Much has been (deservedly) written about the top-end talent in the 2020 rookie running back class, with players like Jonathan Taylor, D’Andre Swift, and J.K. Dobbins all looking like elite or near-elite prospects (with Cam Akers and Clyde Edwards-Helaire right there with them according to some smart analysts). Enthusiasm exists beyond that top tier for productive college workhorses like A.J. Dillon, Zack Moss, and Joshua Kelley, as well as for high-upside plays like Darrynton Evans, Anthony McFarland, and Antonio Gibson. One quality player I perceive has been slipping through the cracks a bit (and clearly did in the NFL Draft) is former Arizona State runner Eno Benjamin, a guy with an impressive resume as a producer and sneaky three-down capabilities.
Let’s take a close look at each aspect of Benjamin’s prospect profile and consider his talent in context with similar prospects from the past.
Athleticism and Physical Profile
Benjamin flirts with minimum size and body type thresholds for players who go on to become lead backs in the NFL, but he isn’t quite built like a traditional high-volume rusher. Despite making up more than a third of the running back player pool (35.4%), players who weigh less than 210 pounds and carry no more than 3.05 pounds per inch on their frames make up just 13.2% of the runners who have seen at least 10 carries per game in their primes since 2007.
That’s not to say, though, that it can’t be done. Running backs like Benjamin have earned their way to heavy work before, whether through draft capital (as in the case of Ray Rice) or through carpe diem-ing the fuck out of limited or fleeting opportunities (as with Aaron Jones and Devonta Freeman). Having a positive athletic profile certainly doesn’t hurt, and with an 87th-percentile burst score and a 71st percentile agility score, Benjamin checks that box despite mediocre long speed.
The guys who my model identifies as most closely resembling Benjamin from a physical standpoint (body type and athleticism) are listed below:
Power Score is a metric that combines weight and BMI with upper and lower-body strength to approximate a player’s ability to generate power. Most good players in the 45-50 range that Benjamin finds himself in end up as lower-volume lead backs or as key members of a committee, and I think that’s a good high-end expectation for the former Sun Devil. It would be unfair to assume that Benjamin produces at the level of an Aaron Jones (though this comparison illustrates their strong similarities as figures and as movers) or even receives the opportunity that a Kerryon Johnson has at this early stage of his career. Still, Benjamin’s build and athletic skillset are well-suited to a workload on the Felix Jones / Tevin Coleman / Duke Johnson spectrum, with the ability to handle more in spurts.
Benjamin was an excellent producer from a young age at a Power 5 program, giving him a better composite Production Score in my model (the strongest non-draft capital predictor I have of NFL opportunity) than highly-touted prospects in this class, like D’Andre Swift and Clyde Edwards-Helaire.
After waiting in the wings for a year as a true freshman, Eno smashed in his two seasons as a starter, turning a combined 630 touches into more than 3,000 scrimmage yards and 30 touchdowns. Both his breakout age and breakout year put him in the top half of post-2007 backs, and his Dominator Rating is a 74th-percentile mark. While perhaps not a blemish, the aspect of Benjamin’s production profile that lends itself to skepticism is the relative weakness of the Arizona State program, just a 35th-percentile squad (among teams of future NFL backs) during his time there.
The closest production matches illustrate the wrench that playing at a “meh” school can throw into the evaluation of a player’s collegiate output. Charles Sims, Ronnie Hillman, Mikel Leshoure, Giovani Bernard, and David Montgomery all enjoyed objectively good college careers, but their particular brand of college career arc isn’t one that portends fantasy usefulness. If you’re not playing at a top-tier school, your margin for error is small, and not being immediately dominant in your first year on campus is a red flag. It doesn’t mean you can’t be a quality NFL player — I’d say most of these comps have been that — but it’s legitimate cause to temper expectations.
Benjamin is likely best deployed as a receiver out of the backfield, a role in which he caught 82 passes in college at a per-game rate that ranks in the 90th percentile. His efficiency numbers are of the fine-but-not-amazing variety, as he ranks in the 50th percentiles in both yards per target and catch rate, so he’s likely not a downfield weapon as much as he is a reliable option in the short game. Benjamin’s satellite score is a 74th-percentile mark, indicating that pass-catching will be a significant portion of his contributions at the next level, but it doesn’t scream “pure satellite back.” In terms of targets as a percentage of his total opportunities, Eno’s 38.7 satellite score puts him in the same range as Royce Freeman, Joseph Addai, Duke Johnson, and Brian Westbrook when it comes to the sort of role we might expect for him on an NFL offense.
The receiver comps in the chart above perhaps represent the range of outcomes for Eno’s potential as a pro pass-catcher. Phillip Lindsay and Marlon Mack have both yet to deliver on promising collegiate receiving profiles, while Jones and Tarik Cohen occupy opposite ends of the “quality receiving back” spectrum. Jones is a high-volume rusher who also happens to have chops in the passing game, while Cohen is often deployed out wide and in the slot; he’s as pure a satellite back as they come.
Mack and Lindsay are cautionary tales for assuming that a player can do a thing in the NFL because he did it in college, but I think the most likely outcome for Benjamin’s deployment as a receiver is that he makes a positive impact serving somewhere in between the Jones role and the Cohen role.
Benjamin played with an above-average group of backfield teammates in Tempe and outperformed them in Yards Per Carry and Chunk Rate (rate of 10+ yard runs) at levels that rank in the 68th and 59th percentiles, respectively. I think it’s safe to say he’s at least a quality runner. Benjamin failed to create many big plays, however (perhaps a symptom of the subpar long speed he showed at the combine), with a Breakaway Conversion Rate (percentage of 10+ yard runs a player turns into 20+ yard runs) in the 22nd percentile. Benjamin, while playing behind a mediocre offensive line (30th percentile), also failed to consistently churn out positive yardage, with marks in True YPC (which caps credit for yards gained on runs at 10 yards) and Loss Rate that each sit below the 30th percentile.
Some benefit of the doubt should be given to Eno given his team’s poor line play, but it’s also likely, given the contents of his efficiency portfolio, that he’s just not special as a ball carrier.
Informed by the above rushing profile comps (which take physical profile and rushing efficiency into account), I’d say Benjamin is something like a hybrid of Mack and Montgomery as a stylistic runner. He doesn’t have the speed to create breakaway runs like Mack can, but the numbers suggest he’s a bit of a dancer in the backfield who takes some negative plays in an attempt to get the most out of carries.
Benjamin’s mark in my model’s composite Prospect Score actually puts him at RB6 among 2020 backs (my subjective interpretation of his profile had him at pre-draft RB7). His 63.3 score here means he’s a quality player according to the average Prospect Scores of running backs actually taken in the second round of rookie drafts going back to 2007.
Being taken in the seventh round of the NFL Draft is an absolute gut shot to Benjamin’s chances of ever having much fantasy value. According to my model’s Prospect Scores, though, he’s actually the third-best running back taken in the seventh round going back to 2007, behind only Nate Ilaoa and Ahmad Bradshaw, the latter of whom went on to post multiple RB2-level, and even one RB1-level seasons in fantasy.
I think this list of Benjamin’s closest overall comps is a good window into his range of outcomes as a pro. My personal take is that he is sort of like Montgomery (if Montgomery lost 15 pounds and was a better receiver). I think he has the short-area quickness to be a more successful runner than Montgomery was as a rookie, but as a back with a Giovani Bernard or [Duke] Johnson type of frame, I fear that NFL coaches are not going to see him as a dependable option between the tackles.
Eno is more than a third-down back, though, and his Renaissance Man skillset will serve him well in carving out a role in a pro backfield. He’s not just Jalen Richard or Theo Riddick. And while his not being Ray Rice or Maurice Jones-Drew as a runner makes him a bit of a tweener, I don’t see why Benjamin can’t have a Johnson or Charles Sims-like impact, with Bernard and Elijah McGuire-type outcomes representing his respective ceiling and floor. It doesn’t show in his comps here, but he’s actually somewhat similar to the backs already on his new team, Kenyan Drake and Chase Edmonds. All of them are great pass-catching backs on the lower end of the size spectrum.
I see Benjamin’s usage as a pro being sort of like riding your horse across a body of deep water in Red Dead Redemption 2. It’s probably better off if you let it stick to it’s thing on dry land, but it’ll serve you well in a pinch if there’s no canoe around so long as it doesn’t have to exert itself for too long. Similarly, Eno can likely handle 10-15 carries for a few games at a time in the event of an injury to a bell cow starter, but he’ll be most effectively deployed as the more receiving-centric half of a 1-2 punch.
That kind of player can be valuable (guys like Bernard, Dion Lewis, Coleman, and Austin Ekeler have shown this). While I thought Benjamin was being unfairly looked over in favor of backs in this rookie class who are either bigger but less talented than he is (like A.J. Dillon), or who don’t quite have the three-down capability that he does (like Darrynton Evans), it’s very clear that the NFL didn’t value him as highly as those guys either, and that hurts.
Pre-draft, I viewed Benjamin as the arbitrage Clyde Edwards-Helaire, anticipating third or fourth round capital putting him in the RB2 chair on an NFL offense and equipping him with the upside of fantasy relevance in the third round of rookie drafts. I still view him that way as a talent, but he likely starts out firmly in the RB3 spot in the Cardinals backfield. Now, he’s a priority taxi stash on waivers after your rookie draft is over. He holds significantly-more upside than your typical seventh-round running back given the talent profile (more so if he ascends the depth chart on an explosive Arizona offense). Most likely, Benjamin will be tossed to the scrap heap in dynasty because of the low real life investment.