Final Rookie Report Card: Running Backs, Part One

Dan Meylor

Throughout the season, the Rookie Report Card has covered some of the biggest rookies and not only looked at their performance to date – but also their long-term upside. Now that the regular season has wrapped up and fantasy owners are looking towards the future, we have an opportunity to take one last look at the 2020 season and assess the rookies. A final report card if you will.

We covered 37 rookies throughout the season, including a dozen running backs. Let’s wrap the season up by taking one more look at the tailbacks’ first shot handling the ball on Sundays, as well as a quick glimpse into their futures in the first part of this two-part look at 2020’s crop of rookies.

Salvon Ahmed, RB MIA

Season Stats: 192 carries, 319 rushing yards (4.3 YPC), three rushing touchdowns, 11 receptions, 61 receiving yards (14 targets)

An unknown to most until he burst onto the scene when Myles Gaskin missed time due to injury in the second half of the season, Ahmed made the most of his opportunity as the Dolphins’ bell-cow runner in a couple of games. Twice going over 20 carries in a game, he proved that despite being undersized (5’-11, 197 pounds), he’s decisive and explosive at the point of attack. An accomplished pass-catcher in college, he showed as a rookie that he can be a productive backup with the potential to be a fantasy streamer if given the playing time.

As I wrote back in week nine, “Miami is considered one of the top landing spots for a free agent or rookie running back in the 2021 off-season so it’s unlikely Ahmed carries much value entering next season. If possible, dynasty managers … should take anything they can on the trade market for Ahmed.”

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Cam Akers, RB LAR

Season Stats: 145 carries, 625 rushing yards (4.3 YPC), two rushing touchdowns, 11 receptions, 123 receiving yards, one touchdown reception (14 targets)

Many dynasty managers were disappointed in Akers’ production until he finally broke out in a big way in week 12 with a 61-yard touchdown run against the 49ers. After that run, he dominated touches for the Rams and showed exactly how dynamic he could be, averaging 22 carries for 76 yards over the team’s final six games (including playoffs.) Scoring three times in that stretch, he showed his RB1 upside but continued to leave dynasty managers scratching their heads in one area.

Akers caught just 11 passes on the season. Despite the Rams working diligently to get Jared Goff going at times throughout the year, they didn’t appear to be trying to get the rookie the ball on the perimeter. Instead, he caught check-downs when nothing else was open downfield.

Akers enters the off-season as the clear RB1 in Los Angeles. Already a second-round startup pick with an ADP of 23 at RB14, dynasty managers should expect that value to rise through the off-season. He’s an excellent trade target for those looking to capitalize on this rookie running back class but don’t want to pay first-round startup prices.

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DeeJay Dallas, RB SEA

Season Stats: 34 carries, 108 rushing yards (3.2 YPC), two rushing touchdowns, 17 receptions, 111 receiving yards, one touchdown reception (20 targets)

Raw out of college, there were some things to like about Dallas’ game including his explosiveness and tackle-breaking ability, he showed very little of that upside in limited action as a rookie. A healthy scratch late in the season, his two-touchdown performance back in week eight may be his biggest career contribution to dynasty managers.

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AJ Dillon, RB GB

Season Stats: 46 carries, 242 rushing yards (5.3 YPC), two rushing touchdowns, two receptions, 21 receiving yards (two targets)

Many dynasty managers know AJ Dillon for his tree trunks for legs but he showed he is more than just “Quad-zilla” late in the season while mixing in with Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams. In limited opportunities, he averaged 5.3 yards per carry and multiple occasions (including against the Buccaneers in the playoffs) carried tacklers for extra yardage.

A load to bring down, Dillon isn’t a traditional dynasty asset at tailback but looks like he has something to offer – particularly if Jones and/or Williams moves on in free agency. I concluded the week 16 edition of the Rookie Report Card by writing that I felt Jones ends up re-signing but I’m re-thinking it considering Green Bay is up against the salary cap and also has All-Pro center Corey Linsley’s contract expiring as well. The DLF Dynasty Trade Finder suggests he can be acquired for a second-round rookie pick (although you may have to throw in another player). That price will soar if Jones signs elsewhere.

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JK Dobbins, RB BAL

Season Stats: 134 carries, 805 rushing yards (6.0 YPC), nine rushing touchdowns, 18 receptions, 120 receiving yards, one touchdown reception (24 targets)

Although he continued to share carries with Gus Edwards, Dobbins took over the Baltimore backfield late in the season, proving why so many dynasty owners invested high rookie picks last summer.

Showing an incredible combination of power and burst, he looked explosive between the tackles and was a load to bring down for defenders – particularly around the goal line. Dobbins scored in seven straight games between week 11 and the Ravens Wild Card round win against the Titans. If he showed a weakness as a rookie, it was his hands (which is a head-scratcher considering he proved to be a very good pass catcher at Ohio State). Dropping six passes as a rookie including two in the post-season, he’ll have something to work on before next September.

With Mark Ingram already released, it’s clear Dobbins is in line for a big workload bump in 2021. And if Edwards happens to get poached away in restricted free agency, he could be a true workhorse as a sophomore. No matter if Edwards is back or not, in Baltimore’s run-heavy offense Dobbins is likely to continue to move up from his current ADP of 13 and RB8. I’d be surprised if he’s not a top-ten startup pick in the coming months.

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Darrynton Evans, RB TEN

Season Stats: 14 carries, 54 rushing yards (3.9 YPC), two receptions, 27 receiving yards, one touchdown reception (four targets)

Although Evans appeared to land in a nice spot with a chance to be a change-of-pace back behind Derrick Henry, that didn’t quite play out for the third-round pick out of Appalachian State. After missing most of the first three quarters of the season with a hamstring injury, he touched the ball ten times against the Lions, catching a touchdown, but that led to just two carries over Tennessee’s final three games.

Evans is patient, shifty and has enough explosiveness to make an impact if given an opportunity but at this point is a bench stash behind the reigning back-to-back rushing champ. When I wrote about him in week 15, I compared him to Chase Edmonds as a backup with pass-catching chops and slashing ability who could produce RB2 numbers if given the opportunity. We’ll just have to remain patient for that chance.

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Clyde Edwards-Helaire, RB KC

Season Stats: 181 carries, 803 rushing yards (4.4 YPC), four rushing touchdowns, 36 receptions, 297 receiving yards, one touchdown reception (54 targets)

Like all dynasty managers with Edwards-Helaire on their roster, I spent the year waiting for the breakthrough performance. Not to validate choosing him as the 1.01 in a rookie draft or even for the fantasy points – I was waiting to feature him in the Rookie Report Card. That never happened though. I guess I could have chosen him after week one when he carried 25 times for 138 yards and a score against the Texans but he was stonewalled at the goal line repeatedly which left a bad taste in dynasty managers’ mouths. Then there were the 26 carries for 161 yards against Buffalo but his four catches for eight yards left us all wanting more yet again.

Those two games were easily his best as a rookie and represented nearly 40% of his production for the season. Simply put, most weeks Edwards-Helaire was a fantasy disappointment.

Projecting forward, Edwards-Helaire will remain the primary tailback in Kansas City which will translate to big games – particularly because he’s such a talented pass catcher. Currently valued as the RB11 in startups at 19 overall, most dynasty managers (myself included) see much brighter days ahead. I feel like his inconsistency is probably something we should all get used to, however.

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Antonio Gibson, RB WAS

Season Stats: 170 carries, 795 rushing yards (4.7 YPC), 11 rushing touchdowns, 36 receptions, 247 receiving yards (44 targets)

The biggest mistake I made last off-season was my refusal to buy into Gibson after he only touched the ball 77 times over his two seasons at Memphis. I questioned if making him a running back was a good decision and if he’d be more than a gimmick player at the NFL level so I faded him despite his falling to the end of the second round of rookie drafts consistently.

Like most dynasty managers who avoided him, I knew the error of my ways early in the season. A playmaker all over the field, he showcased his blazing 4.39-second 40-yard dash time and lightning-fast cuts with regularity. Even more impressive, he proved to be an excellent short-yardage back, scoring 11 times – most of which coming from inside the five-yard line.

With an ADP of 39 (RB16), Gibson presents a nice value towards the end of the tier of young running backs with upside to move up significantly. Oozing with RB1 upside if he gets a bigger share of the offense, he’s an excellent trade target this off-season for those looking for to invest in a player that hasn’t reached his ceiling.

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Come back next week for part two of the rookie running backs.

dan meylor
Final Rookie Report Card: Running Backs, Part One