Since you’re quarantined and I have your undivided attention, let’s talk about some college running backs that appear to have what it takes to make an impact on your devy roster. In a “devy” league, short for developmental, managers can select players who are still in college (or high school) and stash them on a separate, inactive roster until they are drafted into the NFL. 

For the devy manager, there is truly no offseason as we must take the months with no NFL to update our devy ranks and prepare to dig deep and draft some unknown lottery tickets hoping that you can pick up the next Jonathan Taylor or CeeDee Lamb before your league mates even know their name. 

Since devy players have even less data behind them than incoming NFL rookies, we are somewhat hamstrung in what to look at. Modifying my methods that I use to evaluate rookie RBs, I will rank collegiate players taking into account the following:

Total career yards – In the article linked above, players who met a threshold of 3800 career yards in college were more likely to turn in a fantasy RB1 season in the NFL

Rushing dominator rating (DR) – Earning a DR >50% in a college career was also associated with RB1 seasons at the NFL level. I took out negative QB rushing totals from team yards, but positive QB yards were included. 

Height adjusted speed score (HaSS) – The HaSS is a number that takes into account a players height, weight, and forty time. For college players, a trustworthy forty time is difficult to obtain. Whenever possible I used a time from recruiting sites 247 or ESPN. If I could not find a forty time on those sites I used other, less verified sources (marked by asterisk). I could not find any times for some players. Remember these sizes and weights may change dramatically by draft time. A great example is Zack Moss who gained 25 pounds in college AND shaved 0.15 off his forty. However, this at least gives us a baseline to compare players to each other. A minimum HaSS of 92.6 is what we’re looking for.

Proximity to NFL – I will typically elevate players closer to getting drafted simply because we have more data on them and less uncertainty. However, some younger players can leapfrog older ones if they show exceptional production or potential early. 

Film analysis – I do most of my rankings based on production data and future projections based to historical data. However, the deeper you get, the less production there is. I am not a “film grinder” but I will watch player film that I can find. This becomes especially important for guys with one or even zero years of FBS college production. I can’t boast that I know all of the nuance but I look for ability to break long runs, low pad level, vision and receiving ability for running backs. 

Projected Draft Capital – This is very nebulous, especially when looking at players years away from being eligible for the NFL, however a few things can be baked in such as school prestige and level of dominance. I admit at this point, it’s subjective but I do take this into account.

On to the Rankings!

RB1 School Projected Class Tracking 3800 yards? Rushing DR Ht (in)/ Wt (lb) 40/HaSS
Travis Etienne Clemson 2021 Achieved 45% 70/210 4.43/106.7

After a mysterious reason to complete some “unfinished business” in his senior season, Etienne will head the 2021 RB class. Based on his numbers, I think he would have slotted behind Taylor but in competition for the RB2 spot had he come out in 2020. He combines lethal efficiency with good size and long speed. The only knock is that he is just below a 50% DR, but I am not holing that against Etienne’s NFL potential. After confirming legitimate receiving skills with 37 catches in 219, he is a prototype back for the modern NFL.  

RB2 School Projected Class Tracking 3800 yards? Rushing DR Ht (in)/ Wt (lb) 40/HaSS
Najee Harris Alabama 2021 Yes 55% 74/230 4.66/103.8

This is somewhat of an unsexy pick for RB2 but I think Harris is one of the safest plays on the board. Sure, it took him 3 years to become the bellcow but his sophomore season was efficient if not voluminous. I was pleasantly surprised when he turned in a 27-304-7 receiving line last year showcasing a more well-rounded skillset. Coming from Alabama, a day 2 NFL draft pick feels highly likely and he will be in line for a feature role right away. 

RB3 School Projected Class Tracking 3800 yards? Rushing DR Ht (in)/ Wt (lb) 40/HaSS
Chuba Hubbard Oklahoma State 2021 Yes 74% 73/207 4.39*/116.2

You want production? You got production! The Canadian sensation vaporized the Big12 for 2300 total yards in 2019 and scored 21 times. He’s the definition of a home run threat, and can be seen easily pulling away from defensive backs once in top gear. I find it difficult to get a feel for his overall running ability as so much of his success is based on pure speed and open lanes. He also has a strange body type for an NFL back, tall and relatively skinny.  I’m a little nervous once the microscope focuses on Chuba that there will be concerns for his fit in the pro game. However, the speed will play anywhere. 

RB4 School Projected Class Tracking 3800 yards? Rushing DR Ht (in)/ Wt (lb) 40/HaSS
Max Borghi Washington State 2021 Probable 85% 70/197 4.35*/107.7

Get ready for endless Christian McCaffrey comps for Borghi.  I rarely stay up late enough to catch Wazzu games, but from what I’ve seen Borghi he is a natural receiver and fluid as a runner. His offense just does not pound the rock very often but his 127-817-11 line was good for a ridiculous 85%DR. The Cougars certainly used him in all phases of their offensive attack which bodes well for future use. I found a newspaper article (lol) that boasted of his 4.35 speed, but we’ll see if that rings true at the combine. While no one should be comped to CMC, Borghi does bring that ideal dual threat talent to his future NFL team. 

RB5 School Projected Class Tracking 3800 yards? Rushing DR Ht (in)/ Wt (lb) 40/HaSS
Breece Hall Iowa St 2022 Probable 51% 71/205 4.43*/106.4

Here is your 2022 RB1, folks. Despite only logging 18 carries in the first 4 games he still managed to earn a 51% DR in his freshman season. Once he got rolling he also chipped in 3 receptions per game, showing a complete skillset that we crave for fantasy. The 4.4 speed is not from an official source but it lines up with his film. I see a player with good balance, adjustments and breakaway speed when it’s open. Hall registered 11% of his touches through the air as well, making him a very exciting add to any devy roster.  

RB6 School Projected Class Tracking 3800 yards? Rushing DR Ht (in)/ Wt (lb) 40/HaSS
Kenny Gainwell Memphis 2021 Probable 53% 71/191 4.68/79.6

Listed as a 3* athlete in 2018, Gainwell must have slipped through some cracks before signing with Memphis. But a 2000 yard season as a redshirt freshman ensures he won’t be overlooked again. A  truly outstanding 2019 season unfolded as he took a workhorse role for the Tigers after incumbent Patrick Taylor went down. Gainwell also caught an incredible 51 passes, which is a solid career number for a college running back. He may not possess elite speed as his high school time is ugly and I saw a few instances of being caught from behind last year. Hopefully we can see a bulk up/time down at his future combine. 

RB7 School Projected Class Tracking 3800 yards? Rushing DR Ht (in)/ Wt (lb) 40/HaSS

CJ Verdell

Oregon

2021

Yes

48%

69/210

4.5*/98.1

I am not sure why Verdell isn’t getting more respect in devy rankings. After redshirting in 2017 he has put together back to back 1300 yard seasons with 20 scores and 41 total receptions. His body of work is excellent and he shows nice short area burst to make defenders miss. He appears to be a complete back that will be ready to contribute quickly once drafted into the NFL.  

RB8 School Projected Class Tracking 3800 yards? Rushing DR Ht (in)/ Wt (lb) 40/HaSS
Journey Brown Penn St 2021 Unlikely 35% 71/206 4.54/96.9

Will this Nittany Lion add to the recent lineage of stud fantasy backs? It took him a minute to get going and sift through 5* Rickey Slade and high rated Noah Cain but Brown finally blew up in the back half of 2019. He finished with 100 yards rushing in 4 of the last 5 games, averaging 16 carries, 1.4 receptions and 2(!!!) TDs per game. Over 10% of his touches came via reception, showing nice versatility. I imagine he enters 2020 as the lead back and if he produces close to what he showed last year, the NFL will be on the horizon in 2021.  

RB9 School Projected Class Tracking 3800 yards? Rushing DR Ht (in)/ Wt (lb) 40/HaSS
Trey Sanders Alabama 2022 TBD n/a 72/214 4.52/104.7

As I tweaked the rankings, I kept inching Sanders up the board despite a 0-0-0 stat line in 2019. The former RB1 on 247sports signed with Alabama but promptly suffered a significant foot injury in fall practice, ending his freshman campaign. Prior to the injury, he had earned rare praise from coach Saban for his work ethic. A foot injury is always concerning but he does have plenty of time to heal before the NFL, and you’re not drafting him to produce now. While high school film can be difficult to interpret, what stood out to me is Sanders’ easy receiving ability. His senior tape shows him catching with hands out away from his body on deep wheels, screens and short swing routes. If you just watched his receptions you’d think he was a top WR prospect. The running is also to die for, but that is expected for a guy ranked #1. The upside here feels like anything you want it to be, which is why he’s in the top 10 without a college yard to his name. 

RB10 School Projected Class Tracking 3800 yards? Rushing DR Ht (in)/ Wt (lb) 40/HaSS
Isaiah Spiller Texas A&M 2022 Probable 45% 73/220 4.58/104.3

While he was a highly rated recruit, Spiller’s ascension is a bit of a surprise. He showed up College Station with NFL size and proceeded to take over the Aggies’ backfield immediately. His overall stats are a bit misleading as almost half his production came against Texas St, Lamar and UTSA. Nevertheless, securing a bellcow role as a true freshman bodes well and I expect more growth over the next season. 

RB11 School Projected Class Tracking 3800 yards? Rushing DR Ht (in)/ Wt (lb) 40/HaSS
Kylin Hill Mississippi St 2021 Yes 47% 71/215 4.64/92.7

Finally getting a workhorse role as a junior, Hill had a solid season in 2019. Not a total zero in the pass game, he secured 18 catches en route to a 1530 yard, 11 touchdown season. He looks like a good, tough runner as you might expect coming out of Mississippi State, but it is concerning that in a 2019 highlight reel I didn’t see one run over 30ish yards. It doesn’t take a film guru to know if a RB doesn’t have one long run on a 3 minute compilation of their best plays, that’s a red flag. I think he’s got a limited ceiling but could be a grinding committee back in the NFL. The fact that he will be able to help your roster in the short term gets him a seat at the table. 

RB12 School Projected Class Tracking 3800 yards? Rushing DR Ht (in)/ Wt (lb) 40/HaSS
George Holani Boise St 2022/2023 Probable 43% 71/192 4.75/75.4

Holani turned in an exciting freshman season for the Broncos as a relatively unknown recruit. His numbers are great but like Hill, the film lacks a certain wow factor. He looks like a nice runner in traffic, but seems to make some unnecessary jukes and often does not break the big one. This lines up with a listed 4.75 forty, although that may improve as he matures. I was more excited about him before checking out the tape, although he certainly made an impact early in his career. I need to see more before bumping him up.

RB13 School Projected Class Tracking 3800 yards? Rushing DR Ht (in)/ Wt (lb) 40/HaSS
Kennedy Brooks Oklahoma 2021 No 38% 71/216 4.66/91.6

This is a difficult ranking because he has back to back 1000 yard seasons for the explosive Sooners offense, but that only gets him to a 38% DR. Despite being a complimentary piece, he only has 20 total receptions meaning his niche was not as a satellite back. The good news is that he’s been very efficient with his opportunity with a team high 8.9 yards per carry in 2018 and a solid 6.5 ypc in 2019. He earned a feature role last season, carrying the ball 2.5 times more than the next back (not counting QB rushes). A theme on this half of the list is that once again, I am not seeing him split safeties or destroy angles on the way to a long touchdown. Lack of home run speed is not a death sentence for a RB, but it does theoretically cap the upside we all hope for. With the departure of Trey Sermon, the door is open for Brooks to handle all the work he can, and perhaps earn himself a high draft pick and NFL opportunity. 

RB14 School Projected Class Tracking 3800 yards? Rushing DR Ht (in)/ Wt (lb) 40/HaSS
John Emery LSU 2022/2023 TBD n/a 72/203 4.42/108.6
Tyrion Davis-Price LSU 2022/2023 TBD n/a 73/226 4.53/111.9

Ladies and gentlemen we have a tie! Both of these guys were stud recruits, meet size/speed thresholds, and have a wide open depth chart with the departure of Clyde Edwards-Helaire. I’d be lying if I said I know who had the leg up heading into the fall, but many people thought Emery would immediately start last year. Turns out, he was out-produced by classmate Davis-Price. Emery was ranked higher as a recruit and his prep videos show an exciting complete back with power along with true breakaway speed. 

TDP certainly looks the part of an NFL feature back right now at 226 lbs and a verified 4.53 forty time. His high school film is less impressive to me, showing a man among boys but really just an untackleable monster rather than a nuanced runner. If either one of these backs takes the lion’s share of the touches in 2020, that guy will rocket up the rankings. 

RB15 School Projected Class Tracking 3800 yards? Rushing DR Ht (in)/ Wt (lb) 40/HaSS
MarShawn Lloyd South Carolina 2023 TBD n/a 69/211 4.51/97.1

The honor of the highest rated incoming freshman goes to Lloyd who will likely show up on campus as the best back on the team. He played for a major high school program, perennially ranked nationally, and should come in ready to go. I like his shiftiness and tenacity as a runner. He gets slotted this high because of a combination of pedigree and team depth chart. Opportunity should be there for the taking immediately, meaning the time is now to snag him at a relative discount. 

RB16 School Projected Class Tracking 3800 yards? Rushing DR Ht (in)/ Wt (lb) 40/HaSS
Tank Bigsby Auburn 2023 TBD n/a 72/210 4.55/100.0

Bigsby is another incoming SEC freshman back that I think can get featured right away. The Tigers’ leading rusher from 2019 transferred so DJ Williams sits atop the depth chart for now. Bigsby shows a lot of what you want to see on his HS tape. Many long runs combined with obvious tackle-breaking power. I like the eventual upside of any running back that has a chance to take hold of a bellcow role at a major FBS program early in their career. 

RB17 School Projected Class Tracking 3800 yards? Rushing DR Ht (in)/ Wt (lb) 40/HaSS
Bryant Koback Toledo 2021 Probable 44% 72/205 4.44/107.7

The former Kentucky commit transferred to Toledo after his freshman year. Since joining the Rockets, he has led the team in rushes, yards and scores each year. In 2019 he earned more of the lion’s share, taking additional work from backup Shakif Seymour. This trend should continue given the efficiency Koback has shown. He has an exciting profile with verified NFL speed and 28 touchdowns in 2 seasons for Toledo. 

RB18 School Projected Class Tracking 3800 yards? Rushing DR Ht (in)/ Wt (lb) 40/HaSS
Javian Hawkins Louisville 2021/2022 Possible 55% 69/182 4.36/96.5

Hawkins is a really intriguing player who exploded into the national conversation in 2019 as a sophomore. He dominated the backfield at Louisville gaining nearly 1600 yards and scoring 9 TDs. He has legit speed with a sub 4.4 verified on 247sports and good enough size coming out of high school. For his pro prospects, I’d need to see about 20 pounds added by the time his combine rolls around but there is some exciting potential here. One sour note is that he didn’t contribute to the passing game much in his breakout season, only catching 4 passes.   

RB20 School Projected Class Tracking 3800 yards? Rushing DR Ht (in)/ Wt (lb) 40/HaSS
Zach Charbonnet Michigan 2022 TBD 37% 73/220 No listed time

A Big Ten back who got significant touches as a freshman should certainly pique everyone’s interest. While he did earn a good share of the backfield work, he didn’t dominate the way I’d like to see and by my assessment he wasn’t terribly efficient with what he did get averaging less than 5 yards per carry. Hassan Haskins was his main committee mate and produced at about the same level as Charbonnet. I am simply not convinced he’s a future stud just yet despite his prospect pedigree. 

RB20 School Projected Class Tracking 3800 yards? Rushing DR Ht (in)/ Wt (lb) 40/HaSS
Zamir White Georgia 2021/2022 No n/a 72/215 No listed time

I am sure that many will have White ranked ahead of me but I am not sold on his future prospects. He was incredibly highly ranked when he signed with Georgia, but sat his freshman year with a *second* ACL tear and failed to show too much as a redshirt frosh, outproduced by coach’s pet Brian Herrien and not as efficient as depth piece James Cook. It remains to be seen whether White will be a feature back in 2020, so I am not putting a ton of trust in him being a future stud at this point. 

Ones to Watch

Bijan Robinson, Texas – The top RB in the 2020 class heads to Austin with a depth chart full of solid backs. Looking at his HS film it wouldn’t be shocking is grabbed hold of a big role early. I am slightly hesitant because of his 4.77 forty time listed on ESPN. We’ll see how his freshman year shakes out.

Pooka Williams, Kansas – This unfortunately undersized phenom is listed at 170 pounds. But Pooka has defied the odds in becoming the Jayhawks’ feature back. His production puts him on a very exciting path but realistically even at 190 pounds a lead NFL role is unlikely. He’s a nice late flier but a 3rd down committee back is what you’re hoping for. 

Jaret Patterson, Buffalo – Maybe the best back you’ve never heard of. He just put up 2000 yards and 20 touchdowns for the Bulls in his redshirt sophomore year. Very impressive tape, many instances of outrunning safeties in addition to great vision in traffic. He’ll likely be undersized but could be the 2020 version of a late process riser like Darrynton Evans

Master Teague, Ohio State – Built like a feature back at 5’11” 220, Teague had to watch JK Dobbins roll up 2000 yards in 2019, but there is a good chance Teague fills in similarly as the Buckeye’s RB1. One bugaboo could be incoming transfer Trey Sermon, and if Teague can’t own that backfield his NFL prospects take a hit.

Kendall Milton, Georgia – While his backfield mate White got the last ranked position, I would understand putting Milton in there instead. He should arrive at UGA with NFL size and a fantastic blend of power and speed. At 6’1.5″ he runs tall, something he may have to adjust at the next level. I’m deferring to the upperclassman here, but could see Milton taking charge in his freshman season. 

 

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  1. Great write up!

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