There is more NFL Draft coverage than ever because it is really all we currently have in the sports world. More than ever the internet and Twitter are filling up with scouting reports on players. Admittedly, the NFL takes over too much of my life in football season to watch enough college football to scout these players. I do watch film and film breakdowns of all the top prospects, but I have and will always be a numbers guy first and foremost. Due to that, I do a lot of statistical research on players in the draft. That is why I had the idea to give you guys the stats I think you should know about the top prospects! In this half of the series, I will focus on running backs and receivers and will have another edition for you focusing on quarterbacks and tight ends.
Much of a player’s value is determined by where he will ultimately end up. So you may be thinking why do I want to read about these players before knowing where they will be playing? Well, the truth is, the rookies are simply going to be the players you know the least about in drafts. You have seen NFL players play before and know what they can bring to the table. The point of this is to play catchup on the rookies and hopefully, have you knowing a good bit about them and their style of play leading into the draft! The goal right now should be to learn as much about these players as you can so that after they are drafted you already have an idea of what to expect. It will not only help you value the rookies better but know more about how a drafted player may impact those around him. Plus, if nothing else, this will help you look really smart in your group chats or virtual happy hours during the draft!
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2020 NFL Draft: RB and WR
Jonathan Taylor was third in the nation in yards after contact with 1,272 this season. The only back in the draft class with more was James Robinson out of Illinois State. He rushed for over 2,000 yards this season, the second straight year he had done so. Taylor had a knack for finding the end zone, leading the nation with 26 touchdowns. Even better is his TDs increased each season from 13 to 16 to 26. In 2019, 63 percent of his rushing yards came after contact. He also led all backs with a 4.39 40-yard dash time at the 2020 NFL Combine. The biggest knock on Taylor is he comes with a good amount of wear and tear from the college level. He had 926 carries in three college seasons, with his fewest in any season being 299. Taylor is expected to be one of the first two backs off the board. Like with all backs, landing spot is key, but if he falls to say the Chiefs? He will be a second-round fantasy pick, if not a Top 12 pick.
The same can be said for D’Andre Swift, who is Taylor’s most likely competition to be the first running back off the board. Swift’s rushing numbers are not as eye-popping as Taylor’s but he has been more effective in the passing game. He has never had 200 carries in any college season but has eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark in two straight, including topping 1,200 rushing yards in 2019. He recorded 73 catches in three seasons at RB U (Georgia). He did have the privilege of running behind the PFF-rated second-best offensive line in 2019. Due to that, only 699 out of his 1,220 rushing yards came after contact or 57 percent.
Zack Moss led all running backs with 92 missed tackles forced in 2019. Moss is known for his power and the fact that defenders struggled so mightily to bring him down only backs that up. Moss was also third in missed tackles forced per attempt of all college backs with at least 100 carries. He averaged 0.38 missed tackles force per game. Of his 1,412 rushing yards, 1,041 came after contact (74 percent). Being a power back, I do worry about his longevity in the NFL (something to consider for those in dynasty leagues) but I do think he can make an instant impact if he falls to the right team. Speed is a question as he ran a 4.65 40-yard at the 2020 NFL Combine. However, he said he suffered a mild hamstring injury at the combine and still ran. He has since run a 4.52.
Of the higher-end prospect backs in this class, Joshua Kelley (176), Cam Akers (154), Eno Benjamin (149), J.K. Dobbins (146) and Zack Moss (142) had the most carries in an inside zone. Why is that important? In 2019, 28 percent of the running plays called in the NFL where from the inside zone. The Texans, Bengals, Seahawks, and Giants each ran the inside zone on 46 percent of their rushing plays in 2019, all tying for the lead league. The Eagles (44 percent) and Bears (42 percent) were the other teams to top the 40 percent threshold.
One back who thrived in the inside zone was LSU’s Clyde Edwards-Helaire. He rushed for 935 yards in the inside zone, the fourth most of draft-eligible backs. He also received a 90.5 rushing grade while operating in the inside zone, the second best. He averaged 0.33 missed tackles forced per carry. Edwards-Helaire is one of my favorite backs in this class. He has drawn comps to Maurice Jones-Drew, Devonta Freeman and Austin Ekeler, all backs that I have been advocates for in fantasy. CEH is the best pass-catching back in this draft and can make an immediate impact for whichever team drafts him. The two knocks on him are his size and his speed. He only ran a 4.60 40-yard dash at the combine. As for his size, he is 5’7 and 207 pounds, so he is short, not small. Which is fine for a running back.
Edwards-Helaire dominated this class in the receiving game this season. He played 439 receiving snaps this season, nearly 100 more than any other back. He led this class with 65 targets, 55 catches, 453 receiving yards, and in yards after contact with 432. What I like even more about Edwards-Helaire is that he is simply a playmaker. Oh his 55 catches, 26 went for first downs, the most in the class.
Another is Akers, who is a very polarizing player in this year’s draft. Akers has never put-up eye-popping numbers in college. In fact, his 1,144 rushing yards, 14 TD, 30 catches, 225 receiving yards and four receiving touchdowns in 2019 were all career highs. But he was also running behind a brutal offensive line at FSU. In fact, PFF rated FSU’s o-line the 129th best in the nation… out of 130 schools. Only Georgia Tech rated worse. So it is no surprise that 79 percent of Cam Akers rushing yards cam after contact (903). Akers showed impressive speed, running a 4.47 40-yard dash at the combine and averaged 0.33 missed tackles forced per attempt. He is a promising prospect who can lead a backfield if he falls into the right fit.
Outside zone runs are far less frequent in the college game. Darrynton Evans led all draft-eligible backs with 138 outside zone attempts. J.K. Dobbins was next with 101. Of the bigger named backs, Taylor had 62 attempts, while Swift had just 41. The Vikings (48 percent) ran the outside zone the most in 2019. The Raiders (43 percent), Titans (40 percent), Rams (36 percent), Browns (35 percent), Niners (33 percent) Packers (30 percent) and Chiefs (30 percent) were the other NFL teams to reach the 30 percent threshold.
Evans (33) and Dobbins (32) led all draft-eligible backs in missed tackles forced while running in the outside zone. Evans was second amongst backs at the combine, with a 4.41 40-yard dash time. Dobbins did not participate.
Antonio Gibson is another name to know. He is the opposite of what Jalen Hurd was last draft class. Gibson was a WR in college and is making the shift to running back. He is 6’0 and 228 pounds and ran a 4.39 40 at the combine. He is raw, but there is a lot of upside here.
Some other Missed Tackles Forced Per Attempt leaders to know… Ke’Shawn Vaughn (0.28), Taylor (0.27), A.J. Dillion (0.26), Anthony McFarland (0.25), Eno Benjamin (0.25), J.K. Dobbins (0.24) and Swift (0.20).
Some other 40-yard dash times to know… Evans (4.41), Anthony McFarland (4.44), Swift (4.48), Vaughn (4.51), and Dillon (4.53).
Some percent of rushing yards that came after contact leaders to know… Benjamin (69 percent), Dillon (65 percent), Edwards-Helaire (55 percent), McFarland (51 percent), Evans (51%) and Lynn Bowden Jr. (48 percent).
CeeDee Lamb and Jerry Jeudy are the top of this receiver class and I am not going to dispute that at all. The two are the 1A and 1B of this class, but this is the deepest class since the now legendary 2014 wide receiver class. There may be five or six wideouts going in the first two rounds and plenty more in the second and third. This receiving class is sure to shake things up around the league
Missed tackles forced is a stat you usually hear more for running backs, but it can highlight how dangerous a wideout is with the ball in their hands after the catch. Lamb this season had 27 missed tackles forced, the second-most among all draft-eligible receivers. And that is a staple in Lamb’s game. He is not the polished route runner that Jeudy is, but he is the most dangerous weapon after the catch in this class. He has drawn comps to DeAndre Hopkins, Chad Johnson and Davante Adams for a reason. The only receiver with more missed tackles forced was Jauan Jennings with 30. Lamb put up a ridiculous 21.4 yards per reception in 2019 and has averaged at least 17.5 yards per catch in each of his three collegiate seasons. Lamb works best from the outside, but he saw his fair share of opportunity in the slot. Last season, he ran 183 routes from the slot and 503 out wide. Most of that was done on the left side (443) of the field. While Lamb wasn’t used a whole lot out of the slot, he did average 6.11 yards per slot route ran, which nearly led all draft-eligible receivers. PFF gave Lamb a 90.3 receiving grade and a 69.5 for his run blocking. He will undoubtedly be a top-two receiver off the board and will certainly be fantasy relevant this season.
Jeudy is an elite route runner. The best part is that he can be used all over the field. Last year he ran 334 routes from the slot and 280 out wide. Of those routes out wide, he ran 116 on the left side and 164 on the right. Jeudy averaged a very impressive 3.4 yards per slot route ran last year. That versatility will allow whichever team that drafts him to comfortable move him all over the field and hopefully they will do so to exploit mismatches. His yardage and touchdown took a hit in 2019, but that was largely due to the fact that Tua Tagovailoa missed time due to a dislocated hip. Still, he was good for over 1,100 yards and at least 10 touchdowns in two straight seasons. Jeudy received a receiving grade of 86.8 from PFF, while his run blocking was rated 70.6. Jeudy may not have the raw athletic upside of Lamb, but he is well polished and can make an impact from day one. His route running ability paired up with his physical build reminds me a lot of Stefon Diggs.
Justin Jefferson has all the tools to become a WR1 in the NFL. He has the size at 6-foot-one and 202 pounds. He has the speed, evident by his 4.43 40-yard dash at the combine. He led the nation with 11 grabs in 2019. Jefferson also led all draft-eligible receivers with 39 plays of 15+ yards. Playing with Joe Burrow in the LSU offense didn’t hurt, but Jefferson deserves his due. He caught 93 percent of the passes thrown his way that were deemed catchable. That is impressive for any receiver, but especially for an SEC one. Even more impressive is that he had a 86 percent rate on contested passes. That by far led all draft-eligible receivers with a minimum of 100 targets. In fact, no other receiver was over 71 percent. PFF gave him a WR rating of 144.6, the highest in this class. Jefferson was one of the most productive receivers in the country last year, racking in 111 catches for 1,540 yards and 18 touchdowns last year. He has the size and skill to be a top receiver at the NFL level. He is a first-round lock and for me would fall third in this class behind the top two.
Henry Ruggs III is widely viewed as the third-best receiver prospect in this class. Ruggs possesses blazing speed and it is easy to see why some fall for his field-stretching ability. He ran a 4.27 40 at the combine, by far the fastest of all receivers. No other receiver was below 4.35 to put it into perspective. That physical ability never translated to much production in college. He has never had 50 catches or 750 receiving yards in any season. To be fair, he did have to play without Tagovailoa for part of last season and that long ball success wasn’t there with the backups. He also had to play second fiddle to Jeudy. But who is to say he won’t be the second option (at best) on his new team? That is only part of the reason why I am not as sold on Ruggs as others. Nothing against his physical ability, but I think his style of play is reliant on QB play and coaching schemes. The player comps often thrown around for Ruggs are Tyreek Hill, Ted Ginn Jr., and Desean Jackson. All smaller, burners who have had NFL success. But, let’s not act like Hill did not fall into the absolute best scenario possible. He has Patrick Mahomes, Andy Reid, and Travis Kelce, who can act like a prototypical receiver. Ginn bounced around the league before finding his footing and DJax has been great when healthy. But Ruggs weighed in at 188 pounds at the combine and there is a very short list of receivers under 190 pounds who have had fantasy success in recent years. Hill, Brandin Cooks, John Brown, T.Y. Hilton, and Antonio Brown are ones who have done so in recent years. I just think the difference between being one of those type of players and being a John Ross, Tavon Austin or Corey Coleman depends on the landing spot. As for his rookie season, I would expect similar results as Marquise Brown had last year. Some big games, some duds. Which is why as of now, I would prefer him in best ball.
Brandon Aiyuk led all receivers (min. 100 targets) with an average of 10.9 yards after catch per reception. Basically, this shows who on average picks up the most YAC. He also led the group with 379 yards after contact. Lamb was literally just behind him with 378. Aiyuk put up strong numbers at ASU this season with 65 receptions, 1,192 receiving yards, and eight touchdowns. He was expected by many to follow up N’Keal Harry from last year and represent the Sun Devils in the first round, but he underwent core muscle surgery in April that could knock him into the second round.
Denzel Mims is a 6’3 and 207 pounds receiver with 4.38 wheels. His 40-yard time was the third-fastest of all receivers at the combine. He has one of, if not the biggest, catch radius’ in this class. He showcased his deep-ball ability with a 15.1 aDOT in college last season. It is easy to fall for the size and speed, but he does come with blemishes as well. He dropped 10 percent of his catchable targets last season. It did however just come out that he played last season with a broken hand. He also averaged just 2.7 YAC per reception. For a receiver with his kind of size and speed, he should be able to do plenty of damage after the catch, but it just was never there in his college game. It is not like he cannot have success despite little after the catch production. Last year some receivers with sub 3.0 YAC per reception were Marvin Jones (1.7), Calvin Ridley (2.2), Alshon Jeffery (2.6), Preston Williams (2.6) and Allen Robinson (2.8).
Tyler Johnson averaged 3.55 yards per route run, the second most of all draft-eligible receivers with a minimum of 100 targets. He also ranked fourth of all draft-eligible wideouts with a 92.2 receiving grade from PFF.
Tee Higgins is a big-bodied receiver at 6’4 and 216 pounds. He also is a big playmaking threat evident by his 19.8 yards per catch in college last season. He averaged 15.9 per catch the year prior. He finished with 59 catches for 1,167 yards and 13 touchdowns last year and has scored at least 12 TDs in two straight seasons. And if you are still not excited, he has drawn comparisons to A.J. Green
Jalen Reagor has some inconsistencies in his game but boy is he explosive. He is 5’11 and 206 pounds but ran a 4.47 40 at the combine. Last year he only put up 43 catches for 611 yards and five touchdowns, but the year prior he finished with 72-1,061-9. Agility is the main concern, much like it was with DK Metcalf last year. Just, Reagor is not built like the receiving version of The Hulk. He may not be an all-pro level receiver like the guys at the top of the class, but he can certainly be an NFL starter and quickly.
Laviska Shenault Jr. had a dip in his college production like Reagor. He finished this past season with 56 catches for 764 yards and four scores. The year prior he put up 86 catches for 1,011 yards and six scores. He did not have the best QB play to rely on in college, but he has shown to be a big-play threat averaging 13.6 and 11.8 yards per catch in his last two college seasons. He ran a 4.58 40 at the combine, which is impressive considering he is 6’1 and 227 pounds. He has the tools to be a very dangerous weapon in the NFL but needs some developing. He is a boom or bust option in a class with a few of those.
Michael Pittman Jr. is getting a lot of hype in the fantasy community. He went off for 101 catches, 1,275 yards, and 11 scores as a senior this past season. That’s right, he is a senior in a class full of juniors. He didn’t turn heads with his 4.52 40, but at 6’4 and 223 pounds, that will do just fine. He is not the best athlete in the 2020 NFL Draft class, but he is NFL ready. He has drawn comps to Michael Thomas and Courtland Sutton.
Chase Claypool went for 66 catches, 1,037 yards and 13 scores in his senior season at Notre Dame. He has a 6’4, 238-pound frame with 4.42 speed. How impressive was that? Calvin Johnson is the only other player 6’4 and 235 pounds or bigger to run a sub 4.45 fourty. The big concern with him is there is chatter of teams wanting move him to tight end. Asking him to change positions at the highest level hurts his first season value in my opinion. Let’s hope they leave him at receiver cause his size and speed combo make him an interesting prospect.
Make sure to follow me on Twitter, @MichaelFFlorio.
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