2018 Draft: Running Back Rankings


For reference, my thoughts on 2017’s class can be found here.

Additionally, my top 10, pre-Combine “rankings” can be found here.

Lastly, I highlighted what I deemed as the Raiders’ “top needs” heading into the draft over here.

What does Oakland do?

The Raiders haven’t invested a high-round selection in a back since Arkansas’s Darren McFadden (2008). With Jon Gruden on board, being the offensive-minded coach that he is, I expect that to change as early as round two or three. Looking at the Raiders current roster, an infusion of talent would be a welcomed addition.

Oakland currently plans to start Marshawn Lynch, playing on what could/should be his final season. Gruden also handpicked Doug Martin via free agency, but I’m not certain he’s a lock to stick (they invested minimally). Both DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard are still rotating out of backfield as things currently sit, but neither is expected to carve out a larger role. The aforementioned former Buccaneer could feasibly take one of their roster spots if things shake out to his benefit.

Reggie McKenzie and the Raiders fittingly missed the boat with 2017’s loaded (running back) class but have a chance to make things right in 2018 with a group that appears just as – if not more – talented. The Raiders need to secure their feature runner of the future now.

This year’s class:

Player’s to note:

The “top tier” is pretty straightforward. Saquon Barkley is the best running back that I’ve watched since Adrian Peterson. Perhaps LaDainian Tomlinson? I don’t know, but I do know that he (Barkley) is special and borderline-transcendent himself. His ability as a receiver, coupled with his athleticism, is game-changing. He’s the best player in the entire 2018 class.

Derrius Guice has drawn Marshawn Lynch-comparisons; nobody in this class runs angrier. I think his hands are better than what he’s given credit for. Top 10-talent on my board. Wrote about him here.

Nick Chubb is closer to the two names that precede him than any one of the names that follow. Arguably the best player in the country in 2014, he’s been healthy since that heartbreaking knee injury and put on a show (as we should’ve all expected) at the Combine. He’s an alien, and a true, three-down workhorse on Sunday’s. Hands are another instance of usage vs. ability, a la Mr. Guice, in my opinion.

The “other” Georgia running back obviously deserves his own shine, as well. Sony Michel still managed to standout behind Nick Chubb, and in a loaded Georgia backfield in general. He’s a complete runner. The combination of hands, vision, and burst will make him an immediate contributor at the next level.

Another year, another prolific San Diego State running back, it appears. Rashaad Penny filled up the box scores as he terrorized teams all season long. Some are concerned with the one-year of production, and perhaps his play strength in general. I see a runner who’s balance is arguably the best in class. He doesn’t go down easy (elusive rating matters), and has clearly demonstrated his ability to carry the load (broken tackles matter, too).

Sitting at the top of “tier two” is one of this year’s crushes: John Kelly. Natural hands, Guice-like power through contact, and Penny-like balance. He’s not a standout athlete, but his game translates. I see value where he will be taken (late-Day 2, early-Day 3) and where I’d take him (Day 2). I wrote more poetry over here.

Royce Freeman had to be one of the Combine’s biggest winners. We all knew about his productive career at while at Eugene but I, for one, didn’t think he was that type of athlete (size-adjusted, with elite flex scores). My pal Russell Clay drew and interesting Le’Veon Bell-parallel. I’m totally prepared to admit that RB7 was too low for him.

Ronald Jones II was one of the “trickier” evaluations for me this season. I never quite was comfortable placing him inside the top five, where the consensus seemed to have him all along. The Jamaal Charles comparisons, while fun and easy, feel a bit lazy. Ron Jones reminds me of Marlon Mack from last year, with perhaps a touch more power (assuming he carries that over from 2017). I think I liked Mack better; y’all see where I’m going with this.

If Ronald Jones is a player I’m lower on than the consensus, Nyheim Hines may be one of the backs (in addition to John Kelly) that I’m notably higher on than the majority. It’s hard to ignore his track speed, and ability in the open field. And while he’s not Christian McCaffrey in-and-out of routes, his time at wide receiver is obvious, and his hands should make him a commodity at the next level.

Never quite “got there” with Kerryon Johnson, either. NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah, who gets paid to do this for a living, has Johnson comfortably in the top 50 (once viewed him as a first-round talent at running back). The former Tiger runs a bit too upright for me at times, and reminds me of Darren McFadden. He is athletic, and his hands work. He runs like a three-down back. I get the attraction, but I had a hard time slotting him in any higher than the 10-spot.

Another North Carolina State product, Jaylen Samuels has seen time at what feels like every position on the football field. His transition to the next level, especially with the right team, could be awesome. I like him at running back, working out of the backfield, but he’s more Delanie Walker than anything to me (that makes no sense). Heck, you can even split him out wide. Point is, he wins at multiple spots, and his versatility spells “Day 2” for me.

Mark Walton starts the “mid-round” run, and was a player that I wanted to move a lot (a lot) higher on this list. His #tape is some of the most fun I came across. Unfortunately, injury history coupled with an underwhelming Combine cemented his fate – for now anyway. It wouldn’t surprise if he eventually ran away with the show. His flashes are that good. And despite his size, he might be the best back in pass protection in this year’s class.

Kalen Ballage never got it done at Arizona State, despite being one of the better athletes at the position. That’s probably an indictment on the staff and personnel around him, just as much as his failed production lands on his own shoulders. Nevertheless, I’m still here for him on Sunday’s. His hands are too natural. Talked about the polarizing back in more detail here.

I still have my reservations regarding Bo Scarbrough‘s medical history; a player that’s been consistently injured since high school, sadly. He also has age working against him (23.9). Surprisingly, he logged a full, healthy season in 2017, which was nice to see. On top of that, he turned in a solid performance at the Combine (4.52 forty, 40 inch vert, 129 inch broad). Certainly not Derrick Henry-level freaky, but he’ll do just fine (assuming he stays on the field).

Working down the list, players like Ito Smith, Justin Jackson, and Chase Edmonds profile as satellite backs at the next level. Smith, notably, had some outstanding production during his time at Southern Mississippi. All three runners have plus-hands (Smith with 140 receptions, Jackson with 122, and Edmonds with 86 total). Roc Thomas was a former-five star recruit and the nation’s number four overall running back in a loaded 2014 class. Few other names that missed the top 20 that are “worth noting” for one reason or another: Kyle Hicks (Texas Christian), Jordan Wilkins (Mississippi), Dontrell Hilliard (Tulane), Boston Scott (Louisiana Tech), and Chris Warren III (Texas).

Catch me on Twitter: @StillRyanFive


3 thoughts on “2018 Draft: Running Back Rankings

  1. Wow another tremainedous (edmunds)write up! Your RB assessments are identical to mine. I to am high on Chubbs, Kelly, himes, ballage, and not high on Johnson or Jones.

  2. Deep RB class, but unfortunately I don’t see the Raiders taking a back until the 6th or 7th. They can still get a good back there – Roc Thomas is very interesting in that range. RB is not a need but is a want. I agree with you that Doug Martin is not a lock to make the team. Barring injury, I think the Raiders keep Lynch and Richard. Hood, Washington, Rookie(s), and Martin are competing for the last spot.


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