With the combine upon us, I’ll be rolling out the pre-combine ranks over the next day or so along with a quick podcast.
I’m actually ahead of where I was at in 2018 as far as film time goes, but this year’s class is going to require a lot more grinding. I mean, let’s be honest, how many times does one need to watch Saquon Barkley or Nick Chubb to know they are big time? This year’s group is more challenging, but I think the time invested will be worthwhile.
The thing I want to emphasize is that these rankings are tightly grouped but loosely assigned—meaning there are a lot of quality backs even though last year’s start power is lacking. So while a guy may be ranked outside of the top ten now, he could still make a big jump depending on where I am at once all the film has been ground to dust and what these guys do at the combine, not to mention to massive reshuffle that goes down once the NFL weighs in on draft day. So, consider this a starting point as we try and profile this year’s class as best we can.
I’ll be back with the receivers tomorrow morning, with the quarterbacks later on in the day.
I’ll update all these rankings and add combine measurables next week.
|1||Damien Harris||Alabama||5'10⅜"||214||I’m not sure if Harris will hang on to the top spot all the way through my process. He’s certainly in danger of losing the top spot due to the landing spot lottery also known as the NFL Draft. What Harris is, to me, is underrated. I like his quick feet and his sustaining running style. I like his versatility in terms of being able to run, block, pass block and catch the ball. This guy can be a lead back in most any scheme currently being run in the NFL. Getting a lead back job in the NFL is a little like getting a parking spot of the Upper West Side. As Seinfeld said, “it’s like musical chairs, but everybody sat down in 1964”. So there’s going to be some luck involved. A lot of backs in this class can get it done if they are getting the touches, so landing spots will loom large when it comes to rookie year value.|
|2||Josh Jacobs||Alabama||5’10”||214||Jacobs is a classic eye-of-the-beholder prospect. He doesn’t have much of a track record, but the problem I see with that is Alabama. If you run the football for the Crimson Tide in any meaningful way, you are almost certainly of NFL caliber. Jacobs is probably a bit overrated by some, but I see him as, ironically, a safe play. He’s got the SEC/Alabama pedigree and he’s got the wide skill set we want in a modern day NFL back.|
|3||David Montgomery*||Iowa State||5’11”||215||I like Montgomery and if he gets a good gig where he’ll get the touches and passing game involvement, then he can post good fantasy numbers. My concern with Montgomery is his massive college workload. You don’t see many college backs put together the kind of volume (624 carries over three seasons) we’ve seen from him. You could see him wearing down some in the later season games. Over the last two seasons, he’s touched the football a whopping 573 times. I’m not scared away from Montgomery but this is info worth knowing.|
|4||Trayveon Williams||Texas A&M||5’9”||200||There are a lot of smaller backs in this class who can play ball, and Williams is my favorite one now that Bryce Brown has had ACL reconstruction. As Walt Frazier likes to say, Trayveon has “feline quickness”. He’s very aware and runs in-control. He can also contribute as a receiver. The obvious concern is durability. I expect Williams to run well in Indianapolis.|
|5||Darrell Henderson||Memphis||5’9”||200||I really like his motor and obviously you have to respect the speed. Henderson gives you a skillset that works on all downs despite his small stature. He runs with a nice forward lean and still holds his base well through attempted arm tackles and contact. He’s definitely got some ability as a receiver and he shows good patience in the screen game. He has a skill set that should continue to develop.|
|6||Bryce Love||Stanford||5'8¼"||191||Love will be playing in the NFL at a weight somewhere between 190 and 200 pounds. That and his recent ACL injury are his primary weaknesses. Apart from the lack of size and a history of injuries both major and minor, Bryce Love is a starting NFL talent all the way. He’s like Dion Lewis but better. I think he eventually gives teams more than Lewis in the pass game and is even more capable of hitting the home run. I would give Dion a significantly higher grade as an inside runner as he’s one of the best small backs to ever churn the ball between the tackles. If Love stays healthy, he’ll occupy the space between Lewis and his old Stanford teammate Christian McCaffrey. His injury is a buying opportunity for those in PPR formats and deeper leagues. Yes, there’s always some risk that an athlete never fully regains his form after a reconstruction, but barring that 10% (roughly) scenario, Love should be a star attraction by 2020. In most of my leagues, I’m more than willing to wait.|
|7||Benny Snell Jr.*||Kentucky||5’11”||223||I’m not Snell’s biggest fan, but Coach likes him a lot. He may not be an exciting “ultra back” but he’s got plenty of NFL traits and he’s a strong early down runner. He should be around for a while in the league, but I think he needs a lot of good fortune if he’s going to lead a backfield. His biggest strength is a lack of weaknesses save for having what is largely a 2-down skill set. He’s a functional receiver but almost all NFL teams will have a better one on their roster. In the end he may have more NFL value than fantasy value because his production should be skewed towards the ground.|
|8||Devine Ozigbo||Nebraska||6’0"||235||He’s not a big name because his growth as a player has been a long slow climb with only a single season of draftable production. That season was 2018 and what we saw on film as a player ready to take the next step. Nebraska uses their backs a lot but they are throwing more with Adrian Martinez at QB which led to Ozigbo catching 23 balls last year. While his receiving game is not aesthetically pleasing, it’s passable and what I really like about him is his ability to be seriously strong in pass protection. Teams throw a lot on early downs these days so this is a money skill for a back with early down desires. This guy is no Rashaad Penny. He’s more than willing to get dirty and he’s got the alertness we like to see as a pass protector. As Ron Burgundy says, “he keeps his head on a swivel”. So let other folks pass on this guy because he broke out late or because he only had one good year. This guy has NFL traits and his size is important—because he plays to it and uses it appropriately. I see potential value here if he gets a decent landing spot. If the Saints allow Mark Ingram to leave as a free agent, Ozibgo would mesh really well as an early down complement to Alvin Kamara. He’d also be a nice fit for Minnesota, assuming Latavius Murray signs elsewhere.|
|9||Elijah Holyfield||Georgia||5’11”||215||My take on Holyfield is unlikely to change much as his strengths are readily apparent on film. He’s a strong runner with enough size to handle some volume, but what cements him as a NFL guy in my eyes is his total game. He’ll block for teammates and his pass protection is already at a NFL level. He looks good in his minimal opportunities as a receiver. High pressure performance runs in his family, as his father, Evander, was a heavyweight champion. As a runner, he can operate well inside the tackles but shows the ability to bounce outside as well when the opportunity presents itself. Holyfield is aggressive. He runs with a downfield mentality but has the vision to see cutback opportunities. He could be the most underrated back in this class. His ability to develop as a receiver is going to be key. This is a common theme with Georgia backs, but I think he’ll make strides.|
|10||Rodney Anderson*||Oklahoma||6’1”||220||His ACL injury could make him a bargain. It’s all about landing spot. If he lands behind a stud back, then he’s a quality handcuff and you have to value him accordingly for the length of his rookie deal. If he lands in a competitive situation, then he’s a player to think about spending a second rounder on. Maybe even more if some team decides to take him early, but that seems unlikely. Anderson is a big athletic back, who is good at the game. He blocks well and he’s an alert player in the pass game both as a blocker and as a receiver. He’s light on his feet for a man his size though his speed is potentially a concern. To my eyes, his game speed is more than good enough. Anderson isn’t quick or super twitchy but he’s a solid athlete.|
|11||Alexander Mattison*||Boise State||5’11”||211||Mattison is a very interesting back. I had his listed weight too low and was less interested in him at 211 pounds, but assuming he weighs in closer to the 220 pounds I have him at now, I am getting intrigued.|
|12||Mike Weber||Ohio State||5’10"||214||Weber is a guy I will probably end up drafting a fair amount unless he raises his stock a lot at the combine. He’s flying under the radar because Ohio State used him as a committee back, but you have to understand how much talent they have on that roster. It’s not all that unlike Alabama, so you have to pay attention to the running backs as a group and take them all seriously. I would be careful about writing this guy off just because he played less than J.K. Dobbins. His strong all around skill set is going to appeal to NFL coaches. I think he compares favorably to a guy like Corey Clement.|
|13||Justice Hill*||Oklahoma State||5’10”||190||Hill is an undersized guy like Bryce Love and Dion Lewis, but I love the way he runs when he’s playing at 10 percent. Hill could be a huge factor in the right kind of scheme. He could make an impact similar to what Chris Thompson does in Washington when healthy. Unlike Thompson, Hill’s injuries have been of the short term (or play through it) variety. No major surgeries like Thompson had at Florida State. So while CT took a few years to actually hit as a player, Hill could find success right away or within a year or so. Landing spot can’t be overstated here. He needs a depth chart with an opening for a lighter back and he needs a scheme that can unlock his talents. The Texans, Chiefs, Packers, Raiders, Bills and Jets would all be solid fits.|
|14||Myles Gaskin||Washington||5'9¼"||190||If you read my rookie reports last year over at WEEI, you know I liked Phillip Lindsay. Gaskin could be a similar kind of back if he gets a fortunate landing spot. His running style sort of defies his size which is both good and bad. He’s not going to run for big volume in the NFL like he did at Washington, where he amassed a whopping 945 carries over four seasons. He also caught 65 passes. He’ll need to flip the script some at the next level as a 190 pound back who already has lost some tread on his tires. Still, it has to be said that Gaskin gets every scrap out of his 190 pound frame. He runs low while still possessing plus lateral agility. He can win in short yardage situations if he gets a chance.|
|15||Devin Singletary*||Florida Atlantic||5’9”||201||Another smallish back with some special to him. Singletary has a lot of ceiling and he could climb the ranks with a strong offseason process. I really like him as a runner, but his ability to handle volume (at the NFL level) is a concern at about 200 pounds. One thing that really pops off the film to me is Devin’s lack of ball security. It’s an odd weakness for a back who likes to run inside. If he fails to clean that up, he’ll fumble his way into the AAF. I was also less than enthused with him in pass protection. He has the talent and athleticism to get up to snuff in both areas, but to me, this is a red flag for early career production.|
|16||Miles Sanders*||Penn State||5'11"||215||I was pretty impressed with Sanders’ film and it’s understandable that he only had one year of production. That’s what happens when you play behind Saquon Barkley. Sanders looks like a potential three down back if everything breaks right for him. My primary concern for him is ball security. He fumbled five times, losing four.|
|17||Karan Higdon||Michigan||5'9⅛"||197||He’s a very steady runner, but his ability to contribute as a receiver is unknown and he’s on the small side so a heavy workload as a pro will be tougher to find versus what he had at Michigan. I like this kid, and if he ends up being a good receiver, he could be a real find for some team and perhaps even for fantasy purposes.|
|18||Jalin Moore||Appalachian State||5’11”||207||Suffered a nasty gruesome ankle injury back in October or he might be higher on our rankings. Once he’s back to 100 percent he’s a nice sleeper. He’s less than ideally sized, but he’s big enough and he runs with plenty of fire. Coach thinks he has some upside in a zone scheme.|
|19||Dexter Williams||Notre Dame||5'11"||215||He’s a strong runner with some burst and he can make some big plays if he’s given some space to ramp up, but he’s not much of a creator and his reactive abilities could be exposed with less than stellar blocking. He has some potential in a scheme like Shanahan’s—assuming he takes to it.|
|20||James Williams||Washington State||6’0”||205||He’s going to play in the NFL and he could have fantasy value on an intermittent basis a la James White if he lands with a team that has a need for his talents. I expect him to stick somewhere because his receiving skills are top notch. He’s not exciting but he’s very sound fundamentally.|