NFL Draft Positional Rankings: Running Back
February is here and the NFL Draft is now right around the corner (a 2 1/2 month corner, but I digress). I kicked off my draft coverage last week with my first mock draft, which you can find here if you missed it NFL Mock Draft 1.0. Now it’s time for something a little spicier. Starting today I’m going to dive into each position in football and put my scouting acumen out in the public with positional rankings. We’ll go one by one, position by position, and give a bit of a breakdown on how I see each player.
Why not start with the most fun position to watch in football, one that many draft analysts have argued has become “worthless”. I’m not going to totally discount the fact that the running back position has lost value in the last 10 years, but I also won’t ignore the fact that teams with star running backs have worked their way deep into the playoffs this year. Sony Michel has led the way for New England with nearly 1,000 yards in 13 games, we all know what Todd Gurley has done the past couple years, and the combination of Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram were a missed PI call from playing in their 1st Superbowl. This class has a ton of guys I like, but nobody I love, a lot of guys to look for in the mid-rounds that will help your team and contribute right away, but I’d be shocked if we saw a back come off the board in the first round. Let’s jump into my top 15 running backs starting at number 15.
15) Nick Brossette, LSU
Brossette sat behind the likes of Leonard Fournette and Darrius Guice in his first couple years in Baton Rouge so it’s no surprise he’s only had one year to show what he has. There’s no stand out physical trait, but he is a patient runner with great feet and does a good job finding holes and cut back lanes. If you need an RB3 on your roster to take some early down work and give your starter a breather, Brossette is your guy.
14) Mike Weber, Ohio State
Mike Weber is a guy I’ve had a lot of experience with since playing against him in a high school state championship. As far as traits and NFL projections Weber is actually very similar to Brossette. I can echo his feet and vision, but where Weber takes the edge is his contact balance and elusiveness. He’s also got a bit of ability catching out of the backfield as well, with over 50 catches in his college career, which should help him contribute early on an NFL roster.
13) Justice Hill, Oklahoma State
Justice Hill, and anyone in the Mike Gundy offense, is a weird watch because he’s almost always running in wide open space. That being said there’s definitely some traits to like, he’s a plus athlete with good balance through contact, and while it wasn’t a huge part of his college game, he has soft hands when he’s asked to help in the passing game. One thing he needs to work on is the willingness to go inside as he has avoided many a hole between the tackles to try to bounce a run outside.
12) Devine Ozigbo, Nebraska
Another strange evaluation.. take a look at these numbers: 2017 129 carries 3.8 ypc, 2018 155 carries 7 (!) ypc. The Scott Frost offense clearly opened things up for Ozigbo and allowed him to showcase his tremendous lateral agility and quick feet. He’s a powerful, shifty running back I’d love to have on 1st and 2nd down, who can give you plenty of 20 yard “big plays” but doesn’t have the long speed to be a threat to break a long one.
11) Myles Gaskin, Washington
For one, Myles Gaskin was a tremendously productive college running back with almost 6,000 yards and over 60 TDs in his 4 year career. As prophet Uncle Ben once said, with great production comes great durability questions. We all know it’s hard to make a long career at this position, and Gaskin comes into the NFL with over 1,000 touches in college. He is a versatile player who will absolutely find a role in the league, but he has no “trump card” or any single special trait he can hang his hat on.
10) Benny Snell, Kentucky
Benny Snell is a ton of fun to watch; he’s a big mean runner with the size and power to move a pile and fall forward on just about every carry. That being said he hasn’t shown much ability to rely on him to catch out of the backfield, and (combine pending) he isn’t a great athlete. With a surprise combine performance he could bump himself up on his list, as athleticism is my biggest question with Snell. As of now I’d still feel comfortable with him as a LeGarrette Blount type role player who you can count on between the tackles.
9) Miles Sanders, Penn State
A tremendous athlete, Sanders has super quick feet, great agility in and out of his cuts, and showed pretty much everything you can ask of him in his 1 year starting in Happy Valley after sitting behind Saquon Barkley for two years. While the lack of tread on his tires is a plus for his transition to the next level, I think the guy he sat behind gave him some bad habits. He tends to think he is Barkley 2.0 at times and tries to bounce too many runs outside, something that will not work as well at the next level.
8) Damien Harris, Alabama
Contact balance and vision. Damien Harris is not extremely elusive in the open field, he’s not a great athlete, and he’s not a proven pass catcher, but he’s an open book as a prospect and sometimes that’s a comforting feeling. The ceiling isn’t that high, but the floor is, and sometimes that’s all you want out of a mid-round pick.
7) Elijah Holyfield, Georgia
Holyfield is an absolute wrecking ball who loves putting defenders on their back. He’s a violent runner who has one trump card and uses it every time he touches the ball. The athleticism is impressive (though not elite) and he has shown quicker feet than he gets credit for. I think the ceiling is high for Holyfield, and if he shows out at the combine look for his stock to soar.
6) Devin Singletary, Florida Atlantic
Crazy production at the lower level of college football, Singletary did exactly what you want out of a non-Power 5 prospect: dominate your competition. The only real doubt I have in Singletary is his long speed, but he has everything else you look for when projecting a back to the next level.
5) Trayveon Williams, Texas A&M
One of my favorite prospects to watch so far, Williams is absolutely electric. He’s a super explosive back with tremendous acceleration in and out of his cuts which gives him the elusiveness you look for in the open field and between the tackles. He’s not afraid of contact, and was good in the passing game (both in catching the ball and in pass protection). His contact balance and ability to break tackles are his biggest question marks at the moment, and the only things holding him back as a prospect right now.
4) Joshua Jacobs, Alabama
Jacobs has been shooting up draft boards for good reason, but I’m going to pump the breaks on RB1 for now. He checks every box, clearly loves the game, and he’s been slowly climbing my personal board the more I watch of him. He’s never taken the lion’s share of touches in really any game of his career which is worrying, but he’s a tremendous back and his skills translate beautifully to the next level.
Late 2nd-Early 3rd round
3) Darrell Henderson, Memphis
Find hole, hit hole, run through hole. Henderson is an explosive back whose best trait is definitely his elusiveness and unbelievable contact balance. You will have a hard time bringing him down with one guy, whether he beats you with a quick cut or simply breaks a tackle with impressive power. He racked up unbelievable production for a relatively light workload (1,900 yards on 9 ypc in 2018) so durability won’t be a big concern. I project Henderson as a potential 3 down starter at the next level who can fit into multiple schemes and reminds me a lot of Kareem Hunt.
Late 2nd round
2) David Montgomery, Iowa State
Another guy who simply checks all the boxes and does everything you want a modern NFL running back to do. Running through contact, good feet and agility in the open field, soft hands, pass protection, this guy can do it all at a high level and has shown it in 2 years of tape. His vision is a bit of a question at this point, so I don’t think a zone gap scheme will be a great fit, but he’s a do-it-all back who projects favorably to the 2019 NFL game.
Late 2nd round
1) Rodney Anderson, Oklahoma
While we didn’t really get to see Anderson in 2018, I didn’t need to. Anderson showed everything you want a running back to show in the 2017 season to project him to the next level. He moves tremendously well in space, is slippery after contact, catches the ball well out of the backfield, has good patience and vision behind the line of scrimmage, and has enough power to trust in short yardage situations. The only question mark right now with Anderson as a prospect is the knee injury that caused him to sit out nearly the entire 2018 season. Without more clarity on that at this point of the process, I’ll trust modern medicine to get him back to 100% the same way the Todd Gurleys and Adrian Petersons of the world have in recent history.
Early 2nd round