What We Saw: 2020 NFL Combine
D’Andre Swift, Georgia
5’8 2/8” 212 lbs
40-yard dash: 4.48 seconds
Swift’s time in the 40-yard dash may not have drawn many headlines, but it ranked as the 6th best time among running backs in the combine. He showed off his hands and route-running in the passing drills and posted a fairly ordinary vertical and broad jump. Coming in below his listed 5’9” from college, Swift is among the shorter running back prospects at 5’8 2/8”.
With running back Jonathan Taylor stealing some buzz at the top of the running back class, Swift may find himself battling with J.K. Dobbins to be the second running back off the board. Taylor and Swift are different types of players, however, so their draft order may be more dependant on the type of team that selects a running back. Swift looks like a solid late-first/early-second round pick in the NFL Draft.
Swift’s pre-draft comparison was commonly Alvin Kamara, and while Swift bested Kamara’s 40-yard dash, Kamara owns the better vertical and broad jump numbers. During the broadcast, analyst Daniel Jeremiah compared Swift to DeAngelo Williams, which may be the better comparison after all. Swift is likely a top-five pick in dynasty rookie drafts, almost regardless of the team that drafts him.
Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin
5’10 2/8” 226 lbs
40-yard dash: 4.39 seconds
Taylor’s 40-yard dash stole the show at the combine and may have done enough to solidify him as the top running back in the NFL Draft. He came in heavier than his listed weight in college, making his top-end speed even more impressive. Even more importantly, Taylor looked comfortable in the passing game and caught every ball that came his way, including a couple of borderline difficult passes. Taylor had very little passing-game work until his last year at Wisconsin, but his receiving performance at the combine may convince teams to chalk that up to the style of offense that Wisconsin runs.
Taylor passed every test at the combine, and his impressive 40-yard dash might be enough to make him the first running back taken in the NFL Draft. Taylor is also making a strong case to be the first pick overall in dynasty rookie drafts. Taylor has the combination of college production and combine measurables that make him as sure of a bet as there is in fantasy football.
All that we are waiting for now is the right team to draft him, but it stands to reason that a team that drafts him in the first round will be determined to get their money’s worth by using him often, much like Josh Jacobs last year with the Raiders. There are still some slight questions about his receiving upside, but he looked like a natural catching passes at the combine. Taylor’s performance at the combine likely made everyone holding the 1.01 in dynasty rookie drafts happy, as that pick is likely to be sought after.
J.K. Dobbins, Ohio State
5’9 ½” 209 lbs
Bench Press: 23 reps
Dobbins participated in the weigh-in and medicals, but otherwise only competed in the bench press. His 23 reps were the seventh-best among running backs.
By sitting out the combine, Dobbins mainly sees his fantasy stock unchanged. Jonathan Taylor’s 40-yard dash may have pushed him above Dobbins in some teams’ eyes, however, so Dobbins may be battling to be the second running back off the board with D’Andre Swift. Regardless, Dobbins looks like a sure-fire first or second-round pick in the NFL draft, making him an attractive fantasy asset. He looks locked into being a top-five pick in dynasty rookie drafts, as his versatility and ability to handle a workload makes him a no-doubt early target.
Clyde Edwards-Helaire, LSU
5’7 2/8” 207 lbs
Vertical Jump: 39.5 inches
Edwards-Helaire was listed at 5’9” in college, so his combine measurement of 5’7 2/8” may put some doubt into the minds of NFL teams. Edwards-Helaire’s 40-yard dash time of 4.6 was far from the top of the running back class and is another minor knock on him. He shined when he showcased his quickness and explosion, however, recording the third-best vertical jump of all running backs, and finished top-ten in both broad jump and the 10-yard split in the 40-yard dash. Edwards-Helaire looked sharp running routes and catching passes, as expected.
Edwards-Helaire possesses the pass-catching skills that we love as fantasy owners, especially in PPR leagues. The fear is that NFL teams will pigeon-hole him as a complementary back, and he is left fighting for more work as the third-down option out of the backfield. If teams do see him this way, many will not view him as a first or second-round pick in the NFL Draft, and his fantasy prospects will suffer greatly. With a sub-par 40 at 5’7 2/8”, the combine may not have helped Edwards-Helaire make his case as more than a receiving back in the NFL.
On the other hand, we have seen players like Austin Ekeler dominate in fantasy football despite strong competition from Melvin Gordon, so Edwards-Helaire can certainly be worthy of a first-round dynasty rookie draft pick. I do think Edwards-Helaire’s fantasy outlook is in a precarious position heading into the NFL Draft, however, and if he is drafted by the “wrong” team he could end up as no more than a Giovani Bernard-type fantasy asset. In the right situation, however, he could fit in with the likes of Ekeler and James White as PPR standouts.
Cam Akers, Florida State
5’10 ⅜” 217 lbs
40-yard dash: 4.47 seconds
Akers had an important combine, separating himself from the other second-tier running backs with an excellent performance on Friday. His 40-yard dash was the fifth-best among running backs, which was especially impressive considering his size. Akers also stood out during drills, snagging a one-handed pass while also showing extremely quick feet during the Duce Staley drill. The rest of Akers’ measurements were unspectacular, but his speed, quick feet, and pass-catching abilities were enough to stand out among his peers.
Daniel Jeremiah, the NFL Network analyst, openly wondered if Akers’ performance could make him the second or third running back off the board in the NFL draft, so obviously Akers’ stock is up. Akers struggled while playing for a bad Florida State team, and also battled an ankle injury his sophomore year, so the combine was a way for Akers to show his true talent.
Akers was generally a late first or early second-round pick in dynasty rookie drafts before the combine, and his performance in Indianapolis likely locks him into the first round of dynasty rookie drafts. If Akers can manage to be drafted in the second round of the NFL draft, whatever team drafts him will have committed enough capital that we would have to assume he would be slated for a shot at winning an NFL starting job. Akers has shown enough flashes of pass-catching ability that he could become a bigger fantasy factor than we would have thought just a week ago.
Zack Moss, Utah
5’9 ⅜” 223 lbs
40-yard dash: 4.65 seconds
Moss allegedly tweaked his hamstring during his vertical jump, yet continued on to run his 40-yard dash, participate in the shuttle run, and complete all the running back drills. The results were very unimpressive, with a 40 time that ranked as the fifth-worst of all running backs at the combine. As one of the biggest running back prospects in the draft, Moss’ 19 reps in the bench press failed to impress as well. Moss was never viewed as a workout warrior, but this performance is still a disappointment. Moss will hope to improve on his measurables when healthy at his pro-day. Health could also be a concern, as Moss missed time due to injury during two of his four seasons at Utah.
It will be interesting to see how this affects Moss’ fantasy stock, as he was always viewed as a bruising running back and not a speed demon. A team that likes Moss may not be scared off by this performance. Moss certainly didn’t do anything to drive his stock up, however, and with the top running backs and some second-tier running backs putting on impressive performances, Moss may have dropped in both the NFL Draft as well as in dynasty rookie drafts.
Moss came into the weekend as a second-round dynasty rookie draft asset, and he may have dropped into the third round after this performance. If Moss gets drafted by a running back needy team, his fantasy outlook could jump right back up into the second round of rookie dynasty drafts or higher. But if he falls into the fourth-round or later of the NFL draft, suddenly he is likely more of a depth piece, and faces an uphill battle to contribute in year one.
Ke’Shawn Vaughn, Vanderbilt
5’9 ⅝” 214 lbs
Broad Jump: 9’9”
Vaughn mainly failed to impress at the NFL combine. While his 4.51 40-yard dash is more than fast enough to be an NFL back, Vaughn posted bottom-five scores in both the broad jump and vertical jump, two measurements that help show a prospect’s burst. Vaughn didn’t wow anyone during his positional drills, and as one of the older running back prospects in the class at 23 years old, Vaughn may have seen his draft stock take a hit.
Vaughn has a pretty solid combination of size and top-end speed that could catch the eye of some teams, but his lack of burst and elite skills will likely lump him in with the big middle-class of running backs. He will likely be very situation-dependent – he wouldn’t be the worst running back prospect to come through with fantasy production in a good situation, but he could just as easily get lost on a depth chart if he slips to the fourth-round or later of the NFL Draft.
For fantasy purposes, Vaughn was squarely in the second-round discussion of dynasty rookie drafts before the combine. Barring an NFL team taking Vaughn earlier than expected, I would likely peg him as more of a third-round rookie dynasty draft pick at this point in the process. With such a deep receiver class, there’s not much reason to jump him ahead of those options.
La’Mical Perine, Florida
5’10 6/8” 216 lbs
40-yard dash: 4.62 seconds
Perine settled into a nice pass-catching role at Florida, but many saw him as a less-than explosive athlete. The combine did nothing to change those views, as Perine ran a disappointing 4.62 40-yard dash, while also failing to impress in the shuttle, 3-cone, vertical, or broad jump. His best performances were in the first ten-yard split of his 40 and in the bench press.
Perine’s fantasy stock takes a pretty big hit, and we are left to figure out how he fits into the NFL. He’s a bigger, slower, less explosive passing game specialist than we are used to seeing. PlayerProfiler.com compares him to T.J. Yeldon, but Yeldon was a second-round pick and a better athlete coming out of Alabama. Perine won’t be a second-round pick in this draft, which means he will likely be fighting for playing time early on.
Perine will need to be a good pass-blocker to see the field, or he will need to change his game to fit his skillset in the NFL. Perine was a third-round pick in dynasty rookie drafts before the combine, but I would much rather take a shot on a receiver in that range of the draft.
Eno Benjamin, Arizona State
5’8 ⅞” 207 lbs
Three-cone: 6.97 seconds
Benjamin’s combine was a mix of good and bad, leaving his draft stock a bit unclear. His 4.57 40 time was middling and especially unimpressive given his size. He posted the fewest bench press reps of the running backs with 12, and neither his broad jump nor shuttle run stands out. On the positive side, his 39 inch vertical was the fifth-best of all running backs. And his three-cone time was the second-best at the position, though we only have the times of 11 running backs in that drill. Overall, Benjamin profiles as a pass-catching back (he had a nice catch on an off-target pass) with some burst and agility, but lacking the top-end speed and strength to be a three-down option.
Benjamin will need to go to a premier passing offense to have much in the way of fantasy prospects. He probably has the ceiling of a situational player, though his role looks much clearer than many of the tweener-type running backs. For that reason, Benjamin could produce right away if he can get acclimated to NFL offenses. He just likely isn’t going to be a home run pick. Benjamin should go in the third or fourth round of rookie dynasty drafts unless he falls into a dream scenario with passing-game upside.
Anthony McFarland Jr., Maryland
5’8 ⅛” 208 lbs
Vertical Jump: 29.5 inches
McFarland was a boom or bust type homerun hitter in college, with some massive games surrounded by quiet games. So the first step was to show that his speed was legit, which McFarland certainly did. His 4.44 40-yard dash was the fourth-best of all running backs, and will likely draw the attention of fantasy owners. However, we might want to focus on his possible lack of burst instead. McFarland’s 29.5 inch vertical was the second-worst among running backs, while his broad jump was the third-worst at the position. When you couple McFarland’s boom or bust nature with his injury history he is a risky draft day selection.
McFarland’s 40 time may be enough to draw the attention of NFL teams, and he did look impressive in drills at the combine while catching passes. But he doesn’t profile as a three-down workhorse, and his lack of college production isn’t encouraging. If he falls into the right situation and stays healthy, McFarland could certainly be a big-play threat playing behind a good offensive line. McFarland was a fourth-round pick in dynasty rookie drafts before the combine, and at that price, he is worth the dart throw as an upside gamble. But fantasy owners would be wise to not fall in love with his top-end speed and push him too far up their draft boards.
-Erik Smith (@ErikSmithQBL)