume, there’s no need to double count everything, but he checked all boxes with a 97th percentile physical score. The only remaining blemish for Taylor is whether he will catch a ton of passes in the NFL or fall into a Derrick Henry-esque type of a role within an offense. Taylor caught 26 passes last season after just 16 through two season. That was good for 10.6% of his team’s receptions, which ranked 10th among all 30 backs invited to the combine. But his usage in that area is still to be determined as Pro Football Focus credited him with eight career drops on 50 catchable passes.
2. J.K. Dobbins, Ohio State, FY Age: 21.0 (MR RB2): Dobbins posted 1,538 yards from scrimmage and 7.1 yards per touch on 216 touches as a true freshman at 19, In the two subsequent years, he then posted 1,316 yards (5.1 YPT) on 256 touches and then closed his career with 2,250 yards (6.9 YPT) on 324 touches. As a pass catcher, Dobbins caught over 20 passes in all three seasons and averaged over 10.0 yards per catch in his past two seasons. The best home run hitter in this class, Dobbins was attributed with 31 runs of 15-plus yards per Pro Football Focus, the most among all backs in 2019. An ankle injury suffered in Ohio State’s final game (a game in which he totaled 221 yards) versus Clemson kept Dobbins from performing physical drills in Indianapolis, where he checked in at 5’9”, 209 pounds.
3. D’Andre Swift, Georgia, FY Age: 21.0 (MR RB5): Swift is the next Georgia back in line for high draft investment. He started his career off with 771 yards on 98 touches (7.8 YPT) as a true freshman at age-19 playing behind Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. The next season, he led the team with 195 touches for 1,346 yards (6.9 YPT) while also conceding 164 touches to Elijah Holyfield. This past season, he once again took a step forward, garnering 220 touches for 1,434 yards (6.5 YPT). All in all, he doesn’t have the production score as some other backs in this class, but he’s shared work and Georgia was smart with his deployment in early season blowouts. As a receiver, Swift caught 1.7 passes per game, which ranks fourth in this class while averaging 9.1 yards per catch.
4. Cam Akers, Florida State, FY Age: 20.5 (MR RB3): Akers is the youngest back in this class. He had rough efficiency playing behind the second-lowest ranked offensive line in the country, but Akers still totaled 1,369 yards from scrimmage on 261 touches (5.2 YPT) in 2019. 79.0% of his rushing yardage this past season was gained after contact. As a receiver, Akers averaged 1.9 receptions per game, which ranks second in this class, although he averaged just 7.0 yards per catch on all those grabs. From a physical stance, Akers checked out of the combine with the fifth-highest physical profile score in this class (63rd percentile).
5. Clyde Edwards-Helaire, LSU, FY Age: 20.7 (MR RB8): No back raised his draft stock more in 2019 than Edwards-Helaire. After 169 touches for 831 total yards through two seasons CEH posted 1,867 yards on 270 touches (6.9 YPT) and 17 touches. He benefitted from playing in the highest-scoring offense in the country, but Edwards-Helaire also was hyper-efficient on his own merit. For context, he handled 56.7% of the team non-QB rushing attempts, yet produced 65.2% of their rushing yardage. That plus-8.5% gap in yardage versus usage was tops among all D1 backs in this class. His plus-2.0 yards per carry compared to his non-QB teammates was also first in this class. That’s just running the football. Edwards-Helaire led all backs in this class with 3.7 receptions per game in 2019 and has the fourth-most return yards (877) for backs in this class over their careers. The one area where CEH didn’t shine is that he’s not a physical specimen. At 5’7” and 207 pounds, he checked out of the combine with a 28th percentile physical profile. Just 7-of-35 backs drafted over the past 10 seasons with a sub-30% profile score have had a top-24 season in their first three NFL seasons, but we have seen a few bell-cow hits in Dalvin Cook, Devonta Freeman, and Kareem Hunt. There’s some concern that Edwards-Helaire won’t be viewed as an NFL bell-cow by a number of teams, but his pass-catching and versatility doesn’t close that door, either.