Instead of doing individual players like last year, this year Draft Core will be highlighting the position as a whole.
Players deemed as “Primetime Players” are the elite crop of the draft. Draft Core evaluates the top rated players and highlight a trait or two that will translate to the next level. In addition, Draft Core will make a player comparison and a team that needs the player’s skillset.
There are three Primetime Players at the running back position this year: Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor, Georgia’s D’Andre Swift, and Ohio State’s J.K. Dobbins.
Jonathan Taylor Wisconsin
This mix of traits is what will allow Taylor to make the transition to the NFL. He is the easiest projection out of all the running back prospects to make and it isn’t even close.
Size: Taylor is 5′ 10″ and 226 pounds and has the measurables of an every-down, workhorse running back. The best workhorse running backs in the NFL today, Saquon Barkley, Ezekiel Elliott, Todd Gurley, Nick Chubb, Joe Mixon, all fit this archetype at running back. They are big enough to sustain the hits on 1st and 2nd down while being small enough to catch balls out of the backfield on 3rd down.
Speed: I was excited to see what Taylor would run at the NFL Combine. When you watched him on film, he was pulling away from fast defensive backs in the Big Ten which is even more impressive due to his size. Taylor blew up the combine with his 4.39 40-yard dash. A guy this big should not be able to run this fast and there are no excuses for a running back with this mix of size and speed to not be productive at any level of football.
Production: From day 1 at Wisconsin, Taylor was a dominant presence at Wisconsin. You stop Taylor, you stop that Badger offense. He ran for 1,977 yards as a freshman, 2,194 as a sophomore, and took a slight dip his junior year with 2,003 yards, but he was more efficient with his carries and rushed for an absurd 26 touchdowns.
Player Comparison: Nick Chubb
When you compare Chubb and Taylor, it is as if they were produced in the same factory together. Similar size, speed, and production in college. They have similar running styles with the ability to burst through cuts and maintain his balance when he is hit on a play. Like Chubb, Taylor has the skill set to develop into a top 10, maybe top 5 running back in the NFL.
Team Fit: Los Angeles Rams (2nd Round, 52nd Pick)
I do not envision a scenario where Taylor lasts until the 52nd pick, but this fit made too much sense not to highlight. Taylor will more likely be a late 1st or early to mid 2nd round pick. The Rams just released Todd Gurley in the offseason which opened up a massive hole in that backfield. Malcolm Brown and Darrell Henderson can be good parts to a committee, but Taylor gives Sean McVey and Jared Goff a workhorse running back that they lost when Gurley was cut.
D’Andre Swift Georgia
Efficiency and Fresh Tires
Swift shared touches at Georgia and did not operate as a traditional workhorse back like Taylor was but this isn’t something you should knock Swift for. Swift’s lack of carries is not a reflection of Swift’s talent; it’s just how Georgia spreads out their carries. Georgia has become running back U in recent years producing the likes of Todd Gurley, Nick Chubb, and Sony Michel. They have done so because they recruit one or two elite running back prospects a year and spread their carries out to allow their backs to enter the NFL with not a ton of carries.
Even when both Chubb and Michel were both still at Georgia, Swift commanded carries as a true freshman and kept the two of them off the field. During that true freshman season, Swift averaged 7.6 yards a carry and somehow managed to log in 17 catches out of the backfield. This past season as the main guy, Swift rushed for just over 1,200 yards and 8 touchdowns.
But Swift had the talent to command those touches early in his career and because of the way Georgia handles their running backs, Swift will have fresh treads on his tires entering the NFL that most running back prospects don’t.
Player Comparison: Miles Sanders
Similar to Swift, Sanders entered the NFL with not a lot of carries because he had to wait behind Saquon Barkley, but Sanders was still able to command some touches away from Barkley early in his career. Sanders was also efficient with his carries, averaging roughly 6 yards a pop.
Team Fit: Miami Dolphins (1st-2nd round, 26th or 39th overall)
Again like Sanders, Swift would begin his career spliting carries with Jordan Howard in Miami to start his career but Swift is further along his development than Sanders was as a rookie, so, Swift will takeover that backfield much sooner than Sanders. Whoever is under center for Miami, they are going to need a dependable running back to be their security blanket. Swift can offer that and more.
J.K. Dobbins Ohio State
When I tried to pin down what I liked about Dobbins, I struggled to zero in on one or two of his traits. But what I slowly began to realize was that there was hardly a time in Dobbins’ career where he let his team down or made the wrong read on a play. He never had a major injury, he played from day 1, and he never had a season at Ohio State with less than 194 carries.
He isn’t as physically gifted as Jonathan Taylor. He isn’t as efficient or fresh as D’Andre Swift but like those guys, he has does almost everything you’d want a running back to do at the college level. He can run in between the tackles well and catch balls out of the backfield. He can help out a quarterback and pass block which will allow him to stay on the field for all three downs. He can truly do it all.
Is he flashy or spectacular in any areas? Not really, but he is above average in all the meaningful traits a running back needs to possess which is valuable in its own right. Dobbins has the profile to be a productive back for 10 years.
Player Comparison: Josh Jacobs
Similar to Dobbins, Jacobs did not wow me a ton as I evaluated his tape coming out of Alabama. But as you watch both Dobbins and Jacobs, you are able to see just how dependable they are for their respective teams.
Team Fit: Buffalo Bills (2nd round, 54th pick overall)
Buffalo lost Frank Gore this offseason who was another player I thought of as a player comparison for Dobbins. The Bills need a power complement to Devin Singletary and Dobbins would be able to provide that.