The Runningbacks of the 2018 NFL Draft Class

A little while back I scouted the quarterbacks class and I’m going to do something similar for the runningbacks. This is me highlighting a few of my favorites where I talk about what I think they do well and what I think they need to work on as well as where I would take them in the Draft as well as what current or former NFL players I think their game most resembles. These can run a bit long so without further ado, let’s get into my backs. These are going to be in alphabetical order, so don’t think of these like rankings. I’ll have a whole blog for that in the future.

Saquon Barkley-Penn State

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I say these aren’t rankings, yet I put Barkley first. That’s just a coincidence, settle down. But yeah, Barkley is the best runningback in this Draft class and I’ve seen many people suggest that the Browns should take him #1 overall. Barkley’s good, really good, but I wouldn’t go that far. He was destroying college football for the first half of the year, then started fading down the stretch a bit. But there are a lot of things to love about the junior out of Penn State.

Strengths: Size, Explosiveness, Versatility

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Saquon Barkley is thick in the legs, which he should be when you’re 5’11 and 230 pounds like he is. He doesn’t really have the reputation of a bruiser, but he’s built like one and he can cut on a dime about as efficiently as LeSean McCoy. He’s also fast as Hell. One report has clocked him running as fast as a 4.33 40-yard dash. A guy at that size should not be anywhere near that fast. So here’s a 230-pound back who runs a 4.3 40 and is as elusive as they come. Oh and did I mention he’s a pretty good receiver and return man as well? Because he can do those things, too. Last year Barkley rushed for 1271 yards and had 632 yards receiving as well and even took a kick to the house against Indiana. So with all that, what weaknesses are there?

Weaknesses: Route Running, Hop Step

I mentioned that Barkley was a good receiver. However when he has to run actual routes out of the backfield, not just drifting towards the flat, he tends to get a little lax in his route running. This kind of surprised me because when he’s running with the football, his cuts are so sharp. But when he’s running routes, he tends to kind of bend on his turns instead of planting his foot and turning. Also, when he’s about to be handed the football, he does this little hop. This can be both beneficial and detrimental. On the one hand, it looks like that hop gives him an extra burst of speed. On the other, it’s costing him a split second that allows defenders to close in on him at the start of the handoff. But that’s really all I could come up with for weaknesses, I was really digging to be honest, Barkley’s great.

Draft Thoughts: I think Barkley is worthy of going in the top 5 picks. I’m not so sure I’d take him number 1 just because I think that spot should be reserved for the more crucial positions such as quarterback, left tackle, and edge rusher and in many offenses it doesn’t matter who is at runningback. But when you’re this freaky an athlete with so few flaws, it’s hard not to at least consider it, especially considering this year’s class as so many question marks and Barkley feels like one of the safest picks in the draft. He would be EXTREMELY beneficial to a team like the Giants, who do have other weapons on offense like ODell Beckham Jr and Evan Engram that could have their play elevated by there actually being a threat in the backfield.

Pro Comparison: 

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Ezekiel Elliott. He and Barkley both have similar frames and were damn near perfect draft prospects at the runningback position. I think a lot of the reason that Barkley kind of faded down the stretch was that opposing teams were gearing more resources towards stopping him, which allowed quarterback Trace McSorley to shine through.

Derrius Guice-LSU

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Derrius Guice burst on the scene last year when Leonard Fournette spent much of the season injured and really came into his own. 2017 was expected to be a huge year for Guice but he really didn’t explode the way I hoped. However, he was still the most important piece of the LSU offense and still managed to put together some solid numbers despite a decline in overall performance (his yards per carry dropped over 2 whole yards between 2016 and 17). However I still think he can be an excellent back in this league.

Strengths: Running Style, Speed, Receiving Ability

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When I looked up Guice’s measurables, I was SHOCKED to learn that he plays at just 212 pounds. He plays like he’s so much bigger than that. His running style is so aggressive, too. It’s almost as if he enjoys getting hit and punishes any defender who is brave enough to try and tackle him. He’s also a lot faster than you might expect. He’s just as fast as Barkley, as he was clocked at 4.32 seconds in his 40 yard dash during LSU minicamp. He’s also a decent receiver, as he had 18 catches for 124 yards on the season. Not nearly as good as Barkley but there was better quarterback play at Penn State than there was at LSU.

Weaknesses: Blocking, Running Style

Yes I included Guice’s running style as both a positive and a negative. This is because the manner in which he invites contact at his size is a recipe for injury. The defenders are a Hell of a lot bigger at the next level and if Guice is throwing his body around at them, that could lead to some IR trips if he’s not careful. He also kind of brings his aggressive running style into play when he’s blocking. Instead of absorbing defenders, he tends to go for the knockout block on seemingly every play. When he lands it, he de-cleats the defender. However if the defender puts on a slight move, Guice is lying facedown in the dirt and the rusher is disrupting the pass. He needs to play more disciplined when he’s back in protection.

Draft Thoughts: I wouldn’t mind taking Guice in the first round as long as I was comfortable in my stable of backs behind him. He has all the makings of a feature back but his running style can kind of scare me at times. While I love his aggression, he’s a lot more valuable to me on the field than in the training room.

Pro Comparison: 

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Tevin Coleman. Coleman is a guy who is kind of stuck behind DeVonta Freeman in Atlanta but I feel if he is given the reigns to be the man, he could be a really electrifying back in this league, like Guice. Both have great athleticism and can shine as a receiver when given an opportunity. However both have pretty violent running styles that could result in potential injury. Coleman played on a broken foot at Indiana.

Kerryon Johnson-Auburn

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Kerryon Johnson was an intriguing prospect for much of the year but very few scouts really entertained the thought of him being a potential first rounder until he took over the Iron Bowl in Auburn’s victory over eventual national champion Alabama. Johnson was all over the place and was a part of seemingly every impactful play in that game. Scouts started taking notice and as a result, Johnson’s stock has skyrocketed.

Strengths: Vision, Agility, Patience

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Johnson can hit some holes that I didn’t even know were there. His peripherals are a marvel to behold. He’s also pretty slippery and it’s almost like he’s covered in grease when guys try and tackle him because of the way he kind of slips through people. He also clearly models his running style after Le’Veon Bell because he’s definitely waiting for his blocks to develop before attacking.

Weaknesses: Blocking, Hitting the Hole, General Explosiveness

I wouldn’t say Johnson is a bad blocker, just an inconsistent one. There are some plays where he makes really nice blocks that bought quarterback Jarrett Stidham at least another second or two to throw. There are others where he’s an absolute turnstile. There really wasn’t any in-between. Also, I mentioned his patience as a strength, but at times it appears to be a weakness because I think he’s so caught up in trying to be patient and waiting for his blocks to set up that he forgets he’s got to blast through them. He kind of hits the hole like a dainty butterfly and he lacks that one-step explosion that a lot of teams like to see out of their backs.

Draft Thoughts: Quite frankly, I think Johnson is getting a bit overhyped. He seems like an instinctive player, sure, but he’s the same size as Derrius Guice but seems so much slower despite the generally leaner frame. It’s more his intangibles that I think are the real positive rather than what he really brings to the table physically because watching some film on him, I wasn’t particularly blown away by anything he did. I’d probably wait until the 4th round before I started thinking about taking him.

Pro Comparison: 

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Jerick McKinnon. McKinnon is versatile kind of like Johnson and both have experience running out of some sort of wildcat formation. However neither really blows anybody away with their overall athleticism and in the grand scheme of things, I think they’re just decent backs.

Ronald Jones II-USC

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Ronald Jones II was a guy I hadn’t heard a whole lot about coming into this season, but I watched the Texas-USC game and was blown away by what this kid can bring to the table. I was watching that game looking to see what Sam Darnold can do, I left the game thinking about how great a back Ronald Jones is.

Strengths: Athleticism, Receiving, Blocking, Ability in Space

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Ronald Jones is at his best when he’s in space. He’s shifty and a great athlete and sometimes his cuts are so brutal he leaves defenders on skates. He’s also a good receiver, though I don’t think USC utilized him enough in this fashion. His blocking is an odd type of good. I thought he was decent as a blocker in the backfield, but in formations where USC had him line up out wide then throw a screen to a receiver, I thought he was fantastic. Again, Jones is at his best when he’s got space around him.

Weaknesses: Running Between the Tackles, Power

Jones was very unimpressive to me when he had to run up the middle. It seemed like he isn’t totally looking for the holes when asked to run straight. When he is running stretch plays outside the tackles to the edge, his vision seems to be great, but it’s when he’s forced to run into traffic where he tends to struggle. He’s also not going to knock anyone over with his 200-pound frame, but that’s not really his game anyway so it’s not TOO much of an issue, I just have a preference towards power backs.

Draft Thoughts: Ronald Jones could be downright dynamite when put in an offense that allows him to play to his strengths. I don’t think he fits in with everybody, which I think will hurt his draft stock. However if the right team picks him, look out because when this guy gets the ball in space, good luck. I think a team like the Lions would be perfect for him, as they’ve shown with Theo Riddick that they’re willing to play to each individual’s strengths, which is where I think he could shine. I think he could be worth a late first round pick as long as you have a specific plan set for how you want to use him because he’s not going to plug into just any system.

Pro Comparison: 

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Alvin Kamara. Both guys excel in their own systems and are at their best when in space as well as being talented receivers. Jones is a little bigger than Kamara but they both play similar games.

Bryce Love-Stanford

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Out of all the guys on this list, Bryce Love was the big breakout star. After backing up Christian McCaffrey for the last couple of years, Love was phenomenal upon being thrust into the starting role after McCaffrey was drafted 8th by the Panthers in the 2017 Draft, rushing for over 2000 yards and finishing 2nd in the Heisman voting. A lot of scouts are curious as to how well he will transition to the NFL and are wondering if his breakout season was a fluke.

Strengths: Speed, Shiftiness

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I don’t know if anybody in this draft class changes direction better than Love. Maybe Barkley. But when Love plants that foot in the dirt and cuts the other way, good luck catching him. And he’s fast, too. He’s been clocked at a 4.35 40 but there have been times where he was looked even faster. Once he gets to the second level, you’re done. He’s hard to tackle in open space and you’re going to need some serious athletes if you’re going to keep him in check. In fact, the one game where he was kept in check was the game where he was coming off an ankle injury. And even then he ran for 69 yards (it was the one time all year where he was held under 100).

Weaknesses: Size, Receiving

Out of all the backs I’m scouting in this blog, Love is easily the smallest. He’s 5’10 196 pounds, so he’s not built to handle the bulk of the carries in an NFL offense. And for a guy as quick as he is, I’m surprised to see that he’s not very involved in the passing game. He only had 6 catches for 33 yards on the season, which really works against you when you’re a smaller back. A lot of coaches like using their scat backs as receivers out of the backfield and Love hasn’t shown that he’s capable of doing that.

Draft Thoughts: I like Love a lot, but he has his limitations. He may be the most athletic runningback in this class, rivaling even Barkley, but his lack of size and receiving ability is a big knock against his draft status. I think if he were to add 10 pounds of muscle and work on his routes, he could be a DANGEROUS player in this league. But as things stand right now I think we’re looking at a third rounder.

Pro Comparison: 

at Gillette Stadium on December 31, 2017 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.

Dion Lewis. Lewis was drafted in the 6th round by the Eagles a few years back and was used mainly on kick returns before bouncing around the league and finally finding a home in New England, where they were able to use his skillset in a way that allowed him to thrive. This year he added on some muscle and he’s become a complete back, which is a similar path I think Love could find himself going down if he works at it.

Sony Michel-Georgia

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Sony Michel was part of arguably the deadliest runningback duo of all time with Nick Chubb (who I thought about including in this blog, but his injury history scares me so much I wouldn’t touch him until round 5). Michel was particularly dominant during the playoff, as he nearly led Georgia to a national championship single handedly. He scored the walkoff touchdown against Oklahoma and was the only consistently good member of Georgia’s offense in their championship loss to Alabama.

Strengths: Size-Speed Combination, Explosiveness, Shiftiness, Vision

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I was surprised to see that Sony Michel is 215 pounds because he runs like a gazelle. Granted, he only runs a 4.45, but he plays a lot faster than that. He hits the hole so hard that if you don’t square him up, he’s going to blow right by you. And when he’s in the open field you stand no chance. He does a great job of reading blocks as well. There’s a lot of untapped ability with this kid and I think sharing a backfield with Chubb kind of held back what he can really do when given the reigns.

Weaknesses: Power, Blocking, Receiving, Running Style

I put receiving down as a weakness mainly because he was barely utilized as a receiver throughout most of the season. He was used a lot more as a receiver in the Rose Bowl, as he got 4 out of his 9 catches on the season in that game, and I think he did pretty well so I think there’s some untapped potential there. But as it stands, we just don’t know enough about his abilities as a receiver to justify listing it as a strength. Also, he’s not a power runner in any sense of the word. He’s not going to barrel over anybody and he might struggle against NFL-caliber pass rushers. He also runs very upright, which might hinder his speed some and can cause injury if hit a certain way.

Draft Thoughts: I think Sony Michel could creep into the first round depending on how his combine goes. If he can run a sub 4.4 40, then I think he’s automatically in the discussion. He’s very good in space and I think there is so much untapped potential with this kid that I think we could have something really special here.

Pro Comparison: 

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David Johnson. Johnson is a guy that had a lot of raw and untapped potential at Northern Iowa that was unlocked when the Cardinals were able to utilize what he does best and got him involved in the passing game. I think Michel could have similar success if given similar attention.

That’s a wrap on my scouting report on some of my favorite runningbacks in this year’s draft class. Did I miss anyone? Let me know in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10 and contribute to my Patreon.

 

 

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