Post-Draft Market Report: Rookie RBs

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Post-Draft Market Report: Rookie RBs

The first-ever virtual NFL Draft wrapped up over the weekend. In our Veteran Market Watch, Joe Dolan and I already broke down which players saw their stock rise and which players saw their stock fall for the upcoming season based on this year’s selections. Now that the dust has settled a bit, it’s time to examine this year’s draft class for the 2020 fantasy season.

Based on pre-draft expectations, let’s see which fantasy rookies are looking better and which rookies are looking worse for the upcoming season. I’m primarily focusing on playing opportunities and a player’s supporting cast to determine if I’m feeling better or worse about each prospect for the 2020 fantasy season.

UPGRADES

Based on pre-draft expectations, rookies that I’m more optimistic about for the 2020 fantasy season because of potential playing opportunities and/or a strong supporting cast.

Clyde Edwards-Helaire (KC)

  • Selected: 32nd overall, RB1

  • Competition: Damien Williams

  • Unaccounted Carries: 124 (eighth-most)

The Chiefs gave fantasy players and franchise QB Patrick Mahomes exactly what they wanted with the final pick of the first: a multi-purpose running back to round out this already lethal offense. GM Brett Veach compared Edwards-Helaire to former Andy Reid standout Brian Westbrook because of his squatty build (5’7”, 207 pounds) and his multi-dimensional ability. Reid then studied Edwards-Helaire and he told Veach that he was even better than Westbrook, so CEH has some high standards to live up to. Our guy Graham Barfield called CEH the best receiving back to enter the league since Christian McCaffrey. Edwards-Helaire is also the most elusive runner in this year’s class, forcing a class-leading .42 tackles per carry.

The Chiefs told us they’re going to eventually use CEH like a bellcow back eventually by using a first-round pick on him, but I’m not expecting incumbent RB Damien Williams to completely disappear right away. He arguably should’ve won the Super Bowl MVP, and he’s been a fantasy force on limited opportunities since December 2018. Williams may briefly start the summer ahead of Edwards-Helaire, but it’s only a matter of time before he’s in a complementary role with CEH leading this backfield in opportunities. CEH has RB1 potential if he can handle 60% of the workload in this backfield, which is easily in his range of outcomes. Kareem Hunt finished as the RB5 in FPG (18.4) during his rookie season in Reid’s offense, and Hunt’s dominant first rookie campaign came with Alex Smith at quarterback and not Mahomes in 2017. You better be willing to invest a pick in the first two rounds to draft Edwards-Helaire this summer or otherwise you won’t sniff him this season.

Jonathan Taylor (Ind)

  • Selected: 41st overall, RB3
  • Competition: Marlon Mack
  • Unaccounted Carries: 58 (17th-most)

Taylor and the Colts O-line are a potential match made in heaven. Taylor was the best pure runner in this year’s draft class, and he’ll now get to play behind dominant run-blocking guard Quenton Nelson and one of the best O-lines in the league. The only thing that could hold him back is if the Colts are reluctant to give him the majority of work right away with early-down grinder Marlon Mack and passing back Nyheim Hines still in the fold. Taylor ran for 1900+ yards in each of his three seasons at Wisconsin, and he tore it up at the Combine with 4.39 40-time in a thick frame (5’10”, 226 pounds). Our guy Graham Barfield put Taylor in the same class as Ezekiel Elliott and Nick Chubb in terms of talent and skill set. Taylor needs to answer some questions about his hands (nine drops on just 65 targets) and ball-security issues (18 fumbles in 41 games), which are two major issues that could hold him back from reaching his ceiling in Year One, especially with a capable back like Mack waiting behind him.

Taylor is my RB2 in dynasty rookie ranks with the Colts likely to let Mack walk in free agency next off-season, but the big question this year is how quickly he can blow past him on the depth chart. It’s at least notable that the Colts traded up to grab Taylor as they make a hard push for the 2020 Super Bowl with Philip Rivers in the fold. Taylor hasn’t shown much as a receiver to this point in his career, but he has more PPR potential than most think because Rivers threw to his RBs more than any other quarterback last season (31.5%). You’ll likely have to use a top-36 pick to draft him this summer, but Taylor has the potential to be an RB1 this season if he can quickly leave Mack in his rearview mirror.

J.K. Dobbins (Bal)

  • Selected: 55th overall, RB5
  • Competition: Mark Ingram, Justice Hill, Gus Edwards
  • Unaccounted Carries: one (30th-most)

Dobbins landed in a perfect spot for his skill set as a downhill, inside runner out of the shotgun. He also landed in a difficult backfield to climb with Mark Ingram, Justice Hill, and Gus Edwards already entrenched in Baltimore. The Ravens clearly didn’t need Dobbins for 2020, but they still used a second-round pick on him because they think he can be a special player in this offense. I ultimately ranked him as an upgrade coming out of the draft because he literally joined the greatest rushing team of all time, and I think it’s a pretty good idea to get pieces of all-time great units. Dobbins broke the Ohio State single-season rushing record with 2003 yards in 2019, and he can also contribute as a receiver with 22+ catches in each of his three seasons in Columbus.

Our guy Scott Barrett pointed out that both Ingram and Edwards have averaged north of 5.0 YPC with Lamar Jackson at quarterback, and Dobbins could have huge potential after averaging 6.2 YPC with the Buckeyes. Dobbins has a huge dynasty ceiling (he’s my #3 rookie dynasty RB), but he’ll have to beat out Edwards and Hill to be the second fiddle to start the season. Ingram is a better player than Carlos Hyde, but Dobbins could have a rookie season similar to the one Nick Chubb had two years ago when he went wild after becoming the man late in the season. Dobbins is going to be a much more expensive bench stash than Chubb was in 2018 (RB49, 126 ADP), but he has league-winning upside if he’s leading this Ravens backfield by the second half of the season.

Cam Akers (LAR)

  • Selected: 52nd overall, RB4
  • Competition: Darrell Henderson, Malcolm Brown
  • Unaccounted Carries: 234 (second-most)

The Rams seem to be lacking a plan at the running back position. They inked Todd Gurley to a massive four-year extension with $45 million guaranteed just two summers ago, and they’ve already released him to get out from underneath the contract. They then traded up to draft Darrell Henderson 70th overall in last year’s draft before grabbing Florida State prospect Akers in the second round this spring. In his five years doing “Yards Created”, Akers played behind the worst offensive line that Graham Barfield has seen. He graded Akers as the worst inside runner of the top-five rookie RBs, but he was deadly on outside-zone carries, which are a staple of the Rams offense. Akers also saw 3.5 targets per game last season, and he was a willing pass protector so he could potentially be a three-down back early in his career.

Akers should be the slight favorite to lead this backfield in opportunities next season, but it’s going to be an open competition for playing time with Henderson and Malcolm Brown. We could see all three of these backs factoring in next season, and Brown could be a pain in the butt at the goal line. He converted five of his 10 carries from inside the 10-yard line into touchdowns last year. The Rams still have major O-line issues — they didn’t use a pick on a lineman until the final round — and Los Angeles backs combined for just 37 catches last season. I have a feeling Akers and Henderson will be overdrafted as RB3s this summer. I don’t trust the Rams decision making when it comes to running backs, and the best way to get a piece of this backfield would be to take Malcolm Brown as a dart-throw late in drafts since he continues to linger here.

Ke’Shawn Vaughn (TB)

  • Selected: 76th overall, RB8
  • Competition: Ronald Jones
  • Unaccounted Carries: 215 (third-most)

I’m excited about Vaughn’s potential in what could be a top-five offense, but some experts are touting Vaughn as the top rookie RB for 2020, which is just too big of a leap for me. The Buccaneers were fully expected to address their running back need early in the draft, but they waited a little longer than anticipated when they selected Vaughn in the third round. Vaughn finished second in this year’s class in Graham Barfield’s yards created per attempt (5.41), but he created most of his yardage on long runs over elusiveness. Vaughn posted 28 catches last season and 66 total over his four-year career at Illinois and Vanderbilt, and he averaged 5.8 YPC despite playing behind some bad lines.

Vaughn has some three-down potential, and HC Bruce Arians never fell in love with 2018 second-round RB Ronald Jones last season. Arians inherited Jones from Dirk Koetter last season, and he was reluctant to completely hand over the lead-back role to RJII with Peyton Barber and Dare Ogunbowale heavily mixing in. With that said, I don’t see Arians moving away from a committee this season unless Vaughn absolutely blows away the competition. Tom Brady-led offenses have always relied heavily on backfield committees, and I’m not expecting that to change. I’d be shocked if Vaughn becomes Brady’s preferred hurry-up back as a rookie, with the veteran QB likely to prefer Ogunbowale or a veteran FA like Chris Thompson or Ty Montgomery. Vaughn has a good chance to be the lead runner in this committee since Arians hand picked him instead of Jones, but I’ll likely be turned off by his ADP this summer. I’ll be viewing him as an upside RB3, but I could see him pushing for top-24 status if the hype starts to build this summer.

Zack Moss (Buf)

  • Selected: 86th overall, RB10
  • Competition: Devin Singletary
  • Unaccounted Carries: 169 (sixth-most)

The Bills found their Frank Gore replacement for the 2020 season by drafting Moss in the third round. The Bills need Moss to bring more juice than Gore provided on his 153 carries last season, as he averaged just 3.6 YPC and he scored just two TDs on 11 carries inside the five-yard line. Moss isn’t an explosive runner, but he grinds out tough yards as a downhill runner between the tackles. He posted 1000+ yards and 10+ rushing TDs in each of his final three seasons with the Utes. He’s also coming off a strong season as a receiver, posting 28/388/2 receiving (13.9 YPR), and he ranked as the second pass protector in Graham Barfield’s’ “Yards Created.”

Moss should step into 10+ carries a game as the lead runner, but second-year Devin Singletary is the more explosive back in the backfield. Singletary will handle most of the passing situations and he’ll steal some early-down carries, as well. Moss will also have to contend with QB Josh Allen stealing touchdowns from him. Allen has scored eight touchdowns in each of his first two seasons, and he scored on eight of his 11 carries inside the 10-yard line last season. Moss projects to have a significant role right out of the gates, and he’s going to be playing in an ascending offense. However, he’s going to see mostly low-calorie touches like Gore did last season, and he’ll be stifled by Singletary as a receiver and by Allen at the goal line. I’ll be getting some Moss shares this summer as an RB4 in hopes of an injury in the backfield or that he takes more snaps away from Singletary than anticipated.

Anthony McFarland (Pit)

  • Selected: 124th overall, RB14
  • Competition: James Conner, Jaylen Samuel, Benny Snell
  • Unaccounted Carries: nine (26th-most)

The Steelers gave James Conner a vote of confidence by not using a Day Two pick on a running back. They instead waited until the fourth round to grab one of the more intriguing prospects in Maryland’s McFarland. He projects as the best #2 option next to Conner since Benny Snell is a zero in the passing game and Jaylen Samuels has no juice with the ball in his hands. McFarland is on the smaller side at 5’8”, 208 pounds, but he’ll bring some much-needed speed (4.44 40-time) to this backfield. Only McFarland and J.K. Dobbins finished above-average on inside and off-tackle runs in Graham Barfield’s Yards Created metric. He averaged a healthy 6.7 YPC in his two seasons at Maryland, and he showed potential as a receiver on just 24 career catches.

McFarland will likely start next season as a change-of-pace option in this backfield, but he should eventually push Samuels for third-down snaps. McFarland could be the top option at some point this season because of Conner’s inability to stay healthy for long stretches of time, but the Steelers are more likely to just elevate Benny Snell into the lead runner role. It should be noted that McFarland never worked as a workhorse back at Maryland with Javon Leake playing next to him. It’s a bit of a stretch to expect him to do it as a rookie even if Conner gets hurt again, but McFarland is still an upside pick later in drafts since the Steelers are lacking a dynamic option in their backfield.

Joshua Kelley (LAC)

  • Selected: 112th overall, RB12
  • Competition: Austin Ekeler, Justin Jackson
  • Unaccounted Carries: 191 (fourth-most)

The Chargers let Melvin Gordon walk in free agency, and they needed to replace his size and power in their backfield with both Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson checking in around 200 pounds each. Kelley finished his career with consecutive seasons with 1000+ rushing yards and 12 rushing TDs to end his career at UCLA after starting his career at UC-Davis. He checks in at 5’11”, 212 pounds, and he brings a downhill running mentality to a Los Angeles offense that could be looking to run the rock a little more with this season. Longtime QB Philip Rivers bolted for Indianapolis, leaving Tyrod Taylor and Justin Herbert to lead the offense. The Chargers also loaded up on defensive studs while acquiring OG Trai Turner and OT Bryan Bulaga to help a bad O-line HC Anthony Lynn appears to be moving back toward his Buffalo roots under Rex Ryan by winning games with a strong defense and a balanced rushing attack. Lynn seems reluctant to overextend Ekeler with a huge workload, and Kelley figures to get a chance to compete with Jackson for some early-down and short-yardage work. Ekeler is going to dominate passing-game work in this backfield, but Kelley could finish closely behind him in carries. He could be a late-round target in non-PPR formats if he’s able to become the goal-line back.

DeeJay Dallas (Sea)

  • Selected: 144th overall, RB15
  • Competition: Chris Carson, Rashaad Penny, Travis Homer
  • Unaccounted Carries: 35 (21st-most)

The Seahawks gave injured RBs Chris Carson (hip) and Rashaad Penny (ACL) a vote of confidence by waiting until late into the fourth round to draft a backup plan at the running back position — they had three picks in the first two rounds. OC Brian Schottenheimer said before the draft that both Carson and Penny were progressing well from their major injuries, and Seattle’s draft strategy confirmed it. Dallas should provide some insurance if either player is unable to be ready for the start of the season, especially for Penny who is coming off a severe ACL tear. Graham Barfield described Dallas as a “discount Zack Moss” with his competitive, physical running style, and he topped out at 115/693/8 rushing last season in a weak Miami offense.

Dallas will be battling with his former Hurricanes teammate Travis Homer for playing opportunities. Homer emerged at the end of last season when Penny and Carson went down with their injuries, and the second-year RB played ahead of Dallas while at Miami during both the 2018 and 2017 season. Carson and Penny could get a little more time to prepare for the season if the start of this year’s campaign is delayed at all because of the current pandemic. At the very least, Dallas should get extended practice time with the first-team offense in training camp and in the preseason to potentially make an impression. If the 2020 season starts on time, Dallas could have a chance to play and to impress the Seahawks coaching staff early if Carson and/or Penny aren’t ready or if the Seahawks are easing them back into the mix.

DOWNGRADES

Based on pre-draft expectations, rookies that I’m less optimistic about for the 2020 fantasy season because of a lack of playing opportunities and/or a weak supporting cast.

D’Andre Swift (Det)

  • Selected: 35th overall, RB2

  • Competition: Kerryon Johnson

  • Unaccounted Carries: 88 (14th-most)

The Lions had one of the ugliest running back depth charts last season after Kerryon Johnson went down with a knee injury for the second straight year. The Lions remedied the situation by bringing in Swift, who was the betting favorite to be the first running back selected in the 2020 draft — Clyde Edwards-Helaire edged him out by three picks. Swift was most often compared to Alvin Kamara during the pre-draft process because of his seemingly effortless explosive ability as both a receiver and as a runner. He averaged more than 6.2 YPC in each of his three seasons behind one of the nation’s best O-line in a run-oriented offense. Swift finished his career with an outstanding 75/666/5 receiving, and he graded out as Graham Barfield’s top pass protector in his “Yards Created.”

Swift has three-down potential like Kamara, but he may have landed in the wrong place to be that type of player right away. Our guy Scott Barrett pointed out that HC Matt Patricia and GM Bob Quinn have preferred a committee approach, and we’re likely to get a two-headed backfield with Johnson and Swift this season. At least early in the season, Johnson figures to be the primary runner with Swift handling passing downs and mixing in at times as a runner. The hope, if you draft Swift for fantasy, is that he shows he’s the better player and he muscles away more playing opportunities as his rookie season goes along. It’s also notable that Johnson has played in just 18-of-32 possible games because of a series of knee injuries. The rest of Detroit’s RB depth chart isn’t much of a threat to Swift, but Patricia could still mix in someone like Bo Scarbrough if Johnson misses time. Swift will enter the summer as an upside RB3, but he would knock on the RB1 door if he ever gets the (Detroit) lion’s share of work in this backfield.

A.J. Dillon (GB)

  • Selected: 62nd overall, RB6
  • Competition: Aaron Jones, Jamaal Williams
  • Unaccounted Carries: eight (28th-most)

The Packers had one of the most bizarre drafts in recent memory, which included drafting power back Dillon in the second round. The Packers already had the 2019 rushing touchdown leader in Aaron Jones, who scored 16 times on the ground last season. They also have Jamaal Williams, who has been one of the steadiest #2 options since he broke into the league with Jones in 2017. Dillon has been compared to Derrick Henry after he blew up the Combine by running 4.53 40-time at 6’0”, 247 pounds. He was a workhorse back at Boston College, posting a healthy 845/4382/38 rushing over just three seasons. Dillon isn’t the type of back who can create running room on his own with his class-worst agility (per Graham Barfield), but he can create huge chunk gains if he’s given a runway to build up his speed. He’s also not going to bring much to the Packers passing game after posting just 21/236/2 receiving over 35 games at Boston College.

Both Jones and Williams are headed toward free agency at the conclusion of the season, but using a second-round pick on Dillon suggests he’s more than an insurance plan for the 2021 season. Green Bay is making it abundantly clear that they’re transitioning toward a more run-heavy approach next season, and I want nothing to do with this offense outside of drafting Davante Adams and Jace Sternberger. The Packers could use an ugly committee between their top three backs, which is rough fantasy news for everyone involved. Dillon doesn’t have a clear path to significant playing time as a rookie with Jones and Williams still in the fold for at least one more season. Dillon is likely to be a change-of-pace runner on early downs, and he’ll try to snatch away the goal-line duties from Jones, who converted 8-of-13 carries inside the five-yard line into touchdowns last season. Dillon will be nothing more than a late-round dart throw in re-drafts this summer unless we find out that HC Matt LaFleur has a big role planned for Dillon.

Antonio Gibson (Was)

  • Selected: 66th overall, RB7
  • Competition: Derrius Guice, Adrian Peterson, Bryce Love, J.D. McKissic, Peyton Barber
  • Unaccounted Carries: 71 (16th-most)

The Redskins already had a headache-inducing backfield before the draft, and they made it even more complicated by adding Gibson to the mix. Gibson operated as an offensive weapon at Memphis, and the Redskins announced him as a running back and Gibson tweeted out a picture of him in a running back number. Even if he’s listed at running back, Gibson figures to play all over the field as a rookie. He comes into the league with just 77 career touches to his name, but he averaged a ridiculous 11.2 YPC (33/369/4 rushing) and 19.0 YPR (44/834/10 receiving) in two seasons. Gibson ran a scorching 4.39 40-time at the Combine at 6’0”, 228 pounds, and he was incredibly elusive out in space with the rock in his hands.

The Redskins already have a loaded stable of traditional RBs in the likes of Derrius Guice, Adrian Peterson, Peyton Barber, Bryce Love, and J.D. McKissic. I wouldn’t expect Gibson to start handling 10-12 carries per game next year, but he could see a handful of carries and targets per game to get his explosive ability involved a couple of times each week. Rivera said they intend to use Gibson in select offensive packages and as an immediate contributor on special teams. Gibson could be interesting for fantasy this season since Yahoo and BestBall10s have Gibson listed as a WR while ESPN has listed him as a running back. Gibson is unlikely to get enough weekly work to make him worth an investment in re-drafts this summer. However, he could be an intriguing waiver wire option if the Redskins start working him into the mix more as the season goes along. The Redskins aren’t exactly rife with offensive talent at receiver, and Gibson would have more appeal if he’s awarded dual-eligibility as an RB/WR on fantasy sites.

Darrynton Evans (Ten)

  • Selected: 93rd overall, RB11
  • Competition: Derrick Henry, David Fluellen
  • Unaccounted Carries: 78 (15th-most)

The Titans released Dion Lewis two years into his four-year deal this off-season to make sure they had enough cap space to keep Derrick Henry and Ryan Tannehill. The Titans found their new lightning to Henry’s thunder in the third round by drafting the 21-year-old Appalachian State RB. Evans checks in at 5’11”, 203 pounds, and he creates yards with his speed (4.41 40-time) and his loose, shifty hips. He dominated Sun Belt competition for the last two years, posting 434/2667/25 rushing and 33/285/6 receiving. Evans has a chance to rise to the #2 RB spot quickly in Tennessee with the likes of David Fluellen, Dalyn Dawkins, and Khari Blasingame currently behind Henry. No, I didn’t just make up those three names. Evans doesn’t have much of a path to fantasy relevance as a change-of-pace back behind Henry. Lewis produced just 54/209/0 rushing and 25/164/1 receiving as the primary backup to Henry last season. Evans did land in a potentially fruitful dynasty location, though, if the Titans are unable to come to terms on a long-term contract with 2021 free agent Henry. For this season, Evans will be among the top handcuffs for the 2020 season.

Lynn Bowden (LV)

  • Selected: 80th overall, RB9
  • Competition: Josh Jacobs, Jalen Richard
  • Unaccounted Carries: 114 (10th-most)

The Raiders selected the draft’s most unique weapon in Bowden, who played all over the field at Kentucky, including as a quarterback last season. He finished his college career with 1530 rushing yards, 1303 receiving yards, 1628 return yards, and 495 passing yards. The Raiders announced Bowden as a running back during the draft, but HC Jon Gruden is unlikely to limit him to any single position next season. The Eagles drafted their version of Taysom Hill in Jalen Hurts in the second round, 27 picks before the Raiders took their gadget player in the third round. It’s unlikely that Bowden sees enough weekly snaps to be a strong fantasy option this season unless the Raiders start training Bowden for a specific role as a receiver or runner. The Raiders already have Josh Jacobs and Jalen Richard in their backfield, and they loaded up at receiver with picks on Henry Ruggs and Bryan Edwards in the first three rounds. Bowden will likely make a bigger impact as a real-life option than he will for fantasy, at least for this season, but he should be fun as hell to watch when he’s on the field. It’s worth noting that Yahoo and BestBall10s have Bowden listed as a wide receiver while ESPN has listed him as a running back. He could gain more fantasy appeal as a waiver wire option if he gains dual-eligibility as RB/WR during the season.

Lamical Perine (NYJ)

  • Selected: 120th overall, RB13
  • Competition: Le’Veon Bell, Trenton Cannon, Kenneth Dixon
  • Unaccounted Carries: 92 (13th-most)

The Jets have a thin depth chart behind bellcow back Le’Veon Bell so the 22-year-old Perine could climb into the #2 RB before long. Perine finished between 132 and 136 carries in each of his last three seasons at Florida, leading the team in rushing each year. He doesn’t have great long speed — he ran a 4.62 40-time at the Combine — and he doesn’t have slippery hips to make defenders miss. He did dramatically improve as a receiver as a senior, finishing 2019 with 40/262/5 receiving after posting 32/412/3 in his first three seasons combined. He’s a physical runner and pass protector, and his path to playing time could come as a receiver after he finished his senior year with 40/262/5 receiving. He could be hard-pressed to find significant playing time even if he wins the backup job because Bell rarely leaves the field. Bell saw an 83% snap share last season, which was behind only Christian McCaffrey (93%) and Leonard Fournette (88%) last season. Perine is unlikely to be a fantasy option as a change-of-pace option behind Bell, but he has the chance to be his handcuff next season with a strong training camp. The Jets did significantly improve their offensive line from last season so it wouldn’t be shocking if he had a moment or two next year if Bell misses any time.

Tom is a Senior Writer at Fantasy Points who specializes in fantasy and betting analysis. He’ll be helping you to navigate the waiver wire and manage your fantasy teams while also keeping our betting content robust all year long, especially during the season. Tom's Best Bets against the spread won at 61.5% clip in 2019 and he was a perfect 8-0 on his Best Bets for season win totals in 2020.

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