Patriots Draft Prospect Preview: Could Zack Moss provide RB competition?

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By WEEI 93.7
Between now and the scheduled April 23rd opening of the 2020 NFL Draft, WEEI.com will take a position-by-position look at the prospects in this year’s class, both in terms of a general overview as well as from a Patriots perspective.

Running backs

Supply-and-Demand Overview: The running back position may be as deep as any on the New England roster. It includes recent draft picks – Sony Michel (first round, 2018) and Damien Harris (third round, 2019) – as well as a stable of trusted veterans in James White, Rex Burkhead and Brandon Bolden. So it would seem unlikely that Bill Belichick would target running back as a significant position of need come draft weekend. Overall the prospect class is decent, though there isn’t the type of Saquon Barkley/Zeke Elliot top-10 guy. While a couple guys are getting first-round consideration, that will likely come later in the round if at all. Given the depth at receiver and a couple other spots, it wouldn’t be stunning to see the backs get pushed out of the first round all together, even if that seems unlikely. If Harris is an impact workhorse of any kind in 2020 after essentially a redshirt rookie season, then New England may ignore the running back position to focus on its many other more pressing needs.

Top Prospect: D’Andre Swift, Georgia/J.K. Dobbins, Ohio State. Many media experts and draftniks have Michel’s former Bulldogs teammate Swift as the top runner in the draft. And there is certainly a lot to like about his game that includes impressive burst, an ability to catch the ball and 1-cut vision with breakaway ability. He certainly should be a productive NFL back. But Dobbins has many of the same characteristics with a little more physicality to his game that allowed him to rush for more than 1,000 yards three times and top 2,000 yards in his final season as a Buckeye. Both may have bright futures, but if you force me to pick one I’m going with Dobbins.
Overrated Prospect: Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin. Taylor is one of the more productive players and impressive young men you will ever come across. He twice topped 2,000 yards (nearly hitting the mark a third time) for Wisconsin, a school he apparently chose over Harvard after being sold on the academic upside he could find even while playing Big 10 football. But Taylor has some warts to his game, too. He fumbled 18 times in 41 games and never really caught the ball until last fall. Taylor also has to overcome the history of Wisconsin running backs failing to reach their full potential at the NFL level. Between the fumble issues and the three straight years with 300 carries wearing his tread thin, there are reasons to fear taking Taylor too high in the draft.
Underrated Prospect: Zack Moss, Utah. Santana Moss’ cousin – who originally committed to Miami – may be one of the more violent, physical runners in the draft. He notched three straight 1,000-yard seasons to close his career at Utah. While he doesn’t have elite speed, he’s fast enough. He also caught the ball enough to show that as an option at the next level. If you like runners with a little more of a physical edge, then Moss is your guy.
Wild Card: Clyde Edwards-Helaire, LSU. Edwards-Helaire’s college running backs coach, former Patriot Kevin Faulk, used to always say that it’s not the size of the dog in the fight but rather the size of the fight in the dog. That’s what the 5-7 Edwards-Helaire is looking to prove. Some may see a guy who is too small to make it in the NFL. Some may see a guy who’s destined to only be a third-down option. Some may see a three-down back for today’s modern NFL pass-first offenses. Others may even see a slot receiver. Edwards-Helaire has a lot of ability and confidence packed into a small frame. I wouldn’t bet against Edwards-Helaire in whatever role his future NFL employer gives him.
Possible Patriots: A.J. Dillon, Boston College; Tony Jones Jr., Notre Dame; Patrick Taylor Jr., Memphis. Whether it was Antowain Smith or Corey Dillon – or thanks to a decades-old scouting system report we saw this week from his time in Cleveland – Belichick has always had an affinity for big, powerful running backs. Given that he’s unlikely to address the running back position early in the draft, the only way he might target the spot is with a late-round flyer on a big back with upside. Dillon (no relation) had an impressive career for the Eagles with topping 1,000 yards three times and opened some eyes at the Combine, so he may be going too early for Belichick’s needs. Jones and Taylor are bigger backs who will be late picks or may even be undrafted rookies. Both have upside given their size, but are projects who will need to prove their toughness and physical running ability in the preseason to stick at the next level.

Estimated chances the Patriots take a RB at No. 23: 1 percent

Estimated chances the Patriots take a RB at some point in the 2020 NFL Draft: 11 percent