2018 NFL Draft RBs

Despite what some may believe, Running Backs still are very important in today’s NFL. The ones that are truly elite in today’s game such as LeVeon Bell and David Johnson are the ones who are versatile and contribute in the passing game either as a receiver or blocker. Their ability to impact the game both on the ground and through the air make them very valuable pieces to a team’s offense. Even if teams doesn’t utilize a feature RB and instead lean on a committee, they still require good talent at the position. You might be able to “get by” with mediocre RBs and a good offensive line, but teams with multiple talented RBs are very tough to defend. The Philadelphia Eagles won the Super Bowl using the trio of Jay Ajayi, LeGarrette Blount, and Corey Clement, but those guys are far from mediocre.

The philosophy of staying away from RBs in the 1st round of the draft is a narrow-minded one. Can you find and develop great RBs on Day 2 and 3? Absolutely, but it’s still no guarantee. There are plenty of mid-to-late round RBs who don’t pan out. Is the RB position a premium position? No, it’s not. QB, EDGE, OT, CB, and WR are. But if there’s no player available at those positions that is near the talent level of a RB that is available, why would you reach? Take the best player available, even if it’s a RB. Players like Todd Gurley and Ezekiel Elliott are recent top tier draft talents taken in the 1st round that are pivotal offensive weapons for their respective teams. Ask the LA Rams and Sean McVay if their team would have been as successful as they were last season without Todd Gurley. Ask Dak Prescott if the absence of Elliott made any difference in the way he was able to execute the offense.

I’ve finalized my RB Rankings for this year’s NFL Draft class, and have split them up into tiers.

Tier 1
Saquon Barkley, Penn State
Derrius Guice, LSU

Some scouts aren’t buying into the hype around Barkley like the general consensus is. They talk about his struggles with vision and running with physicality, which are definitely the two areas of concern. However, those flaws don’t affect my grade on him nearly as much as some others’. His vision and feel for the hole might not be as good as some other players like Guice, Jones, or Penny, but it’s not bad by any means. And there’s a difference between being unable to run with physicality and choosing not to run with physicality. Barkley has more of a finesse running style, therefore he chooses not to run with power at times when he should, but he’s more than capable of doing so. Plus, his skills as a receiver and his intangibles are among the highest in the class, and those can’t be ignored. With his work ethic and good coaching, I’m very confident that he’ll fix those issues quickly.

Make no mistake; even though Barkley is my RB1, Guice isn’t very far behind as my RB2. I didn’t grade him this high until I watched all of his tape from 2016 when he wasn’t hurt, and it blew me away. He runs with aggression and power but also has the change of direction and lateral agility to make defenders miss. Oh and he’s got the speed to pull away at the 2nd level too. There have been question marks about his ability as a receiver, but that has more to do with the fact that LSU doesn’t use their RBs in the passing game a lot. I’ve seen enough of Guice’s receiving skills to be confident in his ability as a receiver at the pro level. He’s been heavily targeted by the Eagles during the pre-draft process, and if he somehow falls to 32, he would be too talented to pass up on.

Tier 2
Sony Michel, Georgia
Ronald Jones II, USC

Michel and Jones are the 2 that I’ve done the most flip-flopping on for my RB3 and RB4. My grades for them are that close, even closer than Barkley-Guice.

I love the all-around game of Michel. He’s got such a balanced skillset with good vision, burst, and contact balance. Even though he doesn’t have great lateral agility, he knows how to use angles very well to avoid defenders at the 2nd and 3rd levels. Michel is also a good receiver and could be the most polished pass blocker in this RB class.

RJII’s elite traits are his explosiveness and vision in zone blocking schemes, and those are lethal combinations if in the right system *CoughEaglesCough*. He has the ability to manipulate LBs and will hit top speed through the open running lanes before the defense can even react. He does have a rather thin frame but that doesn’t stop him from running between the tackles effectively and lowering his shoulder when needed.

Tier 3
Nick Chubb, Georgia

Chubb is so strong and powerful, and despite his prior knee injury he can move pretty well for a RB of his size. He’s not elusive but has the necessary footwork and agility to make quick cuts to the hole and in the 2nd level. The main thing that limits him is his inability to contribute on passing downs. Chubb can be a really good RB as part of a duo with someone who excels as a receiver, much like Ingram and Kamara do for New Orleans.

Tier 4
John Kelly, Tennessee
Nyheim Hines, North Carolina State
Rashaad Penny, San Diego State

I’m higher on Kelly than most. What I love about him is similar to what I loved about Kareem Hunt last year, and that’s his elite contact balance and ability to force missed tackles. Kelly’s got a short, compact build and he definitely uses that in his running style. Watch his game against Florida and you’ll see what I’m talking about. He might not have much explosion or long speed, but he does know how to change up his running speeds to his advantage, and he’s shown to be a very good receiver.

Hines ranks at the top among all of the “smaller” RBs in this class. He’s got elite speed and has experience playing as a WR, which sets him up very well for his role at the pro level. His lateral agility isn’t great, but similar to Michel, he knows how to use angles very well and he just blows by the pursuit of defenders in the 2nd and 3rd levels. Their running styles aren’t the same, but in terms of role and production, I wouldn’t be surprised if Hines this year’s Tarik Cohen.

There’s been a lot of talk about Penny being ranked as high as RB2, and frankly I don’t see it. Penny does have very good vision, size, and speed, and he is a good kick returner. But he doesn’t have great quickness/elusiveness, isn’t good at forcing missed tackles, isn’t overly powerful, hasn’t shown much in the passing game as a receiver, and is a bad pass blocker. He needs some coaching, but I wouldn’t him mind him at all in the 3rd round or later.

Tier 5
Ito Smith, Southern Miss
Royce Freeman, Oregon
Kerryon Johnson, Auburn
Mark Walton, Miami (FL)

Another guy I’m higher on than most, especially in this case, is Ito Smith. Smith’s change of direction and lateral agility is as good as Barkley’s. If you don’t believe me, watch highlights of him. With the #25, he looks just like Shady McCoy with the way he eludes defenders.

It’s funny that both of these guys went to Oregon, but Freeman does remind me of a young Jonathan Stewart. He’s a bigger RB but has very light feet and can make some really nice jump cuts. He’s got some receiving ability too and is effective on screens.

If there’s one player that I’m lower on than most, it’s Kerryon Johnson. I like his vision and patience, which is almost LeVeon Bell-like with the way he waits for the hole to develop. He’s got good size too. But he’s a very upright runner that doesn’t have good speed, burst, or agility. He’s one of those players that will take what’s blocked, but can’t really create.

Mark Walton’s game reminds me a lot of Gio Bernard’s. He shows good burst through the hole with the speed to turn the corner. Like many other “satellite” backs, he excels in space and is a reliable receiver. What separates him from the other smaller RBs in this class is his ability to pass protect.

Tier 6
Justin Jackson, Northwestern
Darrel Williams, LSU
Kalen Ballage, Arizona State

Jackson has a pretty lean frame, especially in his lower body, which limits his leg drive and power. But I do like his movement skills and ability to make numerous quick cuts.

Darrel Williams has sort of been the forgotten man in the LSU backfield the last 2 seasons, but he’s no slouch. He doesn’t have any elite or great traits, but he’s pretty good all around.

Ballage has really good athleticism that I can see some teams fall in love with in the later rounds of the draft. What does worry me is his vision, which isn’t good. If he can somehow improve on that he could be a steal, but it’ll take some good coaching.