At first sight, the 2020 RB class is one of the best we’ve seen in the history of the NFL draft. Upon further research, the 2020 class is one of the best we’ve seen in the history of the NFL draft. 2017 will not soon be forgotten, seeing Christian McCaffrey, Leonard Fournette, Dalvin Cook, Joe Mixon, Alvin Kamara, Kareem Hunt, James Connor, Tarik Cohen, Marlon Mack, Aaron Jones, Chris Carson, and Phillip Lindsey all find a ton of early success in their careers. 2008, 2001, 1999, and 1997 stand out in recent memory, each producing at least a couple long careers, but no class has made an impact from the top to bottom of the draft quite like 2017. That could change after the 2020 class puts on the pads at the NFL level.
If you’re an NFL GM looking to bolster your RB group, you can find a little bit of everything in this class. If you see Derrick Henry barreling through the NFL playoffs and you want your team to adopt that type of identity, you can get yourself a bruiser. If you see Christian McCaffrey playing his way to the MVP conversation and you want a duel-threat, you have options. If you see Dalvin Cook cutting his way through defenses, that mold is here. You want a James White, he’s there. This group has every box checked with productive, proven players ready to secure their legacy on the biggest stage in American sports.
All that said, as of mid-January while the underclassmen declarations are piling up, the national championship is upon us, and all-star events ready to get underway, there are 12 guys standing out from early viewing. Of course this is all subject to change as we dip further into tape as the draft process rolls along, but for now, let’s get started on the top 12 RBs of the 2020 draft class.
12) Salvon Ahmed – Washington
This is a guy I can easily see jumping up boards after what should be a stellar combine performance. Ahmed ran a 4.32 40 yard dash at the “Husky Combine” last spring. He played his early career behind ultra-productive Myles Gaskin before taking over as the starter in 2019. In that time he showed a patient running style, allowing his blocking to develop before exploding through an opening. Ahmed excels in and out of his cuts, he’s stronger through contact than he looks, he’s pretty reliable catching the ball, and I can easily see him finding a home in just about any scheme the NFL offers.
11) Eno Benjamin – Arizona State
After three productive years at Arizona State, Eno Benjamin decided to forego his last year of eligibility and enter the NFL draft, a wise decision on his part. Benjamin racked up 630 touches in the last two years alone, and is better suited getting paid for any touches he gets from here on out. He’s not a super fluid athlete, but he chops his feet and breaks down defenders with good footwork and power for his shorter frame. The one trait that might be his best and worst wrapped up together, is his inability to accept a lost cause. He makes a lot of big plays happen from what looks like nothing, but also tends to waste time trying to find yards that aren’t there instead of getting north. A quality receiver out of the backfield, Benjamin shows the versatility you want in a 2nd string RB.
10) Ke’Shawn Vaughn – Vanderbilt
I absolutely love the attitude Vaughn brings to the football field. He brings it every single play on a bad team that was frequently down 20+ points by halftime. Vaughn blocks with attitude, finishes his runs with physicality, knows where the sticks are and fights like hell to get there. Now for the negative, he isn’t a stand out athlete. He shows a little burst through the line of scrimmage, but he has an opportunity at the Senior Bowl to prove he has what it takes from an athletic stand point. He’s far from a star RB, but he’s a guy I can nearly guarantee will be on an NFL roster for 2+ contracts.
9) Chuba Hubbard – Oklahoma State
Hubbard is an interesting study, not only because of the offensive scheme he plays in, but because of his running style. The game-breaking speed is obvious, he covers ground effortlessly and if he sniffs the open field, he’s gone (something that happened a lot in Mike Gundy’s offense against Big 12 defenses). The problems lie in the subtleties of the position. He could use a little WD-40 to loosen his hips up a bit and allow him to wiggle through traffic a little better. In a telephone booth, he’s not at his best, but if you can scheme him into open space he’s a dynamic threat with a will to compete.
8) Zack Moss – Utah
To me, Zack Moss is the start of the “2nd tier” in this class. He is aggressive from the 1st step, looking to attack the defense from the moment he touches the ball. In addition, the contact balance is there, the hands are at least serviceable at the next level, and he can stay on the field all 3 downs. To me, as a prospect, he’s a discount Darrius Guice who takes every carry like it’s his last, often keeping himself alive when he should be dead in the rights.
7) Najee Harris – Alabama
Built like a brick shit-house, Harris really made his mark in the 2019 season with over 1,500 yards from scrimmage and 20 TDs. Similar to his former teammate Josh Jacobs, Harris is going to enter the NFL with fresh legs after finishing his college career with only 434 touches. He admittedly doesn’t have any spectacular traits, but he doesn’t have any poor ones either. At the end of the day, he’s a “+ athlete” who can make plays in the running and passing game, and finish runs with authority.
6) Clyde Edwards-Helaire – LSU
Darren Sproles has had a 14 year career in the NFL, and most of those years were pre-offensive revolution. Darren Sproles re-incarnate is entering the league at the perfect time. At only 5’8 he packs 208 lbs into his legs and runs low to the ground. He’s physical, he blows through arm tackles, he looks the ball in and plucks it with his hands, and he makes the 1st guy miss pretty much every time. Edwards-Helaire isn’t a feature back, but he’s also far more than a simple 3rd down scat back/receiver.
5) Cam Akers – Florida State
Played behind one of the worst offensive lines in college football for 3 years and still produced at a high level. His football IQ is next level, finding cut-back lanes, helping his quarterback in “scramble drill” situations, picking up blitzers in pass-pro, setting up downfield blocks in screens and 2nd level runs, and processing information as it comes to him. He has breakaway speed when he get’s to the 2nd level, shrugs through arm tackles without losing a step, and can find a spot as an every-down starter in the NFL.
4) D’Andre Swift – Georgia
This is going to be controversial, as Swift has established himself in many circles as RB1, and in many ways for good reasons. Here is where the “tier 1” begins, as well as the nit-picking. He has the best hands in the class, can run a variety of routes from the backfield, and split out as a receiver, looks the ball into his hands and attacks the ball better than almost any RB prospect I’ve ever scouted. The biggest issue with Swift’s game that stands out is the mental processing and vision, often resulting in what I consider “fake produciton”, getting 7-8 yards where there was a 20+ yard play available. He’s no doubt going to find a home in the NFL, and maybe he is every bit the superstar he’s being touted as, but I think we need to pump the breaks on RB1 for now.
3) Jonathan Taylor – Wisconsin
This isn’t your parent’s Wisconsin running back. Taylor is an elite athlete who could break 4.4 in the 40 yard dash. On top of that he has elite contact balance, incredible vision, and the patience of a college Leveon Bell. He has shown improvement in the receiving game, but being a running back at Wisconsin, it’s hard to display that on a game to game basis. Jonathan Taylor is EVERYTHING you want to see in a 1st round talent.
2) Travis Etienne – Clemson
Etienne is an effortless runner with insane burst. He puts his foot in the ground and suddenly he’s 10 yards downfield. On long runs in the 2nd level, most backs get there and have to make a safety miss to take it the distance, Etienne is already gone by the time the safety gets there, effectively eliminating pursuit angles. All that said, he’s more than just a speed back, he has real power and attitude out of the backfield, and isn’t afraid to take on bigger, stronger players (see pass protection against Quinnen Williams in the 2019 national title game). The only worry at the moment is lateral quickness, but guys like Chris Johnson have shown in the past, if you can’t get in-front of him, and can’t bring him down with arm tackles, you can find a successful career without it.
1) JK Dobbins – Ohio State
If you put a #15 on his back, you could mistake him for Zeke Elliot from his days in Columbus. He has a great frame for a RB, really developing his lower-body strength year after year, and making use of that by packing some power behind his pads when he wants to run through you instead of around you. He may have lost a touch of his long-speed with the body development, but don’t let that fool you, he’s still a freak athlete with elite foot-speed between the tackles, breakaway speed at the 2nd level, and loose hips. The elusiveness is through the roof, the hands are natural, and you really can’t find a hole in his game.