News & Analysis

Pre-Combine running back rookie fantasy football rankings

Our pre-Combine rookie fantasy football rankings continue today with a look at running back. This year's class doesn't have a standout at the top, as we saw in 2018 with Saquon Barkley, for example, but the overall depth means a number of these players will be fantasy options at some point in their careers. The best part about running backs for fantasy purposes is that they have the best chance of making an immediate fantasy impact in Year 1.

Keep in mind that this is only an initial list to get us set for the combine. Things will change over the next two months when we learn more about these players, and they'll change again after the 2020 NFL Draft. However, it's important that we have a baseline of how these players stack up against each other before the draft.

Check out Jeff's pre-Combine quarterback rookie fantasy football rankings, pre-Combine tight end rookie fantasy football rankings and all of our fantasy football rankings.

1. D'Andre Swift, Georgia

Dec 7, 2019; Atlanta, GA, USA; Georgia Bulldogs running back D'Andre Swift (7) runs the ball against the LSU Tigers in the first quarter in the 2019 SEC Championship Game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

True to his name, Swift is a fleet-footed back who was very productive both as a runner and receiver over the last two years. He isn't the most explosive back we've seen in recent history, but Swift showed that he could create after contact with an average of 3.83 yards after contact per attempt in his college career. His three-down skill set and elusive ability make him the back in this year's class with the best chance to make an instant fantasy impact.

2. Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin

Insanely productive over the last three seasons, Taylor posted a jaw-dropping 6,174 rushing yards and 50 rushing scores. That includes two 2,000-yard seasons, making him just the third player in NCAA history to do so. Taylor racked up 30 runs of 15-plus yards in 2019, which ranked second in the nation. He also saw his role in the passing game expand with 26 catches last season. The one knock on him for today's NFL is that he touched the ball a massive 948 times over the last three years. That wear and tear won't impact him early in his career, but it could shorten his fantasy shelf life.

3. J.K. Dobbins, Ohio State

A stud right out of the gate for the Buckeyes, Dobbins averaged 6.2 yards per carry and found the end zone a combined 43 times over the last three years. His numbers dipped a bit in 2018, but he bounced back in a big way last year thanks in part to a nation-leading 31 runs of 15-plus yards. Dobbins also showed the ability to catch the ball with 20-plus catches in all three seasons at Ohio State.

4. Zack Moss, Utah

A four-year player who is coming off his most productive season at the college level, Moss notched 253 touches (235 carries, 28 catches) with an average of 6.0 yards per attempt and a combined 17 touchdowns. He also increased his yards after contact per attempt figure from 3.54 in 2018 to 4.45 in 2019. From a football family, Moss is related to Santana Moss and Sinorice Moss. Despite his size (5-foot-10, 222 pounds), Moss was one of the most elusive backs in the nation with 88 forced missed tackles as a runner and 15 as a receiver. He has the makings of a future RB2-plus in fantasy.

5. Clyde Edwards-Helaire, LSU

Slightly undersized at 5-foot-8 and 205 pounds, Edwards-Helaire is coming off a massive 2019 season where he racked up 215 carries and 55 catches. In the process, he increased his rushing yards per attempt from 4.5 in 2018 to 6.6 in 2019. He forced 84 combined missed tackles and averaged a healthy 3.65 yards after contact per attempt. Despite his size, Edwards-Helaire has the potential to be a three-down back and could be an immediate fantasy factor.

6. Cam Akers, Florida State

The No. 6 rusher in Florida State history, Akers posted 2,875 yards and 27 touchdowns on the ground at the college level. He also proved to be an effective receiving asset out of the backfield with 69 career catches. Akers forced a combined 82 missed tackles on 261 touches and averaged 3.91 yards after contact per attempt last season. While he does have a three-down skill set, there's a chance Akers is viewed as more of a third-down option in a committee at the pro level. That puts a slight damper on his long-term outlook.

7. Ke' Shawn Vaughn, Vanderbilt

He isn't the most elusive back in the class, but Vaughn is a one-cut back who flashed upside in 2018 with 17 runs of 15-plus yards. That number dipped in last season to 12, as did the rest of his production. That isn't a huge knock on Vaughn, but it is an indicator that his long-term fantasy ceiling isn't as high as the top option in this year's class.

8. Eno Benjamin, Arizona State

A three-down back who racked up 553 carries and 77 catches over the last two seasons. Benjamin was one of the most elusive backs in the nation in 2018 with 99 combined forced missed tackles. That number fell off last season to 71 and he averaged just 2.91 yards after contact per attempt. While the inconsistency isn't ideal, Benjamin's ceiling gives him the potential to surface as a fantasy option.

9. A.J. Dillon, Boston College

Dillon is massive. He checks in at 6-foot-0 and 250 pounds and that size shows on the field. Boston College fed him the rock over the last three seasons with 845 carries. While he wasn't hyper-efficient, Dillon did manage to average 5.2 yards per carry and found the end zone a healthy 38 times as a runner. Despite his size, he proved to be very elusive with 80 forced missed tackles as a runner and 3.48 yards after contact per attempt. Dillon isn't the best pure prospect in this class, but it's tough to deny his size. He's an intriguing fantasy prospect.

10. Anthony McFarland Jr., Maryland

Oct 26, 2019; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Maryland Terrapins running back Anthony McFarland Jr. (5) rushes with the ball as Minnesota Golden Gophers defensive lineman Winston DeLattiboudere (46) plays defense in the first half against the Minnesota Golden Gophers at TCF Bank Stadium. Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

No relation to Booger, McFarland hit the ground running as a freshman with an average of 7.9 yards per carry on 131 totes. His numbers took a big hit last year, but don't read too much into them. He battled a high-ankle sprain during the season. While there are things to like about his game, McFarland is a tad undersized for the pro level (5-foot-9, 198 pounds). That certainly puts a damper on his fantasy outlook, but McFarland still has the chance to be a fantasy option.

11. Michael Warren II, Cincinnati

A bigger back at 5-foot-11 and 222 pounds, Warren has had no problem finding the end zone over the last two years with 33 scores as a runner and three as a receiver. He also topped 1,000 rushing yards in both seasons. Last year, he proved especially elusive with 75 forced missed tackles as a runner to go along with 15 runs of 15-plus yards. Warren also contributed in the passing game with 46 catches over the last two years. His three-down potential and NFL size give him a legitimate possibility of surfacing on the fantasy radar in the NFL.

12. Lamichal Perine, Florida

Solid, but unspectacular, Perine has an NFL build but was somewhat lightly used at Florida. His career-high of 136 carries came in his sophomore year. Last season, he notched 132 carries, but he was far more involved in the passing game with 40 catches. While that usage is encouraging, Perine's inability to make defenders miss (31 combined forced missed tackles in 2019) doesn't bode well for future fantasy success.

13. Salvon Ahmed, Washington

A somewhat undersized scatback type, Ahmed topped 200 touches and went over 1,000 rushing yards for the Huskies last season. Ahmed is an especially interesting case as his numbers tell slightly different stories. His 3.47 yards after contact per attempt suggests he can create after contact, but his 57.8 elusive rating is one of the lowest in this year's class. Still, his three-down ability makes him one of the players outside of the top 10 in this year's class to keep an eye on.

14. DeeJay Dallas, Miami

Far from a workhorse at the college level, Dallas saw 265 carries and 28 catches over the last three years. While he doesn't necessarily blow you away with his numbers, Dallas averaged a solid 5.8 yards per carry and 3.7 yards after contact per attempt over his career. He also has NFL size at 5-foot-10 and 214 pounds. Dallas isn't the best fantasy prospect in the class, but it wouldn't be shocking if he surfaced as a fantasy option at some point.

15. Patrick Taylor Jr., Memphis

The “thunder” to Darrell Henderson's “lightning” in the Memphis backfield in 2018, Taylor battled injury and played in just six games last season. However, he topped 1,000 rushing yards in 2018 and scored a combined 29 rushing touchdowns in 2018 and 2019. Taylor isn't the most elusive back with just 3.00 yards after contact per attempt over the last three seasons, but his size gives him some appeal as a deeper dynasty option.

16. LeVante Bellamy, Western Michigan

One of the most productive backs in the nation last season, Bellamy scored 23 rushing touchdowns and notched 1,472 rushing yards on 266 carries as a fifth-year senior. He also tied for seventh in the nation in runs of 15-plus yards with 24. If there's a knock to his game, it's that he didn't generate much after contact, as he averaged just 3.02 yards after contact per attempt. Still, he's an interesting name to keep an eye on through the predraft process.

17. Darrynton Evans, Appalachian State

Evans is an explosive back who posted 22 runs of 15-plus yards in 2019. He also found the end zone a combined 23 times as a runner and receiver last season. He showed a three-down skillset at Appalachian State, but his size (5-foot-11, 200 pounds) could limit his role in the NFL. That being said, he's a deep fantasy name to know in this year's class.

18. Darius “Jet” Anderson, TCU

A committee back at the college level, Anderson averaged 5.6 yards per carry over the course of his career and showed in 2019 that he's capable of catching the ball out of the backfield with 22 receptions. Showed elusive ability with 48 combined forced missed tackles and 3.89 yards after contact per attempt last season.

19. Benny LeMay, UNC-Charlotte

A four-year player in Conference USA, Lemay topped 1,000 rushing yards in each of the last two seasons with 20 scores on the ground over that stretch. While he wasn't the most elusive back in the nation, Lemay did manage 48 forced missed tackles as a runner and an average of 3.48 yards after contact per attempt in 2019.

20. Raymond Calais, Louisiana-Lafayette

Dec 15, 2018; Orlando, FL, USA; Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin Cajuns running back Raymond Calais (4) runs with the ball against the Tulane Green Wave during the first half at Camping World Stadium. Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Small but explosive, Calais racked up over 51% of his 2019 rushing yards on 12 big-play runs that went for 15-plus yards. That upside certainly makes him fun to watch, but Calais' lack of size (5-foot-9, 185 pounds) will make it tough for him to carve out a fantasy-worthy role on an NFL roster.

21. Javon Leake, Maryland

Angular and lean, Leake saw just 145 carries in his three seasons at Maryland. Despite the thin workload, he flashed major upside with a career average of 7.9 yards per carry and 17 rushing scores. This past season, Leake had 12 runs of 15-plus yards. These carries accounted for over 56% of his rushing yards on the season. The upside is appealing, but Leake's slender resume makes him a bit of a fantasy question mark.

22. J.J. Taylor, Arizona

Far from the biggest back in this year's class, Taylor checks in at just 5-foot-6 and 185 pounds. But he didn't let that hold him back at Arizona, posting 3,263 rushing yards over the last four years. Taylor caught 32 balls last season, and that's the area where he has the best chance of making a fantasy impact in the NFL.

23. Joshua Kelley, UCLA

A productive back over the last two seasons with 1,000-plus rushing yards and 12 rushing scores both years, Kelley doesn't really stand out in any one particular area. He struggled to create on his own with just 2.80 yards after contact per attempt and 42 forced missed tackles on 229 carries last season.  Kelley also caught just 11 balls last year. Don't expect him to ever surface on the fantasy radar.

24. Tony Jones Jr., Notre Dame

Jones has an NFL body at 5-foot-11 and 224 pounds, but he doesn't have the same resume as we've seen from some of the recent Notre Dame backs to enter the NFL. He was lightly used until 2019 when he notched 169 touches. To his credit, Jones did average 6.0 yards per carry and caught 15 balls.

25. JaMycal Hasty, Baylor

A scatback type who was lightly used in his four seasons at Baylor. His career-high in carries came in his freshman year when he posted 119. Hasty did show the ability to catch the ball, with at least 25 receptions in each of the last three years. Still, he's unlikely to ever be a fantasy option.

26. Scottie Phillips, Ole Miss

After two years at the JUCO level, Phillips made his way to Ole Miss and posted 1,470 rushing yards on 278 carries over the last two years. Compact at 5-foot-8 and 211 pounds, but Phillips didn't create a lot of yards on his own with a career average of just 3.08 yards after contact per attempt.

27. Sewo Olonilua, TCU

A big back who checks in at 6-foot-3 and 240 pounds, Olonilua split time with Jet Anderson in the TCU backfield. In 2019, he only managed to average 4.0 yards per carry and posted an uninspiring 19 forced missed tackles on 132 rushing attempts.

28. James Robinson, Illinois State

Robinson is a productive small-school back who notched 4,462 yards and 44 scores on the ground in his four-year career. And while he may have forced 74 missed tackles last season, that came on a massive 364 carries. While he was prolific in the FCS, it's tough to see Robinson having the same success in the NFL.

29. Rico Dowdle, South Carolina

Lightly used in his four years at South Carolina, Dowdle notched just 490 touches. As a result, he didn't necessarily stand out in any one area. Over his career, he averaged 5.0 yards per carry and 3.2 yards after contact per attempt. Dowdle has NFL size (6 foot, 215 pounds), but his uninspiring resume with the Gamecocks leaves a lot to be desired.

30. Brian Herrien, Georgia

Buried on a stacked Georgia depth chart for his entire career, Herrien saw just 277 carries in four years with the Bulldogs. Regardless of whom he was playing behind, career backups at the college level typically don't make for starting-caliber running backs at the pro level.

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