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2018 NFL Draft: Running Back Rankings

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Ranking the 2018 NFL Draft prospects heading into the draft.

NCAA Football: Fiesta Bowl-Penn State vs Washington Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL Draft begins this coming Thursday night, and this year I sifted through enough video to compile an 85-man draft board. These are players I’ve seen play a minimum of three games each, and I have given consideration to each prospect’s college production, size, and athletic profile. If the player was injured, and did not work out prior to the draft, he did not make the cut (sorry, Billy Price). As for others who do not appear in these rankings, I either did not see enough of them to establish a firm grade, graded them as a “free agent,” or felt they were lacking a baseline level of production, athleticism, or both. I will be happy to try to answer any specific questions in the comments section, or on twitter (@afc2nfc).

KEY

Rd = Round Grade
Pos = Projected NFL Position
Age* = Age as of 12/31/18
HT = Height (6025 = 6’2 5/8”)
WT = Weight
Hand = Hand Size (938 = 9 3/8”)
Arm = Arm Length (3418 = 34 1/8”)
Bench = # of reps at 225 lbs
40 yard = 40-yard dash time in seconds
VJ = Vertical Jump in inches
BJ = Broad Jump in inches
3C = 3-cone time in seconds
SS = 20-yard (short) shuttle time in seconds

COLOR CODING

Blue = Top of the Line
Green = Above Average
Yellow = Average
Orange = Below Average
Red = Concerning

RUNNING BACKS

Saquon Barkley

The best player in this year’s draft is a 230-pound triple-threat running back with 4.4 speed. Barkley has legs like springs and explodes out of his cuts, runs pass routes like a receiver, and can take it to the house on kick returns. He’s more of a creator than a grinder, so his next team will have to live with some negative plays, but the home runs far outweigh the strikeouts. Barkley is a three-down back along the lines of Le’Veon Bell and David Johnson, but with an even higher ceiling.

Key Stat: From scrimmage, averaged 20.3 touches 132.6 yards (6.5 AVG) 1.3 TD per game over his 38 game career

Derrius Guice

Guice is a slasher with terrific straight-line speed for his size. I was surprised to see him weigh in at 224 pounds, and would have guessed he played at about 10 pounds lighter. Regardless, he has that tough running style that allows him to grind out yards between the tackles and finish strong when he gets into the open field. Guice occasionally faces questions about a lack of receiving production, but he scored on a pair of catches in LSU’s bowl game, and has workout tape to suggest he’s a capable pass catcher. Guice’s rushing production dipped a little in 2017 as he dealt with an ankle injury.

Key Stat: Averaged 6.5 yards per carry on 471 career rush attempts

Rashaad Penny

Penny is another big slasher with long speed, and like Barkley, was a major contributor in the return game. In fact, Penny averaged over 30 yards per kick return, and took eight kicks/punts to the house in his career. He was even the Mountain West Special Teams Player of the Year each of the last two seasons. Despite playing behind record-breaking Donnell Pumphrey for three seasons, Penny still managed to rush for over 1000 yards as a junior, and his 2248 rushing yards in 2017 were better than any single-season total in Pumphrey’s career. The biggest knock on Penny is his pass protection, which could keep him on the bench early in his pro career.

Key Stat: 7.8 yards per carry and 28 touchdowns in 13 games as a senior - his only season as the full-time starter

Nick Chubb

Chubb has returned from a gruesome 2015 knee injury to post back-to-back 1100 yard rushing seasons, and in 2017 almost seemed to regain his early-career explosiveness. I don’t know that he’ll ever be all the way back, but his durability over the last two years is incredibly encouraging. Chubb is a big banger with good vision, and still has some lateral bounce too his game. The big question mark now is his lack of involvement in the pass game. He has soft hands, but he only has 13 catches in his last 34 games after hauling in 18 passes as a freshman.

Key Stat: 7.4 yards per carry pre-injury, 5.5 yards per carry post-injury

Sony Michel

Michel is a decisive runner with burst out of the blocks, and high-end balance, he’s just a tick smaller and slower than the first four guys on this list. I love that Michel is a trusted pass protector, so I think he will have an immediate NFL role. The rumor mill even suggests that he might be the second back drafted after Barkley.

Key Stat: 25 carries for 279 yards (11.2 AVG) and four total touchdowns in the CFB playoffs this past season

Royce Freeman

This is the most overlooked back in the class, coming off a 1475-yard, 16-touchdown senior season. Freeman is a big runner with receiving chops, who had an excellent combine. He reminds me of Carlos Hyde with his size, and the way he’s always falling forward at the end of his runs, but Freeman has better athletic and production profiles.

Key Stat: 79 receptions and 10.3 yards per catch in 51 career games

Ronald Jones II

Jones has had a rocky draft season after pulling up lame on his first 40-yard dash attempt at the combine. He was unable to go at USC’s pro day, and then worked out at less-than-full strength at a private pro day later. He’s clearly a fast guy, but now we’re looking at a smaller back with a bum hamstring in a crowded group of talented runners. I still really like him, and think he’s comparable to Tevin Coleman, who coincidentally was drafted in the same range where I expect Jones to fall.

Key Stat: 20 touchdowns in 13 games last season, 42 touchdowns in 40 career games

Chase Edmonds

One of my favorite small-school prospects, Edmonds absolutely dominated the FCS for three seasons before battling injuries as a senior. Unfortunately, after a quick start at Shrine Game practices in January, he was forced out of that event with an ankle issue as well. But Edmonds was back to health for the combine and looked terrific in agility drills. Draftniks have since connected him to New England, where he would appear to be an ideal replacement for free agent defection Dion Lewis.

Key Stat: 23.2 touches 153.8 scrimmage yards 1.7 touchdowns per game in 44 career games

Nyheim Hines

Hines has the fastest timed speed in the running back class, and shows balance and forward lean against light contact. But he’s a little guy, and is going to have trouble picking up yards after contact in short yardage and against direct hits. Hines has experience playing receiver, and can be a big play return guy, but he only played one season as his team’s primary ballcarrier.

Key Stat: 13 touchdowns (12 rush, one punt return) in 13 games last season

Jaylen Samuels

A jack-of-all trades, Samuels is sometimes listed as a tight end or fullback, but his measurements and athletic profile are those of a running back. Because of his receiving prowess (202 receptions in 52 games), Samuels projects as a third down specialist who can catch passes out of the backfield, or line up in the slot.

Key Stat: Has scored at least 13 touchdowns from scrimmage in each of the last three seasons

Kerryon Johnson

I’ve seen Johnson draw Le’Veon Bell comparisons, but what some see as patience, I see as hesitation. While Johnson does have the capacity for short-yardage burst, he’s not particularly big, fast or quick. In his only season as Auburn’s feature back, he averaged only 4.9 yards per carry, though to his credit, he cashed in 20 TDs in 12 games.

Key Stat: 4.8 yards per carry on 519 career rushing attempts

John Kelly

Kelly is another back like Johnson, with “Just a Guy” measurables and test results. Kelly was the second or third option in the run game for much of his college career, and seems to have garnered draft hype based largely on a single game against Florida last season. He looks tough running to contact, but the former Vol averaged just 4.1 yards per carry this season, and scored four of his nine touchdowns in Week One against Georgia Tech. To his credit, Kelly did catch 37 passes in 2017. He projects as a backup.

Key Stat: 4.8 yards per carry and 15 touchdowns in 33 career games

Darrel Williams

Williams did a admirable job spelling Guice last season, and was a key contributor in the passing game. Williams is a role player who can fit in as a short-yardage runner and pass protector. He’s slow, but big and tough to bring down one-on-one.

Key Stat: 23 catches for 331 yards (14.4 yards per catch) last season.