Pro Football Focus published its ranking of the rookie running backs who have the best chance for success in 2020, and it wasn’t Clyde Edwards-Helaire who topped the list. Instead, it’s Colts second-round pick, Jonathan Taylor.
PFF took several factors into account, including the quality of each running back’s offensive line. Their individual talent was considered, too, which is why Taylor is a pretty obvious choice.
“When the Colts moved up to select Taylor at pick No. 41, it was a rare occasion for two reasons,” Pro Football Focus’ Mike Renner wrote. “He became the first Colts running back drafted before the fourth round in Chris Ballard’s tenure as general manager. That and the fact that Ballard traded up to do so for only the third time in his career tells me all I need to know about how many carries Taylor will command in 2020. He also goes to a Colts offensive line that finished last season ranked third in PFF’s offensive line rankings and is the only one of the top five to return all five starters. It’s hard to be in a much better situation than that.”
Taylor was an absolute beast at Wisconsin, finishing his college career with back-to-back 2,000-yard seasons. It doesn’t matter that he’s entering the NFL with a ton of carries on his resume. It’s unlikely he’ll get a second contract in Indianapolis anyway; NFL teams just aren’t paying running backs those big second deals anymore. So, yeah, Frank Reich and the Colts’ coaching staff will take full advantage of Taylor’s young legs in his first four seasons and should turn him into one of the most productive backs in the AFC.
Edwards-Helaire checked-in at No. 2. It’s hard imagining a scenario where he doesn’t gain a bunch of yards with opposing defenses forced to respect Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs’ lethal passing attack.
“The biggest thing separating Edwards-Helaire from Taylor,” Renner wrote, “is the quality of the offensive line (ranked 16th in 2019), but all the other pieces are in play for him to succeed. While the Chiefs employed a running-back-by-committee backfield last season, I expect Edwards-Helaire’s usage to be more similar to that of Kareem Hunt’s considering his draft slot.”
One of the surprising names in PFF’s top five is Ke’Shawn Vaughn, the Buccaneers’ third-round pick. Vaughn, whose skill-set doesn’t offer any particularly exciting trait, will benefit most by the lack of a clear starter in Tampa Bay. His ability as a receiver should help, too.
“Vaughn looks comfortably like the best back on the Buccaneers’ roster to command those targets after hauling in 41 passes for 454 yards with nine broken tackles in his career at Vanderbilt,” Renner wrote.
And what about D’Andre Swift, who was widely considered the top running back in the class? He fell to the Lions in the second round and ranks sixth on Pro Football Focus’ list. His low ranking has nothing to do with his ability as a runner; instead, Detroit’s questionable offensive line might limit his effectiveness in 2020.