In fantasy football, arguably the most important rookie players to be conscious of are running backs. That is because when an RB is in their rookie contract, and not counting too much against the salary cap, their teams can capitalize and put the best team around them. With RBs becoming less valuable after their initial deals, NFL teams are looking to maximize RB production in a player’s first few years. Therefore, there could be several RBs who see workhorse roles right out of the gate. Here are the Top 5 Rookie RB Film Scores.
My overall film grades are based on four main running categories: footwork, body position/pad level, contact balance, and burst. Furthermore, other aspects such as pass-catching and route running are taken into consideration.
1 D’Andre Swift – Georgia
Film Grade: A
The first thing we see with D’Andre Swift is the explosiveness. It is no surprise that Swift had my highest burst score among all rookie RBs. His ability in space and his initial burst makes it so that outside runs are his true specialty. Swift separates him from all other incoming players at his position with his stretch run game.
That is not to say that Swift is incapable of running up the middle. Quite the contract actually as I graded him in top-3 for body position scores. Swift demonstrated the ability to square up to oncoming defenders and not letting them catch him in an easy position to tackle. He is arguably the best RB in the class at cutting and making defenders miss tackles in short areas. His excellent burst and balance allow him to be arguably the most elusive RB in this class.
Overall, Swift was ranked in the top-6 for each of the main categories that I use to evaluate the RB position. In my opinion, he has the highest potential ceiling of all the rookie RBs in 2020. One other aspect that helps this classification is his ability in the passing game. Swift demonstrated the ability to make catches outside of his frame. Not only that, but he can run a diversified route tree out of the backfield and can even line up in different areas of the formation (slot or out wide).
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Even if he had my highest film score, Swift is not a lock to have massive production in the NFL. Unlike any other RB who received an “A” grade from me, he may be the most landing spot dependant. If Swift ends up with a team that embraces his style and design plays for him to run outside and take advantage of his speed, then he will be well set up. However, if Swift winds up on a team that only runs him up the middle, then he may not reach his maximum potential. Perhaps more so then the RBs that we will discuss shortly, Swift may have the widest range of outcomes in the NFL.
2 J.K. Dobbins – Ohio State
Film Grade: A
J.K. Dobbins has arguably the most balanced prospect profile of the rookies at his position. He was one of only two RBs in this 2020 class that I had ranked inside the top 8 in each of my main categories, footwork, body position, balance and burst (D’Andre Swift was the other).
What really stands out with Dobbins is his power. He had the 3rd best burst score in the class. Dobbins’ burst could really be seen when using his power to push back a defender. Also, his burst can allow him to get to the outside at times, and he has excellent enough vision to find the lines to run behind.
Furthermore, he had the 2nd best pad level score. This was another element that helped Dobbins in his power runs. He was often able to get lower than his would-be tacklers, which allowed him better leverage to push through contact. His long speed may not be the greatest, but Dobbins is certainly one of, if not the safest RB prospect in this class.
Dobbins is arguably the best interior runner in this class. That alone is not why I have him ranked at #2. Dobbins demonstrated good pass-protection technique as well as good hands out of the backfield. Those passing-down aspects make it so that Dobbins can avoid being pigeonholed as simply an early-down grinder. Instead, Dobbins has a workhorse skill-set that should serve him well.
3 Jonathan Taylor – Wisconsin
Film Grade: A
Jonathan Taylor is arguably the most well-rounded RB prospects in the class. He has that special mix of size, speed, and strength. This helps explain why he was so productive. In fact, he may have been too productive as his team rarely took him off the field. With almost 1,000 career touches in college, Taylor has already racked up some mileage.
However, it is not as if Taylor’s value simply comes from his college production. On tape, he showcases several desirable traits and performed at an elite level. While he could likely succeed in numerous situations, Taylor demonstrated technical prowess at running inside the tackles. Specifically, his footwork and ability to lower his pad level were among the best in this class. I gave him the 2nd highest footwork score and the 3rd highest body position score for all 2020 RBs. The mastery of these technical aspects will certainly have a positive effect on the outlook of Taylor’s NFL potential. The footwork, in particular, is important. While Taylor is not quite as elusive as say, D’Andre Swift, his nimble feet can still allow him to force missed tackles.
An element that is incredibly important for 21st-century offenses is an RB who can catch. Taylor has this ability, even if it was not fully apparent early in his college career. During his freshman and junior seasons, Taylor combined to catch 16 passes. Last year? 26 total. His soft hands showed up on tape whenever he was targeted.
The final remark regarding Taylor is consistency. Seemingly on every play, he was gaining positive yards. And with his power running, Taylor rarely went down on first contact. Much like J.K. Dobbins, Taylor should be able to fit with most NFL teams and can be considered one of the safer prospects in this class.
4 Cam Akers – Florida State
Film Grade: A-
Cam Akers had very impressive tape, especially considering that his offensive line was suspect at best. I gave him top 5 grades in the class in certain areas such as body position, balance, and burst. His contact balance was especially impressive and he finished ranked 2nd among incoming rookie RBs in that regard.
Akers is very decisive with his running which can be both a good and bad thing. The positive is that this decisiveness coupled with his natural speed, allows him to hit the hole very quickly. However, at times, Akers gets locked into his first decision and doesn’t always see the best lane to run through. Perhaps this will improve in the pros once he has a decent offensive line in front of him.
The only element preventing him from getting to a full “A” grade is his footwork. There were instances in his game tape where Akers would stop moving his feet. That could potentially be a problem in the NFL. An RB who continuously churns his feet will have a better chance of keeping his momentum going forward when taking contact. In the pros, where most players are prime athletes, those details become all the more important. The good news for Akers is that footwork is a specific technical aspect that he can work on before the 2020 NFL season. If he does improve in this regard, then Akers could be one of the best rookie RBs we see this year.
5 Clyde Edwards-Helaire – LSU
Film Grade: A-
We round out the Top 5 Rookie RB Film Scores with Clyde Edwards-Helaire. He possesses a 3-down skill set with a decent running ability. However, the main reason for his elevated film score was his role as a receiving back in college. Edwards-Helaire’s elite ability to make receptions may be best among this RB class. These hands are coupled with a great route running which can allow him to get open as an easy target for his quarterback. In particular, he runs a great angle route over the middle, something that he did fairly often in College.
Not only can Edwards-Helaire run a variety of routes out of the backfield, but he also demonstrated the ability to line up all over the formation. At times, he was in the slot, out wide or even in wide receiver bunch formations.
Edwards-Helaire is not in this top 5 simply because of his pass-catching. He demonstrated great planting and cutting ability which makes him one of the more elusive RBs in this class. Edwards-Helaire’s small frame comes with the advantage that it is easier for him to run with a low center of gravity. However, this small frame also comes with the disadvantage that he is not able to put maximum power behind his runs. At last not to the level of someone like J.K. Dobbins. Hopefully whatever team drafts Edwards-Helaire, will utilize him often in the passing game in order to fully maximize his production.
Thank you for reading my rankings of the Top 5 Rookie RB Film Scores. In order to be fully prepared for the NFL draft, be sure to check out all of the great content available on Full Press Coverage.