By Connor Rigg
Despite not having an off-season or OTA’s, the 2020 rookie running backs were some of the most impressive and electric playmakers the NFL has seen in a long time. It took most of the running backs time to separate themselves from their backfield competition, but many of them got the job locked-down by the end of the season. Let’s look back at their season and what 2021 has in store for these exceptional athletes.
1. Jonathan Taylor
(232 attempts, 1169 rushing yards, 11 touchdowns, 39 targets, 36 receptions, 299 receiving yards, one touchdown, RB6 2020)
Jonathan Taylor had an impressive season in 2020, and watching him finally click in the 2nd half of the season should get you excited about this guy. Taylor started slow and looked lost when on the field. It got to a point where Twitter began labeling him as Trent Richardson 2.0. I never got to that point, but I had my concerns. As someone who has a fair amount of Taylor on my dynasty teams, I started to worry about him not reading the correct holes. He almost appeared hesitant in the backfield. This season was a tale of two halves, as the real JT emerged in the 2nd half of the season. Just to show how dominant Taylor was, he was in a timeshare for most of the season, and he still had the 9th most rushing yards in a season. Taylor is a top-six RB next year in redraft, and he is my RB2 in Dynasty behind CMC.
2. Clyde Edwards-Helaire
(181 attempts, 803 rushing yards, four touchdowns, 54 targets, 36 receptions, 297 receiving yards, one touchdown, RB 22 in 2020)
Clyde Edwards-Helaire was the first RB off the board in the NFL draft and went to the best possible landing spot with Mahomes and the Chiefs. Now in Kansas City, CEH shot up draft boards and went ahead of some big-time RBs such as Alvin Kamara and Dalvin Cook. After drafting CEH in the 2nd round of a startup, I felt slightly disappointed since he didn’t have any week-winning performances. But he provided consistency up until Le’Veon Bell arrived. Don’t lose hope. Right out of the gate, CEH showed the ability to break tackles and make people miss. However, he didn’t catch a pass in his first game, which is his best attribute. CEH was a top 10 RB about half of the season but never had those week-winning performances that other rookie RB’s had, which left fantasy owners frustrated and let-down. Chiefs then traded for Le’Veon Bell’s corpse, and he provided absolutely nothing aside from stealing work from CEH and goal-line touches. CEH was still the RB22 despite dealing with Bell’s addition, playing in a pass-happy offense, and missing a handful of games. He was drafted in startups in the mid to late first round, and based on his ADP, he was a disappointment. There is a reason for optimism. With a full off-season and preseason games, CEH will only improve from here. CEH has massive upside in this offense. Hopefully, next off-season, they’ll work on getting him the ball in open space and letting him work. Don’t get it twisted; this was a disappointment based on his ADP but don’t give up on him. He’s still a top 10 dynasty RB and will be a steal in next year’s redraft leagues.
3. J.K. Dobbins
(134 rushing attempts, 805 rushing yards, nine touchdowns, 24 targets, 18 receptions, 120 receiving yards, RB24 in 2020)
Dobbins was one of the most electric rookies and players in the NFL this season. Dobbins ranked 3rd in yards per attempt for players with at least 100 carries. The only players ahead of him were QBs, which is impressive for a rookie. Dobbins only played on 45% of the team’s offensive snaps this season. The Ravens mistakenly decided to give Mark Ingram more touches at the beginning of the season. After their bye week, Dobbins took over as the lead back and scored a touchdown in six straight games, obliterating the Bengals to the tune of 160 yards and two touchdowns. His only knock is his involvement in the passing game. Dobbins, Ingram, Edwards, and Justice Hill combined for only 41 targets for the entire season. Although Dobbins will be the lead back next season, his upside might be capped slightly due to sharing carries with Lamar and Gus Edwards and the low volume in the passing game.
4. D’Andre Swift
(114 rushing attempts, 521 rushing yards, eight touchdowns, 57 targets, 46 receptions, 357 receiving yards, five touchdowns, RB18 in 2020)
Swift’s 2020 campaign came with ups and downs. Lions were hell-bent on giving aging Adrian Peterson 10+ carries a game, along with goal-line opportunities. At least, this was the case before their bye week. After the bye, Swift took over and didn’t look back. Peterson continued to share carries, but even he saw the writing on the wall. Swift broke out when he rushed for 116 yards and two touchdowns against the Jaguars. He is an elite pass catcher and a smooth runner who can make people miss. Lions will be featuring Swift as their workhorse next season. Still, there are concerns on just how effective the offense will be with Stafford’s departure.
5. James Robinson
(240 rushing attempts, 1,070 rushing yards, seven touchdowns, 60 targets, 49 receptions, 344 receiving yards, three touchdowns, RB7 in 2020)
Talk about a great story. James Robinson was undrafted as a rookie and wasn’t on any watch lists at the beginning of the season. From the start of the season to the end, no rookie was more consistent than Robinson. He received the majority of the touches and did the most with those opportunities. He finished top 10 in rushing attempts, rushing yards, yards per game, scrimmage yards, and touches. He’s going to be a big name to discuss this off-season. He’s very talented, but he broke down as the season wore on. That leads me to believe the Jags will draft a day 3 RB to help share the workload. If they don’t draft an RB, Robinson is a locked-in top 10 Running back with Trevor Lawrence coming to town.
6. Cam Akers
(145 rushing attempts, 625 rushing yards, two touchdowns, 14 targets, 11 receptions, 123 receiving yards, one touchdown, RB45 in 2020)
At first glance, Akers’s rookie season doesn’t look like anything special. He was involved in a timeshare with Darrell Henderson and Malcolm Brown for the majority of the season. However, Akers did flash when given workhorse volume. He rushed for 179 yards against the Patriots in Week 13. In the playoffs, that’s where Akers’s upside flashed as he amassed 221 rushing yards on 46 attempts (4.8 Y/A) and two touchdowns. That is the Cam Akers that I believe will show up in his sophomore season. He’s a top 15 dynasty RB for me.
7. Antonio Gibson
(170 rushing attempts, 795 rushing yards, 11 touchdowns, 44 targets, 36 receptions, 247 receiving yards, RB13 in 2020)
Gibson proved the doubters wrong during his rookie season. The majority of analysts were worried about Gibson not handling a full workload and minimal touches during his college career. Safe to say, he can. From Weeks 7-11, Gibson rushed for 402 yards and eight touchdowns. Although Gibson flashed in the passing game, J.D McKissic was primarily used as the 3rd down back, which might cap some of Gibson’s upside. Either way, he is a great talent and has sneaky upside in his 2nd season.
Best of the Rest: RBs:
AJ Dillon – flashed in the playoffs, and Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams are both free agents. I believe Jones walks, and they resign Williams. Dillon will be the lead back next season, with Williams coming in on passing downs.
Ke’ Shawn Vaughn – Vaughn didn’t receive much of a workload with Ronald Jones and Leonard Fournette ahead of him. Vaughn still profiles as a workhorse but needs an opportunity to show Bruce Arians.
Zach Moss – Moss is a JAG. I wasn’t impressed with him, and he will most likely stay as a timeshare back.
Joshua Kelley – Kelley was not very impressive during his rookie campaign and was often outplayed and out-produced by Justin Jackson when Austin Ekeler was out with injury. He’s still a raw prospect but shouldn’t be on fantasy radars in 2021.
Here are my Dynasty rankings for these Running Backs.
1. Jonathan Taylor – RB2
2. Clyde Edwards-Helaire – RB8
3. D’Andre Swift – RB10
4. Cam Akers – RB11
5. J.K Dobbins – RB12
6. James Robinson (pending free agency) – RB14
7. Antonio Gibson – RB15
8. AJ Dillon (if Jones leaves, he will move up) – RB24
9. Joshua Kelley – RB45
10. Ke’Shawn Vaughn – RB46
11. Zach Moss – RB50
Connor Rigg – @conbon45
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