Once touted as the most important position, running backs have become devalued in recent years. While the NFL is certainly a passing league, the value of a great running game should not be overlooked. Of the top ten teams in rushing last season, nine of them made the playoffs.
Here are the top five running back prospects in the 2018 NFL Draft:
1. Saquon Barkley: Height: 6’0|Weight: 233|40 time: 4.40
Widely considered the best overall player in the 2018 NFL Draft, Barkley is a once in a generation talent. In three years at Penn State, Barkley was the main option on offense. He rushed for over 1,000 yards in each season there. In his senior campaign, Barkley rushed for 1,217 yards and 18 touchdowns. But here’s what separates Barkley from the rest of the pack, he caught 54 passes for 632 yards and three scores. When it comes to today’s running backs, teams need players that are able to run and receive and Barkley is highly capable of doing so. Barkley has great field vision, power, speed, and elusiveness. He is also willing to step up in pass protection when needed. He in all rights deserves to be the number one overall selection in this draft class.
2. Derrius Guice: Height: 5’11|Weight: 212|40 time: 4.49
Guice finished his junior year at LSU with 1,251 rushing yards and 11 rushing touchdowns. Guice runs with the power and aggression of a much bigger back. He’s adept at lowering his pads and fighting for the extra yards. By watching his film, you’ll notice he rarely, if ever, goes down after first contact. Guice has been compared to Marshawn Lynch because of his aggressive and relentless running style, a style that’s old school but still effective in today’s game. On top of the aggression, Guice possesses a good mix of speed and balance as well with the ability to bounce off a defender, maintain balance and accelerate back to top speed. If Guice can add 10-15 pounds after he’s drafted, that’ll help his body tremendously at the next level. Look for his name to be called within the first 25 picks.
3. Sony Michel: Height: 5’11|Weight: 220|40 time: 4.54
Michel spent all of his time at the University of Georgia in the shadow of another great back, Nick Chubb. However, Michel shined in his own light. He electrified in his senior year, finishing the season with 1,227 rushing yards and 16 rushing touchdowns on just 156 attempts. He averaged 7.9 yards per carry, most among the top-10 projected running backs in the 2018 draft class. Michel has big-play ability and has shown a knack for making big plays when his team needs him. In the Rose Bowl against the number three ranked Oklahoma Sooners, Michel totaled 222 yards and four scores. He didn’t run the fastest 40 time, but his explosion and vision make him a dangerous back.
4. Nick Chubb: Height: 5’11|Weight: 228|40 time: 4.52
In 2014, as a freshman at the University of Georgia, Chubb rushed for 1,547 yards and 14 touchdowns. He was considered the best running back in college football and was slated to be a top-five pick once he was eligible for the NFL draft. Midway through his sophomore campaign, all of that changed when Chubb suffered a gruesome knee injury which looked a lot worse than what it was. Given the visual of Chubb’s injury, he was lucky enough to only sustain a torn PCL without damaging any other ligaments. Since his return from injury, Chubb managed to produce back-to-back 1,000 seasons as Georgia’s featured back and, at times, has looked every bit like the 2014 version of himself. He finished his senior year with 1,345 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns. Chubb is a great between the tackles runner and has one-cut and go ability that NFL coaches love. Chubbs won’t be an every down back, but he’s the type of player who could lead the league in rushing touchdowns.
5. Rashaad Penny: Height: 5’11|Weight: 220|40 time: 4.46
While the other four backs on the list shined at big-time programs, Penny made a name for himself at smaller San Diego State. He wasn’t a starter until his senior year thanks to NCAA all-time leading rusher and current Philadelphia Eagles running back Donnel Pumphrey. Once Penny got his opportunity he ran with it, literally! He led the nation in rushing yards with 2,248 yards in 2017. Penny also finished his senior season with 23 rushing touchdowns. Penny has a running style that shows he’s able to get to the second level with ease and shake arm tackles. He finished the 2017 season gaining 1,295 yards after contact, most among the 2018 running back draft class. Penny has also displayed his adept ability to return kicks having returned seven for touchdowns in his four years at SDSU. He will have to improve on his breakaway speed at the next level, but look for him to make an immediate impact on a contending team.
With the backs listed above, teams would be getting a player that is ready to contribute despite the loss of value at the position. The recent success of rookie backs might be changing the way teams view backs. Another resurgent year from this rookie crop would surely help.