New York Giants 2020 NFL Draft Preview: Running Backs
Format includes a quick position overview, my grading scale and what the number means, the summary and final grade from my final report on my top 15, a quick additional note on the player, and my ranks 16-25 with grades only.
*I AM NOT DOING NFL COMPARISONS
QUICK POSITIONAL OVERVIEW
This is one of maybe 2 or 3 spots on the roster where a fresh pair of legs won’t be needed. Saquon Barkley is one of the most versatile backs in the league and still has three years left on his rookie contract, although negotiations for the long term deal will likely begin prior to that. The big play back is averaging just under 5 yards per carry despite running behind a porous offensive line in addition to averaging 5 receptions per game. The high ankle sprain he suffered in week 3 forced him out of the next 3 games but he ended the season really strong. The team has lacked a difference making backup to offset Barkley in his two years, as Wayne Gallman just hasn’t done anything to stand out. He has averaged 4 yards per carry in his 3 seasons but the main issue has been fumbles. He’s put the ball on the ground 6 times on just 250 carries (1 every 42 touches). For comparison, Barkley has fumbled 1 time on 621 touches. Let’s take a look at a couple other backup running backs from 2017 for reference. Kareem Hunt has fumbled once every 306 touches. Brian Hill has fumbled once on 122 touches. Jamaal Williams hasn’t fumbled yet on 472 touches.
The signing of Dion Lewis takes some pressure off NYG needing to add another running back. Even though he is coming off the two worst seasons of his career and he will turn 30 in September, it will be beneficial to have someone established back there. For comparison to Gallman, he has only fumbled once every 118 touches. He is also a plus-blocker and can catch the ball. The one thing NYG doesn’t have behind Barkley and perhaps give him a break from physical contact is a short yardage presence. Barkley is so effective in space, he is so effective in the passing game. I’ve always thought it would be nice to have a north/south physical runner who can take the ball on 3rd and 1 and near the goal line. If there is a situation where I don’t see Barkley as elite, that is it.
90+ All Pro Projection
85+: Pro Bowl Projection
81-84: 1st rounder – should be able to play right away
79-80: 2nd rounder – Should be able to rotate right away – Year 2 starter
77-78: 3rd rounder – Should be able to rotate by end of rookie year – Year 2/3 starter
74-76: Early Day 3 – Special Teams – Future backup/possible starter
71-73: Mid Day 3 – Special Teams – Future backup / gamble starter
68-70: Late Day 3 – Back end of roster / Practice Squad / Development guy
65-67: Preferred UDFA
60-64: Undrafted FA
TOP 15 GRADES AND ANALYSIS
- JK Dobbins / Ohio State / 5’10 – 209
Summary: Junior entry. Three year starter from La Grange, Texas. Dobbins led the Buckeyes in rushing all three years on campus including 2,000 yard, 2nd Team All American season in 2019. Dobbins has been a hit on campus from the start and left Ohio State as their second all time leading rusher after just three years of service. He has the ideal body type and running style of a every down back in the NFL with a diverse skill set and team-mentality. Dobbins will put forth top tier effort into every role he is asked to partake in whether it is touting the rock, catching passes, or blocking for his quarterback. Dobbins may not have ideal wiggle and vision, but in a scheme that gets him vertical, he can be a top tier back.
*As a freshman, Dobbins looked like the next big thing. As a sophomore, he took a slight step back as he fought nagging injuries and senior Mike Weber split carries with him. Then as a junior, I still don’t think people are giving him enough credit for what he did. 2,000 yards and 21 touchdowns. 174 yards on 18 carries (9.7 yards per) against Clemson in the playoff game. Dobbins may not have the top tier speed and size some are looking for, but this kid plays fast and he shoots out of a cannon. He has really good vision, he is pit bull with the ball in his hands. Some may look elsewhere because his hands aren’t natural as a receiver, but I want a gamer back there and he is exactly that.
- D’Andre Swift / Georgia / 5’8 – 212
Summary: Junior entry from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. A two-year starter who has been a part of a committee approach since the start of his career. Swift played behind Nick Chubb and Sony Michel as a freshman, then took over the leading rusher role the rest of the way. He was 2nd Team All SEC in 2018, and 1st Team in 2019. Swift is an every down back who can contribute on every down, no matter the situation. His ability to make the first guy miss and make the spectacular catch will make the highlight reels, but Swift’s greatest value his how reliable he is down to down. He will make big plays, yes, but he will provide the value by picking up the tough yards inside and falling forward. The one red flag that must be addressed, however, stems from how he handles the ball. He let it loose way too often. Other than that, Swift is a near can’t-miss.
*Many have Swift as RB1, I won’t argue against it. He has the body that you want. Short and stocky, really thick and powerful legs. He is still very capable of pushing piles and picking up the tough inside yards. He is just a tad tight in my opinion. I don’t see elite, but I do see a solid starter. Underrated receiving ability too.
- Clyde Edwards-Helaire / LSU / 5’7 – 207
Summary: Junior entry from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. A one year starter who was the Tigers second leading rusher in 2018 before putting together one of the best seasons at the position in LSU history. The 1st Team All SEC back, team MVP, and Paul Hornung finalist led the SEC in touchdowns with 16 and was second in the conference in rushing. Edwards-Helaire is a versatile threat who carries his ability to make defenders miss into both the running and passing games respectively. He really turned it on when the lights shined brightest, showing his hunger and ability to create something out of nothing routinely. His lack of height is actually a weapon and don’t mistake him for an undersized back because of it. He is a rock on contact with thick legs and bruiser mentality. He is an ideal compliment to a backfield that already has a back who can contribute 10-15 carries per game.
*This is the kind of back who I love to have as a compliment, but do not mistake that for a backup. If I want to split touches in the backfield and I already have a bruiser or a big play space threat, Edwards-Helaire is the guy I want behind him. He is effective in so many situations. I have a feeling we are going to see Tampa Bay take him in round 2 and he is going to be the next Tom Brady back who catches 75+ passes and ends up scoring a ton of points. This kid is a gamer and a near-sure thing to at least be a solid player.
- Antonio Gibson / Memphis / 6’0 – 228
Summary: Senior entry from Stockbridge, Georgia. One year starter a Memphis after a two year stint at East Central Community College in Mississippi. Gibson earned 2nd Team All American Athletic Conference honors as a wide receiver and also the conference Co-Special Teams Player of the Year Award. This is as interesting a player as there is in the entire draft class. He barely touched the ball in comparison to other draft prospects over the past two years, but you will have a hard time finding a guy who scored 14 touchdowns on 77 career offensive touches, 33 of which were carries. Gibson was finally put into the backfield halfway through 2019 as a hybrid WR/RB, and he excelled. He simply sat behind two future NFL picks (Tony Pollard and Darrel Henderson) and shared other duties with current prospect Patrick Taylor Jr. Gibson is a top tier athlete who looked like one of the best running backs during Senior Bowl week and one has to assume he is very early on the progressive scale. Give this kid some time, carve out a few package-plays for him in the meantime, and you have one of the top value picks in the draft.
*Gibson may be the highest-ceiling prospect in this group. The hybrid RB/WR is being viewed as a RB by every team that I know of, so even though he was primarily a WR at Memphis, that is why he is in the RB preview. I actually thought he was the top RB at the Senior Bowl all week, by a wide margin. Gibson has really good size, he plays physical, and he has legit runaway speed. He is also coming into the league with more tread on the tires. I think someone is going to take a gamble on him much earlier than people think.
- Anthony McFarland / Maryland / 5’8 – 208
Summary: Third year sophomore entry from Hyattsville, Maryland. A two-year starter who shared backfield duties both seasons. McFarland was wanted by Alabama but a broken leg his senior year of high school caused them to back off. McFarland settled on Maryland and after a redshirt year in 2017, he set a school record for rushing yards by a freshman with 1,034 yards including a stunning 298 against Ohio State. He finished 2nd Team All Big 10 that season. 2019 didn’t go as planned, as Maryland really struggled to get any sort of rhythm going on that side of the ball and McFarland couldn’t be used as he should. He isn’t an every down back, but McFarland can be one of the most dangerous threats in the league if used correctly. He has elite burst and agility with the ball in his hands and will run away from pursuers in space. There is more strength and balance to his game than people think and considering he touched the ball just under 275 times, he comes in with fresh wheels. Potential draft-altering pick for a team.
*I am having a hard time pegging where McFarland will go in the draft, but that aside I think he is a day 2 player who can immediately add big play presence to an offense. If a team has a grinder in the backfield but they don’t have big play potential, McFarland has to be in their crosshairs. He shoots out of a cannon and can run away from defenders like very few can.
- Jonathon Taylor / Wisconsin / 5’10 – 226
Summary: Junior entry from Salem, New Jersey. A three-year starter with one of the most prolific running back careers in NCAA history. Two-time winner of the Doak Walker Award and was a finalist in the year he didn’t win. Two time unanimous 1st Team All American and 2nd Team All American in the other year. The number 6-all time leading rusher in NCAA history who rushed for over 1,900 yards all three seasons, the only player to ever do that. Taylor can open eyes with his production and straight-line athleticism. There simply aren’t many humans that can move like he does at 220 pounds with running back-ability. The two red flags, however, are enough to knock his grade down a bit. He has had major fumble issues (18) over his career that never quite got fixed, and his lateral adjustments show up against the more athletic defenses he faced. Questions revolving around his ability to even reach the open field to use that sprinter’s speed that earned him two state titles on the track in high school are legitimate. Taylor brings plenty of upside but a lot needs to be corrected and a team needs to know he isn’t a do-it-all player.
*I am lower on Taylor than the entire market, I know. And this is a grade that has the potential to come back and bite me where it hurts, I know. But I don’t like spending high picks on guys with major turnover problems and I don’t think Taylor plays to his timed athleticism. He is a tough kid and he works hard, I also think he is a better receiver than people think too. But I don’t see special in him, I see a day 2 pick who is closer to day 3 than day 1.
- Cam Akers / Florida State / 5’10 – 217
Summary: Junior entry from Clinton, Mississippi. Three year starter who arrived at Florida State as one of the most sought after recruits in the country. Akers was a high school quarterback who was dominant on the ground but also produced through the air. Akers broke Dalvin Cook’s FSU freshman rushing record and ended his career as the 6th all time leading rusher in program history. He was 3rd Team All ACC in 2017, 2nd Team in 2019. Akers has every down capability in his running style. He sees the field exceptionally well, takes what the defense gives him, and gains plenty of yards after contact. He improved as a receiver all three years and plays with the team-first attitude that can inspire hope for his blocking potential, which was up and down at Florida State. Akers, however, has a ball security issue that absolutely must be fixed before he can be trusted in the NFL. He puts the ball in the wrong hand at an alarming rate and he fumbled once every 65 touches in college. The offense was broken at FSU over the last two years, so there is some unknown here if he gets put into a quality scheme with good blocking. He has all the traits but it won’t see the light of day if he doesn’t fix the ball security issues.
*The Florida State faithful will continue to tell anyone who listens that Akers had one of the worst situations to deal with in college football and that somebody is going to get the steal of the draft here. I take that with a grain of salt but I do know a longtime Southeast scout who told me he thinks Akers is going to be a better pro than Dalvin Cook. I do see the flashes on tape and yes, his line + passing game at FSU made life difficult for him. But once again, I hate it when guys can’t hold onto the ball in college. I am keeping him here.
- Zack Moss / Utah / 5’9 – 223
Summary: Senior entry from Hialeah Gardens, Florida. Three-year starter who re-wrote the running back record book at Utah. A 2019 All American and Pac 12 Offensive Player of the Year Award winner. Also finished 2nd Team All Pac 12 in his injury shortened 2018 season. Cousin to former NFL receivers Santana and Sinorice Moss. A back who could have declared for the 2019 draft, Moss opted to return for his senior year and prove a meniscus injury was behind him, and that he did. The every down back is a force with the ball in his hands who, especially with downhill momentum, will pick up the tough yards by running through contact. He is more than a simple inside runner, however. He is very elusive and slippery in the open field and always seems to have his balance. He looks like a pass catcher as well, giving him an every down feel. He has suffered injuries to his knee, shoulder, and foot respectively, however. At the very least he can be a 1B option for a team that wants a dual attack out of the backfield, but has the potential to be the guy.
*If it weren’t for the multiple injuries, Moss could have been in the top 5 of this group. I think many still do, actually. Wouldn’t be surprised to see him taken early round 3 for a team that needs a between the tackles bruiser. He shouldn’t be the focal point of a backfield, but he can be an important piece.
- DeeJay Dallas / Miami / 5’10 – 217
Summary: Junior entry from Brunswick, Georgia. One year starter who was a part of the running back rotation all three seasons. A dislocated elbow ended his junior campaign three games early. Dallas is one of the most physical backs in the class and it shows up within multiple phases. With the ball in his hands, he can take on big contact and stone the defender, maintaining his center of gravity, and continue to move north. As a pass blocker, he is often the aggressor who will stand the blitzer up and finish him off. Dallas has a lot of value to a team that wants a backup right away to handle third down duties without giving up too much in the running game. He has starter traits to develop but at the very least will be a solid backup.
*I’m not sure where Dallas is going to go in the draft, I don’t have a pulse on his situation. If he ends up being one of the backs who slips into mid to late day 3, he is someone who I think fits really well in NYG’s running back room. He is a really physical downhill runner who can pick up positive yards when just a couple are needed. He is the best blocker in the class in my opinion. And he showed the ability to make circus catches, he really is a complete player. Not sure why he doesn’t get more publicity. Also have good reports on him as a worker, team player, and coachable kid.
- Darius Anderson / TCU / 5’11 – 208
Summary: Senior entry from Richmond, Texas. A key contributor all four years who started games for three seasons. A two-time Honorable Mention All Big 12 performer. Anderson has been a consistently productive back in the high-powered TCU offense since his freshman season. He has led the Horned Frogs in yards per carry every year and displayed a new talent as a receiver as a senior. Anderson is a threat with the ball in his hands because of his burst and acceleration, but also some sneaky power and balance. He contorts his body through traffic well to break tackles and gain yards after contact and proved he had enough breakaway speed to rattle off the big play when it is there. Anderson won’t be an every down back and needs to shore up ball security and blocking, but he can produce in the league.
*Anderson is a plus athlete who runs really hard and maintains excellent balance after contact. There is a really good combination of skills in his game that could end up making him a big play threat. Day three guy all the way but every year we see a few of them make a difference. Anderson will be one of those guys if he gets his number called.
11. JaMycal Hasty / Baylor / 5’8 – 205
Summary: Senior entry from Longview, Texas. A four-year contributor who finished top three in the team’s carries all four years. Honorable Mention All Big 12 back in 2019, Hasty lacks the ideal triangle numbers but it is easy to see this kid runs bigger than his size. He is a violent, mighty-mouse type runner who consistently breaks through contact and will create afterward. He is an underrated pass catcher who, once he has a head of steam, will not be a welcomed sight for defensive backs in space. He has bad intentions when he plants his foot in the ground and moves north. While Hasty won’t create a ton on his own and his pass blocking needs work, he is the kind of back who outperforms several backs drafted ahead of him.
*I am a little biased toward Hasty, I will admit that. I was one of the first ones on him dating back to the fall of 2018. There is something about him that I like, similar to what I saw in Alex Collins out of Arkansas in the 2016 class. He was a 5th rounder who out-produced several backs in front of him but injuries and drug suspension derailed his career. Hasty has a similar pit bull running style and plays a lot faster than he times. He shoots out of a cannon and will run through guys. His lack of true size and inconsistent third down contributions could make him fall into late day three. I would keep a close eye on him.
- Ke’Shawn Vaughn / Vanderbilt / 5’10 – 214
Summary: Fifth year senior from Nashville, Tennessee. One-year starter at Illinois, two year starter at Vanderbilt. Vaughn spent his first two seasons at Illinois before transferring. In 2018 he led the SEC in yards per carry and rushed for the second most yards in a season in school history. His production didn’t quite match that level in 2019, as he was nicked up throughout the year and he played behind a porous offensive line. Vaughn runs with attitude, sometimes may be a bit too much. But more often than not his emotion is an asset to his game, as he fights through arm tackles and gains plenty of yards after contact. He will be NFL ready right away as part of a committee, but he will need to bulk up if he wants to be an every down back.
*Vaughn was my top senior running back in my preseason stack. Sometimes that ends up landing you in the day 2 tier but things didn’t click in 2019 the way I was hoping. He simply doesn’t have the standout traits to his game besides high effort. He is a feisty guy and I think he can help a backfield, but you can get this kind of guy any year. Also comes into the NFL with some wear and tear.
- Joshua Kelley / UCLA / 5’11 – 212
Summary: Fifth year senior entry from Lancaster, California. Spent two years at UC Davis before transferring to UCLA, sitting out 2017. A two year starter for the Bruins who was Honorable Mention all Pac 12 in 2018, 2nd Team in 2019. Kelley has the look of an ideal third down back at the next level. He has wide receiver-caliber ball skills and routes, but also showed the ability to run the ball inside and out in addition to plus-pass blocking effort. He has a smoothness to his game that does not come around often. His overall upside may be limited, as he doesn’t break tackles and there are vision issues, but there is a lot he can do for an offense right away.
*Kelley has a real chance at being a late day 2 pick because of how well he runs routes and catches the ball. He isn’t a soft kid by any means, either. Teams that want to add a receiving threat to their offense will like him a lot.
- Lamical Perine / Florida / 5’11 – 216
Summary: Senior entry from Mobile, Alabama. Two year starter but has been a steady contributor to the Gators backfield since he stepped on the field. He led the team in rushing three straight seasons and was the second leading rusher as a freshman. Perine won’t jump off the screen in any way but the consistency and 3-down capabilities here are attractive. He is the kind of player who will compete hard and help the team in a variety of ways. He isn’t a feature back, but instead a nice option to have on the depth chart who can provide depth across every role a running back group hosts.
*Some teams don’t want specialty backs. They don’t want a receiver, they don’t want a short yardage bruiser, they don’t want a blazing speed threat. They just want a stack of guys who can get all the jobs done. Jack of all trades, master of none. That is Perine. He won’t stand out anywhere, but he is a natural, tough runner with good vision. In the right situation, he is someone who can step right in and get the job done but don’t expect anything more than average play.
- Eno Benjamin / Arizona State / 5’9 – 207
Summary: Junior entry. Two-year starter from Wylie, Texas. A two-time All Pac 12 running back and 2018 All American. Benjamin is an exciting talent with the ball in his hands who will consistently create on his own. He isn’t the ideal back for a cut and dry system, but instead someone a team will want on the field on third down to catch the ball in space and see what he can do. He doesn’t have the body to take an every down pounding and fumbles are an issue. Benjamin is a guy to put within a backfield group, but not at the top of it.
*There are some impressive highlight tapes of Benjamin and because of that, I think the public has a higher outlook on him than most. He can be a nice change up to an offense that needs a spark though, yes. He is slippery and hungry in the open field. He is destined for a backup or complimentary role, but just don’t expect too much from him.
- AJ Dillon / Boston College: 70
- Darrynton Evans / Appalachian State: 70
- Patrick Taylor / Memphis: 70
- Benny Lemay / Charlotte: 70
- Jason Huntley / New Mexico State: 69
- James Robinson / Illinois State: 69
- Salvon Ahmed / Washington: 69
- Raymond Calais / Louisiana Lafayette: 69
- Sewo Olinolua / TCU: 68
- Javon Leake / Maryland: 68
The long-term depth at running back is essentially non-existent. Dion Lewis and Wayne Gallman are both free agents after the 2020 season and nobody would be surprised to see not one, but both of them playing elsewhere in 2021. While that isn’t a reason to panic, you also don’t want to go into the 2021 draft in absolute need of a backup. It may be worth trying to find a late round talent who can be developed for a year at the back end of the depth chart, learn the offensive scheme and blocking responsibilities, and put him right behind Barkley in 2021. While I don’t think this is a must for NYG, I do think it would be wise. I tend to lean toward a back who is big and physical, both as a ball carrier and blocker.