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Is a pass-catching running back at top of Bucs’ wish list?

It is, if you believe what head coach Bruce Arians told reporters during a conference call late last month.
Miami's  DeeJay Dallas scores during a game against Florida in August in Orlando.
Miami's DeeJay Dallas scores during a game against Florida in August in Orlando. [ Times ]
Published Apr. 23, 2020
Updated Apr. 23, 2020

For all the talk leading up to the NFL draft about the need to protect Tom Brady, Bucs coach Bruce Arians put a different position group at the top of his wish list during a conference call with reporters late last month.

Running back. Specifically, one who can catch passes out of the backfield.

Related: NFL mock draft: How the Tampa Bay Times sees the first round playing out

Brady relied heavily on backs as passing options while winning six Super Bowls in New England — even more so in recent seasons — and figures to do the same in Tampa Bay.

But Ronald Jones is still not where the Bucs would like him to be as a receiver, and his pass blocking has limited his downs. And while Dare Ogunbowale averaged 8 yards on 35 receptions last season, Arians said he is looking for more of a “wide receiver threat” at the position.

Is there a better option in this year’s draft? Here is how the top 10 backs, according to NFL.com, stack up:

D’Andre Swift, Georgia

Georgia's D'Andre Swift
Georgia's D'Andre Swift [ Times ]

Height/weight: 5-8, 212

Combine performance

  • 40-yard dash: 4.48 seconds, sixth among running backs
  • Vertical jump: 35.5 inches, 14th among running backs
  • Broad jump: 10 feet, 1 inch, 15th among running backs
Related: Is a future Bucs quarterback among these 10? Aim low

2019 superlatives

  • 1,218 rushing yards, fifth in SEC (likely would have been higher, but he was limited by a shoulder injury late in the season)
  • Averaged 100 yards rushing per game against SEC competition, including a season-high 179 yards vs. Kentucky
  • All-SEC first team (coaches) and All-SEC second team (Associated Press)

We say: He’s quick, agile, a good receiver (216 yards as a junior). That makes him the latest in a great line of running backs from Georgia.

Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin

Wisconsin's Jonathan Taylor
Wisconsin's Jonathan Taylor [ Times ]

Height/weight: 5-10, 226

Combine performance

  • 40-yard dash: 4.39 seconds, first among running backs
  • 3-cone drill: 7.01 seconds, fourth among running backs
  • 20-yard shuttle: 4.24 seconds, sixth among running backs
  • Broad jump: 10 feet, 3 inches, ninth among running backs
  • Vertical jump: 36 inches, 11th among running backs
  • Bench press: 17 reps, 16th among running backs
Related: Once homeless, Javon Kinlaw now one of the best players in NFL draft

2019 superlatives

  • 2,003 rushing yards, first in Big 10 and second nationally (in 10 of 14 games, rushed for 100-plus yards)
  • 26 total touchdowns (21 rushing, 5 receiving), first in Big 10 and nationally
  • Doak Walker Award winner and consensus first-team All-American (in 2018 and 2019)

We say: How are people picking holes in one of the most prolific running backs in the history of college football, who has played at a program known for producing great ones? Taylor is the real deal.

Clyde Edwards-Helaire, LSU

LSU's Clyde Edwards-Helaire
LSU's Clyde Edwards-Helaire [ JOHN BAZEMORE | Associated Press ]

Height/weight: 5-7, 207

Combine performance

  • Vertical jump: 39.5 inches, third among running backs
  • Broad jump: 10 feet, 3 inches, ninth among running backs
  • 40-yard dash: 4.60 seconds, 17th among running backs
  • Bench press: 15 reps, 20th among running backs
Related: Why LSU’s Clyde Edwards-Helaire is the perfect back for the Bucs

2019 superlatives

  • 1,414 rushing yards, No. 2 in SEC; 16 rushing touchdowns, No. 1 in SEC; also tallied 453 yards receiving
  • Averaged 115 rushing yards per game against SEC competition
  • All-SEC first team (coaches and Associated Press)

We say: He’s the best receiver of the group, which makes him an intriguing option for the Bucs. Like at LSU, he’d be on the field with a great group of receivers, and his body hasn’t taken as many hits as someone like Taylor.

Cam Akers, Florida State

Florida State's Cam Akers
Florida State's Cam Akers [ MARK WALLHEISER | AP ]

Height/weight: 5-10, 217

Combine performance

  • 40-yard dash: 4.47 seconds, fifth among running backs
  • Bench press: 20 reps, ninth among running backs
  • Vertical jump: 35.5 inches, 14th among running backs
  • Broad jump: 10 feet, 2 inches, 14th among running backs
  • 20-yard shuttle: 4.42 seconds, 15th among running backs
Related: The Bucs balked on FSU’s last great back. They shouldn’t pass on Cam Akers

2019 superlatives

  • 1,144 rushing yards, fourth in ACC; 14 rushing touchdowns, second in ACC
  • Averaged 10 points per game, first in ACC and sixth nationally
  • Tied a school record with four rushing touchdowns in a game against Syracuse

We say: He’s not Dalvin Cook (who is?), but he’s a better player than what he showed at FSU and might have the best pro career of the bunch.

J.K. Dobbins, Ohio State

Ohio State's J.K. Dobbins
Ohio State's J.K. Dobbins [ PAUL SANCYA | Associated Press ]

Height/weight: 5-9, 209

Combine performance

  • Opted out of speed and agility drills (he injured his ankle in the College Football Playoff loss to Clemson)
  • Bench press: 23 reps, fifth among running backs
Related: Eleven speedy receivers the Bucs should consider on Day 2 or 3 of the NFL draft

2019 superlatives

  • 2,003 rushing yards, tops in Big Ten and third nationally (first Buckeyes RB to surpass 2,000 yards)
  • 21 rushing touchdowns, tops in Big Ten and third nationally
  • Earl Campbell Tyler Rose Award winner and all-Big Ten first team (coaches and Associated Press)

We say: His drops in the loss to Clemson shouldn’t tarnish him too much. He’s an electric, versatile athlete who would also be a great fit for the Bucs ... although don’t expect him to last until Tampa Bay’s second-round pick.

Zack Moss, Utah

Utah's Zack Moss
Utah's Zack Moss [ RICK BOWMER | AP ]

Height/weight: 5-9, 223

Combine performance

  • Bench press: 19 reps, 12th among running backs
  • 20-yard shuttle: 4.37 seconds, 13th among running backs
  • Vertical jump: 33 inches, 21st among running backs
  • 40-yard dash: 4.65 seconds, 24th among running backs
Related: Will Bucs find a protector for Tom Brady in NFL draft?

2019 superlatives

  • 1,416 rushing yards, tops in Pac-12
  • 15 rushing touchdowns, tops in Pac-12
  • Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year and Pac-12 first team

We say: The south Florida native was teammates at Hallandale High with the Gators’ Josh Hammond. He helped Utah turn into a College Football Playoff sleeper and had one of the best careers in Utes history. Moss has a chance to have a solid NFL career ... if he stays healthy.

Darrynton Evans, Appalachian State

Appalachian State's Darrynton Evans
Appalachian State's Darrynton Evans [ BRIAN BLANCO | AP ]

Height/weight: 5-10, 203

Combine performance

  • 40-yard dash: 4.41 seconds, second among running backs
  • Broad jump: 10 feet, 5 inches, fifth among running backs
  • Bench press: 20 reps, ninth among running backs
  • Vertical jump: 37 inches, 10th among running backs
Related: As Bucs eye a developmental quarterback in NFL draft, one player stands out

2019 superlatives

  • 1,480 rushing yards, tops in the Sun Belt and No. 9 nationally
  • 24 total touchdowns (18 rushing, 5 receiving, one kickoff return), third nationally
  • Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Year

We say: The one-time USF target is quick with nice vision, and he helped the Mountaineers become one of the best Group of Five teams in the nation. Evans also adds value as a receiver and on special teams, which could make him an intriguing option for the Bucs to consider.

AJ Dillon, Boston College

Boston College's AJ Dillon
Boston College's AJ Dillon [ MICHAEL DWYER | Associated Press ]

Height/weight: 6-0, 247

Combine performance

  • Vertical jump: 41 inches, first among running backs
  • Broad jump: 10 feet, 11 inches, first among running backs
  • Bench press: 23 reps, fifth among running backs
  • 40-yard dash: 4.53 seconds, 10th among running backs
  • 3-cone drill: 7.19 seconds, 10th among running backs
Related: Which offensive tackle would make the Bucs happy? One of these four

2019 superlatives

  • 1,685 rushing yards, tops in ACC and No. 6 nationally
  • Seven games rushing for at least 150 yards
  • 14 rushing touchdowns, second in ACC

We say: Dillon is powerful and was extremely productive in college. Just ask Florida State, whom he pounded repeatedly. His game isn’t well-rounded, though, and he isn’t the three-down back the Bucs (and other NFL teams) covet.

Eno Benjamin, Arizona State

Arizona State's Eno Benjamin
Arizona State's Eno Benjamin [ RICK SCUTERI | Associated Press ]

Height/weight: 5-9, 207

Combine performance

  • 3-cone drill: 6.97 seconds, second among running backs
  • Vertical jump: 39 inches, fifth among running backs
  • 20-yard shuttle: 4.25 seconds, seventh among running backs
  • 40-yard dash: 4.57 seconds, 14th among running backs
  • Broad jump: 10 feet, 2 inches, 14th among running backs
  • Bench press: 12 reps, 24th among running backs
Related: NFL draft: How CJ Henderson compares to Gators’ other star defensive backs

2019 superlatives

  • 1,430 total yards from scrimmage (1,083 rushing, second in Pac-12)
  • Six games rushing for at least 100 yards
  • All-Pac-12 first team

We say: He had a great career for the Sun Devils and starred in one of the biggest upsets of the year (168 total yards in a win over Oregon). Benjamin is durable and elusive but still a little raw.

Deejay Dallas, Miami

Miami's DeeJay Dallas
Miami's DeeJay Dallas [ Times ]

Height/weight: 5-10, 217

Combine performance

  • 3-cone drill: 7.18 seconds, eighth among running backs
  • 20-yard shuttle: 4.32 seconds, 11th among running backs
  • 40-yard dash: 4.58 seconds, 16th among running backs
  • Broad jump: 9 feet, 11 inches, 18th among running backs
  • Vertical jump: 33.5 inches, 20th among running backs
Related: Once homeless, Javon Kinlaw now one of the best players in NFL draft

2019 superlatives

  • 846 all-purpose yards, second on the team (missed three games)
  • Best game was opener vs. Florida, 132 all-purpose yards and career-high four receptions

We say: He starred against Florida in the opener and showed flashes of success. How much of his inconsistency was the result of his play, and how much of it was his surroundings? Dallas has plenty of potential but didn’t come close to realizing it all with the Hurricanes.