10 Best Rookie Running Backs For Fantasy This Year, According To Fantasy Guru

Article written by Russell Clay of Fantasy Guru

Rookie reports have been a yearly tradition at FantasyGuru for many years now, and we’re excited to present them as part of our NFL Draft Guide in 2020! Each section will review a skill position — Quarterback (QB), Running Back (RB), Wide Receiver (WR), and Tight End (TE). Then, we’ll rank all the fantasy-relevant options in order of which players have the highest chance at future fantasy football success.

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QB is almost always the lightest position in terms of Fantasy Football worthy caliber players entering the NFL players on a yearly basis, but while there isn’t volume, the quality of first-round QBs tends to result in multiple multi-year starters. Especially for SuperFlex Dynasty teams, this position is very important.

 

RANKINGS

1. Jonathan Taylor, Indianapolis Colts

College: Wisconsin | Selection: Round 2, Pick 41 | Ht: 5’10’’ | Wt: 226

From the first snap of his Wisconsin Career, Taylor was one of the best players on the field. In the first game of his True Freshman season, Taylor produced 87 rushing yards and a touchdown on nine attempts (9.7 yards per rushing attempt) against Utah State. That’s the first and only time he’d finish a game with less than ten touches. Taylor is a big, powerful and incredibly fast for his size. These traits were consistently on display in his game action. Taylor was always a threat for a long rushing touchdown, but also could hold his own between the tackles. Taylor finished his Wisconsin career with three straight seasons with 2000 or more yards from scrimmage. He never suffered any type of major injury, and never missed significant time.

Many make the argument that Taylor “put on a lot of miles” in his college career, and from a touches perspective, he certainly received a lot of volume. Taylor accumulated 968 touches in his three seasons, accumulating 307 or more touches in every year. Years ago I used to buy into the college mileage argument for RBs, but this theory can be quickly debunked by looking at the all-time touch leaders in college football history.

Tony Dorsett (1,163), Ricky Williams (1011), Herschel Walker (994), DeAngelo Williams (969), Thurman Thomas (956), and LaDainian Tomlinson (943) all dealt with immense volume in their college careers and went on to have prolific NFL production. Former Baltimore Ravens RB Ray Rice accumulated 405 touches in his final season, in just 13 games. Not only is accumulating volume in college NOT a bad thing, it’s a positive. Seeing a college RB handle a featured workload is a potential indicator that they can handle one in the NFL.

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Anyway, Taylor’s production profile is arguably the best of the last two decades. While his receiving profile is somewhat lacking — his final season (239 receiving yards on 25 receptions) dispelled the narrative that he couldn’t produce in that facet.

Taylor went into the combine with a few questions to answer. While he certainly displayed breakaway speed in-game action, many questioned his long speed heading into the week. Those questions quickly evaporated, as Taylor blasted through the forty-yard dash with a 4.39 time. Considering Taylor weighs 226 pounds, that’s one of the best speed scores (weight-adjusted forty-yard dash) for a RB at the combine this decade. Taylor produced a 99th percentile speed score among RBs. Taylor did end up landing in the second round of the 2020 NFL draft, but make no mistake about it, he’s a very special prospect.

Despite going lower than expected in the NFL draft, Taylor landed on one of the most RB friendly offenses in the NFL in the Indianapolis Colts. The offensive line was dominant at times in 2019, and Taylor is setup perfectly to thrive from the start. While he may not be featured in his initial NFL season — Taylor’s future is incredibly bright, and should find himself entering into top-end fantasy RB territory starting in 2021, or maybe even by the end of the 2020 season. RB Marlon Mack is still in town, and is certainly worthy of touches even with Taylor there. But there likely won’t be much of a debate between who’s the better RB by training camp, never mind by the time the 2020 season starts.

In SF leagues, Taylor is going in the 1.01-to-1.03 range, and is locked in as the 1.01 or 1.02 in 1QB leagues. While RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire certainly landed in the best spot possible (Kansas City Chiefs), and is worthy of being in the same tier as Taylor, it’s really tough to pass on such a special college prospect, in a potentially special offensive situation.

2. Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Kansas City Chiefs

College: LSU | Selection: Round 1, Pick 32 | Ht: 5’7’’ | Wt: 207 | Age: 21 

Edwards-Helaire was similar to his LSU teammate QB Joe Burrow in that many didn’t view him as a top tier prospect until his final season. Thrugh his first two college seasons, Edwards-Helaire had accumulated just 169 touches and 831 yards from scrimmage. 4.8 yards per touch is nothing to get excited about usually from a prospect perspective, and despite being the starting RB for an SEC team, Edwards-Helaire did not receive much hype as an NFL caliber prospect through those first 169 touches.

2019 changed the fortunes for many LSU players, but none more in a positive direction than Edwards-Helaire. He took to the pass-oriented system incredibly well, and was a main reason for all the success LSU had in 2019. Regardless of the opponent, Edwards-Helaire found space, but in the rushing and receiving game. He certainly benefitted from opposing defenses worrying about the other skill position players, but that doesn’t change what he accomplished. Edwards-Helaire produced 1867 yards from scrimmage and 17 touchdowns on just 270 touches (6.9 yards per touch). An incredible season by any measure, especially when considering LSU faced Florida, Alabama, Georgia and Clemson — all top defensive units. His elusiveness in space and ability to juke defenders is incredibly exciting from an NFL translation standpoint. Edwards-Helaire should be able to integrate well (and quickly) to the NFL level with those skills.

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The surprise of the 2020 NFL Draft, from a fantasy perspective, was Edwards-Helaire finding himself as the last pick in the first round of the NFL draft… to the Kansas City Chiefs. Of all the situations to land in the NFL, the Chiefs are easily the best option. With a generational QB in Patrick Mahomes and an always special offensive mind in Andy Reid — barring injury, Edwards-Helaire should become an RB1 at some point in his career. Many point to the long line of Andy Reid RBs who’ve succeeded in his systems, and there’s credence to that. Brian Westbrook, LeSean McCoy and Jamaal Charles just to name a few, all had their best fantasy success under Reid. Fantasy points should be easy to come by in this offense, especially for talented young weapons.
The only point of caution here is year one. Reid was the coach for Westbrook and McCoy in their rookie seasons, and they were far from dominant fantasy assets. McCoy finished 2009 with 945 yards from scrimmage and four touchdowns, while Westbrook finished with just 279 yard from scrimmage and zero touchdowns. Give this time, and don’t get expectations too high for Edwards-Helaire’s first season in the NFL. Cautious optimism is fine, but with RB Damien Williams still in town. There could be more of a split than currently projected.

Edwards-Helaire is going anywhere from 1.01-to-1.04 in 1QB AND SF rookie drafts. If you have strong opinions on the new Chiefs weapon, taking him above everyone but Burrow in SF is something I’d Co-sign. I’d still personally take Taylor, but there’s no denying the immense upside of being a talented RB in the Chiefs system.

3. J.K. Dobbins, Baltimore Ravens

College: Ohio State | Selection: Round 2, Pick 55 | Ht: 5’9’’ | Wt: 209 | Age: 21

Dobbins career was filled with excitement. From an exceptional true freshman season, to bumps in the road as a Sophomore, and finally, finishing off with a special final season, Dobbins had wide ranging evaluations headed into the NFL Draft process. After a dominant True Freshman season, producing 1,538 yards from scrimmage on just 216 touches (7.1 yards per touch) — Dobbins appeared ready to take over a true featured role heading into 2018. But, an early season injury, along with incumbent Mike Weber playing well, led to a largely ineffective Sophomore season. Dobbins did accumulated 1,316 yards from scrimmage and 12 touchdowns on 256 touches, but his efficiency left a lot to be desired (5.1 yards per touch), especially compared to the high expectations he created for himself.

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Entering his Junior season, Dobbins was slotted into a featured role. Mike Weber had moved on to the NFL, and the next highly touted RB for Ohio State (Master Teague) was not quite ready to come out of the oven yet. Dobbins was healthy, and looked like the RB prospect we saw in his true freshman season. Add in the fact that new QB Justin Fields was a major factor as a runner that defenses had to account for, and Dobbins was off to the races. 324 touches, 2,250 yards from scrimmage and 23 touchdowns later, Dobbins was a borderline Heisman candidate, and clearly a top RB prospect in the 2020 class.
Dobbins finished his offseason in strange fashion. After competing in the bench press at the 2020 NFL combine — Dobbins (and his agent) decided to pack up their stuff and go home. It was clear they viewed his draft stock as locked in, and with nothing left to prove, waited for the draft. Despite receiving some negative press from the media for deciding not the test out, Dobbins ended up being correct as the Baltimore Ravens selected him with the 55th overall selection in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft.

Dobbins is locked into an incredible offensive situation over the next couple of seasons with QB Lamar Jackson, and it’s clear dynasty drafters are viewing him as such. While Dobbins will have to deal with a significant incumbent in his rookie season, there’s no denying the future is very bright. Dobbins is landing anywhere from the 1.03 to 1.07 spot in rookie drafts (both 1QB and SuperFlex), and while I’d take Dallas Cowboys WR Ceedee Lamb over him, I have no issue with taking Dobbins where he’s going. Again, 2020might be underwhelming, but the long-term view for Dobbins is very exciting.

4. Cam Akers, Los Angeles Rams

College: Florida State | Selection: Round 2, Pick 52 | Ht: 5’10’’ | Wt: 217 | Age: 21

Akers was always perceived to be a high-talent prospect. Entering college, Akers was a highly touted five star recruit, choosing a post-hype Florida State team as his destination of choice. This proved to be a bad decision, at least from a football sense. Akers does end up getting selected in the top two rounds of the 2020 NFL draft, but he chose the path of most resistance.

Akers started out his True Freshman season in exciting fashion, producing 1141 yards from scrimmage on 210 touches. Akers led a committee with another former five star recruit in Jaques Patrick, but by the end of the 2017 season and Akers clearly asserted himself as the future. The film, volume and overall impressive abilities of Akers got NFL evaluators excited, and already big expectations mushroomed into mythological status.

Unfortunately, Akers struggled to make big plays in his final two seasons. It was rarely his fault, and clearly the NFL still valued him as a high-end prospect, but it was brutal to watch. Akers found himself dealing with oncoming defenders in the backfield on a significant amount of his touches, as opposing defenses honed in on the terrible QB play and awful offensive-line blocking. Over Akers final two seasons, Florida State could be argued as the most dysfunctional offense in college football. This is especially enhanced considering the talent they have (WR Tamorrion Terry deserves better as well!) Beyond him.

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Akers did end up producing a solid 3,361 yards from scrimmage in his college career, which is solid, but certainly not the efficiency (career 5.1 yards per touch) he signed up for out of high school.

Shifting to the combine, though, it was back to an individual evaluation. Akers weighted in heavier (slightly) than expected (217 pounds), produced a 4.47 forty-yard dash (89th percentile speed score), and also performed well in the vertical and broad jump (66th percentile burst score). Akers proved he’s an above average athlete for his position. This, along with the highlights from his film were enough for the Rams to take a chance on Akers in the second round of the 2020 NFL draft.

Akers is going in the mid-to-late first round of rookie drafts, regardless of format. I can’t argue with that, and though I haven’t ended up with him in any drafts, he’s certainly a valuable dynasty asset. The Rams aren’t likely to plop him into a fully featured role in the initial season of his career, but Akers does profile like a RB that will get prominent snaps from year one.

5. D’Andre Swift, Detroit Lions

College: Georgia | Selection: Round 2, Pick 35 | Ht: 5’8’’ | Wt: 212 | Age: 21

Swift is the next exciting prospect to blow through the university of Georgia. Swift may not be the biggest RB prospect of the class, but he’s certainly stout and build like a future NFL fantasy weapon. Much like a few other RBs in this class, Swift came into college with high expectations, and came to fruition. Swift was technically only a four star recruit, but he was also ranked 35th in the nation by Rivals.

Swift started out his True Freshman season as the receiving down back in Georgia’s incredibly talented offense. Swift was dealing with two future NFL starters on the same RB depth chart in Sony Michel and Nick Chubb, which obviously caused a touch-crunch. Swift finished 2017 with just 98 touches, but accumulated 771 yards from scrimmage (7.9 yards per touch) and four touchdowns, and looked the part of a future featured weapon.

2018 brought another committee season, where Swift ceded touches to Elijah Holyfield, Brian Herrien and Dalvin Cook’s little brother James. From an NFL perspective this isn’t an imposing group, but Holyfield and Cook were five star-recruits, and Herrien was a three. Add in how they used True Freshman QB Justin Fields (42 rushing attempts), and there weren’t many RB touches to go around. Swift had an impressive year from an efficiency standpoint, producing 1,346 yards from scrimmage on just 195 touches, but it was strange to see such a talented player not receive a bigger role.

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Surely 2019 would bring a featured role, right? Wrong. 220 touches is a nice season, and certainly one to be proud of. But, it was strange once again to watch Georgia give touches to anyone over than Swift. Nothing against Herrien and major injury recovering Zamir White, but they were clearly inferior to Swift, in all facets. With that said, Swift finished off his college career with a 1,434 yards from scrimmage and eight touchdown season. A good year by any measure, and certainly when considering it was done in the SEC.

Swift weighed in at the combine at 5 foot 8 and 212 pounds, an 87th percentile BMI. Swift ran a 4.48 forty yard dash, good for 80th percentile, and performed well in the vertical and broad jump, producing a 62nd percentile Burst Score. There weren’t many questions about Swift’s athleticism heading into the 2020 NFL combine, but it’s nice to see him confirm what the film showed. Swift is an exceptional receiver out of the backfield, and is now confirmed as an above average athlete for his position.

This evaluation is easy. While Swift is not going to be the next Todd Gurley, but he could be very very good from a fantasy perspective. I don’t love the initial fit with the Detroit Lions, which slightly pushes him below RBs like Los Angeles Rams Cam Akers and Baltimore Ravens J.K. Dobbins. All three still fit in the same tier, but I’d prefer the other two for now. Detroit Lions invested a very high selection in RB Kerryon Johnson just two years ago, and while he’s dealt with injuries throughout his young career, is certainly still talented. Johnson may be on his way out after his rookie draft, but I’m optimistic he’ll have a role as long as he stays healthy.

Swift is going in the 1.04-1.06 range in rookie drafts, which is too rich for my blood. I also don’t think it’s a “bad” pick there, as Swift has a great prospect profile, but I’d prefer other players in that range. This is especially true for some of the first round WRs like Dallas Cowboys Ceedee Lamb and Denver Broncos Jerry Jeudy.

6. Ke’Shawn Vaughn, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

College: Vanderbilt/Illinois | Selection: Round 3, Pick 102 | Ht: 5’10’’ | Wt: 214 Age: 23

Vaughn had a wild and sometimes turbulent college career. While he’s most known for his work at Vanderbilt, Vaughn started out his career in the Big Ten. Before transferring, Vaughn spent two years trying to figure out the nauseating committee situation at Illinois. Through two seasons, Vaughn produced 1232 yards from scrimmage and 9 touchdowns in his two seasons, never fully breaking through as a featured weapon. To put things in perspective. In 2016 (Vaughn’s final season), Illinois produced just 19.7 points per game, good for 122nd in the nation. It was a disaster, and while Vanderbilt wasn’t much better at the time, transferring was the obvious move.

After sitting out the 2017 season, Vaughn hit the ground running, producing one of the most efficient RB seasons in SEC history. In 12 games, Vaughn accumulated 1414 yards from scrimmage and 14 touchdowns on just 170 touches. That’s 8.3 yards per touch! 2018 Vanderbilt was a Senior-heavy team, and Vaughn certainly benefitted from a good situation, but his explosiveness was obvious. 2018 saw big regression, but it wouldn’t been almost impossible for any other result. The stiff weekly competition in the SEC, plus Vanderbilt losing their starting QB in Kyle Shurmur hurt. At the end of the day, Vaughn took on more of a featured role, seeing 226 touches, but only accumulating 1298 yards from scrimmage and 10 touchdowns. 5.7 yards per touch (2.6 yards fewer than 2018).

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The 2020 combine didn’t end in elite results for Vaughn, but a 4.51 forty yard dash (74th percentile speed score) was more than enough to trust his impressive final two seasons weren’t a fluke. Getting selected in the third round to the 2020 NFL Draft was a huge win for Vaughn, and landing within those top three rounds is obviously a good indicator of future success. Vaughn is a talented player, and his appeal as a receiver could certainly serve some utility in a Tom Brady led offense. HOWEVER, I have some issues with the perception of his year one potential.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers RB Ronald Jones may have been selected in the 2018 NFL draft, but he’s actually five months younger than Vaughn. Head Coach Bruce Arians gave Jones a hard time about his pass protection issues — but as a pure runner and receiver Jones was very good in 2019. Jones ended up accumulating 1,033 yards from scrimmage and six touchdowns on 203 touches, which contrary to his current ADP, is good. Many think Vaughn will blast past Jones on the depth chart, but I’m not in that camp. He certainly could, but it’s far from a sure thing. Where Vaughn is going in rookie drafts doesn’t reflect the reality of his situation. While I don’t mind taking Vaughn at the end of the first round (preferably in the early second) of a rookie draft, I’ve seen him drift into the 1.08-1.10 range at times. This makes me very uncomfortable. Don’t pass on those first round WRs (ESPECIALLY CEEDEE LAMB AND JERRY JEDUY) for Vaughn.

7. Zack Moss, Buffalo Bills

College: Utah | Selection: Round 3, Pick 74 | Ht: 5’9’’ | Wt: 223 | Age: 22
Much like Vaughn, Moss had a long and chaotic college career. While Moss didn’t transfer, he did spend four years at Utah. Moss started out behind exciting weapon Joe Williams in his True Freshman season. While many don’t remember Williams now, he was a very exciting and explosive prospect, but had some off-field things pull him away from the game of football. Williams ended up getting drafted in the fourth round despite the concerns, but obviously nothing came to fruition. Moss spent most of that year spelling Williams when he needed a breather.

From his Sophomore season on, Moss was a featured weapon. In fact, it’s fair to argue that Moss would’ve declared if he hadn’t suffered a major knee injury at the end of the 2018 season. Unfortunately that Knee injury ended his season and spread major doubt over his status as an NFL prospect. Thankfully, Moss returned to form in 2019, and didn’t appear to be hindered by what was a scary injury. At the end of his Utah Career, Moss produced 4,752 yards from scrimmage and 41 touchdowns on 778 career touches.

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It’s fair to argue that Moss was the biggest loser of the 2020 NFL combine for RBs, but for the second year in a row the Buffalo Bills drafted a combine dud (Devin Singletary In 2019). Moss weighed in heavy, at 223 pounds at just 5 foot 9. That’s an enormous 32.9 Body Mass Index (BMI) (93rd percentile), and very unlikely his playing weight. Moss is likely faster than his 4.65 forty yard dash time (45th percentile speed score), but the speed score percentile isn’t likely to change if he ran faster at a lower weight. Moss has redeeming qualities as a prospect, but the combine displayed some of the realities of his profile.
Along with the aforementioned major injury, advanced age (Will be 23 in 2020) and mediocre early career college production, Moss is not a player I was high on entering the 2020 NFL draft. Despite that, the Bills took a risk on Moss in the third round. Don’t love the prospect, but certainly acknowledge his potential if things work out well in Buffalo. Singletary is there, and certainly not going anywhere, but Moss is very likely to find a prominent role at some point in his rookie contract.

Moss is correctly valued in rookie drafts, and if in need of a RB he’s certainly viable in the mid-to-late second round of rookie drafts. There’s quite a few second rounders I’d take over him, but especially if he starts to fall into the late second-to-early-third round range, he’s a good value.

8. AJ Dillon, Green Bay Packers

College: Boston College | Selection: Round 2, Pick 62 | Ht: 6’0’’ | Wt: 247 Age: 22

Dillon terrorized college defenders over his three year Boston College career, producing 4,618 yards from scrimmage and 40 touchdowns in 35 career games. It remains to be seen what Dillon will look like in the NFL, but he did a great Derrick Henry impression in college. Defenders, particularly in the secondary, weren’t big or strong enough to deal with Dillon in one on one situations. The NFL is a different and there are some questions if Dillon can translate his raw power and size to the professional level. But, after the combine he certainly answered some concerns. Dillon proved quickly he’s not just a big back who abused unwilling college players, as he produced a 4.53 forty yard dash at 247 pounds, good for a 97th percentile speed score.

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While it’s not on Indianapolis Colts RB Jonathan Taylor levels, Dillon posted one of the highest speed scores of the last decade. Dillon also achieved special levels in the jumping drills, posting a 97th percentile burst score. Between his athletic testing and college production in a Power-Five conference (ACC), Dillon brings an exciting blend of potential to the table.

Dillon was arguably the most curious pick of the first two days of the NFL draft, landing on the Green Bay Packers at the 62nd overall selection. Considering the Packers have Aaron Jones and needs at other positions, it was surprising to see. Nonetheless, this is obviously a sign they see major improvements needed at the position. Jones has struggled with injuries through three seasons, and his rookie contract is coming to an end soon. Dillon isn’t likely to be a featured weapon in year one, but the future is projected to be bright in 2021 and beyond considering the investment the Packers made in him.
Dillon is one player who’s rookie draft ADP in all formats are not reflecting his NFL Draft position. His landing in the mid-to-late second round of rookie drafts, well behind some of the RBs he was drafted ahead of in the NFL Draft ( Ke’Shawn Vaughn and Bills RB Zack Moss, mainly), is confusing. Dillon isn’t the most exciting prospect in the draft class, especially considering he wasn’t much of a receiver in college — but his value as a potential featured runner for the Packers in the future can’t be underrated.

9. Darrynton Evans, Tennessee Titans

College: Appalachian State | Selection: Round 3, Pick 93 | Ht: 5’10’’ | Wt: 203 | Age: 20

Evans was not a big name heading into the 2020 NFL Draft cycle, and he’s probably leaving it without a lot of hype as well. However, I’d disagree with that designation. Evans had a strange career at Appalachian State — working behind incumbent Jalin Moore (a name most don’t know as his professional aspirations flamed out quickly) for his first two and a half seasons. Then Evans only received an opportunity to be a featured weapon in portions of 2018 and 2019. Evans only played three seasons, but started out as a utility player in 2016 before red-shirting in 2017 and fully transitioning the RB. I count red-shirt juniors as seniors.

Evans started out the 2018 season as a backup, but after a season ending injury to Moore, opportunity presented itself. Evans saw at least 15 touches in nine of Appalachian State’s final ten games. In that span he accumulated nine games with at least 100 yards from scrimmage. It was an exciting result, and one that Evans would build on in 2019. Evans started 2019 as a featured weapon offensively, and ran with the opportunity. By the end of the 2019 season, Evans had accumulated 276 touches, 1678 yards from scrimmage and 23 touchdowns in 14 games. His film was filled with highlight plays, and it’s no shock he was so prolific.

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Evans is a smaller RB, but weighing above 200 pounds (203) at the 2020 NFL combine was a huge victory. Running a 4.41 forty-yard dash (86th percentile speed score) and testing out as an exciting athlete in the jump drills (82nd percentile burst score) confirms his film. Evans is an electric athlete with exciting college production. It’s no wonder he ended up the 93rd overall selection in the NFL draft by the Tennessee Titans. It’s always a question whether production was inflated with small school prospects — so it’s nice to see his profile confirmed by the NFL.

Evans will, of course, start his NFL career as a backup to RB Derrick Henry. There’s no debate whether Evans will contend for the starting job, and that’s ok. Despite that, there’s still a valuable asset here. If Evans can lock up the direct backup duties before the season starts, he’ll be a very valuable handcuff. If anything happened to Henry, Evans will have full control over a run-heavy, RB focused offense. Even if Henry stays healthy, he’s not going to play every down, and despite his immense skill, still hasn’t been used much on passing downs. Henry is Also turning 27 in January. The future is bright for Evans, even if he isn’t a featured weapon early on.

Evans is going in the late third round of rookie drafts, and I’d argue is one of the better values of the 2020 season. His production profile and NFL Draft position is just as good, if not better than Ke’Shawn Vaughn’s, but he’s going almost two rounds later in rookie drafts. I’d argue it’s solely due to year one situation.