The 10: Grading the Running Backs of the 2020 NFL Draft

No. 6: Cam Akers, Florida State 

5’10”, 217 lbs. 

2019 stats (11 games): 231 carries, 1,144 rushing yards, 14 rushing touchdowns, 30 receptions, 225 receiving yards, 4 touchdown catches

Tape Watched: Florida, Louisville, Wake Forest 

Analysis: While Florida State’s offense struggled to generate much excitement throughout the season, Cam Akers was one of the saving graces that made them watchable. Akers shined under the spotlight this year, showcasing an all-around solid game that pretty much tells you everything you need to know about him as a prospect. I really don’t see any major flaws in his game. He’s a naturally smooth runner who’s slippery in space and has a bounce in his step as seen in this run against Louisville: 

Akers is also a willing and capable blocker, who doesn’t get pushed around easily. I also like his receiving ability. He showcased pretty smooth route-running, and was effective in the screen game.

What surprises me most about him is the different ways he can attack a defense. While best suited bouncing to the outside where he can use his speed to get to the edge, he’s also a pretty underrated inside runner. He welcomes contact and has a good habit of falling forward for extra yardage. For his size, he’s pretty tough in the red zone.

I think Akers presents good value in the third or fourth round as a complementary back in a committee or two-back tandem offense. I don’t think he has a huge ceiling, but for what he is, I think he’ll be a solid running back in the NFL for years to come.

No. 7: J.J. Taylor, Arizona 

5’5”, 185 lbs.

2019 stats (11 games): 148 carries, 721 rushing yards, 5 rushing touchdowns, 32 receptions, 289 receiving yards

Tape Watched: Houston, Hawaii, Washington 

Analysis: Standing at just 5’5”, Taylor may not have the best size in this running back class, but he plays with a physicality and tempo that makes up for his small stature. With a style similar to Darren Sproles, Taylor isn’t afraid of contact thanks to a compact build and low center of gravity when he puts his head down. He’s also a skilled one-cut runner, with this play against Washington being a good indication of that talent: 

Taylor also showed improvement as a receiver this season as well, doubling his receptions from his junior year and averaging almost a yard more per reception. That skillset will come in handy when he gets to the next level, as he’ll most likely fit best as a third-down back. He didn’t test great at the combine, running just a 4.61 40-time, but he plays a lot quicker than that number indicates, and I don’t believe speed will be much of an issue for him when he makes the jump to the pros.

Taylor looks more like a mid-Day 3 prospect to me, falling somewhere around the fifth or sixth round. I think he has the skillset to perhaps earn a role similar to what the Bears are doing with Tarik Cohen, but I don’t think it’ll come immediately. Still, I love guys like Taylor, and I have no doubt that he’ll be a high-effort player wherever he goes.

No. 8: A.J. Dillon, Boston College 

6’0”, 247 lbs. 

2019 stats (12 games): 318 carries, 1686 rushing yards, 14 rushing touchdowns, 13 receptions, 195 receiving yards, 1 touchdown catch 

Tape Watched: Florida State, Syracuse, Notre Dame 

Analysis: After three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons and 40 career touchdowns, A.J. Dillon is leaving Boston College as the leader in both rushing yards and touchdowns in his three-year career, surpassing the great Andre Williams. Similar to Williams, Dillon is a hulking, powerful runner who dominates after contact once he gets a full head of steam.

He’s strong running up the middle, and demonstrates good vision and trusts the line to open up gaps for him to hit. He also demonstrates surprising speed at the combine, running a 4.53 40-yard dash. While it doesn’t always show on the tape, he has demonstrated enough speed down the sideline to prove he’s not just a short-yardage back. 

I do think he fits best as a situational runner at the next level though. He’s certainly proven he can be the bellcow of an offense, but I think he’s at his most effective in the red zone or during short-yardage situations. I can see Dillon providing good value in the fourth or fifth round in the draft.

No. 9: Lamical Perine, Florida

5’11”, 216 lbs.

2019 stats (13 games): 132 carries, 676 rushing yards, 6 rushing touchdowns, 40 receptions, 262 receiving yards, 5 touchdown catches 

Tape Watched: Vanderbilt (2018-19), Auburn, Virginia 

Analysis: While Lamical Perine’s stats don’t immediately jump out at you, he has four years worth of pretty solid tape that tells a different story. Sure, he’s not the flashiest, most electrifying player I’ve seen, but he has a palatable skillset that’s certainly moldable to fit into an NFL offense. As a runner, he doesn’t possess amazing speed, but he’s a patient runner who follows his blockers and lets them create holes in the field for him, like this run here against Vanderbilt:

He’s also a solid blocker in the backfield who identifies the free rusher and can reliably pick them up without getting bulldozed out of the way. That’s the kind of stuff that gets you on the field early in your career. I also really like how he was used as a receiver in Florida’s offense. His tape from his senior year is really the only one that shows it, but Perine is a pretty dynamic receiver in the backfield thanks to his quickness between getting the ball and looking forward for his key blockers. 

He’s also lined up as a receiver to some success, like with this touchdown catch against UVA (tape which I highly recommend watching, it’s easily his best game of the 2019-20 season):

While I see Perine as more of a backup, I think he presents plenty of good tape for scouts to analyze. I think he’ll be a guy who will need a good preseason to latch onto a team, but for the most part, there’s a lot to like about his game.

No. 10: Anthony McFarland Jr., Maryland 

5’8”, 208 lbs. 

2019 stats (11 games): 114 carries, 614 rushing yards, 8 rushing touchdowns, 17 receptions, 126 receiving yards, 1 touchdown catch 

Tape Watched: Syracuse, Temple, Ohio State (2018-19)

Analysis: A high ankle sprain may have limited McFarland’s production this season, but I think there were enough flashes his sophomore year to prove that he’s got upside as a change-of-pace running back. McFarland has a fantastic top gear when he gets into the open field, and looks like a dynamic third-down back if he can bulk up a little more. I mean his tape against Ohio State in 2018 is genuinely fantastic. Look at this long touchdown run early in the game: 

Or this one later in the game:

He doesn’t exhibit much in terms of lateral quickness, but his north-south speed certainly makes him an intriguing Day 3 prospect.

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