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. 

Additionally, you can see the ascent and decline of various RBs since February with my pre-combine rankings and post-combine rankings

The List!

Rank Movement Name Draft Round Team
RB1   Jonathan Taylor 2 Colts
RB2 +7 Clyde Edwards-Helaire 1 Chiefs
RB3 -1 JK Dobbins 2 Ravens
RB4 -1 D’Andre Swift 2 Lions
RB5 -1 Cam Akers 2 Rams
RB6   Ke’Shawn Vaughn 3 Buccaneers
RB7 -1 AJ Dillon 2 Packers
RB8 -1 Zack Moss 3 Bills
RB9 +2 Darrynton Evans 3 Titans
RB10 +3 Anthony McFarland 4 Steelers
RB11 NR Lynn Bowden Jr 3 Raiders
RB12   Antonio Gibson 3 Redskins
RB13 -3 Joshua Kelley 4 Chargers
RB14   Lamical Perine 4 Jets
RB15 -8 Eno Benjamin 7 Cardinals

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! 

Join the conversation on Twitter!

  1. Earl says:
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    Hey there Al and Donkey,

    would you give up Aaron Jones for 1.05 and 1.10 picks in rookie draft. I also have 1.08 and 15th pick so was thinking if I did that I would try and get rb at 1.05 (maybe Dobbins or Swift or akers) and then wr at 1.08 (say Jefferson) and perhaps Ke’shawn Vaughn at 1.10.

    Might be able to get him to include David Johnson or Mostert in deal but not sure.

    Right now I have Kerryon Johnson, Jones and Joe Mixon for rb.

    I have AJ Brown, Tyreek hill, tyler lockett, calvin ridley, terry Mclaurin and Marquis Brown for wr.

    Thoughts?? Thanks

    • Donkey Teeth

      Donkey Teeth says:
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      Nah I wouldn’t do it without knowing who’s there at pick 5. If Dobbins is there still then I probably would but I also think you might be able to get more for Jones…
      If David Johnson is thrown in then I’d do it though. That extra bit of value puts it over the top for me.

  2. Earl says:
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    Thanks Donkey for response.

    What would you think of following trade or am I giving up too much to take chances with 1.05 and 1.10 picks:

    Give Aaron Jones, Terry McLaurin and Tyler Higbee for David Johnson, Darren Waller and 1.05 and 1.10 picks. With my wrs and likely another good one I pick up in rookie draft dont think I need McLaurin.

    • Earl says:
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      Also, who do you feel is better for dynasty from following or are they pretty even?:

      Tyler Lockett or Terry McLaurin
      Darren waller or Noah Fant
      David Johnson or Raheem Mostert

      Thanks

      • Donkey Teeth

        Donkey Teeth says:
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        Lockett, Waller and DJ for me

    • Donkey Teeth

      Donkey Teeth says:
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      Still feels like you’re giving up a little too much to me, at least without knowing who’s going to be left at pick 5.

    • al_FF_red

      al_FF_red says:
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      A few considerations … I don’t think I’d take on DJ in dynasty. I knew they didn’t take a RB but man I just think that’s very risky. Especially if you’re offloading Jones to get picks I assume you’re a little more on the rebuild side rather than the contender side?

      In a vacuum, 2 firsts for AJ isn’t bad tbh. I like Waller a lot but honestly he may have peaked last year for fantasy purposes especially with them bringing in 2 WR with high draft capital.

      I think you have a better chance at winning sooner keeping your roster intact. Jones will still be good and Mixon should be very good. Without seeing your competition i think you have a pretty competitive roster and maybe make a smaller move to put you over the top if you’re contending

      Remember even prospects who “check every box” probably only have a 30-40% hit rate… so you’re doing well if you hit on one of 2 first rounders. Rookie picks are so fun but very risky

      You have 1.08 and 2.03? That’s great in this class. You’ll land a great WR at 8 and can likely get Vaughn or Moss at 2.03 if you want or a second high ceiling WR

      • EARL DIETRICH says:
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        In a perfect world, I would maybe wind up with Ruggs or Justin Jefferson or Reagor at 1.08 and then perhaps Ke’shawn Vaughn at 2.03 or perhaps I thinking of Denzel Mims or someone else for rb at 2.03 (maybe guy Packers picked up or some other rookie rb).

        Might try and get 1.01 or 1.02 pick for Jones but the way people seem to value rookies this year not sure that will happen or if you would advise that.

        I too think my team could be competitive this year but only the 2 teams that make it to championship final get paid anything in our league.

        Thanks

  3. EARL DIETRICH says:
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    Would you take Akers at 1.08 if he fell down or stay with good wr at 1.08 and then see what rb is available at 2.03?

    Thanks again

    • al_FF_red

      al_FF_red says:
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      Guess it depends on your team context… if you need a RB to help this year take Akers… but I’d never fault someone for going Lamb he’s so good/fun.

      I think I’d say Akers because this year you wont really have a shot at a decent RB at 2.03 (Vaughn has been going earlier and Moss/Dillon are not instant impact)… but you WILL be able to get a very nice WR at 2.03 (Mims, Pittman, Shenault etc… its a very deep WR class)

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