2018 Draft: Running Back Watch List

Taking an early look ahead, we have the 2018 running back class on deck. Few disclaimers to throw out there before we dip our toes in:

  • This is a watch list. Despite the “tiers” noted on the left, these are not rankings. The tiers are something that I like to do for myself entering each season as a way to “map things out”, so-to-speak.
  • Again, as these are not rankings, obviously none of this is set in stone. Players will move up and down the board throughout the season.
  • We will have players (underclassmen), of course, that’ll return to school. This list will be updated again once we hit the offseason, alluded to above.
  • Lastly, all the height-weight-speed numbers are provided by NFL Draft Scout. I rely on the corresponding school’s website for accurate date of birth information. If the school doesn’t list it, I don’t have it posted below. I’ll fill in those blanks when I receive legitimate confirmation otherwise.

Here’s said watch list as it currently stands (end of May):

Top Five

Saquon Barkley is a natural. He’s a special player. He’s rare. He’s whatever superlative you want to throw out there. If he strings together another dominant season, I have no problem crowning him the best back to come out since Ezekiel Elliott. Barkley does it all: hands out of the backfield, open field elusiveness, vision, power, all while being clocked in the 4.3’s. He’s the consensus. I still have no idea who we should compare him to.

If Barkley’s going to lose his crown, it’s because Derrius Guice came alive in 2017 (coupled with Barkley taking a step or two backward, somehow, I would imagine). Guice lost a bit of work playing behind some other running back in Baton Rouge, which was unfortunate, because one (Guice) was clearly better than the other (Fournette). While Saquon Barkley could very well be better than Ezekiel Elliott, it’s Guice who has the game that most closely resembles the former Buckeye’s. He runs hard, and he runs violent. Hopefully we get to see him utilized more in the pass gaming this season.

We talk about Guice snatching the RB1 crown, but the forgotten name, post-injury, is Nick Chubb. Chubb appeared to be the next big thing as he ate everyone alive during his freshman season averaging 7.1 yards per tote, totaling over 1500 yards and 14 touchdowns. Light work. An awful knee injury cut his sophomore campaign short, and we saw flashes of the old Nick last year during his junior season. If he’s 100% once more, there’s no reason he can’t better his current RB3 stock, and even push a player like Barkley up top.

LJ Scott‘s going to draw some Le’Veon Bell comparisons just off the uniform alone. That’s lazy, but may not be entirely untrue. Scott’s got the build at 6’0, 230, but needs to work on the speed (NFL Draft Scout has him in the 4.6’s, as noted above). There is some Bell-like patience to his game. We’ll need to see him get his hands on some passes more often this season. Additionally, (athletic) testing will be very important for Scott eventually, I believe.

Royce Freeman opted to return to Eugene for his senior season, thinning out the 2017 running back pool. I’m sure his decision pleased Oregon fans while at the same time, leaving the timeline and draft nerds alike upset, having to wait another year. Freeman’s production at school has been some of the best. If you like big numbers, this is your guy. What’s more, Freeman’s giving you 4.5 speed on a 230 pound frame.

Other Notables

Myles Gaskin is a fringe-top five player for me coming into the season. His talent is obvious, but my concern is the work he’ll be sharing with teammate Lavon Coleman (another big back at 220+ with 4.5 wheels). Still, Gaskin should test very well, and I think he builds on an already well-rounded résumé (as he factors in the passing game nicely).

The story’s the same at Arizona State, where many folks may be higher on Kalen Ballage than I am at the moment. I contend that Ballage could possibly provide the highest ceiling of any back in this class, but I’ll need to see the consistency first and foremost, all while he “splits work” with Demario Richard. Can he (Ballage) separate himself this season?

Bo Scarbrough will be another popular name, and one that I’ve seen pop up in top three or five talk already. I won’t necessarily argue. He’s a juiced-up Derrick Henry (and Henry was already a heck of an athlete). The biggest, and perhaps only, question mark I have with Bo is his ability the stay healthy. He’s been consistently banged up since his high school days, and enters the 2017 season coming off a broken leg.

San Diego State’s Rashaad Penny steps into a dream situation where he has the chance to gobble up all the touches left behind by record-setting teammate Donnel Pumphrey. Look for Penny to steadily rise throughout the season, assuming he stays healthy. The work will certainly be there.

Catch me on Twitter: @StillRyanFive