2018 NFL Draft Running Back Preview

For the past three NFL Drafts, at least one running back has been selected in the first round. Last year’s draft had two selected in the top ten in Leonard Fournette (LSU/Jaguars) with the fourth pick and Christian McCaffrey (Stanford/Panthers) with the eighth pick.

Kareem Hunt (Toledo/Chiefs) flew under everyone’s draft radar and wound up being selected late in the third round. Hunt is currently leading the NFL in rushing with 800 yards and four touchdowns (on 155 carries – that’s over 5 yards per carry). Hunt also has 32 catches for an additional 331 yards and 2 touchdowns (including this impressive catch and run in week 1 against the Patriots).

Second round picks Dalvin Cook (FSU/Vikings) and Joe Mixon (Oklahoma/Bengals) have both impressed this season. Third rounder Alvin Kamara (Tennesse/Saints) has produced game-changing plays for the streaking Saints. Fourth-rounders Wayne Gallman (Clemson/Giants) and Marlon Mack (USF/Colts) have both been major contributors in their respective backfields.

Looking back on how talented 2016’s running back class has turned out only makes this year’s even more explosive class exhilarating.

The Elite Prospects

These are the runners that you have already tweeted your teams GM about – the absolute game changers that are on everyones radar.

1. Penn State RB Saquon Barkley – 5’11” 223 lbs.

The Bronx-born Barkley may be the best player in college football and an absolute athletic freak. Barkley has underachieved in a few games this season which has hurt his Heisman chances. Barkley only averaged 2.5 yards/carry against a terrible Rutgers team and on the big stage against Ohio State, Barkley averaged 2.1 yards/carry. Barkley has also put together a fantastic career average of 5.7 yards per carry with 41 career rushing touchdowns while also being a fearless weapon catching the ball with an additional 8 touchdowns and nearly 1,200 yards on 95 catches.

Barkley can do it all from the position and is looking to be a workhorse in the NFL. I would be surprised if he fell out of the top 10 – especially if he can run under a 4.5 at the combine.

2. Georgia RB Nick Chubb – 5’10” 220 lbs.

Coming off of back-to-back injury hampering seasons, Nick Chubb has looked faster, smarter and exactly how scouts have wanted him to look. Chubb is running in a crowded backfield at run-heavy Georgia. Chubb has accumulated 178 carries 1098 yards (6.2 per carry) and 13 rushing touchdowns. Chubb will run through you and your favorite defensive player. Chubb has the balance, patience and strength to be a successful NFL running back.

I am expecting that Chubb will be selected somewhere between the late-first round and late-second round depending on combine numbers and team needs. I also expect Chubb to be his future teams most productive rusher.

3. LSU RB Derrius Guice – 5’11” 212 lbs.

Derrius Guice was splitting carries with “the next Adrian Peterson” Leonard Fournette to begin his career and when Fournette went down with an injury in 2016, Guice made sure that rushing attack did not lose a step. In his first season, Guice averaged 8.5 yards per carry and in his second, when stepping in for the injured Fournette, Guice put together an amazing 1,387 yard (7.6 yard per carry) and 15-touchdown campaign. This season he has been equally as dominant through the passing attack adding 11 scores and 1,153 yards (5.6 per carry) with the opponents knowing very much what he is capable of.

Guice has professional footwork and speed and depending on how he tests at the combine, I see him being an mid second to late-third round pick.

4. Alabama RB Damien Harris – 5’11” 220 lbs

Damien Harris is the quintessential Alabama running back – a high school five-star athlete transitioned into a flashy reserve on the national title team and eventually splitting carries in a crowded backfield. Harris is one of those super athletes that can completely change a game. This season Harris put up 906 yards on only 110 carries adding 11 scores. Harris being the leading rusher in a backfield full of five-star athletes that are virtually splitting carries won’t be overlooked.

Harris will become a productive back in the NFL just like the other Alabama running backs before him. Even Trent Richardson had an impressive season or two. Harris will most likely be a 2nd-3rd round pick for a team ready to have a running back competition.

Uber-Productive Backs

5. Stanford RB Bryce Love – 5’10” 195 lbs.

Coming from a system that allowed for a versatile Christian McCaffrey to soar up to the 8th pick might hold back Bryce Love in this upcoming draft. McCaffery hasn’t truly reached up to the expectations the Panthers had for him drafting him 8th overall and Love isn’t much different from McCaffery in production, scheme and size. Ignoring that, Love currently has 1,848 yards (8.6 per carry) and 16 touchdowns. If Stanford was a better team he might be higher up on the Heisman watch list (he’s currently 2nd).

Love can hit the gap with speed and handle being a workhorse back so I could see someone risking a 2nd-4th round pick on the nations 2nd-leading rusher.

6. Oregon RB Royce Freeman -5’11” 231 lbs.

As a true freshman, Royce Freeman carried the ball 252 times for 1,365 yards (5.4 yards per carry) with 18 touchdowns. That was in 2014. Freeman is now the Ducks all-time leading rusher with 5,621 yards with 60 touchdowns (most scores in Pac-12 history) and a career average of 5.9 yards per carry. Freeman has been the poster child for consistent running, even in an injury-riddled junior campaign Freeman carried the ball 168 times for 945 yards and 9 scores. Freeman used the offseason to add weight going into his senior season where he has flown under the radar due to the lack of success of the program. The Ducks would have to abandon the run in most of their losses but Freeman remained a consistent staple of a hampered offense.

Freeman has the size, speed and feet to compete at the next level. His patience to find the gap and strength to run over opposing linebackers is what will make Freeman an absolute steal in this years draft.

7. Notre Dame RB Josh Adams – 6’2″ 225 lbs.

Josh Adams from Notre Dame is expected to forgo his senior season to enter this years crowded field of talented running backs going pro. Adams has produced at a high level this season even helping his program sell 10,000 hats promoting his Heisman campaign. That same week Bleacher Report put Adams as their projected 26th overall pick. The hype has fizzled after a mediocre performance against Miami in prime time.

Adams is now looking to be a 3rd-5th round pick with a lot to work on. If his combine numbers impress then scouts might look past the performances he put together against competent defenses.

Sleepers

8. Iowa RB Akrum Wadley – 5’11” 190 lbs.

Wadley evokes a lot of comparisons to Saints running back Alvin Kamara, who was buried on the Saints depth chart to start the year but is now in contention for offensive rookie of the year. Wadley can be a threat out of the backfield and has the footwork to pick up the extra yardage. Wadley runs great routes which has led to 36 catches and 329 yards with three touchdowns this season.

Due to his size and the fact that he plays for Iowa, it’s safe to assume he is flying under the radar. Wadley should be a 4th-5th round pick and will give his future team a great weapon.

9. San Diego State RB Rashaad Penny – 5’11” 220 lbs.

The nations leading rusher with 2,027 yards (7.4 per carry) and 19 touchdowns comes in as a sleeper. Penny impressed scouts following a 175-yard performance against Stanford earlier in the season but remains less talked about than major program backs. Penny has the vision to run behind the blockers and breakaway speed. Penny’s weakness is that he is a jack of all trades back that plays for a west coast program so nothing flies off the tape except consistency.

Penny should test well with the other backs and find his way into the 4th-5th round.

Honorable Mentions

10. USC RB Ronald Jones II

Jones has impressed at times but has fallen short of expectations (like all of USC). Expect him to find his way into a higher round than expected and somehow be wearing your teams colors.

11. Georgia RB Sony Michel

Michel would start at most programs but at Georgia he has been a career backup. Hopefully he will be able to impress at the combine and sneak ahead of projections.

12. Miami RB Mark Walton

Hampered by injuries, Walton has a decision to make whether he feels ready to go pro. The objectivly best player on the Hurricanes, Walton is an interesting speed back with great vision however his injury might scare away suitors if he cannot run 100% at the combine.

13. Grambling State RB Martez Carter

A small program superstar Martez Carter has very interesting highlights. Carter looks like lightning in a bottle playing for Grambling. We’ll see if that can transition into the NFL.

Matthew Deitsch

Author Matthew Deitsch

Matthew Deitsch covers the Miami Dolphins for Sports Al Dente. A South Florida native, Matt has previously worked in video production for the Miami Heat, Miami Dolphins and Florida Panthers. Matthew’s films have screened at TriBeCa and Cannes, but with his passion for sports his career remains incredibly fascinating.

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Sports Aldente 2017