While quarterbacks get all the glory, running backs are making the transition to the NFL a little better and this leads to better production in rookie years. Looking at the past five AP Offensive Rookies of the Year award winners, three of them were running backs.
While there was only one running back taken in the first round, there were quite a few that were taken in the later rounds that have a good shot at giving good production in their first year. Here’s a look at some names to keep in mind when drafting in the next few months for your fantasy leagues.
The Newest Crop Of Fantasy Football Rookie RBs
Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Kansas City Chiefs
Not a lot of holes to plug for the 2019 Super Bowl champions. Usually, when a team wins the Super Bowl, their roster is plucked by all other 31 teams in the league; not so much this year. With very few holes to begin with, the Chiefs had a bit of a luxury pick at the very bottom of the first round of the draft. While Damien Williams was a more than capable running back through the season (even garnered some Super Bowl MVP nods), Kansas City felt they needed to reinforce the position by drafting Edwards-Helaire. Also, when Patrick Mahomes asks for a guy to be drafted, not a bad idea to side with the current Super Bowl MVP.
Edwards-Helaire comes to an offense with a similar philosophy to his college days at LSU. Primarily working out of the shotgun and using RPO plays is something that Edwards-Helaire will have no trouble coming in and understanding. He is a power-runner in a small frame and has the ability to rack up yards easily on the ground and through the air.
The one big knock against Edwards-Helaire is that he vastly needs to improve his pass-protection. This is critical when you have a pocket passer like Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, but the Chiefs don’t have that kind of quarterback. Mahomes is in the same vein as Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers that are great in the pocket but are just as capable moving outside the pocket and throwing on the run.
These types of quarterbacks try to make the most of every pass play by scrambling either for extra time to throw or just to gain some positive yards with their legs. With this in mind, Edwards-Helaire should have no problem still coming into the offense and providing a great asset. While it’s still critical he improves his pass-protection, the style of offense that Kansas City runs will not prevent Edwards-Helaire from seeing the field in his rookie season.
Edwards-Helaire has great fantasy value, but it should be taken with a grain of salt. While he fits the scheme, Williams is the starter and has performed admirably as well. So as of right now, both players will be seeing action and that will eat into both players’ fantasy numbers. Still, Edwards-Helaire has the greater upside and if he can learn to pass block more effectively, he has a great chance of overtaking the starting role from Williams or at the very least, hoarding more touches.
Right now has good FLEX appeal and could very soon enter the starting running back conversation. Regardless of what league you play in, draft Edwards-Helaire for your roster as he brings the Chiefs’ offense another weapon in an already high-octane attack.
Projected Stat-line: 146/687/5 (Rushing Attempts/Rushing Yards/Rushing Touchdowns) and 30/189/1 (Receptions/Receiving Yards/Receiving Touchdowns)
D’Andre Swift, Detroit Lions
It’s safe to say that with the drafting of Swift, Kerryon Johnson’s stock has severely plummeted. While Johnson looked good in small sample size, his love-affair with the injured reserve list has made the running back position an upgradable position. So there is hope that he can serve as a good sidekick, but the lead job has clearly now gone to Swift.
Swift joins a string of running backs from the University of Georgia that has found success. Swift has the ability and the opportunity to hopefully join the ranks of Todd Gurley, Sony Michel, and Nick Chubb. He will enter Detroit’s offense and bring a more dependable runner that offensive coordinator, Darrell Bevell, has been looking for.
We all know that Bevel was instrumental in the Seahawks’ dominance from 2011 to 2017, resulting in two Super Bowl trips. He had a lead back in Marshawn Lynch and was able to complement him with running backs like Robert Turbin and Thomas Rawls. Having Swift be the lead back with Detroit, Bevell can now support him with Johnson, Ty Johnson, Bo Scarbrough, and another rookie in Jason Huntley. This will also lead to a more effective play-action game and can lead to bigger chunk yards through the air.
While Swift doesn’t have the stats behind him in the passing game, he has shown the ability to be used as a receiver out of the backfield. Just don’t expect huge numbers on that front. They drafted Swift to run the ball and that’s what he’ll do.
Swift becomes an instant option to be drafted as a starting running back. While we need to see if the COVID-19 pandemic will allow him to enter facilities and start taking live reps soon, he still has the leg up in becoming the lead back for the Lions. While the current running backs may steal some touches away from him to start the season, we should see a shift once Swift showcases his game-breaking ability. Halfway through the season, Swift will be leading this team in carries and will cement his status as the alpha in this pride. Draft Swift in the middle rounds and reap the value.
Projected Stat-line: 190/920/6 (Rushing Attempts/Rushing Yards/Rushing Touchdowns) and 34/190/0 (Receptions/Receiving Yards/Receiving Touchdowns)
Jonathan Taylor, Indianapolis Colts
Lots of people are thinking that Taylor is going to be the Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2020. With his talent, it’s a safe bet for sure, and landing in a good situation in Indianapolis helps. While Marlon Mack has performed well with the lead back duties in Indianapolis, Taylor possesses the dual-threat ability that Mack lacks. Taylor should ultimately be able to find the field more often which leads to more scoring opportunities for fantasy owners.
Coming out of Wisconsin, Taylor has an impressive resume already as he enters the NFL. His 2018 and 2019 seasons are hard to replicate for all future college football running backs. He won the Doak Walker Award, he was a unanimous first-team All-American and rushed for over 2,000 yards in back-to-back seasons. He also set the freshman rushing yard mark and also has the most 200-yard rushing games in a college career. Taylor is clearly gifted and will make his mark in the NFL as well.
The question becomes if all that wear and tear will take its toll on his workload and eventually his career. Taylor follows other illustrious Wisconsin running backs that have struggled to replicate the same success at the major league level. Former Heisman Trophy winner Ron Dayne did not have the same effect in the NFL as he did back in college. The same can be said for Montee Ball and we’re just not sure what to expect from Melvin Gordon still, as he moves on to another team. So while Taylor is going to go down as one of the best running backs in college football history, let’s be a little cautious before crowning him the next great running back to come into the NFL. Indianapolis Colts fans are of course hoping that he plays just like he did as a Badger.
So Taylor will have to share carries with Mack until he can take over the lead role in totality. As mentioned earlier, Taylor should have the upper hand as he is useful as a pass-catcher as well, not just a runner. He should be drafted and will have an immediate impact on your fantasy team.
If Mack was able to rack up 181 fantasy points last season with that offensive line, imagine the production that Taylor should be able to put up. Taylor should be the highest-drafted rookie this coming draft season and he will be a starting running back in all fantasy leagues. While his short-term success is pretty solid, the long-term aspect may not be as promising as we need to see if his body can hold up to the usage rate.
Did his college career shorten his NFL lifespan and also seep his ability to sustain top-performance? We’ll have to play the waiting game on that one, but for redraft leagues, he is a sure-fire addition and will be a week one contributor.
Projected Stat-line: 236/1,089/7 (Rushing Attempts/Rushing Yards/Rushing Touchdowns) and 45/410/3 (Receptions/Receiving Yards/Receiving Touchdowns)
Cam Akers, Los Angeles Rams
Surprising to think that the former Offensive Player of the Year is no longer a member of the Los Angeles Rams. Gurley has been released from the team and will now be suiting up for the Atlanta Falcons instead. This led to the Los Angeles Rams selecting Akers with their first pick of the 2020 NFL Draft. While that first pick didn’t come until the second round, the Rams are hoping Akers can perform at the level of a first-round pick for years to come.
With Gurley having nagging knee issues, the Rams decided it was best to move on and let someone else deal with his injuries. While it may come back to haunt them if Gurley can sustain his career in Atlanta, the Rams are fine moving on to Akers who has a more reliable injury history. The interesting thing here is that Akers will join a backfield with Darrell Henderson and Malcolm Brown. The Rams traded up to select Henderson last season, but he wasn’t able to do much with the touches he was given. The same can be said about Brown, although he was able to find the endzone five times last season.
So Akers will be the most talented running back out of the competition, but it’s not saying much if you’re the big fish in a small pond. While Akers was able to produce with an inferior line in college, can he do the same in the NFL? The competition is better at the next level and the Rams had the seventh-worst offensive line for rushing in 2019. They also made no upgrades through the draft or free agency, so it may be hard for us to think that Akers will enjoy the same level of success in the NFL.
So for fantasy purposes, Akers may be a good addition to your roster but temper your expectations for him. While he is going to be the starting running back for the Rams, his offensive line may become his downfall. Also with Los Angeles possibly trying to save the legs of all their running backs, they may ease up the number of carries for Akers and this could lead to a running-back-by-committee approach.
Akers is going to be worth drafting because he will be the “starter” but don’t bank on astronomical production week-to-week. Stash him on your bench and wait to see if he can separate from the pack and make a sub-par offensive line look good. Who knows, he might even become a candidate for Offensive Rookie of the Year…
Projected Stat-line: 190/790/5 (Rushing Attempts/Rushing Yards/Rushing Touchdowns) and 23/170/1 (Receptions/Receiving Yards/Receiving Touchdowns)
J.K. Dobbins, Baltimore Ravens
Say what you want about the Ravens going one and done in the playoffs last year, they are always built to compete every season. The front office always takes advantage of the draft every year and they continue to find the right players to come in during free agency as well. This is where Dobbins slides in. While this move may not fill a major need for them, Dobbins fell right into their lap and the Ravens took advantage of taking the best player available. This selection was also acquired by trading away Hayden Hurst, who was expendable after the emergence of Mark Andrews. All in all, smart moves were made by general manager Eric DeCosta.
While the team just got a lot better, the fantasy world may not be affected as much in a positive way. The Ravens were team leaders in rushing among the rest of the league. So adding another dynamic runner like Dobbins makes this run-offense that much more dangerous. The Ravens were the only team that averaged at least 200 rushing yards per game and the next closest team was San Francisco, which averaged 144.1 yards per game. So while this is great for the Ravens, for fantasy purposes this means that Dobbins and Mark Ingram’s stocks take a hit.
Ingram enjoyed one of his most productive seasons of his career and now he will have to share carries with a rookie. This was kind of the reason he left New Orleans because he had to split time with Alvin Kamara. So his time as the lead back is now gone again and while he’ll still be productive, his numbers will take a dip for sure.
As Dobbins comes in and learns the offense, he will eventually gather more touches within the offense. One more reason why the Ravens selected Dobbins was Ingram has now crossed the age-30 mark. This move was made for the future and Dobbins is the clear lead-back for the future.
So Dobbins has good value playing for the Ravens, but not the same level as an Akers in Los Angeles or Swift in Detroit. He will get his fair share of touches since he is more of a receiver than Ingram is. Ingram scored his most receiving touchdowns last season, but that will take a dip with Dobbins being in the offense now.
So both players are going to be worth owning, but the slight lead would have to go to Dobbins. His ability as a runner and receiver will keep him on the field a little more and this will keep Ingram on the sidelines. Draft Dobbins to your roster, but he doesn’t hold great appeal further than being a FLEX. He could become a low-end starter based on the match-ups, but he is not a fantasy starter.
Ingram currently still holds starting running back status, but that’s until we see more Dobbins in the offense and he becomes a low-end starter or FLEX player as well. A solid addition for the Ravens, but not as lofty a pick for redraft leagues.
Projected Stat-line: 145/674/5 (Rushing Attempts/Rushing Yards/Rushing Touchdowns) and 30/142/0 (Receptions/Receiving Yards/Receiving Touchdowns)
AJ Dillon, Green Bay Packers
If the Jordan Love pick wasn’t surprising to NFL fans, the Dillon pick sure was. A lot of people were wondering about the direction the Packers wanted to take their franchise for the future. While most fans would have projected Green Bay to select a wide receiver with either the first or second-round pick, they ended up not drafting a receiver the entire draft. So after “all the minds blown” and “what the hells” said after the NFL Draft weekend was over, let’s peel the onion back here.
These moves were made for the future of the franchise in that they want to become a more power running attack. Head coach Matt LaFleur has seen this work with both of his previous coaching jobs in Los Angeles with the Rams and Tennessee with the Titans. This means that Dillon could be the lead back of the future.
In the short-term, he’s going to split time with Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams. Jones finally enjoyed a great fantasy season as he took on more of the touches from the backfield and all fantasy owners rejoiced. He scored 19 total touchdowns and surpassed 1,000 rushing yards. This is the one thing previous head coach, Mike McCarthy, wouldn’t do for some reason and LaFleur finally freed Jones.
Well, all that can go out the window as Dillon will insert himself into the backfield to share the touches. Let’s not forget that Williams is also a capable runner and will earn his share of the touches.
Dillon is a great runner, but that is all he is. So while he will be used on first and second down to establish the run, he brings absolute zero value to the passing game. This will limit his fantasy value to an extent and still make Jones relevant.
The future is coming for the Packers as they drafted Love and Dillon with their first two picks in the 2020 NFL Draft. Dillon has some value in redraft leagues, but his value will remain with dynasty leagues mainly. If Dillon can establish himself as a runner quickly in the Green Bay offense, he will hold some value but nothing to get excited about. He will become very touchdown-dependent and will rely on getting a lion’s share of carries to make it worth your while to start him in PPR leagues.
Dillon will get drafted in most leagues, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see him go undrafted as well. The value just isn’t high yet and it becomes a situation where you need to wait and see if he can translate his skills to the NFL. Also, with Aaron Rodgers still around, he probably wants to sling the ball more which would let Jones come onto the field more often than Williams and Dillon.
Feel free to grab Dillon as a bench stash candidate, but you’re better off letting someone else waste a pick on him. If he is on the waiver wire, add him to the watch list and hope that he can carve out a role in his rookie year in Green Bay.
Projected Stat-line: 110/508/3 (Rushing Attempts/Rushing Yards/Rushing Touchdowns)
Ke’Shawn Vaughn, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
What do you do when you sign one of the best quarterbacks to play this game? You need to make sure he is surrounded with the right weapons. He already has the receivers and now has his former tight end in New England, Rob Gronkowski. The one thing that Tom Brady didn’t have by signing with Tampa Bay was a reliable running game.
The Buccaneers were one of 11 teams that averaged less than 100 yards rushing per game in 2019. While Ronald Jones and Peyton Barber were good running backs, they were good at different times. This led to the running game being inconsistent and not really helping the offense as much as it could. Also, throw in the fact that the Buccaneers were usually trailing in games, this made the offense go into pass-first mode anyways. No wonder former Tampa Bay quarterback, Jameis Winston, was able to lead the league in both interceptions and passing touchdowns. Well all that is hopefully behind them and the Buccaneers can move forward with the new addition of Vaughn.
Vaughn is a power runner that produced two-straight 1,000-yard rushing seasons at Vanderbilt. He’ll come into Tampa Bay and compete for the lead job with Jones. Vaughn will get more of the touches out of the gate as Jones is not the running back best suited for Bruce Arians and his style of offense. Not only is Vaughn a better runner than Jones, but Vaughn is also better in the passing game in terms of a receiver and a blocker. The ability to protect Brady will allow him to see the field more and ultimately grab more of the touches in the Tampa Bay backfield. Jones is the more athletic runner, but Vaughn is the more well-rounded runner and will be able to snatch this job from Jones.
Tampa Bay went ahead and had themselves a great offseason. They brought in Brady to throw the ball and surrounded him with enough weapons that this offense may rival the top offenses in the league. We need to wait and see if it actually happens, but on paper, they are hard to beat.
Vaughn is going to be a big part of this picture, but we might see a bit of a timeshare to begin the season. Once Vaughn is able to separate himself from the pack, he will become the clear-cut starting running back in the offense. Draft Vaughn towards the top of your draft (round three or four) and you’ll see his value grow as the season goes on. He might not be the best producer to begin the season, but you don’t want to see him on your opponent’s roster. Vaughn is going to become a fantasy stud in this offense for years to come, but it might be a little slow out the gate in 2020.
Projected Stat-line: 192/862/6 (Rushing Attempts/Rushing Yards/Rushing Touchdowns) and 33/270/2 (Receptions/Receiving Yards/Receiving Touchdowns)
Zack Moss, Buffalo Bills
So a rolling stone may not gather any moss, but Buffalo sure did. Moss was great at the University of Utah, but his injury history led to him sliding in the draft. A little bit of a surprise seeing as how Buffalo drafted Devin Singletary last year, but you can never have enough production from the running back position. The loss of Frank Gore as well led to them needing to shore up the running back room with another back. Also as a team that likes to run the ball and set up the pass off of that, making sure you have enough RBs is critical.
Moss is more of a power runner than Singletary is. While he is elusive, he has the ability to find the right holes and then bulldoze the opposition instead of dancing around them. As mentioned though, he did slip in the draft due to injury history. While this may not be the case in the NFL, it may be something to be concerned about as he did have meniscus and toe injuries. The hope is those injuries will not linger and prevent him from being a good supplement back for the Bills, with Singletary. As of now he is healthy and should step into a red-zone role with Buffalo. As time goes on, he should take on more of the running back load as the Bills are a run-first team. Three players had over 100 carries for the Bills last season so they are going to pound the rock in Buffalo.
Moss, as mentioned, should take on red-zone work and will be a good change-of-pace back early in the season. Once the season is halfway over, we should see more split time between Moss and Singletary as Buffalo will want to keep both backs fresh as the season wears on.
Moss is worthy of a selection in your draft, but it will be good to see what sort of work he gets to start the season. General manager, Brandon Beane, has stated that Singletary and Moss will be competing for all carries in the offense. This can be either good, as this increases Moss’ value or bad because then both players will cannibalize each other’s value. Still, draft Moss to your roster as a bench player and you can employ him as a FLEX based on the right match-up. Either way, Moss and Singletary are both backs worth owning in fantasy leagues.
Projected Stat-line: 162/634/4 (Rushing Attempts/Rushing Yards/Rushing Touchdowns) and 29/243/2 (Receptions/Receiving Yards/Receiving Touchdowns)
Darrynton Evans, Tennessee Titans
The Tennessee Titans were close to making the Super Bowl. The thing that almost got them there was the same reason that led to them not getting there: Derrick Henry. Henry enjoyed his most successful season as a professional and was running rampant all over the league. It seemed there was nothing that could have stopped him and then he was rendered useless in the AFC Championship game. The Kansas City Chiefs were able to shut him down and tried to force the Titans to win with the arm of Ryan Tannehill. So how do you fix a problem/winning strategy? You need to supplement Henry with a more dynamic runner and that is what Evans is.
While Henry is the clear bruising running back, Evans is the antithesis of that. He is quick, agile, and a great receiver out of the backfield. The Titans thought they had that with Dion Lewis, but he just wasn’t the same player he was back in New England, so they let him walk in free agency. Evans has landed in a great situation with Tennessee as he won’t be asked to take on the lead role. He’ll support Henry by being the third-down running back and allow the Titans offense to have a power running attack, supplemented with a finesse attack to keep defenses guessing. This will really help Henry keep fresh legs as the season progresses too because Evans rushed for 1,000 yards in his sophomore and junior seasons at Appalachian State.
Evans is going to get a good amount of work in Tennessee. This means his fantasy value is pretty high. While he isn’t going to be in the running for top fantasy running backs, he should provide good value later in your fantasy draft. He can step into a FLEX role early in the season and give a good amount of production for your roster. If Henry were to get injured at all during the season, Evans’ value increases rapidly. Evans should be valued as a low-end FLEX player, but a high-end handcuff option.
Stash Evans on your bench and use him on match-up based starts and if the Titans decide to rest up Henry towards the end of the year. A solid addition to the Titans organization and should be a good fantasy producer in 2020.
Projected Stat-line: 140/574/4 (Rushing Attempts/Rushing Yards/Rushing Touchdowns) and 57/596/5 (Receptions/Receiving Yards/Receiving Touchdowns)
What do you think? Who has the best Fantasy season?