Building the 2020 Prototype: Running Back

Photo: USA TODAY Sports - Matthew Emmons

Throughout the month of July, I’m going to take a much closer look at some of the 2020 NFL draft’s top prospects. In doing this, I’m creating a new series called “Building the Prototype.” Breaking down each position into five traits I specifically look for, I’m going to match 2020 prospects to those traits. Thus, I am essentially building the perfect draft prospect at each position in this upcoming class. In the second installment of this series, I’m going to dive deeper on the running back group. I have links to the other position groups of this series at the bottom of the page.

Speed/Burst – Travis Etienne, Clemson

There hasn’t been a running back I’ve seen since Chris Johnson who runs with effortless speed like Clemson’s Travis Etienne. Once he accelerates through a hole, it’s going for six. He makes decisive cuts and is off to the races with instant acceleration. I am confident he will be one of the most explosive running backs in the NFL the moment he is drafted. This is a no-brainer pick.

Elusiveness – D’Andre Swift, Georgia

D’Andre Swift is one of my favorite running backs in this class because I can’t peg a weakness to his game, based on tape. He is a great athlete, runs hard, has a quick mental trigger, and offers legitimate pass game value. The trait that sticks out the most, however, is his elusiveness. Whether in tight quarters or in the open field, Swift is one of the hardest players to bring down because of his agility. This make-you-miss consistency is evident in any Georgia game you turn on. He reminds me a lot of DeAngelo Williams in that regard.    

Strength/Contact Balance – AJ Dillon, Boston College

Since his freshman season where he ran for 1,589 yards and 14 touchdowns, we knew Boston College’s AJ Dillon was a special ball carrier. At 6’0, 245, he is a legitimate brick house. He has Marshawn Lynch-type runs on his tape because of his elite contact balance. There isn’t a running back who runs with more power or physicality than Dillon. If I had to pick a running back to score on 4th and goal, I’m picking this stud. While he lacks experience in the passing game, I think he will, at the very least, carve out a valuable role as an early-down back at the next level.

Vision/Decisiveness – Ke’Shawn Vaughn, Vanderbilt

Despite Vanderbilt’s woes as a team in the SEC, Ke’Shawn Vaughn was one of the league’s best running backs last year, rushing for 1,244 yards and 12 touchdowns with a 7.9 yard-per-carry average. Against top-level defenses, Vaughn showed the patience, vision, and awareness necessary for a next-level running back. He is decisive when he needs to be with a quick mental trigger. It also helps that he has legitimate 4.4 speed and excellent change-of-direction quickness. Vaughn, in my opinion, is the most underrated back in this 2020 class as of right now.

Pass Game Value – Cam Akers, Florida State

It is no secret that Cam Akers is one of the most talented backs in all of college football. He was a top-level recruit coming out of high school and showed that talent his freshman year with a 1,000-yard season. Akers took a step back in 2018, but I know there is elite potential in his game. One area where he shows a ton of promise is in the passing game. As a blocker, he is physical and competes his tail off. He has caught 39 passes for 394 yards and three touchdowns the past two seasons, and I think he has more ability than the statistics indicate. He is a natural hands-catcher who is shifty with the ball in his hands. If Akers can process the game faster, it will only be a matter of time before he becomes a three-down star.

2020 Prototype Series: