Running backs. Do they matter? Of course they do, but there’s a reality that people forget to think about. No matter now much you like this class or a particular back, there are finite jobs available in the NFL. For example, if not for Derrius Guice’s ACL injury last year, Adrian Peterson may not have played. It’s tough out there for a RB.
It’s not that running backs don’t matter. It’s that it’s a buyer’s market. Choosing the right back still matters and it will continue to matter. More and more we’ll be talking about baks in terms of how they fit an offense not just how they fit the ground scheme.
It’s coming down to the wire and I want to get these ranks up in time for you good folks to take a gander. I’ve written up as many as time permitted. Some guys were written up in the combine rankings but not here. I’ll add a few more blurbs on those guys tomorrow in advance of round two. Who knows. All these backs COULD still be on the board.
Hopefully I’ll see some of you online tonight!
|1||1||David Montgomery||Iowa St.||5-10 1/8||222||He’s good at football and he’s good at running back things. He’s a complete player within his realm—meaning there’s no situation he can’t play in for you, but he is not a dynamic threat (LT, JC, AP and so on) and lacks top end speed. If he happens to land a gig that could lead to early playing time, he could do well early. His film shows an NFL RB playing college football. I have little doubt that he has all the skills required. Just a matter of how good he can be with 4.63 wheels. My guess is that he trims down into the 216-218 area to gain a step. He weighed 222 at the combine. He did post a 4.57 at his pro day and I’d be surprised if he didn’t do that a few pounds lighter. That’s the shell game we play. The bottom line is that production and repeated exposures matter. Montgomery has laid it all out there and it’s almost all good film. He did not run behind the Alabama line so he had a much tougher go of it, and he still succeeded. Pre-landing spots, he’s my guy.|
|2||1||Josh Jacobs||Alabama||5-10||220||He’s a talented back who does some very impressive things as a receiver at 220 pounds. He’s SEC-tested and obviously all ‘Bama guys have some special talents. And, while some will question his light workload (myself included), there is a benefit for ‘Bama guys who do not get over-used. It’s well known that Nick Saban’s practice methods border on abuse (slight hyperbole there), so a player who wasn’t worn out in games is a plus on that level. The other side of the coin is that he has had injury stuff while never being a bell cow. Durability is an open question. Not a red flag, but an open question. The NFL has more film and access on this athlete than I do, so my basic method of operation here is to use the NFL’s valuation to solidify my own. The actual landing spot will obviously be important, too. My instincts have Jacobs being the first RB taken—probably around the top of round two. Round one would not shock me. The reason I have moved him ahead of Damien Harris is for ceiling, due to pass game upside. I still view Harris as the safer option.|
|3||1||Damien Harris||Alabama||5-10 1/8||216||Coach likes Damien ok and I like Damien quite a bit. He’s a professional running back who can play all downs and be your starter, and I think he’s got more “special” to him than he gets credit for. He’s got really good feet and is close to prototypical size for a lead back. He’s a legit interior runner with the ability to make some things happen outside as well. He obviously had a great situation to run in with that ‘Bama offensive line, so I won’t sell you his stats, but he strikes me as the kind of back who could function in tougher circumstances. Landing spot will obviously be a big factor for early career production, but this is a player I will probably be targeting in rookie drafts if I like the value.|
|4||1||Miles Sanders||Penn St.||5-10 5/8||211||If he was 5-10 pounds bigger, you’d have a prototypical NFL back in terms of dimensions and tested athleticism. He’s still pretty close to Johnny Bravo (“he fits the suit”) status. The question I have is, will he fumble his way out of the NFL like plenty of backs have? Alex Collins is a recent example. Sanders needs to do all he can to tighten up his technique. Get that thing high and tight. Hopefully that’s what happens. If it does, I think Sanders is a back capable of playing on all downs and leading a backfield. Obviously jobs are tough to find in the NFL, and he could be drafted into a reserve role. We’ll have to see how it all shakes out tonight. He could easily be moving up within this top tier.|
|5||2||Darrell Henderson||Memphis||5-8 3/8||208||Finding a comp for this guy in not easy. Sometimes an inability to comp gives me pause, but not as much as it used to because, the NFL is changing so fast that comps are becoming more challenging. The NFL RB archetype has been shapeshifting faster than at any time in history. 20 years ago, a small back with tiny hands who makes his living inside would be a non-starter for me. Not anymore. This kid runs with heart, anger and confidence. He’s legit, and he’s a plus factor as a receiver. There are some landing spots—Atlanta for example, that could get me excited about his short term future. I’m very open-minded to moving him up if a team goes early on him and I like the fit.|
|6||2||Justice Hill||Oklahoma St.||5-9 5/8||198||One of the best zone runners in this class by our eyes. This flies in the face of consensus, but we like the way he sees the play. Hill is a back who could be special in the right place. Atlanta would be super sweet as I like Hill as a back who could really do well as part of a two-man backfield. This guy does not need big volume to make a significant fantasy impact. Staying healthy was an issue at OSU and it is certainly a concern at the next level. That and his 198 pound frame also suggest that he could benefit from a shared role. It’s why he’s not tier one.|
|7||2||Trayveon Williams||Texas A&M||5-8 1/8||206||We really like this kid and what I feel is truly special about him is the connection between his eyes and his feet. He reacts well to the unexpected and has the ability to bail himself out of tough situations, but what’s key is that he’s still git a north/south mentality. He’s not like, foe example, Mark Walton, who we liked in terms of talent, but he needed to change his mind-set as a runner in our view. On film, Williams looks a touch faster than the 4.51 he ran in Indy. It could that he had a bad day or it could be that he loses less than a typical back when the pads come on. It could also be our flawed perception, but we like his speed. The poor 3-cone time also sort of belies what the film shows and it’s important to remember what the 3-cone shows. If shows quick feet and good footwork. It’s also a test that very much rewards practice reps, which is why some players just skip it. It’s hard to figure when he gets drafted, but if he slips, we think he could be a real value.|
|8||2||Bryce Love||Stanford||5-8 7/8||200||His ACL injury in December was like a knife in my heart, because I really like this kid’s ability. He should return to form in time but there’s a good chance that his rookie year will be negatively affected. Landing spot is key for any back, but especially important for Love, who could be special in a wide-open attack. Atlanta, Texans, Chiefs, Raiders, Eagles and Bucs comprise my wish list for Bryce. I’m not down on his game as a receiver. I think he’ll only get better in that regard. The key is health and we’ll get a better feel for that when the NFL chimes in. We make fun of the teams and all, and much of it’s deserved, but they still have excellent medical personnel and it’s best to put stock in that.|
|9||3||Alexander Mattison||Boise St.||5-10 5/8||221||Chris Ivory with vision? A slower version of Jay Ajayi? A mini Blount? Perine redux? Jeremy Hill with a work ethic? There’s plenty of ways to comp Mattison. I like this kid, but the realities I mentioned up top in the intro work against him. He’ll need some landing spot luck to have significant role as a rookie. So we know the lack of speed is a concern, but what do I like about this guy? He’s much bigger than his pre-combine listed weight. He’s as big as he looks on film. He shows good ability in the pass game, so PPR leaguers can keep reading. If he plays, he should catch some passes. He shows some desire and grit in pass pro. Not worried here. Again, if the landing spot allows it, he could play as a rookie and in more than one role. I saw an Alex Collins comp in Lance Zierlein’s report, and that made me chuckle. To me, Mattison is far superior. He’s better in the pass game AND he did not fumble as a collegian. Those are two enormous departures from Collins. A good scenario for Mattison would be to get drafted by a team like the Jets, and if Lev Bell goes down, he could be something. The Eagles would be an attention-getter as I think he fits their scheme well. I’ve moved him over my guy Ozigbo due to his receiving ability.|
|10||3||Devine Ozigbo||Nebraska||6-0||235||He’s a 235 pound runner who posted a 4.54 40 at his pro day and I was already in lust before that number came across the interwebs. The beauty with Ozigbo is that you should be able to land him cheap unless the NFL is on the same page as I am. That’s good, because while I’m liking most of what I see, there are certain realities with this player. He had only a single season of big time production and he did struggle against stronger defenses. Ozigbo has some good moments in pass pro, but he also has some bad ones when he drops his head or commits too early. The desire is there, which is good. He obviously has the size to take on ‘backers in the hole but he loses the leverage battle more often than he should given his build. He reminds me of D’Onta Foreman in a lot of ways both good and bad. Obviously Foreman’s speed was a level up but 4.54 is nothing to sneeze at.|
|11||3||Rodney Anderson||Oklahoma||6-0 3/8||224||He’s not a future star, I don’t think, but he’s good, and he’s big, and he fits the mold for the NFL of now and tomorrow because he’s good in the receiving game. He’s coming off of a lost season due to an ACL injury but he ought to be ready in time for camp. The thing is, Anderson has missed time throughout his college career, so durability is a question mark AND we are not exactly thick on film. He’s a bit more of a projection than is preferable. Then again, this could create a value opportunity. This is a player I’d like to have, but I’m not chasing him in 99 percent of the scenarios I can envision. I want him to fall to me.|
|12||3||Dexter Williams||Notre Dame||5-11||212||I definitely like his potential in the right scheme. He’s best deployed as a zone runner who can really hit it when it’s there. A lesser version of Tevin Coleman (as a runner) though he has a few extra pounds on Tevin. His receiving ability is relatively unknown. The big worry here is that Williams has been in trouble off of the field. The bottom line is that Dexter has NFL size, speed and acceleration and if he gets his head on straight and works hard, he could make an impact at some point. I doubt it will be early on. He’s still pretty raw.|
|13||4||Weber, Mike||Ohio St.||5-9 5/8||211||He’s been flying under the radar but we like him as an underrated athlete who can do a bit of everything.|
|14||4||Higdon, Karan||Michigan||5-9 1/8||206||This guy is criminally underrated in my view. I’m not saying he is the next coming but I spend plenty of time on social media and I see his name … never. That’s good. As long as he’s not over-drafted by the NFL, he’ll be a potential late-round value that we can steal if we dig his landing spot. I really like the way he runs. I like that he played for Harbaugh, which means he can handle tough coaching. His 40 time is all the more impressive when you consider that he was expected (based on listed weight) to weigh less than 200 pounds and runs fast at 206. The big question that I cannot attempt to answer is what he may be able to do as a receiver. Michigan simply did not use him that way. It’s a negative but it’s also an incomplete grade. The few instances where I see him catch the ball, he looks ok, but the lack of usage is a reality that shouldn’t just be dismissed.|
|15||4||Armstead, Ryquell||Temple||5-11 2/8||220|
|16||4||Homer, Travis||Miami||5-10 3/8||201|
|17||4||Barnes, Alex||Kansas St.||6-0 3/8||226||He’s not fast but he sure brings a lot to the table and I’m talking about the things we like to see. Size and passing game chops, and I’m not talking about some swings and screens, I am talking about tracking the balls and making tough catches. This is a player whose NFL appeal is greater than it would have been a decade ago. Back then, scouts would look at Barnes’ narrow base running style, see him as a spinning top ready to fall, and move on, but these days his diversity could be in demand. If he lands in a scheme that favors his skill set, we could have something here. If I could offer this player advice, I’d beg him to try widening his base on inside runs.|
|18||4||Snell, Benny||Kentucky||5-10 3/8||224||We really love Snell, but he is what he is. The odds on him being used much as a receiver are not good. Landing spot could make him a value target, but his skill set is of the old school variety. He’d have made a nice 1980s era runner. He’ll be in the league for a while in my opinion, because he plays so hard that he inspires those around him. Guys who get tough yards may not get rich in the NFL anymore, but they still have applications. Still, these are fantasy rankings, so he gets a downgrade after running slow.|
|19||5||Williams, James||Washington St.||5-9 4/8||197|
|20||5||Myles Gaskin||Washington||5-9 2/8||205||I have some FOMO putting him this late, because I love the way he runs, but I’m not sure he’s going to be that guy on Sundays. I still take him seriously, but the small hands, lack of speed and small size all work against him—the hands less so, but it’s a negative. He’s one of those “will it work on Sunday” guys. I really like the way he runs and he’s a solid receiver too.|
|21||5||Kerrith White Jr.||Florida Atlantic||5-10||197||He’s been under the radar behind Singletary, but wow did he smash his pro day—running faster (4.36) than any back that got invited to the combine while also jumping 42 inches in the vertical and 11 freaking feet in the broad jump. He also benched 21 reps. Well that got my attention! I found some film and guess what? He’s a freaking playmaker. In years past, we’d have been on top of a guy like this earlier, but the time I had to spend on receivers alone was so massive that I had less time for deep dives. Glad I stumbled on this kid though. He’s got something. I’d be sort of surprised if his metrics and film didn’t get him drafted as a change of pace back.|
|22||5||Singletary, Devin||Florida Atlantic||5-7 4/8||203||I had my concerns with his ball security before he ran like Benny Snell. Now I’m cutting bait unless the NFL knows something I do not. We’ll find out on Saturday in my opinion, but I’ve been wrong before.|
|23||5||Pollard, Tony||Memphis||5-11 5/8||210|
|24||5||Holyfield, Elijah||Georgia||5-10 3/8||217||I have not given up on him, but he was a one-speed back, and now that speed is slow. Did he have a bad day? Almost certainly, but even if we give him a .1 bonus, it’s an issue. I think this plays in the NFL for a while, but not in a lead role.|
|26||5||Qadree Ollison||Pittsburgh||6-0 5/8||228||There are not a lot of legit big backs in this class and Ollison|
|27||5||Darwin Thompson||Utah State|
|28||5||Moore, Jalin||Appalachian St.||5-10||212|
|29||6||Wes Hills||Slippery Rock||6-2||218|
|30||6||Scott, LJ||Michigan St.||6-0 3/8||227|