While there still may be one game left to play in the 2019 NFL Season, #DraftSZN is already at full tilt. 30 of the 32 NFL Franchises have been granted their spot in the draft, and the Cincinnati Bengals have already been “On the Clock” for nearly a month. It won’t be long at all before we’re discussing the NFL Combine, Free Agency, and even Pro Days.
However, one of these important landmarks has already passed us by. January 20th was the deadline for any Underclass CFB players to forego their remaining eligibility and declare their intentions to enter the 2020 NFL Draft. While the 2020 class has long been speculated to be one of the strongest in recent memory, some big names have decided to defer their chance at fame and fortune, leaving many of us wondering what could have been.
Of the four major Fantasy Football positions (QB, RB, WR, and TE) the running back class was undoubtedly affected the most by several premier prospects deciding to take another year to build up their resumes. Below, I’ll be breaking down the underclassmen running backs that I can’t wait to see take the NFL field in 2020, and the returning players who will wait and try their luck in 2021.
Going to the Draft
Jonathan Taylor – Wisconsin
Taylor’s decision to enter the 2020 NFL Draft is the final punctuation on one of the greatest careers by a Running Back in CFB history. The Wisconsin bellcow gained over 6000 yards and 50 touchdowns during his time as a Badger, finishing every year in the Top 10 of Heisman voting. While he never got close to the 2587 rushing yards that Melvin Gordon recorded in 2014 (2nd most ever in a season behind Barry Sander’s 2628 in 1998), I’d argue that Taylor’s prolonged elite production is even more impressive. While none of these backs are currently projected to be drafted in round 1, Taylor could easily find himself in that discussion with an outstanding combine performance.
Coming Back To School
Travis Etienne – Clemson
Travis Etienne has been a staple of Clemson’s prolific offense for the past two seasons, and Tigers fans have to be ecstatic that he’s decided to return to the school for one last ride alongside future number one pick, Trevor Lawrence. On the other hand, for NFL teams needing a running back, this takes an elite option off the board. Along with Taylor, Dobbins and Swift, Etienne was one of the few Running Backs who could have been poised for a Day 1 selection in the 2020 Draft. Even in the worst-case scenario, he more than likely would not have been on the board past Day 2. While the decision to return to school comes with a lot of risk, the 2021 class of Running Backs is definitely less crowded than the 2020 crop of runners. Etienne definitely projects as the early favorite to be the first back selected in 2021.
Entering the Draft
D’ Andre Swift
While Jonathan Taylor has the statistical prowess that leaves all the panties in the math club wet with excitement, D’Andre Swift is definitely the runner with the most hype surrounding him entering the draft. Georgia is a school that has become synonymous with elite running back talent thanks to the draft position and success of previous players like Todd Gurley, Nick Chubb, and Sony Michel. Swift definitely fits that mold. His well-rounded mix of power and quickness will fit in a lot of NFL schemes, and he’s more than proven that he’s got the receiving ability to be a true 3 down threat. Fantasy owners will need to take notice. Much like Josh Jacobs in 2019, Swift could find his number getting called early and often in 2020.
Returning to School
Najee Harris – Alabama
Much like Georgia, Alabama also has a rich history of breeding NFL caliber running backs. In 2019, Derrick Henry won the rushing title, Josh Jacobs made a strong case for Rookie of the Year honors, and Mark Ingram was instrumental in the Ravens success. Najee Harris is the next man up for Alabama, and his skillset does not disappoint. Harris is an absolutely lethal combo of speed, power and agility. Along with his physical gifts, Harris also brings a subtle patience and outstanding vision to the table. Unfortunately, he’ll be taking his talents back to Tuscaloosa for one more round with the Crimson Tide, but it’s probably the right call. It’s very easy to envision a scenario where Harris would have gotten lost amongst the talent of the 2020 class. He’ll stand taller among the 2021 class.
Entering the Draft
Cam Akers – FSU
Cam Akers is a name that seems too often get lost in the shuffle when people discuss the best of this class, but that might be a mistake. Unlike Dobbins, Etienne and Harris, Akers was not fortunate enough to play with a premier QB talent. His statistics certainly don’t leap off the page, but Akers is a former 5-star recruit. He had his fair share of standout performances, but often struggled against top competition (34, 21 and 59 all-purpose yards in three games vs. Clemson, 0 TDs). Whether blame for that should be placed in his lap or attributed to the weak play of FSU as a whole will be a hotly debated topic in the months to come. All in all, Akers has certainly put enough of his incredible talents on display to entice NFL evaluators. A strong combine performance could catapult him above some of the more popular names on this list.
Returning to School
Chuba Hubbard – Oklahoma St.
The Canadian Cowboy emerged from relative nothingness to lead college football in rushing yardage in 2019. Chuba Hubbard played in 13 games and managed to gain over 100 yards in 12 of them. On top of that, he registered 4 games with over 200 yards and a season high of 296 yards vs. Kansas State. Hubbard may have been wise to literally cash in on his impressive 2019, but instead he’ll hang in for another year with Oklahoma State. He’ll need to improve his receiving chops and maintain his impressive production if he hopes to raise his draft stock over Harris or Etienne in 2021.
Entering the Draft
J.K. Dobbins – Ohio St.
Ohio State may have lost to Clemson in the first round of the CFB Playoff, but the biggest winner of that game was undoubtedly the draft stock of Sir J.K. Dobbins. Against one of the best defenses in the nation, Dobbins balled out for 221 total yards and a touchdown. A cherry on top of a season that saw him run for 2003 yards and 21 visits to the endzone. Dobbins runs fast, hard and without fear. Pair that with his underrated receiving ability, and Dobbins has the look of a player who will provide a big boost to somebody’s running game next season. Will all this be enough to get him drafted over Taylor and Swift? Time will tell, but right now the winds of fortune are blowing in Dobbins’ direction.
90 days until the NFL Draft, and there’s so much more ground to cover. For more of my NFL Draft observations and musings, be sure to follow me on twitter @JetSetDynasty. You can also check out JetSetDynasty.com to listen to my podcast, and check out all the free resources in our Fantasy Football dedicated Scouting Department.