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NFL Combine: 5 running backs to keep an eye on

The running back position may be devalued in today’s NFL compared to decades past, but a good RB can still make a big impact on a team. There may not be a Saquon Barkley-level prospect in this year’s class, but there are still some solid players looking to make their mark in Indianapolis. Here are five guys to keep an eye on this week.

5. Cam Akers, Florida State

Akers had the misfortune of running behind a subpar offensive line, but still had a very productive junior season, rushing for 1,144 yards and 14 touchdowns on 231 carries, while adding 30 catches for 225 yards and four scores through the air. It was a very nice bounce-back year after a disappointing 2018.

Akers should test out as fairly agile, but he’ll need to prove he has the breakaway speed to be a starter in the NFL. He is a good receiver out of the backfield, is solid in pass protection, and is good between the tackles and outside, so he should be able to at least find a role as a third-down back if he isn’t starting.

If he runs fast enough, Akers could end up as an early-to-mid third-round pick.

4. Clyde Edwards-Helaire, LSU

It’s hard for a back who gained 1,867 yards and 18 TDs on 270 carries to be underrated, but Edwards-Helaire has accomplished that. To be fair, he was on a team with Joe Burrow, so we’ll cut him some slack. Edwards-Helaire is a reliable runner who is a significant threat in the passing game as well.

He’s shifty and quick, using his 5’7″ 207lbs frame to pinball off defenders, when they’re able to get their hands on him. He’s not exactly Darren Sproles or Maurice Jones-Drew, but Edwards-Helaire is in that mold. He is more athletic than some give him credit for, and could surprise with his 40 time.

Pending the results of that drill, he’s most likely a third-round player, but could sneak into the second.

3. J.K. Dobbins, Ohio State

A borderline first-round prospect, Dobbins followed up his solid 2018 campaign with a fantastic 2019. He rushed for over 2,000 yards scored 21 TDs on the ground, adding 23 grabs for 247 yards and two scores in the passing game. He is a smart runner who powers through contact and bounces off defenders very well.

His vision is good and he’s able to anticipate holes at the line while also planning his attack at the second level. His burst and speed is sneaky good and has fooled many a defense during his career. Dobbins shows up in big games against top defenses, as evidenced by his 221 yards from scrimmage against Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl.

Dobbins should be an instant starter, and should put together a very solid Combine performance.

2. D’Andre Swift, Georgia

The Bulldogs continue to churn out NFL talent at the RB position. From Todd Gurley to Sony Michel and Nick Chubb to now Swift, Georgia backs could make up 1/8 of the starting RBs in the league next season. He isn’t he most explosive player, but he is smart and sees the field well.

He knows when to hit a hole, and is skilled at making defenders miss near the line of scrimmage to break big gains. He totaled 1,434 scrimmage yards and eight TDs in 2019, even though Georgia’s offense wasn’t quite as good as expected. Swift is a true three-down back with good receiving ability and potential as a pass blocker.

He’s a second-round pick at this point, but could make his way into the end of the first with a good week in Indy.

1. Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin

The top RB in this year’s class, Taylor had a brilliant college career and showed improvement in 2019. He has three seasons of elite productions, finishing his time at Wisconsin with 6,581 yards from scrimmage and a staggering 55 touchdowns.

Taylor also showed off some receiving ability as he caught 26 passes out of the backfield after totaling 16 as a freshman and sophomore. He is big, physical, and quick. At 5’10” 226lbs, he has great size to not only take a beating from NFL defenses, but to dish it out as well.

Taylor should impress in the athletic drills, especially in the 40, as he is a former track runner. Taylor should be the first running back selected, likely in the first round.