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NFL Combine Prospect Preview: Running Back

The Falcons could have a significant need at RB in the 2020 NFL Draft, particularly if the team elects to move on from Devonta Freeman. We take a closer look at some of the top RBs participating in the 2020 NFL Combine.

NFL Combine - Day 2 Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

The NFL Combine officially kicks off on February 24, and all eyes will be on Indianapolis to see which draft prospects are able help or hurt their stock with their performance. We’ve already covered the wide receivers and tight ends. Next up will be the running backs and offensive linemen, who will participate in on-field workouts on Friday, February 28.

To prepare everyone for the flurry of activity that is the NFL Combine, I am back to once again provide you with my Combine Prospect Previews—brief summaries of some of my favorite prospects in each position group. These are players who I believe the Falcons will be most interested in come draft day. Hopefully, these names will give you a little bit of guidance about who to watch when the players hit the field.

If you missed any of the other prospect previews, you can find them below:

WR | TE | RB | C/G | EDGE | DT | LB | CB | S

For added context, I’ll be incorporating player rankings from The Draft Network. This way you can have a general idea of where a current consensus of scouts ranks a particular player. Today we move on to the RB position, where the Falcons may have a pretty significant need—particularly if the team elects to part ways with Devonta Freeman, as has been reported.

Cam Akers, FSU

5’11, 212 | 231 carries, 1144 yards, 5.0 avg, 14 TD | 30 receptions, 225 yards, 7.5 avg, 4 TD

TDN Prospect Rank: 52 (2nd Round)

I have a feeling that the Falcons will most likely target a RB late on Day 2 or early on Day 3. There are a lot of good RBs in this class, and that paired with the devaluation of the position in today’s NFL means that some good prospects are going to fall. One of those prospects who could be an option in that pick range is FSU’s Cam Akers, who I mocked to the Falcons in the 4th round of my most recent mock draft:

Akers is a well-rounded RB with excellent athleticism and size (5’11, 212) who languished behind an awful OL at Florida State. He pairs his speed and agility with a physical running style that makes him an option at all areas of the field. Akers has never gotten significant work as a receiver, and his pass protection skills are lackluster to say the least. However, getting an RB with his physical traits this late in the draft would be a steal. Akers might be an early-down specialist in his rookie season, but has all the potential to develop into a three-down feature back in time.

Eno Benjamin, Arizona State

5’9, 195 | 253 carries, 1083 yards, 4.3 avg, 10 TD | 42 receptions, 347 yards, 2 TD

TDN Prospect Rank: 71 (3rd Round)

At this point, with the Falcons retaining Dirk Koetter, I honestly have no idea what type of RB they’d most prefer. My gut tells me to continue mocking them athletic, zone-scheme guys, but after the team’s selection of Qadree Ollison in 2019, I honestly don’t know. What I do know, however, is that Arizona State’s Eno Benjamin is a good, well-rounded RB prospect who can survive in either scheme—although he might be best suited to gap/power runs early in his career.

Benjamin’s running style doesn’t feature electric athleticism or blazing long speed, but it does feature excellent vision, instincts, and short-area quickness. He’s a savvy runner who rarely makes bad decisions and consistently finds ways to get positive yardage. While Benjamin isn’t a plus receiver, he’s a functional one and can produce on short routes and in pass protection. I don’t see Benjamin as a feature back, but he can be the primary runner in a committee and has scheme-diverse traits should the Falcons...ahem...change schemes in 2021.

J.K. Dobbins, Ohio State

5’10, 217 | 301 carries, 2003 yards, 6.7 avg, 21 TD | 23 receptions, 247 yards, 10.7 avg, 2 TD

TDN Prospect Rank: 22 (1st Round)

The 2020 draft class has an abundance of top-end RB talent, even after Clemson’s Travis Etienne elected to return to school. One of those future RB1s is Ohio State’s J.K. Dobbins, who is in close contention for the top spot with Georgia’s D’Andre Swift and Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor. Frankly, you could argue for any of those guys to be the top choice, and I wouldn’t fight you. Dobbins might have the best vision and decision-making ability of any runner in the class, and he pairs it with excellent change-of-direction ability and contact balance.

His footwork is fantastic and it allows him to make crazy cuts when needed. Dobbins wasn’t used extensively as a receiver, but he was very effective when targeted with a strong 10.7 YPR. He’s not necessarily a home-run hitter and won’t blow you away with off-the-charts athleticism, but he makes up for it with his outstanding football IQ. My one main gripe with Dobbins is his pass protection, which was consistently sub-par. He’ll need to fix that to truly seize a 3-down role, but I’m confident that he can. The only issue here is that Dobbins will likely cost the Falcons a Round 2 pick, which is pricey considering the team’s other needs.

Clyde Edwards-Helaire, LSU

5’8, 209 | 215 carries, 1414 yards, 6.6 avg, 16 TD | 55 receptions, 453 yards, 8.2 avg, 1 TD

TDN Prospect Rank: 40 (2nd Round)

A prospect who benefited greatly from LSU’s dominant 2019 season, Clyde Edwards-Helaire seized the opportunity and made a big name for himself with a strong performance in the College Football Playoff. Edwards-Helaire is a scheme-versatile, well-rounded RB with feature-back upside at the NFL level. His 5’8, 209 build is just about perfect for the position, and his low center-of-gravity and excellent contact balance make him very difficult to bring down.

Edwards-Helaire is a smooth mover who is capable of making fluid, easy cuts in the open field. His change-of-direction skills are his best athletic trait, and when paired with his physicality can make him a very effective short-yardage option. Edwards-Helaire was a consistent contributor in the receiving game who is more than capable of handling third down duties. He needs polish in pass protection, but he’s got the strength and want-to to find success here early on. Edwards-Helaire’s stock has been fairly volatile thus far, but I believe the Falcons would have a decent chance at selecting him with their third round pick.

Antonio Gibson, Memphis

6’1, 223 | 33 carries, 369 yards, 11.2 avg, 4 TD | 38 receptions, 735 yards, 19.3 avg, 8 TD

TDN Prospect Rank: 177 (6th Round)

If the Falcons don’t elect to part ways with Devonta Freeman, or simply decide to wait until later in the draft to add to the RB position, Memphis’ Antonio Gibson could be an intriguing addition on Day 3. I had Atlanta selecting Gibson in the 7th round of my Senior Bowl mock draft, and here’s how I described his skillset:

Antonio Gibson actually reminds me a little of 2019 sixth-rounder Marcus Green, but with much better size and a higher level of competition. At 6’1, 223, Gibson has the frame of a workhorse back, but that’s not how he was deployed at Memphis. Instead, Gibson was used as a hybrid RB/WR and also as a very good kickoff returner. His athleticism immediately jumps off the tape, and his stats back it up: he averaged 19.3 yards per reception (along with 8 TDs) and 11.2 yards per carry (along with 4 TDs). Gibson doesn’t fit neatly into either position—he’s underdeveloped as a route runner, and runs upright on his carries—but he can be a dangerous complementary piece for a creative offensive coordinator.

Anthony McFarland, Maryland

5’9, 198 | 114 carries, 614 yards, 5.4 avg, 8 TD | 17 receptions, 126 yards, 7.4 avg, 1 TD

TDN Prospect Rank: 119 (4th Round)

If the Falcons do elect to move on from Devonta Freeman but don’t want to spend a premium pick on his replacement, they could target a potential committee back to complement Ito Smith and Qadree Ollison. What they’re missing from those two players is an electric athlete with home-run hitting potential, and that’s exactly what the Falcons would get from Maryland’s Anthony McFarland.

McFarland could easily test out as the fastest RB at the 2020 NFL Combine, and it’s evident when you watch his tape. If he can get into the open field, McFarland is an explosive play waiting to happen. He’s elusive and has good vision to go along with it, which makes him more than just a “hit it and go” runner. McFarland doesn’t shy away from contact, but his small stature limits his usefulness in short yardage. He also wasn’t utilized as much as a receiver as you’d like to see for a player with his athletic profile. If the Falcons can further develop his pass catching and deploy him effectively as part of a committee, McFarland could be a low-cost—a mid-Day 3 pick, most likely—addition to add some juice to the backfield.

Zack Moss, Utah

5’10, 222 | 235 carries, 1416 yards, 6.0 avg, 15 TD | 28 receptions, 388 yards, 13.9 avg, 2 TD

TDN Prospect Rank: 61 (2nd Round)

One of the clear second-tier RBs in this class—with players like Cam Akers, Eno Benjamin, and Clyde Edwards-Helaire—Utah’s Zack Moss is without a doubt the most physically imposing of the bunch. He has just about a perfect build for a short-yardage bruiser—isn’t too tall at 5’10, and has just the right amount of mass at 222. Moss brings elite contact balance and physicality to the position, and is capable of generating a ton of broken tackles with his power.

For a player who makes his mark with power, Moss is surprisingly agile. He’s capable of making smooth, sudden cuts despite his bigger size. Moss is also a very good receiver who averaged an excellent 13.9 YPR on 28 receptions in 2019. Athletically, Moss is about average—he’s got more than enough to succeed at the NFL level, but isn’t going to win any foot races and lacks plus explosiveness. There are some notable injury concerns, as Moss has dealt with a variety of ailments over the past few years and has a lot of wear and tear with 179+ carries in each of the last three seasons. I like Moss’ versatility and receiving ability, but I’m not sure if the Falcons will want to invest in another power back with Qadree Ollison already on the roster.

Lamical Perine, Florida

5’11, 211 | 132 carries, 676 yards, 5.1 avg | 40 receptions, 262 yards, 6.6 avg, 5 TD

TDN Prospect Rank: 130 (5th Round)

The Falcons may want to improve the RB position, but their abundance of other (arguably greater) needs may push that selection down the board until later on Day 3. There are still quality options available at the point in the draft, however, like Florida RB Lamical Perine. Perine never had an incredibly productive season at Florida, but showcased a much more productive receiving game and all-around skillset during his 2019 season.

Perine isn’t an overly flashy runner, but he makes up for it by making good decisions and reading his blocks well. He dropped weight in 2019 and that appeared to help his overall skillset, although he’s not an overly physical player. Perine is a jack-of-all-trades runner who can give you something in any situation, but who doesn’t have a ton of upside in any one area. If the Falcons are looking for quality RB depth and a player who can step in and produce at a solid level early on, Perine could fit. His late-Day 3 price tag could make him an interesting fallback option should Atlanta miss on their earlier targets.

D’Andre Swift, Georgia

5’9, 215 | 196 carries, 1218 yards, 6.2 avg, 7 TD | 24 receptions, 216 yards, 9.0 avg, 1 TD

TDN Prospect Rank: 21 (1st Round)

A favorite of many Falcons fans due to his time at Georgia, D’Andre Swift is the top RB for many analysts in the 2020 class. It’s easy to see why: Swift has been consistently productive, has excellent vision, high-end athletic traits, and quality power. Swift can and has done it all at Georgia, and doesn’t have nearly the same wear-and-tear as some top RBs due to the school’s abundance of top RB talent over the years.

Swift’s burst really is impressive, but he doesn’t have elite top-end speed to hit the home run. That doesn’t matter so much when he’s capable of quickly getting 10-20 yards before being brought down, but it’s important to mention. I like Swift’s projection a lot more as a zone-scheme runner than a gap/power player, but he has good enough contact balance and power to make it work either way. Despite not receiving a ton of targets, Swift has all the tools to become a high-end receiver out of the backfield at the NFL level and is a solid pass protector. Swift profiles as a feature back at the NFL level, but Atlanta would likely need to spend their earlier second-round pick to add him.

Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin

5’11, 219 | 320 carries, 2003 yards, 6.3 avg, 21 TD | 26 receptions, 252 yards, 9.7 avg, 5 TD

TDN Prospect Rank: 29 (1st Round)

If the Falcons are truly committed to making a transition back to a gap/power running scheme, there’s no better option in this class than Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor. Taylor is an absolute monster as a runner, with incredible strength, power, and contact balance. He’s extremely hard to take down, and pairs that with downright elite long speed. If Taylor gets into the open field, defensive backs will have a very difficult time getting him on the ground.

He’s been incredibly productive in college and it’s easy to see why. Taylor reads the field well and makes good decisions with the ball in his hands. His change-of-direction ability is solid but unspectacular, making him much more of a “cut-and-go” style runner. The questions with Taylor start with his wear-and-tear: he’s taken 300+ touches for the past three seasons. While he’s functional as a receiver, he doesn’t have much experience there and needs development to grow into a true 3-down threat. If Atlanta is willing to commit to a scheme change on the offensive line, Taylor could be a fit—if they’re also willing to give up a Round 2 pick to add him.

What are your thoughts on the RB class at the 2020 NFL Combine? Do you think the Falcons will move on from Devonta Freeman? If so, which RB would you like to see the team add in the draft?