The "The Triple Take" now moves into the offensive backfield. In our second installment of this draft prospect preview by position, the Steelers Radio Network trio of Matt Williamson, Dale Lolley and Mike Prisuta give their takes on the top prospects at the running back position. If you want to hear the audio version of "The Triple Take" click here.
Matt's Takes ...
Matt Williamson: This is a very interesting group of running back prospects. There isn't one guy that stands alone at the top of the class as a no-brainer first round pick. Instead, there is a tier of five players, with varied skillsets and attributes, that make up this year's top group of running backs. With those five, it really comes down to scheme, situation and what each team might be looking for. It is vanilla vs. chocolate vs. rocky road. All are delicious, but what flavor are you most in the mood for? After those five, there is another tier or two running backs and then a slew of contributor types after the top seven. Knowing which of these guys to pick won't be easy, but there is a little of something for everyone in this year's running back group.
#10 - Antonio Gibson, Memphis (6-0, 228 lbs.) - This might be cheating a little bit, as Gibson just as easily could have been listed as a wide receiver. Is he a wide out or a running back? Maybe he is both. He also could end up being neither, as Gibson is quite raw at both positions. But for now, he is an offensive weapon with a big strong body and great speed. Just get him the ball. When he was given a chance at the college level, Gibson consistently made big plays no matter how he was used. He is highly explosive.
#9 - Ke'shawn Vaughn, Vanderbilt (5-10, 214 lbs.) - Like Kelly, there are not massive glaring negatives with Vaughn. He is well built and runs with an attitude. Vaughn is best as a zone runner, where he can pick his hole, stick his foot in the ground and accelerate downhill with vigor while flashing the ability to run away from tacklers. Vaughn consistently does his job and has a very professional style to his game which will endear him to coaches at the next level. Kelly and Vaughn might make up their own third tier of "Strong contributors", but not feature backs.
#8 - Joshua Kelley, UCLA (5-11, 212 lbs.) - Kelly isn't flashy, but over the last two years at UCLA and carried over to the Senior Bowl, he has been consistent and productive. He doesn't excel in one particular area, but it is also difficult to find negatives to what Kelly brings to the table. He does have more juice than usually given credit for and projects to be a fine piece of any NFL running game.
#7 - A.J. Dillon, Boston College (6-0, 247 lbs.) - Dillon is a true throwback that might head this list if this were 1985. He is very big and very fast. Dillon handles a massive workload and gets better as the game goes on but isn't quite the pile mover you might expect. But the key here is that Dillon isn't just a straight-ahead downhill banger. He has very good feet for a man his size. Boston College barely used him as a receiver, so that doesn't help his profile.
#6 - Zack Moss, Utah (5-9, 223 lbs.) - What really stands out with Moss is his amazing contact balance. There isn't a more difficult runner to get to the ground in this class than Moss. But while Moss isn't going to take many runs the distance, he changes directions abruptly for someone with his kind of power. Moss might also be the best blocker of this group. There is a lot of nastiness to his game.
#5 - Clyde Edwards-Helaire, LSU (5-7, 207 lbs.) - Again, by no means is this a knock against Edwards-Helaire. But someone had to end up in the fifth spot in a top tier of five backs. Boy is this guy fun to watch. Edwards-Helaire plays the game with obvious passion and brings an electricity to his offense every time he steps on the field. He isn't a home run hitter but has amazing foot frequency and make-you-miss ability. In terms of route runners, Edwards-Helaire might top this class and linebackers are going to hate dealing with him in this capacity at the NFL level, but pass protection isn't his strong suit because of his build.
#4 - Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin (5-10, 226 lbs.) - In terms of just traditionally handing the ball to a guy and letting him run, Taylor would top this list. He is very powerful, fast and consistently shows subtle nuanced moves to create space for himself. The biggest concern with this workhorse is Taylor's fumbling and it is a real problem. Taylor is also very underdeveloped in the passing game. There is no reason to think that he won't be a decent catcher of the football, but that wasn't tapped into much at Wisconsin. Taylor also has a lot of work to do in pass protection.
#3 - D'andre Swift, Georgia (5-8, 212 lbs.) - Swift might have the best feet in this group and moves like a much smaller player. He sets up defenders very well. It is tough for tacklers to get a square shot on Swift. Swift is a very natural catcher of the football and often makes hauling in poor throws look easy. Although he ran very well at the Combine, Swift isn't a true burner on the field. But there should be a lot of chunk runs in his future at the NFL level.
#2 - Cam Akers, Florida State (5-10, 217 lbs.) - This sounds like an overstatement, but Akers offensive line and blocking were about as bad you will ever see at a major college program. What if Akers played at Ohio State and Dobbins was forced to create as much on his own as Akers dealt with at Florida State? Would their rankings be the same? We will never know, but we do know that Akers shows fantastic balance, power and overall ability for the position. Akers also happens to be an outstanding blocker, which speaks to his competitiveness and strong desire to do all the little things to be great. A quarterback-turned-running back, the best might be ahead for Akers.
#1 - J.K. Dobbins, Ohio State (5-9, 209 lbs.) - Again, this is by the narrowest of margins and a true case for any of the top five can be made for the overall top slot. Dobbins does it all. He basically gets a B+ or better in every major category for the running back position. Inside running. Outside running. Receiving. Athletic ability. His vision and cuts are superb and he can string together moves, but Dobbins is also powerful and compact. There is an awful lot to like here.'
Dale's Takes ...
Dale Lolley: While there are no true sure stars at the running back position this year, there are a number of players who can step in and play right away. And there's some depth there, as well. The running backs probably won't start coming off the board until around pick 25, but there could be five or six selected in the first 60 or so picks, who have the talent to be feature backs. Beyond that, there are some rotation backs available who can step in and help a team.
#10 - Ke'shawn Vaughn, Vanderbilt (5-10, 214 lbs.) - Has good size and toughness but struggles with his vision to find holes that aren't obvious.
#9 - Joshua Kelley, UCLA (5-11, 212 lbs.) - Physical runner despite lacking in great size. Kelley also catches the ball well. Probably best suited to be in a timeshare because of his style.
#8 - Darrynton Evans, Appalachian State (5-10, 203 lbs.) - Despite his smallish size, Evans is a tough inside runner with some game-breaking ability. Had 78 yards and three touchdowns on 19 carries against North Carolina last season.
#7 - A.J. Dillon, Boston College (6-0, 247 lbs.) - A rocked up runner with surprising speed, Dillon doesn't play quite as physically as you'd expect for a runner of his size.
#6 - Zack Moss, Utah (5-9, 223 lbs.) - A powerful runner with great contact balance and the ability to catch the ball. The only knock against him is his lack of breakaway speed.
#5 - Cam Akers, Florida State (5-10, 217 lbs.) - Solid across the board in all facets of the game, Akers' production was lacking because of poor offensive line play. He could star in the right system.
#4 - Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin (5-10, 226 lbs.) - Strong, fast and productive, but it's hard to overlook his a fumbling issue he had at Wisconsin. That's unlikely to get better in the NFL. He also is not in the same class as a receiver as the three players ahead of him.
#3 - Clyde Edwards-Helaire, LSU (5-7, 207 lbs.) - Despite his lack of height, draws power from his massive legs. The best pass catching back in the draft, Edwards-Helaire has superior ability to make people miss but lacks top-end speed.
#2 - D'andre Swift, Georgia (5-8, 212 lbs.) - Good all-around back but perhaps lacking in any outstanding attribute. Even so, he'll be a longtime starter. Picking between Swift and Dobbins is splitting hairs.
#1 - J.K. Dobbins, Ohio State (5-9, 209 lbs.) - Dobbins has it all in terms of size, speed and ability to make people miss. He didn't run at the NFL Scouting Combine, but the tape shows sub 4.5-speed. Was named the Big Ten's top back last season over Jonathan Taylor.
Mike's Takes ...
Mike Prisuta: Running backs continue to make a comeback.
NFL teams passed entirely on the position in the first rounds of the 2013 and 2014 NFL Drafts. But ever since then, first-round investments have paid dividends thanks to Todd Gurley (2015), Zeke Elliott (2016), Christian McCaffrey (2017) and Saquon Barkley (2018), among others.
The Raiders took Josh Jacobs at No. 24 overall last year out of Alabama. Jacobs responded with an 1,100-yard season (1,150), scored seven rushing touchdowns and averaged 4.8 yards per carry on 242 attempts in 13 games. He also caught 20 passes for an additional 166 yards receiving while confirming once again the immediate impact the right back in the right place at the right time is capable of making.
"We saw it from Josh Jacobs last year," NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah observed during the NFL Scouting Combine. "We're gonna see it from a bunch of backs this year.
"It is absolutely a loaded group. There's not a Zeke Elliott or a Todd Gurley or anybody I anticipate going high up there in the Top 10, but it is deep."
The intriguing candidates in the backfield include:
#10 - Eno Benjamin, Arizona State (5-9, 207 lbs.) - Head coach Herm Edwards is starting to churn them out at ASU. "Give him the ball in a big moment and he'll deliver," Edwards told the NFL Network's Kim Jones at the Combine. NFL Network analyst Maurice Jones-Drew recalled seeing Benjamin attack a cornerback who had approached and flinched a hit a couple of yards deep in the end zone just after Benjamin had scored. "He ran right through his face," Jones-Drew gushed. "When I saw that tape it just brought tears to my eyes. You don't see that as much anymore in college."
#9 - Joshua Kelley, UCLA (5-11, 212 lbs.) - He started at UC-Davis, transferred to UCLA and produced back-to-back 1,000-yard, 12-touchdown seasons, so the arrow is pointing up. It absolutely was at the Senior Bowl (15 carries, 102 yards). "If you watched him practice this week, you saw the specialness he brings to the table," NFL Network analyst Bucky Brooks observed. "That has carried over into the game. We've seen him slip in and out of holes. We've seen him make plays in the passing game. He is really looking like a complete, three-down back."
#8 - Antonio Gibson, Memphis (6-0, 228 lbs.) - He worked out with the wide receivers at the Combine but he played running back in the Senior Bowl, so which is it? "I have him as a running back, too," Jeremiah said. "He's played both. I think a lot of teams have him that way." The success of former Memphis teammate Tony Pollard as a rookie last season bodes well for Gibson's transition, as did the way he ran the ball at the Senior Bowl.
#7 - Cam Akers, Florida State (5-10, 217 lbs.) - His 1,144 rushing yards and 18 scrimmage TDs in 2019 were in part a product of circumstances, in Jeremiah's estimation. "The program at Florida State hasn't been in a good spot, the offensive line hasn't been very good and he got a little bit lost in the shuffle," Jeremiah noted. "But make no mistake this dude is very, very talented." Added Jones-Drew: "When you watch his tape you see the natural running ability he has, setting up his blocks on screens, the patience. He's explosive, tough, they call him D-A-W-G, 'DAWG," one of those kind of guys."
#6 - A.J. Dillon, Boston College (6-0, 247 lbs.) - In the event the success of Derrick Henry has everyone scrambling to find the next runaway cement mixer, Dillon fits the description. His 4.53 in the 40 at the Combine constituted "a great time," in Jeremiah's estimation, given Dillon's size. His not flashy but he's productive after contact. Wanna play tackle?
#5 - Zack Moss, Utah (5-9, 223 lbs.) - The 2019 Pac 12 Offensive Player of the Year Award was the cherry on tp of a Utah career that included the setting of school records with 4,067 rushing yards and 38 rushing touchdowns. Jeremiah's assessment was as blunt as Moss's style: "Zack Moss is not a 40 (-yard dash) guy. Zach Moss is a football player. This dude runs angry." He has NFL bloodlines and, presumably, NFL insider information thanks to cousins Santana and Sinorice Moss.
#4 - J.K. Dobbins, Ohio State (5-9, 209 lbs.) - A wear-you-down type who left Columbus with 725 career carries for 4,469 yards (6.2 per) and 38 rushing touchdowns. He can get to the outside and he can stick it up in there inside and he doesn't shy away. He also doesn't fumble.
#3 - Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin (5-10, 226 lbs.) - Not only has Taylor run for 2,000 yards in back-to-back seasons, he was 23 yards shy of the mark in 2017. He's the only player in FBS history with 6,000-plus rushing yards in three seasons (his career total of 6,174 is second in Big Ten history). And he caught the ball well at the Combine, where he also topped all running backs at 4.39 in the 40.
#2 - Clyde Edwards-Helaire, LSU (5-7, 207 lbs.) - Jeremiah mentioned at the Combine that he'd asked LSU quarterback Joe Burrow to identify the best player he'd played with at LSU or Ohio State. Burrow's response, per Jeremiah, was Edwards-Helaire. His 1,414 rushing yards and 16 rushing touchdowns in 2019 included 103 yards (on 20 carries) and three TDs against Alabama ('Bama surrendered nine rushing touchdowns all season). Edwards-Helaire also caught a scoring pass among his nine receptions for 77 yards against the Crimson Tide.
#1 - D'andre Swift, Georgia (5-8, 212 lbs.) - The 4.48 Swift clocked in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine was faster than Nick Chubb's 4.52 and Sony Michel's 4.54 in 2018. NFL Network analyst Charles Davis considers Swift "maybe the most complete of the group." He was one of three FBS running backs to rush for over 1,200 yards (1,218) on fewer than 200 carries in 2019 (196). That's a 6.2 average per attempt.