The 2020 NFL Draft running back class is one that is very straightforward. There are about five top guys and then there is a bit of a drop off to more solid, non-feature backs. That means this class is pretty solid, not great, but really solid when you look at it from the entire view of just how deep it is. There are no shortages of quality committee backs, that is for sure.
So the value will be there on all three days of the draft. That is reassuring to Steelers fans, as they are not forced to (and can’t) take one in the first round.
Here are SteelersNow’s Top Ten running backs in the 2020 NFL Draft.
10. Joshua Kelley, UCLA
Kelley can play and it is odd as to why he is not getting more love. The character part of his resume is well-documented, as Kelley’s Senior Bowl interviews were some of the best out of anyone there. However, this is a guy with enough juice to win short areas with burst and still hit a big play with above-average long speed.
The thing with him is that he is physical and intelligent as a runner. Kelley is not a guy who is going to be some crazy elusive back that makes highlight plays that end up on Sportscenter. He will, however, grind out extra yards with physicality and be a great locker room addition. His soft hands allow him to have more value than just a nice runner who has some wiggle and tenacity to his name. Kelly will be fun to watch as part of a committee.
9. La’Mical Perine, Florida
Give Perine the ball and good things happen. That is sometimes as simple as it gets when evaluating prospects, and Perine is just so solid. He has plenty of juice to hit a big play and destroy angles that defenders take on him, but he also will break tackles with good contact balance or try to run right through the defender.
There are a few issues with his game. Perine is more of a compliment because he lacks that power that teams love with running backs and he is capped laterally. There is somewhat of that ability to make key cuts and be sudden and Perine lacking in that quickness. However, with a good base for pass protection skills and soft hands, he has shown a three-down skillset.
While he may not be preferred as a feature back, if injuries arise, he is capable.
8. Zack Moss, Utah
Moss is the most frustrating evaluation of the entire running back class. The elite contact balance, patient running style, bowling ball-like build, soft hands, and leg drive are pretty awesome things to watch when Moss’s film is turned on. He is a real ‘throwback’ running back that is upgraded into a modern build with that type of skillset.
However, Moss has so many limitations that cap his upside. His lack of burst and long speed are debilitating to watch. There are just so many yards left on the field with that lack of short-area burst that is required to be more dynamic at the NFL level. It is all so strange because Moss is pretty quick. His footwork and cuts are smooth and sharp.
However, a thing that is worrying is his injuries. Moss has suffered a torn meniscus while getting into bed. Yep, that is no typo. He’s also had shoulder injury, a hand injury, and then suffered a hamstring injury at the combine, as well. That is a red flag to note. For someone that should be more durable, Moss has to get healthy to maximize his career outlook.
7. Darrynton Evans, Appalachian State
Evans is wicked fast. This dude is an absolute home run hitter that has good vision to manipulate defenders at the second level and the ability to just destroy angles with his explosiveness and pure speed. There is a reason Daniel Jeremiah is saying he could be a third-round draft pick.
The biggest concern with Evans at the next level is that pass protection ability. He tries, it is clear that he wants it, but even with that motor, Evans falls short due to insufficient hand placement and anchoring ability. Outside of that, he is a guy who will have questions about his vision inside the tackles. There is no doubt he kills it when he is outside the tackles, but there were not a ton of reps where he ran gap concepts inside the tackles.
Still, Evans is a fun prospect who has return ability and receiving ability as well as he was split out often. A good player who is going to have an early impact.
6. Eno Benjamin, Arizona State
Benjamin is one of the most underrated players in this class. Some analysts have him way lower than this and it just does not make sense. Benjamin has all the intangibles and skills necessary to be a three-down running back in the NFL. His contact balance is good and his style of running is that of a tough-nosed, no-nonsense runner.
The most impressive thing with Benjamin is how he has improved his skills throughout his years at Arizona State. His pass protection has gotten way better over the years and is now NFL ready. In the passing game, he has a clear upside as a pass-catcher that has strong hands. The biggest knock on him is that he tries to get too cute. His vision is good, but it is more so a decision-making thing for him. Also, he is a bit stiff laterally and is not dynamic when trying to make people miss, which lowers his elusiveness. However, Benjamin is still a fun prospect and a good running back.
5. Cam Akers, Florida State</h3=>
Faced with perhaps the worst offensive line situation in the country, Akers is a dynamic runner that does not need to prove that he can create for himself. The tape speaks for itself that Akers is an electric athlete who has all the pre-requisites to make something out of nothing. Akers has the explosiveness and quickness to string multiple moves together at a time and break tackles while doing it. He is incredibly slippery.
The day-one impact of Akers is lower than the guys above him simply because while he is a great pure runner, his receiving ability and pass protecting ability all need work. When he senses contact coming in the receiving game, he drops too many passes and in pass protection, he needs to learn how to identify the most dangerous defender on any given play. Akers is a really fun runner, but there will be more work than he has to do to reach his full potential.
4. JK Dobbins, Ohio State
What a ridiculous all-around athlete Dobbins is on film. There is nothing this guy is not good at athletically. He is fast, incredibly quick and his explosiveness is great, as well. All those tools are there for him to be an absolute stud home-run hitter with some of the best vision in the class as well. Dobbins has all the essential assortment items needed.
As a receiving option, there needs to be more shown. Dobbins is not poor, but he lacks a true NFL route tree and has too many drops in the open field when no one is even around him. That is something that has to be fixed if Dobbins is to become a top running back in the league. He has wonderful pass protection skills so that receiving ability is the crux of his demons. The only other thing he must improve is his aggressiveness in hitting the hole. Dobbins is too tentative at times and gets worried that it is fool’s gold.
3. D’Andre Swift, Georgia
Swift has ridiculous cutting ability. His dead leg juke is among the most potent moves in this entire draft class. As a pure runner, Swift is a ton of fun. The burst is really good and so is the quickness. Something that sticks out with him is even though he is dynamic and more finesse in the open field, the guy plays with a ton of grit and physicality. Teams love seeing that from a guy.
He is not super fast and lacks the necessary decision-making capabilities. Swift can read a defense and manipulate defenders, but he gets far too fancy with some of his runs. Instead of taking the obvious hole, Swift will bounce runs unnecessarily at times. He has to get better at being decisive and reading the flow of all levels of the defense, not just the second level. Swift makes up for with great receiving ability capabilities, however. As a route runner, he is downright elite for a running back. If he goes to a place where can be in a committee, Swift will be great. As a feature back, he can live, but his skill set is not suited as well for the lead back role.
2. Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin
Taylor is a legitimate track star that has home run explosiveness and speed at on the field. He ran a 10.19 100 meter dash in high school. That is near world-class speed and it shows. He is another guy who has great vision and baits the linebackers at the second level into traffic. Even with that great speed, he will run right on through guys. The power he shows off is a ton of fun to watch.
The questions with Taylor are how good of a receiver is he? It was delightful to see that he expanded his repertoire his last year at Wisconsin. The route tree obviously will have to improve to get to the level of an NFL route tree, but Taylor has good hands and the speed to be a mismatch. Thus far, he is not a sudden or quick route runner, but with his experience, that is something he can develop. Laterally he is a bit limited and he will not make a ton of flashy cuts, but Taylor is solid and has all the tools to be a great running back.
1. Clyde Edwards-Helaire, LSU
Other than pure speed, there is not much Edwards-Helaire does badly. As an all-around back, he is so solid in so many areas. Still, there are multiple elite traits in his game. That lateral agility is elite, his shiftiness is elite, and his receiving ability is elite. Edwards-Helaire is going to take the floor of an offense and move up because of his entire skillset. He creates yards, gets open in the receiving game, and he shows off good power and toughness in pass protection.
Edwards-Helaire runs like a bull for a guy so small. He will grind out the yards with good leg churn and power his size. When looking at his vision, Edwards-Helaire reads the flow of the well and uses that dynamic quickness to press the line and manipulate defenders at the second level. Dude is so smooth in the field and looks like he is gliding. The all-around skill set and what he brings to an offense is why Edwards-Helaire is my top-rated running back in this class, even if he lacks the home run speed.
Chase Claypool Signs Steelers Contract
Steelers top draft pick Chase Claypool has signed his rookie contract. Claypool posted to his personal Twitter account a photo of him signing the contract on Wednesday night.
— Chase Claypool (@ChaseClaypool) July 22, 2020
According to Tom Loy of 247 Sports, Claypool signed a four-year contract worth $6.6 million, including a $2.4 million signing bonus.
The Steelers drafted Claypool out of Notre Dame with the 49th overall pick in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft. A 6-foot-4, 238-pound receiver from British Columbia, Claypool caught 150 passes for 2,159 yards and 19 touchdowns with the Fighting Irish.
Claypool is the third member of the Steelers’ 2020 draft class to sign his contract, joining third-round outside linebacker Alex Highsmith and fourth-round running back Anthony McFarland, Jr.
The Steelers rookies are in the process of reporting to training camp, which will begin fully at Heinz Field on July 28.
Film Study: Alex Highsmith Brings Juice to Steelers Pass Rush
The Steelers surprised more than a few people by taking an outside linebacker in the third round of the 2020 NFL Draft. Coming into the draft, it was a position that could be addressed due to the looming contract of Bud Dupree, who is on a one-year rental contract on the franchise tag. Seeing as the Steelers have a plethora of contracts to take care of in the next year, Dupree may be on his way out. Even then, with Anthony Chickillo gone, the Steelers needed to address the depth and get a rotational pass rusher.
All of that is taken care of now as they selected Charlotte’s Alex Highsmith, who was an uber-productive pass rusher who was a standout all week at the East-West Shrine Game in Tampa. Given what he has put on tape, his selection is not a surprise and the Steelers hit a home run with the pick of Highsmith, who put up quality tape not just against teams in the Conference USA, but also against a top team such as Clemson.
The one developing area of Highsmith’s game is his counters and pass rush moves. There are a few moves that he employs to win and starting last season, a spin move was one of the ways he won inside as offensive tackles overset for his speed rush. Highsmith has a few defining traits to his game, but there is no doubt that his explosive first step is a key one. He gets off the line and up the arc in a hurry because of his explosive first step. The good thing is that he is not simply a speed rusher. While that is how he wins most of the time, he can pull off nifty moves like this. Clemson tackle Jackson Carman oversets expecting the speed rush from Highsmith, but instead, he takes his pass rush angle up the arc and bends it back inside on that spin move.
One thing that was telling on the Clemson tape was just how much they prepared for Highsmith. Carman is a good tackle and a potential first-round pick in 2021, but Highsmith gave him fits all day long. They chipped Highsmith with tight ends and kept running backs in just in an effort to try and stop him. This play above shows off his first step. He has rocket shoes on his feet on this play as he beats Carman to his spot. If not for a quick three-step drop and throw from Trevor Lawrence, this may have been a sack for Highsmith off his explosiveness alone.
Run defense is a part of Highsmith’s game that is inconsistent, but as his hand usage has improved, so has his run defense. This play is one where he shows he can take advantage of a tackle’s mistakes. Carman is flat-footed and lunges towards Highsmith rather than driving through his chest, allowing Highsmith to be nifty and zoom right on by here. That is part of the reason his explosiveness causes so many problems. However, he does a nice job of executing a chop-rip to slice down the line to make a tackle. Based on the film, the chop-rip combination is Highsmith’s go-to move.
Here is the chop-rip again, this time for a sack. Highsmith does a great job of nailing his hand right inside the tackle’s pad, which is almost always certain death for a tackle. The ability to rip around the edge and make this arc tight is something that Highsmith is really good at doing. Still, this is more about his burst and hand usage combination that allows him to win.
This is exactly how Highsmith recorded most of his sacks, however. When the Steelers drafted him, they likely bet not just on his improvement as a strategist with his counters and moves, but his combination of burst and bend to destroy set angles and win around the edge with his speed rush. He does that extremely well here as he sets his pass rush angle up as if he was going to come here with some power move such as bull rush. However, his lateral agility allows him to cut back outside and use his explosiveness to get the angle. After that, it is all flexibility in his ankles. The ankle flexion he gets is really great on that lead leg. It bends and leads under his shoulders and hip to allow him to dip and reduce his surface area on his way to getting this sack.
The Steelers’ selection of Highsmith may have been their best pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. His combination of burst and bend makes him a perfect fit for the 3-4 outside linebacker scheme. With the Steelers rushing their outside linebackers more than ever, Highsmith is a great fit to provide more pass rush upside in the rotation than anyone since Jason Worilds. With his improvement in his pass rush plan and hand usage, HIghsmith could be a starter in 2021 if Dupree walks after the 2020 season.
Colbert Explains Why He Wanted Three Rounds Added to 2020 Draft
Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert is offering an explanation as to why he wanted three rounds added to the 2020 NFL Draft.
Speaking with NBC Sport’s Mike Florio on the PFT PM podcast Tuesday, Colbert took the opportunity to clarify his suggestion.
“The reasoning was, part of it was selfish,” Colbert said. “You wanted to have a safety net because we’re dealing with less information, and the more picks you have, maybe you’ll have a little bit of a safety net again.”
With the league’s self-implemented travel restrictions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, clubs were unable to conduct their normal scouting activities prior to the Draft. This included Pro Days, private workouts and in-person interviews.
Less opportunities to watch and speak with prospects results in a larger margin for error.
Colbert went on to say that it also would have benefited some of the fringe prospects in the Draft that never had the chance to showcase themselves at a Pro Day or other setting.
“The other thing was it would give the marginal player that didn’t get his opportunity to go to a Pro Day and to perform. Maybe there will be more players drafted and then those players will then again have the chance they might not get.”
Now without rookie minicamps, the challenges are mounting for clubs and NFL hopefuls.
“Every year a team might stumble upon a tryout player,” Colbert said. “Maybe if we ever get on the field, we can think of a way to help those because there’s a big group of players that aren’t getting opportunities because of the situation.”
Colbert reminded Florio that the Steelers discovered Devlin “Duck” Hodges as a tryout in camp last year.
It is unclear when teams will be allowed to return to the practice field for their offseason programs, with clubs currently conducting theirs entirely from home.