Buffalo Bills

An Early Look at the 2020 NFL Draft Class: Running Backs

In the days leading up to the 2019 NFL season, we’ll take a sneak peek at the college prospects that could be primed for success this year. The running back class for the 2020 NFL draft doesn’t appear to be especially strong, with no back a lock for the first round. There are, however, some interesting players that have been productive in college and will have a chance to make their mark in the NFL.

Here’s a look at the top draft-eligible running back for the 2020 NFL Draft:

Jonathan Taylor (Wisconsin)
5′-11″, 215 lbs

Taylor is next in the long line of extremely productive Wisconsin running backs. Some have found success in the NFL (Melvin Gordon, James White), others not so much (Ron Dayne, Montee Ball). Taylor broke out in a big way his freshman season, rushing for nearly 2,000 yards. He eclipsed that number as a sophomore, on his way to 2,194 yards and 16 touchdowns.

The Badgers’ bell cow is the safest bet of any back in this class. He has a great combination of size, speed and vision. Taylor is a very natural and instinctive runner and shows good patience with the ball in his hands. He hasn’t shown much as a receiver through his first two seasons and Wisconsin has seemed content to put the ball in his hands as much as possible. He will likely enter the NFL with better than 900 career carries in Madison so workload could be a concern. For reference, this year’s lone first round pick, Josh Jacobs, had 251 career carries in the 3 seasons.

DeAndre Swift (Georgia)
5′-9″, 215 lbs

Swift came to Georgia with a lot of fanfare, with many expecting him to become one of the greatest Bulldog running backs of all time. In that sense, his career to this point has been a slight disappointment, even though the rising junior has been highly productive with the ball in his hands. As a freshman, he was stuck behind Sony Michel and Nick Chubb on the depth chart and last year, he was in a timeshare with Elijah Holyfield. This season, Swift should have the opportunity to show his talent as the clear #1 back.

Swift has a tremendous blend of athletic gifts. He has great burst and speed and is a physical runner that finishes runs well. He has a low center of gravity that allows him to bounce off would-be tacklers with regularity. He hasn’t been as productive as Jonathan Taylor, but Swift may have the biggest upside of any back in the draft class.

J.K. Dobbins (Ohio State)
5′-10″, 210 lbs

Dobbins is another back who burst onto the scene as a true freshman, running for better than 1,400 yards in 2017. His sophomore season wasn’t as productive though he did manage to break the 1,000 yard barrier for a second consecutive season. With the Buckeyes set to return to a more run-oriented attack this year, expect to see big things from the Ohio State junior running back.

Dobbins is electric with the ball in his hands. He’s shifty and elusive and can also run with power to pick up extra yards when needed. His jump cuts are elite and he has breakaway speed that should translate to the NFL. With a productive junior season and good combine workouts, he could sneak his way into the second round.

Eno Benjamin (Arizona State)
5′-10″, 205 lbs

Benjamin is an intriguing prospect. He’s a bit undersized which may limit his ability to ever be a true lead back in the NFL, but he’s shown he can handle a big workload (over 300 carries last year) and he is a dynamic playmaker. Playing for a sub par offense at Arizona State, Benjamin produced 1,642 yards and 16 TDs. He also caught 35 passes.

There are very few true lead running backs in the NFL these days. Most teams prefer the running back by committee approach which has devalued the big time running backs while adding value to guys like Eno Benjamin. The past three Super Bowl champions (Patriots twice, Eagles) have relied on at least three running backs and Benjamin could excel in a similar situation.

Travis Etienne (Clemson)
5′-10″, 200 lbs

Etienne is also an undersized back with explosive playmaking abilities. Etienne exploded in 2018 in his first season as a starter with over 1,600 yards and 24 TDs for Clemson’s national championship team. Etienne was a true difference maker for the Tigers, often ripping off big runs on his way to averaging over 8 yards per carry for the season.

Like Benjamin, Etienne will likely never be a 20 carry per game guy in the NFL. But he’s a dynamic athlete with excellent speed and will likely be a valuable part of a backfield by committee. With another strong season, he could hear his name as early as the second round.

The Bills have a crowded backfield though a number of those players are getting up there in age (McCoy, Gore). Running back may not seem like a major need at this point but the Bills’ main focus in next year’s offseason should be surrounding Josh Allen with as many playmakers as possible. If I were an NFL GM, I would never spend a first round pick on a running back which might put Taylor and Swift out of reach. However, spending a third round pick for a runner like Dobbins, Benjamin or Etienne could prove to be an excellent value.

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