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The Grueling Truth - Where Legends Speak / Top 10 Running Backs in the 2018 NFL Draft

Top 10 Running Backs in the 2018 NFL Draft

Top Running Backs!
Publish Date: 03/19/2018
Fact checked by: Mike Goodpaster

1. Saquon Barkley – Penn State – 6’ 233

In three years with the Nittany Lions, Saquon Barkley rushed for 3,843 yards and 43 touchdowns while making 102 catches for 1,195 yards and another 8 touchdowns.  Over half of his production in the passing game came in his last season where he had 54 receptions.

Barkley is the fast, dynamic, multi-talented playmaker that every NFL team is looking for.  He has excellent balance and can stop and go again like he is flipping a switch. He takes too many negative plays, but that is offset by the home run plays he creates.  He has incredible vision. Barkley is the most electric player that college football has seen in years and has more potential to change an NFL franchise than any player in this draft (quarterbacks included).

Strengths:

  • Explosive – once he hits the hole he is gone

  • Does not get walked down, even by defenders who appear to be taking the correct pursuit angle

  • Effective split out as a receiver as well

Weaknesses:

  • Takes too many negative plays

  • Dances in the backfield at times

 

2. Derrius Guice – LSU – 5’10” 212

Derrius Guice ran for 2,638 yards and 26 touchdowns over the past two seasons in Baton Rouge.

Guice was extremely impressive in relief of Leonard Fournette in 2016 and there was an extremely high bar set for him coming into the 2017 season.  Unfortunately, he struggled with injury and was not nearly as explosive a runner as he was the previous season. Guice is quick in and out of the hole.  He has a low center of gravity and can dip his hips effectively to make sudden cuts. He does not use this ability to break tackles but seems to be able to shake off would-be tackles while running upright.  This allows him to keep moving forward and he comes out of these broken tackles with great speed. He has excellent vision and can make sudden cutbacks.

Strengths:

  • Breaks tackles and gets moving again in a hurry

  • Great vision

  • Fantastic long and short speed

  • Makes Full speed cutbacks

Weaknesses:

  • Not at top of his game this season due to injury

  • May not be an every-down back as he has issues in pass protection and as a receiver

  • Runs high which some see as a negative

 

3. Ronald Jones – USC – 5’11” 200

Ronald Jones ran for 1,550 yards and 19 touchdowns in his final year with the Trojans.

Jones was a big-time playmaker at Southern Cal.  He is extremely fast but best in a straight line and when he can get going.  He would do best in a system that opens up holes for him and allows him to keep moving forward.  He runs high, which is not always a bad thing, but with him, it seems to set him up to take a lot of big hits.  He wins mostly with speed, a little with agility, and rarely with power. His use in the passing game was limited, but he could find success in this area in the NFL.  If he could develop a route tree, being able to line up at receiver and be a deep threat would increase his value exponentially.

Strengths:

  • Speedy north/south runner

  • Does not take negative plays

  • Good hips and jump cuts

Weaknesses:

  • Runs high, which some see as a negative

  • Best in a system that allows him to make one cut and go

  • Takes some big hits

 

4. Nick Chubb – Georgia – 5’11” 228

Nick Chubb ran for 2,475 yards and 23 touchdowns over the last two seasons at Georgia.

Although Chubb is a downhill runner, he does have some nuance in his game.  He can make defenders miss with stop and start moves as well as jump cuts. He also has the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and can make things happen after the catch.  He is always moving forward and does not take negative plays very often. His top end speed is not great, but he has shown the ability to break long runs and not get caught. Chubb would do best in a down running scheme but has the skill to be used as a receiver out of the backfield as well.

Strengths:

  • Always moving forward – finds small creases in the defense

  • Good hips and jump cuts

  • Does very subtle things with his body to influence defenders and set up cutbacks

Weaknesses:

  • Might not be patient enough to play in a zone scheme – would be best in down blocking schemes

  • Top end speed is good not great

  • Not a guy who can make things happen behind a subpar offensive line

 

5. John Kelly – Tennessee – 5’9” 205

John Kelly had 1,077 yards from scrimmage this season including 778 yards and 9 touchdowns rushing and 299 yards receiving on 37 receptions.

Kelly is a smaller back who plays like a big back.  He lacks elite speed, but always keeps moving makes great cuts.  He plays with great power and can often shake off would-be tacklers or at least drag them for a few more yards.  He has been utilized in the pass game in various ways and could be successful being used this way in the NFL.

Strengths:

  • Has a stop/start move that makes defenders look stupid

  • Can shake off tacklers and keep moving forward

  • Heavier use in the pass game than other backs who are being projected as dual threats

Weaknesses:

  • Does not have desired speed

  • On the small side

 

6. Sony Michel – Georgia – 5’11” 220

Sony Michel produced 1,227 yards and 16 touchdowns rushing for Georgia in 2017, bringing his career total to 3,613 yards and 33 touchdowns.

Michel is a very patient runner who has an excellent ability to make the first defender miss.  He is not the fastest back in the class, but is a smooth runner who is not easy to chase down without taking the correct angle.  He projects as a pass-catching back, but does not have extensive experience in this area.

Strengths:

  • Patient – allows blocks to happen in front of him

  • Great jump cuts

  • Smooth runner

  • Can make guys miss in the open field

Weaknesses:

  • Projected as a multi-purpose back, but was not used much in the pass game

  • Can get caught from behind

  • Wants to be a physical back, but may not have the physical gifts to do so

 

7. Kalen Ballage – Arizona State – 6’1” 227

Kalen Ballage ran for 653 yards and 4 touchdowns in 2015, 536 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2016, and 669 yards and 6 touchdowns in 2017.  In 2016 he had by far his best year receiving with 44 catches for 469 yards and a touchdown. His impressive performance in the Senior Bowl made people question why he was not featured in his college offense.

Ballage has the size and speed to be an every down back in the NFL.  When can break tackles, but even when he is tackled, defenders tend to get the worst of it.  He a smooth runner who does not always look like he is moving that fast, but is seldom caught from behind.  Ballage has demonstrated that he can be effective as a receiver out of the backfield which bodes well for his NFL prospects.  He wastes motion at times, making cuts on air when he should just be hitting the edge. Oddly enough he was never a true feature back in college.  He can return kicks as well.

Strengths:

  • Physical – brings contact to defender

  • Deceptive speed

  • Makes good cuts

Weaknesses:

  • Makes moves for no reason at times

  • Never carried the load in college

 

8. Rashaad Penny – San Diego State – 5’11” 220

Rashaad Penny ran for 2,248 yards and 23 touchdowns for San Diego State in 2017.

Penny has the size and speed to immediately catch the attention of NFL scouts.  He makes great cuts and generally looks to cut back rather than bounce out runs.  For a back of his size, you would expect him to break a lot more tackles than he does.  He needs to improve his leg drive and pad level in order to remedy this. He projects as a pass catching back, but will need to learn to run routes and improve exponentially as a pass blocker.  He is always moving forward, which generally gets him back to the line of scrimmage, but limits his ability to create big plays. He can contribute as a kick returner as well.

Strengths:

  • Elite Speed

  • Makes great cuts and keeps moving forward

  • Good vision – sees cutback lanes

  • Can catch the ball out of the backfield and has tools to lineup at receiver

Weaknesses:

  • Goes down with the first blow too often

  • Willing pass protector, but gets pushed around

  • Hits the hole when it’s there, but does not create on his own

 

9. Kerryon Johnson – Auburn – 6’ 212

Kerryon Johnson had 1,391 yards rushing and 18 touchdowns this season.  He also added 194 yards receiving for 2 touchdowns.

Johnson projects as an excellent third down back who can be used in protection or as a receiver.  He makes plays with his quick cuts and power moves. Auburn used him in wildcat to get him more touches.  He is an exciting player, but needs a coach who is creative enough to play to his strengths. He runs more upright than you’d like and is built more like a receiver than a running back.

Strengths:

  • Makes plays with the ball in his hands

  • Effective catching the ball out of the backfield

  • Solid in pass protection

Weaknesses:

  • Some project him as an undersized tight end, some as a third down back – will need to be in the right role to be successful

  • Does not have great top end speed

  • May not have use leverage well enough to be able to power through would be tacklers in the NFL

 

10. Nyheim Hines – North Carolina State – 5’8” 197

Nyheim Hines carried the ball 197 times for 1,1112 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2017.  He added 26 reception for 152 yards. In 2016, he had only 13 carries, but he was used more extensively in passing game and had 43 receptions for 525 yards that season.

Hines is a small, but extremely fast back.  He has trouble finding cutbacks, but if he can hit it in the intended hole he has the potential to take it for a big gain.  He does not break many tackles but does not shy away from hits either. His production as a receiver in 2016 is encouraging as that may be the best fit for him in the NFL.  He also returns kicks.

Strengths:

  • Extremely fast

  • Seems to be able to take a hit, but this may not last at the next level

  • Projects well as a pass-catching back

Weaknesses:

  • Does not have great vision

  • Better running in a straight line than trying to cut anything back

  • Size makes injury a concern

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