And now after I have teased you with 2 days of WR rankings, it’s time for the pièce de résistance: rookie RBs! Nothing has the potential to shift a fantasy league like a freshman RB who finally gets hot come playoff time. We saw with David Johnson in 2015, Alvin Kamara in 2017, Nick Chubb in 2018 and Miles Sanders a year ago.
If you’ve been following my offseason process, you know what I look for when ranking prospects. If you are a first timer please check out this article explaining my general rationale.
|RB11||NR||Lynn Bowden Jr||3||Raiders|
Tier 1 – Early and Often
This tier got smaller post draft, with a surprise first round RB jumping in and awkward landing spots dropping the rest
RB1 – Jonathan Taylor
Still the 1. Marlon Mack has been mostly meh, and comes off his rookie deal after 2020. It’s possible there’s a bit of an ease in period but the Colts want to run the damn ball. I think JT is seeing 15-18 touches a game by midseason with a full blown workhorse role in 2021.
RB2 – Clyde Edwards-Helaire
The odds for CEH to be the first RB selected closed at +2000, so I think we were all a bit shocked. Rumor has it that Patrick Mahomes himself texted Chiefs GM Brett Veach asking for CEH, and he delivered. There are concerns with him as I have outlined in earlier iterations of these rankings, but I simply can’t argue against the fantasy potential of a first round RB going to the league’s best offense.
Tier 2 – Patience is a Virtue
All 3 backs in this group have superstar potential but will begin their careers with questionable roles
RB3 – JK Dobbins
Gus Edwards and Justice Hill combined for 191 carries and 15 receptions in 2019, which should mostly go to Dobbins as a rookie. Edwards is a former UDFA who has a very limited early down skill set and Justice Hill struggled to do impress even when Mark Ingram missed week 17. Dobbins is a major upgrade as the tertiary rusher and is ready made for run-pass option plays coming from Ohio State. He has a bright future in this high volume ground attack and could see 250+ touches as soon as 2021.
RB4 – D’Andre Swift
The Lions had 303 carries and 69 receptions divided among 4 RBs last season. However, OC Darrell Bevell’s top 2 RBs averaged 373 carries and 49 receptions from 2008-2015. Injuries played a major part in their jumbled 2019 backfield, but should Kerryon Johnson and Swift see the majority of the work, there’s plenty of room to project 180 touches for Swift. This pick signals that Bevell likely wants to get back to a featured run game. Swift is more talented than Johnson, and it’s not out of the question he is featured by midseason.
RB5 – Cam Akers
In a shocking decision, the Rams took Cam Akers instead of investing in their atrocious offensive line. Of course, they lost 254 touches with Todd Gurley out the door but this is an even murkier backfield than Detroit. The Rams just traded up to take Darrell Henderson in the 3rd round a year ago and seemed to favor Malcolm Brown at points during 2019. It stands to reason they are excited about Akers and he should lead a committee but the chance for inefficient touches behind their terrible line drop him to the back of this tier.
Tier 3 – That’ll Do
This tier is less exciting but has 3 options that could be flex-worthy right away
RB6 – Ke’Shawn Vaughn
If not for his 5th year senior status, Vaughn would be a very hot name given his Tampa Bay landing spot. He will actually show up to camp older than incumbent Ronald Jones. However, the current regime did not draft Jones and he has failed to establish himself in 2 years. Vaughn can do all the little things head coach Bruce Arians likes and we all know Tom Brady enjoys passing to running backs. He will have a week 1 role and has an outside chance to be the highest scoring rookie RB, although the long term ceiling keeps him in this grouping.
RB7 – AJ Dillon
I don’t have an explanation why the Green Bay made this pick, but the facts are Dillon is a Packer now and has 2nd round draft capital. The Pack has scored 32 rushing TDs as a team over the past 2 years, so scoring opportunities abound in their Aaron Rodgers led attack. He may be touchdown dependent, but the 247 pound bruiser is going to get work out of the gate. Should something happen to Aaron Jones, Dillon could be a league winner.
RB8 – Zack Moss
Buffalo was not a very exciting destination, however there is room for immediate action in that backfield. Bills GM Brandon Beane has already said that Moss will fill the Frank Gore role which produced 179 touches last year. While Devin Singletary impressed as a rookie, he simply doesn’t profile as a feature back and Moss at least has potential to take over for the majority of the work. I think once again this backfield will be annoying for fantasy managers, although Moss will at least have a week 1 role.
Tier 4 – Backups with Juice
A small 2 man tier comprised of intriguing change-of-pace backs
RB9 – Darrynton Evans
A pre-draft riser, Evans secured the all-important Day 2 draft capital to enhance his chances at future fantasy relevance. He was a small school standout who tested well enough to take him seriously and now will probably enter camp as the Titans’ RB2. Derrick Henry will absolutely be the heart and soul of this offense once again, but he comes off his rookie deal in 2021 and could seek a massive payday elsewhere. Evans has strong, all-around skills and could see feature duties 12 months from now.
RB10 – Anthony McFarland
McFarland is another fun name who landed in a low-key attractive spot on the Steelers. James Conner is on a contract year and Pittsburgh had virtually no answer at RB when he went down in 2019. Enter McFarland who gives the backfield a much needed spark (4.4 forty) and his BMI of 31 tells me that he can handle a decent workload. Of course he will sit behind Conner but I don’t see why he’s not first off the bench to spell him.
Tier 5 – Swiss Army Knives
This class has not one but two mythical RB/WR hybrids that we can dream on
RB11 – Lynn Bowden Jr
The Raiders have already said that the college QB/RB/WR Bowden will play RB and be a returner for them. This was initially a disappointment as I hoped he’d be a WR, but he may get an easier path to playing time at RB. The simple take is that RBs get injured all the time, but additionally, Jon Gruden has dialed up 236 targets to backs over the last 2 years. If Bowden will have an immediate role, it’s as a pass catcher after hauling in 114 balls at Kentucky. Barring injury, there’s little chance he overtakes Josh Jacobs as a runner, but we can dream of a rookie season like Tarik Cohen’s when he saw 87 carries and 53 receptions.
RB12 – Antonio Gibson
This ranking almost ensures I will have limited exposure to this tantalizing offensive weapon. Between Gibson and Bowden, the people overwhelmingly desire Gibson 2 to 1. Both prospects enter with the “movable chess piece” or “Swiss army knife” label, but we’ve rarely seen this situation play out with fantasy relevance. Gibson played wide receiver in junior college before finishing at Memphis where in his best season he had 38 receptions and 33 carries. And yet, somehow he was an early 3rd round pick in the NFL draft presumably based on his 4.39 forty time at 228 pounds. Being big and fast is great, but it takes a lot more than that to be successful in the NFL. I just can’t get behind this madness, as we have absolutely no clue what he’s capable of. I guess that’s why he’s so exciting, but I can’t envision a meaningful role for someone with his college profile. I’m fine taking a home run swing on Gibson, but not ahead of Bowden who has actually done it.
Tier 6 – Hopes and Dreams
The title of this tier is dedicated to my guy, Eno Benjamin
RB13 – Joshua Kelley
The Chargers tagged Kelley in the 4th round and he should have an opportunity to compete for backup duties behind Austin Ekeler. He does offer something the other LA backs don’t which is some size, weighing in at 212 pounds. Despite that, I remain lukewarm about his ability as he somehow broke tackles at a negative rate while at UCLA.
RB14 – Lamical Perine
Perine lacks flash but is an all-around competent back who can play in all phases of an offense. I see him as a long term NFL player, but probably only fantasy relevant when he inherits work because of injury.
RB15 – Eno Benjamin
[crying emoji] I’m not giving up just yet. I love Benjamin’s profile and while I didn’t think he’d be a top pick, was shocked he fell all the way to the 7th round. At least he landed in a beautiful environment for running backs, and will be only 2 injuries away from a waiver wire add!
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