Analysis of 2020 Rookie Running Backs by ADP: RBs 5-8

Mike Havens

Now that the NFL Draft is drawing near and dynasty owners all across the country are making their draft boards, it’s time to start helping by reviewing all running backs in order of current average draft position. Not all players pan out at the NFL level, so I am going to be critical at times that require it.

The following is a quick summary of the next four running backs by ADP. In this series, I will review as many rookie RBs that I can cover prior to the draft, four at a time.

READ: Analysis of 2020 Rookie Running Backs by ADP: RBs 1-4

My track record over the past three seasons is positive, as shown on our DLF forums by users who have tracked my history, and evidenced by my critique of the top 16 running backs last year (Part One, Two, Three, Four) where I correctly picked the right backs to own and the ones to avoid.

I studied the following players for several hours each. I not only watched game footage but also searched for high school and collegiate interviews. Knowing if a player has the mental capacity to become a student of the game is vital, and since I can’t be in the same room with them, there’s no better substitute than interviews.

Clyde Edwards-Helaire, LSU (ADP RB5)

This product out of LSU is a shorter, smaller version than what NFL teams typically covet. The prototypical size is 5’10”, 215 pounds, and Clyde Edwards-Helaire checks in at 5’7”, 207 pounds. While his 40-time is a subpar 4.60 seconds, his vertical and broad jumps are an amazing 39.5 and 123 inches, respectively.

Simply put, Edwards-Helaire is the only running back with his size and speed that has also obtained superb numbers in drills that measure explosiveness and leg strength. With height and weight taken out, Edwards-Helaire is one of 33 backs to have ever achieved these numbers, dating back to 2000.

The 40-yard time is a little concerning, especially for a smaller back, but he’s in some good company. Last year, 5’7” and 203-pound Devin Singletary posted equal or worse numbers in every metric at the Combine, and he was still taken in the third round and became one of my “must draft” backs because his tape was off the charts. So let’s calm down on the numbers since they weren’t terrible, and focus on some tape.

One of the things I notice about Edwards-Helaire is his patience and body control. His hips are low to the ground through his cuts and he’s able to make tacklers miss at the line of scrimmage. His vision is elite so his ability to find cut back lanes and burst through them is a rarity at the college level.

Check out the video starting at the two plays I’ve bookmarked, specifically his ability to avoid tacklers at the line for a first down and touchdown, respectively. His jump cuts were quick yet simple. He kept his hips low and pointed downfield. His skills match well with his talent in this sample of his work.

Fast forward to 3:06, where he takes a handoff right and forces a defender in the second level to fill a gap with a stop-and-go technique that’s picture-perfect. The move opened up the outside and Edwards-Helaire knew it would be free. This is the kind of work you see in top-level NFL running backs, let alone in college.

His work is not a fluke. He makes another defender miss in the open field with the same move at 4:04. He performs a jump cut and another stop-and-go technique in the same play at 5:46. His highlights are littered with displays of great skill and technique, which is not the same I can say for most running backs I scout.

As for some downside, Edwards-Helaire ran out of option almost exclusively. It’s not a huge knock, some NFL teams are currently built this way, but he’ll need some work to adapt to a pro-style offense if drafted to such a team.

On long runs, he’s almost always caught from behind. Most success for a running back in the NFL is between the line of scrimmage and first down marker, so this doesn’t necessarily scare me, but it is something worth mentioning.

His interviews are spot on, he protects the ball by carrying it high and tight, and he switches it away from defenders. He can pass block, and his 215 carries and 55 catches last year creates a ridiculously good ratio at the college level. With under 500 total touches in college, he has very little wear and tear on his body.

I have to stop talking about this kid so I can get to others, yet there’s much more to mention. For example, his pass-catching and route-running ability alone needs its own article. Joe Burrow called him the best athlete on a stacked LSU team. But if I don’t draw the line somewhere, I’ll never get to the rest of the backs on my list.

In my opinion, Edwards-Helaire is in the same tier as JK Dobbins or D’Andre Swift. Landing spots could dictate that this running back should be the 1.01 selection in all rookie drafts. I think Clyde Edwards-Helaire is the most-underrated rookie running back in the 2020 draft.

Bottom line: I love this kid so draft with confidence. You might not get elite production off the bat depending on what system he’s drafted into, but his floor is a flex play at worst. Eventually, he’ll grow into a sure-fire stud. His ADP is currently 1.07, but I’d be jumping for joy if I got him earlier than that. He might be the best value in the draft.

Zack Moss, Utah (ADP RB6)

Moss is on the older side for running backs. He is already 22 and will be 23 in December, so it’s important that he gets drafted to a team where he’s the starter sooner than later. Standing 5’9” and 223 pounds, he may just get his chance.

To start, Moss under-performed at the Combine, failing to reach each target score in every drill. His 40-yard dash of 4.65 seconds rates 25th out of 28 running backs who ran the drill. All drills combined to give an inkling that he’s just a little slower and a little less quick than he needs to be at the NFL level.

His highlights are filled with goal-line carries, something that the Combine numbers suggest might be his strength. He’s a big man in a small package, able to perform spin moves and jump cuts surprisingly well.

He ran a lot of power and at full speed at the handoff. It looks to me that he was coached to his strengths and put into a position for success, rather than a player who utilized his talent and skill to succeed at the college level.

Last but not least, Moss suffered a season-ending knee injury towards the end of his junior year. It happened in the safety of his own home, described as a pre-existing knee condition that manifested itself over time. He required surgery and needed rehab prior to his senior season.

I don’t want to rag on anyone too much, but there’s really nothing to see here. He could be successful in a power scheme with an RBBC role. He’ll never be elite and he won’t be someone you’d want to build your fantasy team around. I’d take him in the mid-second round at best if his landing spot is decent, but he’s probably more like a third-round pick or later.

AJ Dillon, Boston College (RB7)

I think the first thing everyone takes notice of when scouting Dillon is his sheer size. He’s 6’0” and weighs 247 pounds. How does a man this big become a running back?

The Combine numbers are impressive. He ran a 4.53-second 40-yard dash and had a 41-inch vertical jump and a 10’11” broad jump. Both the vertical and broad jumps were the best scores at the Combine for any running back in 2020, and he did this while weighing 247 pounds.

While his speed and burst show off his explosiveness and leg strength, even his three-cone drill score was 0.06 seconds below the target score of 7.25 seconds. This gives credence to the thought that he has decent agility and change of direction.

In the searchable history of the Combine, only eight other running backs have ever weighed more than 240 pounds and ran faster than a 4.55 40-yard dash. Of those eight, you will find players such as Steven Jackson, Leonard Fournette, Derrick Henry, Beanie Wells, and TJ Duckett. This is pretty good company to keep and bodes well for his future already.

Upon viewing his film, it’s much like what the Combine would suggest. He’s powerful through the line and fast in open space. He doesn’t have the quickest moves to make room at the line of scrimmage, but he does have some nifty footwork to elude defenders at the second level.

You’ll find Dillon run both zone and power in the system at Boston College, and he was able to stay in and block when asked. One downside was that he only caught 13 passes to go along with his 318 rushing attempts in his junior year, so there may be some work that needs to happen in this area.

Another thing to look out for is his usage coming out of college. Though he was only at BC for three years, he has over 850 total touches of the football. That’s more than most backs entering the NFL, and the history of backs with heavy usage does not favor his long-term success.

Dillon is the kind of back defenses will get tired of trying to bring down. He is the kind of player who will give you a higher floor in exchange for a lower ceiling, and that’s quite all right for where his value currently lies.

His metrics and interviews show he is smart and capable enough to grow into the position. I think his upside is also that of the running backs I’ve mentioned earlier, and for a late-round pick, you really can’t do much better than this.

He’s currently trending towards the end of the second round, but if he finds himself on a team that suits his style, I wouldn’t be surprised if that climbed upward. To make sure I got him, I would consider pulling the trigger on a late first, but an early second will probably do.

Ke’Shawn Vaughn, Vanderbilt (RB8)

Right off the bat, you should know that Vaughn is just under 23 years old. You could get two full years of production from most running backs in this draft before they even reach the age that he is today. That’s a strike against him but it’s not enough to cross him off your list completely.

Vaughn is 5’10”, 214 pounds, basically the exact size that most NFL teams covet in a running back. He was clocked at 4.51 seconds in the 40-yard dash, decent enough for NFL teams, but also posted a 32-inch vertical jump, far below the target score of 36 inches. He elected not to participate in several other drills at the Combine, a red flag for any scout in attendance.

I don’t like a lot of what I saw on tape either. He leaned into his cuts rather than planting and bursting through them. He seemed unable to move and point his hips in the direction he wanted to go. He carried the ball in his inside hand on more than one occasion.

He doesn’t seem to be working on many skills that the position requires, just relying on pure athletic ability to get the job done. That doesn’t fly at the NFL level, where a wealth of skills combined with talent is really what it takes to succeed as a running back.

His interviews are poor, easily the worst I’ve seen so far this season. His answers aren’t articulate, and on more than one occasion he said he likes football because that’s what helped him “contain a lot of my anger”. If that’s something that needs to be regulated, then a business and lifestyle like the NFL isn’t going to help.

His college career started at Illinois. He had a decent freshman campaign with 753 rushing yards, but lost his job his sophomore season to his teammates. He took a year off from football before transferring to Vanderbilt where he found some success. Unfortunately, I think more of that success was due to scheme rather than talent.

In the end, I will be passing entirely on this prospect. I do not believe he has the skills needed to be successful entering the season, nor do I think he has the ability to ever improve. I do not believe he will be better than a backup to an already established back. I would rather use my draft picks on better lottery tickets and will be passing on Vaughn, even in the fourth round.

mike havens