Does the 2020 Running Back Draft Class Stack Up Historically?

by Steve Smith · Analytics & Advanced Metrics

In a recent article, we used PlayerProfiler’s advanced stats and metrics to compare the 2020 wide receiver class with the vaunted 2014 class. In short, 2020 is loaded with talent and poised for success. The next natural question is how do the 2020 rookie running backs stack up against an elite class? How about 2017, which included Leonard Fournette, Christian McCaffrey, Dalvin Cook, Joe Mixon, Alvin Kamara, and Aaron Jones? An impressive group to say the least. Can the 2020 group of runners hold their own? Let’s take another deep dive to find out if the 2020 class is the next wave of RB studs.

Draft Capital

We know draft capital matters. When an NFL team invests a high pick on a prospect, that player is destined to see opportunity. At this stage, draft capital is a good starting point since it’s one NFL comparable that exists between the groups.

A total of 26 running backs were drafted in 2017. Two were selected in Round 1: Leonard Fournette (Pick No. 4) and Christian McCaffrey (Pick No. 8). This was the most RBs selected in a draft since 2011 when 29 RBs were chosen. In comparison, only 17 RBs had their names called in 2020. This is the least since 2015 when only 15 were selected.

The chart below compares the draft capital spent on the running backs in 2017 and 2020. Although more running backs were drafted in 2017, two more were selected in the first three rounds of 2020. This is noteworthy since the last time 10 RBs were selected that early was back in 2008. Furthermore, the last time five running backs were selected in Round 2 was 2013.

Draft Capital Spent on RBs – 2017 vs. 2020

Verdict: More draft capital was invested on the 2017 RB class. This is due to two top 10 selections and a high number of RBs drafted. However, the strong showing in Rounds 2 and 3 needs to be taken into account for the 2020 group. NFL general managers didn’t want to miss out on several RB prospects from this class.

College Dominator Rating

College Dominator Rating is an advanced stat used to predict a running back’s ability to produce at the next level. The 2017 class has players with outstanding Dominator ratings. Christian McCaffrey leads the veteran class at 50.7-percent (98th-percentile among qualified running backs), which is top 10 all-time on Jonathan Taylor comes the closest for the 2020 class with a 41.8-percent (93rd-percentile) mark.

Check out Jonathan Taylor’s 2020 Projection on PlayerProfiler’s “World Famous” Draft Kit:

The 2017 RB class has an average Dominator rating of 32-percent, three percent higher than the 2020 class average. In the first three rounds of the draft, 2017 RBs average out at 34.5-percent. This eclipses the 31-percent mark of the 2020 class. The table below further breaks down the Dominator comparison.

College Dominator Rating Breakdown – 2017 vs. 2020

Of the RBs drafted in 2017, 38.5-percent (10 out of 26) had a Dominator greater than 35-percent. The 2020 RB class has five players (29.4-percent) above this mark: Jonathan Taylor, Cam Akers, Ke’Shawn Vaughn, Zack Moss, and Eno Benjamin.

Verdict: Propelled by elite ratings, the 2017 RB class edges out the 2020 class in College Dominator Rating. However, the breakdown of the 2020 class is still favorable.

Speed Score

Speed Score factors weigh into a player’s 40-yard dash time, putting a premium to fast times run by bigger, and often stronger, running backs. Antonio Gibson and Jonathan Taylor turn the tables on the 2017 class in this category. This duo leads the way with 99th-percentile Speed Scores of 122.8 and 121.7, respectively. These are both top 10 scores overall on PlayerProfiler.

The 2020 class as a group has an average Speed Score of 103.9 overall and 108.3 for players drafted in the first three rounds. While both of these values exceed those of the 2017 class (100.9 overall and 104.7 on the first two days), the latter is most impressive. Seven out of the 10 rookies drafted by Day 3 of 2020 have Speed Scores over 100, with Ke’Shawn Vaughn’s 103.5 (74th-percentile) being the floor. Only three RBs had Speed Scores higher than Vaughn’s for the first three rounds of the 2017 draft: Leonard Fournette, Joe Mixon, and D’Onta Foreman.

Verdict: The 2020 class bests the 2017 group in Speed Score. Each class has seven players with Speed Scores over 105, but 2020 saw nine fewer players drafted.

College Yards Per Carry and Target Share

The average College Yards per Carry (YPC) of the two classes is an identical 6.2 (77th-percentile). However, averages can be deceiving, so it’s always wise to dig a bit deeper. In 2020, six of the RBs drafted (35-percent) had averaged 6.2 YPC or more. On the contrary, the 2017 class has 14 running backs that met or beat this mark. In fact, 54-percent of the 2017 class ran for 6.3 yards per carry (80th-percentile) or better in college.

Both classes had an average College Target Share of 9.3-percent, but again let’s analyze further. A target share of 10.1-percent equates to the 75th-percentile. The 2020 class holds up well since eight runners (47-percent) match or exceed this mark. This is one percent higher than the 12 RB total for 2017. Eno Benjamin leads the way in 2020 with a 14.4-percent Target Share. Not to be outdone, 2017 has Christian McCaffrey with a 16.7-percent Target Share.

When combining the two categories, the 2017 class sets itself apart. The table below summaries the RBs that produced at or above both the 6.2 YPC and a 10.1-percent target share thresholds. Note: 2017 draft class members Alvin Kamara and Marlon Mack just missed the cut-off with Target Shares over 10.1-percent, but 6.0 YPC.

RBs that excel in both college YPC and Target Share – 2017 vs. 2020

Verdict: The college performance of the 2017 class is impressive. Many of the names in the left hand column of the table above are anchors of fantasy football line ups. On average, the 2020 class has can hold their own in the YPC and target share departments (equal averages for both classes). However, on an individual basis, the list for the 2020 class is shorter.


Regardless of the format, the 2017 RB class has four players currently ranked in the top 10 overall of the PlayerProfiler dynasty rankings. The bar was set high for this comparison. The 2017 class started with the advantage of depth and outperformed the 2020 rookie RBs in all categories but Speed Score. The 2020 class did hold it’s own with respectable metrics. The 2020 class has many RBs with solid profiles that will be startable fantasy options, but the ceiling may be lower.

The take-home message is not to fade the 2020 group, but more to temper expectations. We are all looking for an RB1, but the 2020 class does not have as many prospects that check all the boxes or possess above 80th-percentile metrics. Here’s the list of the bellcow profile RBs that check all the aforementioned boxes; College Dominator above 20-percent, Speed Score over 100, at least 6.2 College YPC and a 10.1-percent College Target Share or higher:

2017: Leonard Fournette, Christian McCaffrey, Dalvin Cook, and Joe Mixon

2020: D’Andre Swift and Jonathan Taylor

For the 2020 RBs to rival the 2017 class, the likes of Chuba Hubbard and Travis Etienne would have had to declare for the draft. With only 17 RB draftees in 2020, the hit rate will need to be high to reach the NFL level of 2017. Nonetheless, if the 2020 wide receiver class is fantasy gold, the advanced stats and metrics tell us that we can award at least a silver to the running backs. Lean on the metrics, draft wisely, and keep your fingers crossed that Jonathan Taylor falls your way.