2018 Draft: Pre-Combine, Top 10 Running Backs

My thoughts on the Raiders’ team needs, ranked, can be found below:

The 2018 draft’s best position group is running back, and I’m not sure it’s even close.

From a pure talent standpoint, and the depth throughout, this class could be better than 2017. We know all about the names and instant-impact many of those runners had on the season, so that’s high praise, and I think it’s warranted.

I chopped-up some names to know on the Sonic Truth Dynasty Podcast a few weeks back, and Mr. Matt Kelley noted that this 2018 class looks a lot like the 2015 group that has gone on to standout. I like that parallel a lot. Expectations are high across the board.

For the Raiders, my guess is that they roll-out Marshawn Lynch for one final season, assuming things end up clicking with head coach Jon Gruden (as we’re led to believe). Behind Oakland’s very own, DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard are a pair of change-of-pace backs who can factor in sparingly. If it were up to me, and it’s not (nor is it realistic), I’d move on from all three runners and look to restock via the draft and free agency.

You can pull a starter from free agency (McKinnon, Crowell), or an early-round selection of course, and then add depth on Day 3. The Raiders have some bigger fish to fry however, and can’t afford to revamp the backfield all in one shot I imagine.

Now, I’ve touted Jalen Richard in the past. He’s electric at times, and I think he’s a fine player (still, despite some fumble issues). This just speaks to the talent-level that the 2018 class brings to the table. Then again, I’m probably not the best to speak on incoming classes as I’m enamored by a dozen different backs annually. I digress.

Here’s who I’m in love with this year. You’ll notice this list has shifted around a bit from my first pass-through:

1) Saquon Barkley, Pennsylvania State

The best running back since LaDainian Tomlinson, or Adrian Peterson, or whatever name and narrative you want to go with. I think you’re right either way.

There’s some legitimate overthinking going on with Barkley’s prospect (toughness, production), but the Nittany Lion is a special runner. His game vs. Iowa is a masterpiece. He’s the best player in the 2018 draft class:

2) Derrius Guice, Louisiana State

The only runner, with all due respect to Nick Chubb, who can “challenge” Saquon Barkley for that top spot. Wrote about him here:

3) Nick Chubb, Georgia

His 2014 was ridiculous; some of the most fun I’ve had watching college football in recent memory.

For comparison’s sake, Nick Chubb’s 2014:

…and Todd Gurley’s 2012 season:

Nick Chubb was arguably the best player in college football at his peak. We all remember the unfortunate injury in 2015, and ever since, he’s been largely written off despite working his way back to 100% health. There are questions about his hands. We can quickly look back to 2014 and remember when that wasn’t an issue. Is it fair to put usage on the player?

What isn’t fair, now or then, are the questions surrounding his general athleticism. He might not be the same player or athlete that he was out of high school or even post-injury, but I think we need to remember and appreciate just how high that bar was set. You’re still getting an elite athlete, and in turn, an elite running back prospect.

My biggest takeaway at the moment with Chubb, all testing and production aside, is the value that he seemingly possess with all these opinions floating around. If you can select him at the top of Day 2, that’s stealing. He’s going to remind everyone at the Combine just what he’s all about.

4) John Kelly, Tennessee

Some “maturity” questions, and many wish he was a touch bigger and faster. Not me. Bully with some hands:

5) Sony Michel, Georgia

I’m guilty of overlooking Sony Michel, given my obsession with Nick Chubb (and even a younger player in D’Andre Swift).

Truth is, what Michel was able to accomplish as a “back-up” is impressive. I’m not sure there’s a notable hole in his game as I walk away from him? Maybe age, if we want to go down that road? Fumbles?

He had 26 and 22 receptions in 2015 and 2016, respectively. He has optimal size at nearly-5’11”, 215 lbs. He can get it done in the open field, and the burst/athleticism is there. I don’t know where he lacks. If you told me he was a top three running back in this class, I’m not debating you.

6) Ronald Jones II, Southern California

I can’t seem to make a decision on fake Jamaal Charles. He’s floated between the 4-6 spot since the beginning for me. I know he’s good, but I just can’t love him the way the majority does (I’ve seen him as high as the RB2 or 3 pretty consistently).

Weight appears to be on everyone’s mind at Indianapolis, although I heard he played at/around 210 lbs. (or more) for the 2017 season, and it showed. The power element to his game was there. Just barely double-digit receptions in each of his past two seasons, which will be another talking point (see: Nick Chubb).

His feet and agility standout. He’s a player, but I’d take a few names off the board before him at the moment.

7) Rashaad Penny, San Diego State

Prolific 2017 campaign. We all saw the box scores.

Struggled a bit in Mobile at times, and some raised the “toughness” question, which is notable especially for a bigger back. Still, has balance that’s arguably best-in-class, and I think he’s more agile than given credit for (many try and box him in, given his build). He’s a true three-down workhorse at the next level, for me, and one you can probably select toward the end of Day 2?

8) Nyheim Hines, North Carolina State

Outside of John Kelly (and obvious stars like Saquon Barkley and Derrius Guice), Nyheim Hines is absolutely a crush for 2018.

Spent 2016 at wide receiver before making the jump to running back full-time. Track star who also factored in on special teams. My “dark horse” for the fastest forty at the Combine.

On Sunday’s, while I don’t think you can put him in the backfield full-time, he’s a weapon for any offense to rely on early and often. Think Duke Johnson, but hopefully on a team that’s not Cleveland where he can actually be exploited.

9) Mark Walton, Miami

He’s going to smash the Combine, answer any of the health-based questions, and I’m going to turn around and move him right into the top five. I’m fully expecting that to happen. He’s that good when he’s on the field. Todd McShay noted that the buzz out of Coral Gables was that Mark Walton was the best athlete that they’ve played with.

His change of direction is top-tier. His pace and production at school was notable. This year’s Alvin Kamara? “Ronald Jones with hands”? There will be a lot more buzz surrounding Walton after Indianapolis, barring a setback. Best to climb onboard now:

10) Kerryon Johnson, Auburn

The Le’Veon Bell comparisons are too rich for my taste (he runs like Darren McFadden; I’ve also read DeMarco Murray – it’s all over the place), but Johnson’s an all-around runner who made some noise in the highly-regarded Southeastern Conference.

He’s athletic, and he’s tough. He’s got all those buzzword’s going for him. His ranking at the moment shouldn’t be viewed as a knock; this class is really just that good.

Catch me on Twitter: @StillRyanFive


2 thoughts on “2018 Draft: Pre-Combine, Top 10 Running Backs

  1. I know they need defense but if Barkley is there when they pick , they’d be crazy not to pick him . If he isn’t there , some of the backs on this list will be there in round 2 . If Barkley is there they gotta get him . Grab a linebacker in the 2nd round and a DT in the 3rd .

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