Without rookie minicamps or OTA’s, rookies have had to adjust to the NFL in a way that’s unlike anyone who came before them. From a fantasy football perspective, John Laub of footballdiehards.com believes running backs are the ones most likely to transition and succeed from Day One.
“The first concern I have is learning the playbook, and I’m going to be focused on the running backs more than any other position because I think it’s the easiest to transfer your skill set and experience in college,” Laub said on Glenn Clark Radio June 30. “I’m very concerned with wide receivers making the transition, and I have no expectations for the tight ends being able to perform as freshmen.”
Laub mentioned three running backs he feels confident drafting this season based on where they’ll go in drafts: Jonathan Taylor (Indianapolis Colts), Ke’Shawn Vaughn (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) and Anthony McFarland (Pittsburgh Steelers).
The one Laub had the most praise for was Taylor. In three seasons at Wisconsin (2017-2019), Taylor rushed for 6,174 yards and had back-to-back 2,000-yard seasons. He was the second player at the FBS level to do so and the first since Troy Davis of Iowa State in 1996.
Laub said that the Colts’ offensive line, led by left tackle Anthony Castonzo and left guard Quenton Nelson, is a top-five unit and possibly the best in the NFL. Last season, Indianapolis’ offensive line was ranked No. 3 in the league by Pro Football Focus. Laub said it reminded him of the Raiders’ offensive line in the ’70s led by Hall of Famers Art Shell and Gene Upshaw.
“You are not going to win the AFC South if you have [quarterback Philip Rivers] throw the ball over 500 times. If I’m [head coach Frank Reich], I’m going to run that football behind my left side of the line,” Laub said. “I believe Taylor will get 65-70 percent of the market share of the Colts’ running game. … I believe Taylor is a perfect third-round pick with tremendous upside.”
Laub also likes the value that Vaughn will bring. He believes Vaughn is better in pass protection than fellow Buccaneers running back Ronald Jones, and that could keep Vaughn on the field more in head coach Bruce Arians’ offense.
Vaughn spent his first two seasons at Illinois before transferring to Vanderbilt. He rushed for more than 1,000 yards in each of his final two college seasons with the Commodores (2018-2019) and averaged better than 5 yards per carry in both years. He now joins a Buccaneers offense led by quarterback Tom Brady. Vaughn has great value in Rounds 8-9, according to Laub.
“I’m letting people take Ronald Jones. Go for it. There is no way that Bruce Arians is going to allow Tom Brady to get destroyed,” Laub said. “I get it — Vaughn is not the most explosive runner, he doesn’t have Taylor or [Clyde Edwards-Helaire’s] upside, but he’s a three-down back. He’s a better pass protector at Vanderbilt than what Ronald Jones has shown us in the NFL.”
Laub also likes former Maryland back McFarland, now with the Steelers. He said there could be some opportunities for McFarland since James Conner has not played all 16 games in a season to this point.
McFarland played two seasons with the Terps (2018-2019) and rushed for a total of 1,648 yards and 12 touchdowns. He averaged 6.7 yards per carry, and Laub believes he has some playmaking capabilities that the Steelers can utilize.
“I think he’s going to have a sneaky role in this offense because he can be a dynamic pass catcher in space,” Laub said. “… McFarland can bust a long touchdown at any time.”
Rookie quarterbacks typically don’t go early in fantasy drafts, but when asked which one he’s most confident in, Laub chose the No. 1 overall pick Joe Burrow. He said the Bengals’ offensive line has improved this offseason, and they have some weapons for Burrow as well, including receivers A.J. Green and Tyler Boyd.
Burrow is coming off a historic season at LSU. He led the Tigers to an undefeated national championship season, throwing for 5,671 yards and 60 touchdowns in the process. His 60 touchdowns broke the NCAA single-season record, while his passing yards are tied for third best in NCAA history. He won the 2019 Heisman Trophy by the largest margin in history, and he took home several other major awards, including the Maxwell, Walter Camp and Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Awards.
“If you watched LSU as much as I did, he is amazing at avoiding the pass rush and buying time in the pocket, so I think his skill set is very good for a young and building offensive line,” Laub said. “He keeps his eyes down the field. He is going to take advantage of Green and Boyd and is underrated as a rusher.”
For more from Laub, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credits: Kenya Allen/PressBox, Courtesy of Vanderbilt Athletics, David Stluka/Wisconsin Athletics