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2018 Pre-NFL Combine Overview/Mock Draft: Running Backs (FINAL)

Air Date:
February 13, 2018

*Final half of the RB group throughout today and tight ends tomorrow.

Ground Rules on this NFL Combine preview scouting:

 -- Looking at the initial performance data from their college years in our system.

 -- Watching 10-15+ minutes of tape

 -- Giving an initial knee-jerk reaction to what I am seeing/feeling.

 -- Will rank them as if I am drafting them for the dynasty rookie draft, and I will also break them into tiers

 -- We don’t have the full host of measurables, so my reactions could change when I see the physical times and attributes. Sometimes your scouting eyes deceive you on how fast a player is moving, etc. We will be doing all the full-fledged scouting of these players after the Combine data is in.

 -- This ‘draft’ and analysis will drop in a player at a time at various times throughout the day. Check the clock on the title to see when the latest post was made.

 -- Height/weight is latest estimates we have from their listed info or all-star games, etc. Not official.

 -- Going prospect by prospect in alphabetical order.

 

The NFL Combine Running Backs…

 

*Five Tiers: A, B, C, D, F…like school grades. Players listed in ‘my favorite’ order.

 

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**WRAP UP NOTE**

This may be the deepest class of RB talent I’ve ever seen. The top end is not containing any elites like 2015 or 2017 did but may, I could see about 10 different guys as NFL starters/impact players here…and we haven’t even looked at the sleepers not invited to the Combine!

2017 added a wave of rookie RB talent. 2018 is going to add even more…the RB talent glut is upon us. Regular old’ ‘good’ RBs won’t cut it anymore – guys like Melvin Gordon, Devonta Freeman, Dalvin Cook, Jay Ajayi, Alex Collins, Isaiah Crowell, Bilal Powell, etc., are going to become endangered species soon.

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**Tier A**

 *Calling this group 'A' could be misleading...they are A-/B+ type prospects to me so far.

Saquon Barkley, Penn State (5’11”/220)

I’ve written a few specific previews about Barkley starting summer or 2017 and again in the past few weeks. I like him, but I don’t LOVE and ADORE and WORSHIP him like the NFL establishment does. I don’t know that he’s THE running back to go gaga for. He’s good, for sure. Really good. NFL starter. But economically speaking there are so many talented RBs…why waste a top 5 pick on this guy?

Not better than David Johnson, Todd Gurley, Ezekiel Elliott, Leonard Fournette, etc. (naming recent draft pick RBs). I’ll take Joe Mixon or Carlos Hyde, talent-wise. Every time I see him, I think – Doug Martin. However, the NFL LOVES him and thus he’ll be shoved all the carries he can handle.

I have him #1 right now, and probably will be here in the end, because for dynasty drafts…you take him #1 and trade him or trade the 1.01 rights to him – that’s where his top value is right now. Not sure he is the best RB in this draft, we’ll have to see. I watched Notre Dame’s Josh Adams before this Barkley blurb was written…I gotta tell you, I wouldn’t hate to haver Adams instead of Barkley. I don’t see a massive gap in talent between them.

 

Nick Chubb, Georgia (5’10”/225)

I’d argue that Chubb is better than Saquon Barkley…at least, they are both equally talented. Chubb is a much better physical runner. Both about the same size, and Barkley may test faster at the Combine but I’m not 100% sure. Chubb might be close enough to Barkley in the 40-yard dash. If Chubb tests better than Barkley in the 40-yard and is close in agility times and bench press -- then he’s over the top of Barkley for me…no question.

Chubb has two question marks for me…(1) He didn’t get enough work in the passing game, so I have research deeper if it was Georgia’s offense or Chubb untrustworthy. Sony Michel didn’t get a ton of pass-game work either. (2) Chubb had the ACL in 2015 but was back in 2016. If his knee is medically clear 100%…he should be equal to or better than Barkley for the draft (but he won’t be the NFL loves Saquon too much).

I’ve watched four RBs in alphabetical order so far today. One is a fullback, so -- who cares. The other three legit RBs, and all in ‘Tier A’…and I could see Saquon Barkley as the 3rd-best of them – and that’s not slight to Barkley, I like him too. But I’m starting to get a rookie RB valuation picture just four RBs in.

If Chubb-Barkley-Adams are legit then the fantasy RB pool is going to be spilling over with options and it will serve to devalue the high pick RB in fantasy…and push more value to Antonio Brown and Tyreek Hill.

 

Josh Adams, Notre Dame (6’1”/220)

Team captain. Nice size. Impressive feet/agility for his size. Great balance. Some people will see him as slow out of the gates, but I think he’s more patient in his moves and then picks up steam when he has a hole. He’s a classic optical illusion…looks slow but is really moving fluidly for his size; he just makes it look effortless. Deceptive high-end speed possible here. 6.9 yards per carry in 2017 on 206 carries.

Looks like decent hands but I didn’t see enough of him getting targets to get excited or down on him. Looks OK.

Reminds me of Latavius Murray. A sneaky contender for a top 3 RB prospect in this draft class. Honestly, I kinda fell in some love here. Wore a knee brace in 2017 tape I watched but I didn’t see any recent history of knee issues.

 

Derrius Guice, LSU (5’11”/217)

Remind me some of Devonta Freeman – a better Devonta. At first glance, Guice doesn’t look like the other top ‘big’ RBs in this draft. He’s not as physically imposing. However, he makes up for that with toughness and great feet in short spaces. He can change direction in a blink and make people miss and find extra yards or holes. He’s really talented but not a between the tackles bruiser for 20+ carries a game.

I think Guice work fantastically as part of an RB duo…where Guice can be the lead but not the workhorse all the time. For that reason, I downgrade him in dynasty a touch. That might be unfair. His landing spot and the surrounding depth chart will launch or squash him. His hype will help him secure a role for some team and he’ll have fantasy advantages going into training camp others in this class won’t have.

 

 

**Tier B**

 

Jaylen Samuels, NC State (5’11”/225)

One of the most unique prospects in this draft. Could be a top RB prospect, could be a smaller Delanie Walker/Charles Clay top receiving TE prospect. Samuels runs the ball with a burst and is an excellent receiver. Caught 15 passes in South Carolina’s season opener 2017, ended up rushing for 12 TDs over the next 12 games. A wild, wonderful prospect that you’re left wondering what the NFL will do with him…probably put him as an H-back and toss him two targets per game.

The combination of Samuels as a solid power runner with pop and great receiving awareness makes him a legit RB prospect, but his ranking here is driven higher by the outside chance he becomes a ‘move TE’ pass-game weapon in the NFL.

 

Mark Walton, Miami, Fla. (5’8”/205)

My favorite ‘undersized’ RB of this class. Might be the odds-on favorite to run the fastest 40-time at the NFL Combine…and might get top three-cone as well. A burner with very nimble feet. Good hands. He would be a nice weapon as a change of pace and screen/bubble pass guy. Really, an electric runner. Tough, nimble, really nice vision…will get a lot of Darren Sproles’ comps but that might be an under-sell.

Team captain. An ankle injury/surgery cut his junior year 2017 short and he declared early for the draft.

I was debating between Tier A and B. Have to see that 40-time and three-cone to try to push him as an ‘A’…an ‘A’ from the PPR/weapon standpoint…possible Tarik Cohen, Duke Johnson, etc., type weapon…maybe.

 

Kalen Ballage, Arizona State (6’3”/230)

Utterly strange scouting…

At a quick glance, Ballage looks like David Johnson – size, hands, movements…but Ballage is a lot slower runner. Most humans are slower than DJ.

On tape, Ballage shows great burst with his size…like a 4.4+ runner at 230 pounds, BUT he might be a 7.3-40+ three-cone. Weak agility limits him more to a between the tackles guy. Such a weapon though for size and ace catching ability. Play to his strengths and you have a weapon here.

Scored 8 TDs in a game vs. Texas Tech in 2016…but was an on and off starter his last 20 games or so with low yards per carry. Is it because he’s not that good or this silly offense he was in/the blocking? In 2016, Ballage took like every carry as a wildcat QB…but to run…it was weird. Then Ballage goes to the Senior Bowl with all kinds of question marks…and then is the best-looking back at the Senior Bowl.

There’s too much raw talent here to deny, but his disappointing usage and output in college make you worry/pause. Upside to being the #1 all-around back in this class…with question marks that could make him outside the 10 on this list.

 

Rashaad Penny, San Diego State (5’11”/220)

Hard to put my finger on how exactly to evaluate him. His numbers and tape look fantastic. However, he does a lot of damage to weak Mountain West Conference opponents. This is the same team and conference where Donnel Pumphrey was like the greatest college RB in the history of RBs just a season prior…and today, a year later, he’s barely holding onto to an NFL roster spot.

Penny is a better prospect than Pumphrey could ever dream of. Penny has the NFL size and probably 4.4+ speed. He reminds me of Tevin Coleman and Ryan Matthews (when he was good). Is definitely an NFL starting RB in running ability but a little suspect catching the ball.

I’m more for Penny than against, but I have concerns and questions.

 

Kamryn Pettway, Auburn (5’11”/233)

Wow, this guy is a monster. Leonard Fournette…if Fournette wasn’t as polished an RB. If Derrick Henry wasn’t so stiff…he’d be Pettway. Impressive bounce at a plus size…and tough. Constantly bowls over tacklers. If you love physical runners…I can’t imagine there’s anyone in this class better than Pettway.

The downside – always hurt. The upside to the downside, nothing debilitating on the injuries. Broken shoulder blade. Quad strain. Plantar fasciitis. If he were never hurt…he might the best power runner prospect in this draft hand’s down. A player I watch and go ‘wow’…and I rarely do that…but I love my job when I do.

Huge upside. Huge risk that he’s an always hurt guy. Might be better suited for the pros than college.

Didn’t catch many passes in college (6) but only played in 16 games, and only 11 games with 10 or more carries…scoring 13 TDs and rushing for 100+ yards 7 of those 11 games. I’m not ready to definitively grade his receiving skills. Hands seem OK at a glance.

Completely intriguing sleeper for 2018…with concerns.

 

Royce Freeman, Oregon (5’11”/227)

Sometimes, I watch Freeman work and I think he’s a fine college RB but a ‘system’ runner at Oregon. Then I see tape evidence where he might have the size and skills of the top RB prospects in the draft. I don’t know if it’s a subconscious bias against him or if I am seeing potential good-greatness…my thoughts are bouncing back and forth.

He has NFL size. Shows the burst you want to see. Finds openings. Runs with effort, passion. Everything looks good but his performance numbers are all over. I’m not 100% sure what to do with him at this point. I see the potential, but I also am not totally jazzed…like I was when I watched Nick Chubb or Jamal Adams earlier today.

 

Sony Michel, Georgia (5’11”/215)

NFL size, speed, hands to be a starting RB…but not like a 20+ carry a game, workhorse-type RB. More of a Tevin Coleman or Alvin Kamara…starting duo backfield. Nice for the passing game and can carry a big load for a bit if needed. He’s an NFL talent. Probably runs 4.4s in the 40-yard, and if so – he’ll be a top 100 pick in the draft if not a top 50. Sony Michel and Nick Chubb are like the perfect NFL RB duo pairing…and Georgia had them…and should’ve won a national title with them. Almost did.

Michel’s fantasy value is tied to his role/what team he lands with. There’s upside here and reason for worry on landing spot.

 

Chris Warren, Texas (6’3”/235)

Another monster-sized, bruising NFL RB prospect…this class is loaded with big, talented RBs. Warren is a big, country strong, raw power runner…he might be great in the NFL or might be a little lost.

Warren brokeout late 2015 season, as a freshman – 276 yards rushing and 4 TDs (vs. Texas Tech) in his first real chance at a major role. Was a co-starter with D’Onta Foreman in 2016 but his season got cut short after 4 games due to a knee injury/PCL strain. In 2017, under a new coach, Texas had an RBBC overload and Warren’s touch coutns were all over the place. He was moved to tight end and then after 2017 season he announced that he was transferring from Texas, but then declared for the NFL Draft.

Under a different set of circumstances, Warren is a more highly valued prospect going into the NFL Combine. He’s kinda like D’Onta Foreman, only a tougher runner.

 

Nyheim Hines, NC State (5’8”/195)

A ‘football player’…a joy to watch tape on. At first, I wanted to put him in a returner/too small box – but he’s very quick, can catch…he’s a ‘weapon’. Two career kick return TDs and one punt return…and just when you want to pigeonhole him as a ‘return guy’, he rushed for 12 TDs on 197 carries, 1,112 yards last season. In 2016, he caught 43 passes for 525 yards.

He’s something to consider/watch at the Combine…and it will all depend on his 40-time/agility time. He might be a 4.3+ runner…and then he gets quite exciting for NFL and FF.

 

Jarvion Franklin, W. Michigan (6’0”/222)

In his first 9 games of college football, as a freshman, Franklin was simply amazing – 22 rushing TDs in 9 games, six of nine games with 3 rushing TDs in each game. I happened to see some of his work that freshman year by accident – and I was smitten. I kinda half-followed him throughout his college career…and then he fell off the table the last few games his freshman year and then lost his job some as a sophomore. Was in a split role and had a decent junior year. Started getting back right as a senior – six 100+ yard rushing efforts in his last 8 games and 11 TDs in that span.

Works like a poor man’s version of Saquon Barkley. Size, good speed, burst. Questionable RB instincts…really disappointing playing against major conference schools. He’s a sleeper for me but I’m rattled by how he fell down from his incredible start in college.

 

Jordan Wilkins, Ole Miss. (6’0”/218)

Not the biggest RB prospect in this class, but the most physical runner of the group – from a ‘seeks things to plow over’ standpoint. Wilkins has good speed, decent shifty feet, nice hands, and tries to murder tacklers on a lot of his runs. If this class wasn't so loaded, Wilkins might be a top sleeper.

Pretty impressive tape. Looks underutilized at Ole Miss…never had a 20+ carry game in his career. 14 or more carries in a game 6 times in his career…100+ yards rushing in each one of them. Very interested to see how he tests at the Combine.

 

 

**Tier C**

 

John Kelly, Tennessee (5’9”/205)

Not a great size for the NFL, but a thick lower body and a very tough, physical runner. He makes up for some lack of size with high-end toughness/physicality. Not a looming star in the NFL, but the kind of RB you like to have on the roster…tough runner, good hands, high effort. Will probably be a nice special teamer.

For fantasy…it depends if he lands in the right spot or not. Could be a deep backup or a 5-10 snap a game RB option…and maybe lucks into a 3rd-down role.

 

Bo Scarbrough, Alabama (6’2”/235)

Good-looking athlete for his size. Has a nice bounce to his step…looks like a more athletic Derrick Henry with a downside that he’s not a very instinctive runner – has the size of an NFL power runner but runs like a finesse RB. He runs to a direction and sticks with it…rarely making sharp, eslusive moves between the tackles.

Has NFL usefulness due to size-speed but there are many other 220+ pound RBs that are as/more athletic, better receivers, and have much better instincts at my first glance.

Watching SEC power runners Kamryn Pettway and Scarbrough…not contest, Pettway is far superior a ‘big guy’ talent.

 

Lavon Coleman, Washington (5’11”/228)

Not my cup of tea. Big guy with speed/acceleration, but no great RB instincts. Takes the ball and runs fast to the designed play but no real patience, instinct, savvy. NFL body. Could work in a pinch. Nothing special I see in performance or on tape.

 

Dimitri Flowers, Oklahoma (6’1”/245)

This is a fullback prospect that has me a little intrigued as a decent producer as an FB but also as a possible slimdown to ‘big’ RB. Flowers is very fluid, mobile for 240+ pounds. 26 catches, 245 yards, 5 TDs in 2017 (13 receiving TDs the past three seasons as an FB)…a nice receiving option not as just a little flare pass guy but working downfield. He’s a unique prospect as an FB or a possible slimdown to power RB.

 

 

**Tier D**

 

Roc Thomas, Jacksonville St (5’10”/203)

Former Auburn recruit, transferred after his sophomore season. Nice little RB prospect. Runs strong for his size. Has great, shifty feet. Catches the ball well. If used like a (taller) Darren Sproles, he could be a solid NFL asset. He’s also not so special that he couldn’t wind up as a practice squad RB and fringe/emergency roster guy. Has talent, but not off the charts. He has a role for the NFL…he just has to hope he lands in a palce where they give him the chance.

 

Ryan Nall, Oregon State (6’1”/235)

Interesting prospect…a bruiser. Has great size, physicality -- a near fullback look but probably runs a 4.6 40-time. Works like a slower Toby Gerhart. Gets a head of steam and is tough to bring down. Was able to push around college defenders. He won’t be so lucky in the pros.

If he comes in as a 4.5+ runner…this gets really interesting. A 4.6+ runner with suspect agility…it will pigeonhole him as a between-the-tackles, short yardage guy -- or a position move to athletic fullback. There’s some potential here with his size and skill. Not sure ‘starting RB’ will be his final NFL story. More likely…role player, fullback, or move to defense might be.

 

Ronald Jones, USC (5’11”/200)

Faster than most college defenders, but not NFL-fast. Thinner frame/wiry. Not an every-down, between the tackles workhorse but was used that way at USC. Jones would pop some plays because he’s more talented/faster than college defenders, but he’d be gobbled up in the NFL. Runs straight ahead, head down, not instinctive or powerful…just running with good college speed until tackled. Was so-so in the passing game in my quick view.

He could be the 3rd-part of an RBBC-type backfield approach in the NFL…and he’s not the lead dog or major receiving threat. He could be OK if forced work in the NFL but no real upside at the next level that I see. Capable…poor man’s Marlon Mack, but Mack is the far superior prospect of the two.

 

Kerryon Johnson, Auburn (6’0”/210)

Looks like a capable RB prospect…the kinda guy who bounces around as an NFL backup and if he got a chance to start in the NFL, he’d be OK…but forgettable. Average speed, ‘tweener’ size, so-so hands. Feels like a better college RB in a neat offense than a legit NFL RB prospect. Not unworthy of the NFL…just so many prospects with more ‘wow/upside in this draft and past drafts.

 

Justin Crawford, West Va. (6’0”/200)

Nice college RB but suspect prospect for the NFL. Looks like a 4.5+ runner with a little bit of a thin frame. At 200 +/- pounds and not overwhelming speed, given all the physically bigger talent in this draft…I can’t take Crawford seriously…especially when I don’t see anything exciting in the passing game.

 

Kyle Hicks, TCU (5’9”/198)

Very small, thin-framed RB…won’t be a workhorse at all in the NFL. Might be a decent C.O.P. back and has nice hands for the passing game. Reminds me of…a kind of Duke Johnson without the prestige, so an Austin Ekeler or Elijah McGuire type, maybe? Nothing overly impressive I saw for the NFL.

 

Chase Edmonds, Fordham (5’9”/205)

Quick feet, nice FCS talent, but not an obvious NFL Draft prospect. Seems like a 4.5+ runner at 205 pounds…not good. Might scrap his way to an NFL roster someday but a limited upside.

 

Akrum Wadley, Iowa (5’11”/191)

Scrappy RB…small, but runs hard and has good hands in the passing game. Better college RB than pro prospect. Could hang in the NFL in a receiving back role if given the chance. Nothing special, a fringe NFL talent.

 

Justin Jackson, Northwestern (5’11”/200)

Every time I watch him I think the same thing – ‘college good’ and ‘not NFL material’. Decent speed, stuck in the mud agility/changing direction-wise. Wasn’t swayed by him at the East-West Shrine, nor with more review today.

 

Demario Richard, Arizona State (5’10”/217)

Solid-but-unspectacular RB prospect. Probably a 4.6+ runner with so-so agility and has solid hands in the passing game. Nothing to get excited about on tape or with his college output. Not terrible just there are so many great RB prospects piling up.

 

 

**Tier F**

 

Donnie Ernsberger, W. Michigan (6’2”/250)

More ‘small TE’ than FB/H-back. There’s no dynasty-fantasy hope of a move to a legit RB.

 

Nick Bawden, San Diego State (6’2”/245)

QB turned FB…not a real prospect for dynasty-fantasy. Solid receiver and more skilled than most FBs, but still he’s an FB prospect not convert to ‘big’ running back.

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About R.C. Fischer

R.C. Fischer is an NFL Draft analyst for College Football Metrics, and a football projections analyst and writer for Fantasy Football Metrics. 

Learn more about RC and the College Football Metrics system >>