We have come to the point for me to reveal my positional rankings for the upcoming NFL draft. I will put out my top ten (plus) with two positional groups coming every week leading up to April 25th, with my top 100 big board and only mock draft finishing up the process. This week I am starting with the running backs and linebackers.
While there is no generational running back prospect such as Saquon Barkley in this class, I think overall these skill positions are very deep this year. You will see something similar with the wide receivers, where there is no consensus number one guy, but plenty of prospects NFL front offices will try to get their hands on. When it comes to the RBs, I think one young man has crystallized himself as the cream of the crop, but my rankings look a lot different compared to others after that. Obviously these boards will alter depending on scheme fits and personal preferences, but for me I am looking for an all-around back with vision, appropriate footwork, natural running style, versatility and the ability to create more than what is actually there.
1. Joshua Jacobs, Alabama
The number one back in this class was just a three-star recruit coming out of Oklahoma. After recording 7.3 yards per offensive touch as a freshman, expectations for Jacobs were high in 2017, but he was limited to just 60 touches through 11 weeks. He later revealed that he had been dealing with a broken ankle since week five and had to undergo surgery on it. Last year when he was finally healthy his attempts rose throughout the season and he looked as explosive as ever, gaining almost 900 yards from scrimmage and reaching the end-zone 14 times despite just 140 offensive touches.
Among a very strong running back trio, Jacobs was the prime big-play threat for the Crimson Tide. However, he is not the guy to finesse around defenders in space but rather he gets downfield and crushes defenders in his way at full speed. Versus Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl he absolutely obliterated the last defender on his way for the touchdown and that guy actually had to be helped off the field. At 5’11”, 215 pounds there might have been no more punishing runner in the country than this dude. Jacobs plows ahead without any regard for tacklers around his legs or shoulder-pads and he trucked a multitude of guys on the Mississippi State defense. Not only does Jacobs load up the shoulder consistently going into contact, he also rips that off-arm through to free himself.
I have seen Jacobs completely shake guys as they break down in an attempt to tackle him. He can set up defenders with his speed to the edge and that cut right underneath them with one large jab-step. To do so you need a ton of hip mobility and control over your lower body and that guy has it. Jacobs also displays very sudden movements and can go from East-West to North-South in one step as he barely loses any speed. He can change up his footwork on the fly and hop-step to enable him to move wherever he needs to go. However, what I think is his best attribute is the quickness with which he can process information about the opposing defense and how blocking schemes are being set up.
Alabama used Jacobs on those jet sweeps just like they did their wide receivers because of what he can do with that momentum, plus then they came back to use him as a decoy in that role. Jacobs lined up as a wildcat QB on several occasions as well and I don’t think he failed to convert any short-yardage situation like that all year long. The violent runner is also a smooth pass-catcher, who has no problem tracking the ball and reaching around the opposite shoulder late. He displays strong hands to hold onto catches through contact. With that being said, he doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty and block for his quarterback or fellow backs in the run game either. In pass pro Jacobs is quick on his feet to slide across the formation and stay squared up to deliver a hit.
Purely based off the work on tape, there is not much to critique about Jacobs, but there are questions considering his usage. While the lack of treat on his tires is a plus for the most part, he has yet to prove he can handle a large workload with his most touches coming last season at 140. Those nagging ankle problems will be something to monitor going into the pros. If there is one thing that really bothered me evaluating him if it that you see him lower his head too much in protection just like he does when finishing runs. Not only does he get off balance that way, but it is somewhat concerning for his health.
Even though there is very limited college production to back Jacobs up as the number one running back in this class, I am willing to bet my money on him, because I see all the traits necessary to be a tremendous weapon in the NFL. He simply is a very complete back, who can fit basically any run scheme and contribute on third downs in the pattern or protecting the passer, plus it almost seems like Jacobs gets stronger as the game goes along and he was great at putting teams away late in games for the Tide.
2. David Montgomery, Iowa State
Iowa State has put themselves on the national radar with some of those upset wins over teams like Oklahoma and TCU in 2017 and with them did their emerging star running back David Montgomery. He has put together over 3500 yards and 26 touchdowns from scrimmage on five yards a touch. Montgomery has produced at a high rate despite lining up behind four different quarterbacks these last two years and he had eight games of 100+ rushing yards last season.
I’m not sure if there has been a more fun watch for me in college football over the last two seasons than this kid. There was nobody who was able to do more with less than him, finding a way to maneuver around tacklers or just going through them. Montgomery does some special things in the open field and he has some incredible individual effort runs, where nothing’s there and he just reverses field and is determined to rumble downfield. There were so many plays during his career with the Cyclones where a defender jumped at his legs from behind or simply had him leveraged with no way to go and he found a way to escape with a surprising burst to the edge. Montgomery just has a special gift of making defenders miss in tight spaces and not have to completely give up his momentum. He led all players over the last five years in missed tackles forced for a season, with 104 total in 2017 – that is 15 more than the great Dalvin Cook (according to Pro Football Focus) – and he forced an additional 99 missed tackles in 2018, while just under 900 of his yards came after contact. To be that elusive and make some of those cuts as a pretty thickly-built back, Montgomery has to have ankles of steel.
With this guy it’s not enough to just wrap up – you actually have you snatch cloth and not let go until he is on the ground, because he will keep fighting and has the power to make you look bad. Montgomery consistently runs with a forward lean and the shoulder lowered towards the defender. He displays some insane balance and always keeps his feet moving. The three-year Cyclone brings a little attitude to his runs as well by how he finishes runs, as well as the force he can hit defenders with on a stiff arm and shove them a couple of yards off himself. Montgomery was called a culture-changer by his head coach because of how hard he runs. Despite just under 300 touches from scrimmage as a sophomore, his only fumble came in their bowl game, when I thought the call should have been reversed to a touchdown, and he fumbled just once last season as well.
Montgomery simply has a way of setting up his blockers with pace, change of direction and explosiveness. He has clearly worked the stumble drill numerous times when you see how often he almost falls to the ground, but finds a way to stay alive by putting a hand down. However, Montgomery is not just a one-trick pony, he is a complete player. He has soft hands and caught several quick targets (71 career receptions). Additionally, in pass protection he squares up his targets and packs a lot of power on that initial punch, giving his QB room to step up into.
While I love how Montgomery refuses to go down, there are a few plays where I would prefer him to just live for another down instead spinning and trying to get away from the defense when he is surrounded by bodies in the backfield. Moreover, there are some snaps where he already has a good thing going, but tries to turn it into a bigger gain by making a move in the open field even though free yardage is in front of him. While my criticism of him is very slim, Montgomery definitely didn’t help himself at the combine with a 4.63 in the 40-yard dash and just 28.5 inches on the vertical jump.
I truly believe this guy is the total package with vision, burst, balance, start-stop-ability and ridiculous leg-drive. Montgomery can run any scheme and contributes in the passing game. He might not test very well and maybe even slide to the third round, but I think he is the second best back in this draft and he might find himself in my top 32 when it’s all said and done.
3. Devin Singletary, Florida Atlantic
If there was a running back who dominated college football these last two years that nobody really talked about it was this guy. Singletary broke the Conference USA record for rushing TDs in a season with 32 and racked up 1920 yards on the ground in 2017, while averaging 6.4 yards per carry and recording a crazy 36 rushes of 15+ yards. His total numbers and averages went down a little last season, as Florida Atlantic went from 11-3 to a 5-7 squad, but Singletary continued to impress with less help around him.
At 5’9”, 200 pounds he makes a living off making the first defender miss consistently. Nicknamed “Motor”, the short back is one of the most active runners I have ever watched. Singletary is very patient in letting his blocks get set up and then darting through the hole. He keeps an eye on the backside of run plays constantly and has the range on his jump-cut to kill the pursuit with one move and get down the field. Singletary can manipulate defenders by shading one way behind the blocker and then hopping to the other side. He also has a way of forcing defenders to overrun plays and then cutting back underneath them.
Singletary is a little dynamo with videogame-like moves in the open field. He has a nice one-two-step and dead-leg to force misses, steps out on arm-tackles all day and is very slippery in general. Sometimes you feel like this guy is covered in Vaseline or something because of how defenders fall off him. Other times it seems like the little dude is dead to rights by how a linebacker leverages himself towards him, but then he jump-cuts outside and gets around the defender. He is a master at side-stepping tacklers and falling forward after keeping the hit to one side of his body, consistently getting that extra yard.
At 200 pounds on a good day, Singletary showcases incredible contact balance for a guy his size and lowers the shoulder going into contact. He was FAU’s primary option on the goal-line and showed good force to convert. Singletary packs unexpected power on his stiff-arm, where he lands his forearm on the defender and then shoves him off. In the 2018 season-opener versus Oklahoma Singletary’s numbers were nothing to brag about much less was the final result of 63-14, but when you watch the tape you see the young man evading tackler and finding a way to make something out of nothing over and over again. Three weeks later he was pretty much the only reason the Owls stayed in the game to some degree versus UCF.
His toughness is also on display when he isn’t carrying the ball as well. Singletary doesn’t mind putting in work as a blocker for his teammates, especially on those jet sweeps, and he is technically sound at cutting defenders across their body around the knees. Despite just 25 receptions over these last two years, Singletary shows good adjustments to passes thrown his way and doesn’t seem to have any issues tracking the ball over his shoulder as a receiver.
With a 4.66 in the 40-yard dash at the combine, Singletary proved once and for all that he is definitely quicker than fast. He will certainly not get the edge as often in the pros as he did in college. Singletary has a tendency of turning bad plays into worse ones when he is trapped in the backfield and at times I would like him to just run into the backs of his O-line instead of searching for a path to escape. At his miniature size, this guy obviously is a liability in protection if you ask him to pick up blitzers one-on-one and he is not the type of powerful runner who will push the pile or simply run somebody over in short-yardage situations.
With that being said, I see a lot of Shady McCoy-esque qualities in this kid. While he doesn’t quite have the top gear to run away from everybody at the next level, he is definitely fast enough to turn any play into a big gain. There are some limitations that come with his stature, but I am willing to work around those, especially since he is more of a threat to clear out space for one his teammates in the passing game anyway. Singletary finished second only to Montgomery in the entire country last season in terms of missed tackles forced with at a crazy 96, plus he picked up 79 combined first downs and touchdowns, while recording 42 runs of 10+ yards.
4. Miles Sanders, Penn State
The expectations for this Pennsylvania Mr. Football were already sky-high coming to his homestate school, but he was asked to fulfill an even tougher task last season, taking over for All-world running back Saquon Barkley. Sanders had a really hot start as he put together 884 yards and eight touchdowns from scrimmage through the first seven weeks of the season, but then cooled off a little, highlighted by a seven-carry, 14 yard effort versus Michigan’s number one defense. However, overall Sanders went for over 1400 yards from scrimmage on 5.8 yards per rush.
Sanders truly made it his mission to beat Barkley, as he went after his records in the weight room as well as on the field. Similar to his former teammate, Sanders gets low into his breaks and has the ability to go laterally on his jump-cuts before instantly getting back to going North and South. When Sanders runs some type of zone and sticks his foot in the ground to go upfield he seems to gain speed – not lose any. He also has some nifty moves to avoid traffic in the backfield and that guy definitely has some hops, which he shows off near the goal-line and also did so versus Wisconsin when he hurdled a defender almost from a standstill.
Sanders keeps his off-arm ready to hold off defenders and finishes runs the right way. The top-end speed he gets to is surprising because he is quite big when you looks at his quads and torso. However, what I really like is the way this kid changes up his running style during one play. HHHe might cut his stride length down and cut upfield, then get into a hop step and simultaneously convert that into a type of euro-step to get to past a defender before going into full speed. Sanders can hesitate behind his blocker to enable that guy to gain better control of his block and then get skinny through the hole, in combination to pulling his legs out of the grasps of the potential tackler
He just has so many different things going on that it is hard for defenders to settle in and adjust. Sanders might not run any sophisticated routes down the field, but he is dangerous on swing screens when he can work in the open field and burn pursuit angles as well as putting stress on the flat defender by running up the sideline on wheel routes. Overall, he picked up 75 combined first downs and touchdowns, in combination to avoiding 49 tackles.
While I like most of what he picked up from last year’s second overall pick, Sanders tends to fall into Barkley-ism when the opening closes and he tries to spin or juke out of it in order to make something happen, when there really isn’t anything to be had, producing even more negative plays. I don’t question Sanders’ effort as a pass-protector, but he fails to hit his landmarks on plenty of occasions and only strikes one half of the approaching defender, which slows the rush down at best. I thought he would have benefitted from another year at Penn State, because his ability to translate information he gets from a defense and make decision in a matter of a split second is not quite there yet. His five fumbles last season are a concern as well.
Sanders offers a shifty and explosive running style, while also carrying a certain physicality, which is very intriguing to me. Of course having just that one year of production as a lead-back brings questions with it, but you can’t really blame him for who had to sit behind. I think he would benefit from being part of a committee early on, where he can learn some of the subtleties at the position from a veteran and really shine from year two forward.
5. Damien Harris, Alabama
This former number one overall running back recruit out of Kentucky has been a model of consistency for the Crimson Tide. Harris has put together three straight years of 1000+ yards from scrimmage and a combined 24 touchdowns in the primary RB role, despite stiff competition. Throughout his career Harris averaged 6.4 yards per carry and whenever Alabama really needed to get it done it was Harris who was on the field for them. In spite of draft aspirations last year, he decided to come back for his senior season and is well-liked in the scouting community due to his work ethic.
Harris is extremely patient and lets his blockers set up the play. He displays outstanding vision, especially for hitting the backside quickly to pick up important first downs, decisiveness where he wants to go and doesn’t dance around anymore once he’s in the open. The steady force of four years uses subtle shifts and cuts to avoid traffic and not give defenders a clean shot at him. Harris runs with a plan and good balance. He does an outstanding job setting up his blockers by pressing the hole and then cutting back behind it.
Harris doesn’t have break-away speed or weightlifter strength, but he does everything pretty well and has an understanding for the entire field. He will make you miss on one snap and then lower the boom the very next. He is a really tough, durable runner, who has been incredibly effective near the goal-line and in short-yardage situations due to the leg drive he brings to the table, which leads to constant yards after contact. No matter which way the defense has him turned already, Harris usually adds another yard or so stretching forward and he has the most disrespectful stiff arm out of any draft prospect, as he excels in placement and sustains that to keep himself free.
While Harris might not be the most dynamic weapon in the passing game, he is dependable catcher on swing or flat routes and he is threat to pull his legs out of the defenders’ arms in space every time when you think the play should already be over. He is a willing blocker and does a good job without the ball in general. In pass pro he excels at swallowing the initial blow and then guiding the blitzer around the quarterback while keeping his hands inside the frame. And he completes himself as a team player by putting in work on special teams, having blocked a punt in the season-opener vs. Florida State in 2017.
With all that being said, his critique is that he simply doesn’t have any athletic traits that stick out. Harris’ long-speed and make-you-miss abilities are not quite up to par with those guys ahead of him. He is not a very creative runner and lacks the burst to beat defenses to the edge and force opponents to take conservative angles. You just don’t see him shake defenders in open space or spin out of contact.
Regardless of that, there might be nobody on this list more likely of being a ten-year pro because he already carries himself in that light and does all the little things right. While he should be complemented for a more electric option out of the backfield, Harris is a reliable as it gets and can spearhead an offensive’s rushing attack in the pros.
6. Justice Hill, Oklahoma State
This kid was not really talked about as one of the top RBs in the country until last season, but he has certainly made his mark on the Big 12 these last three years. Hill was the equalizer to Oklahoma State’s high-flying, air-raid offense, as he provided a steady rushing attack. As a sophomore he amassed 1557 yards and 16 scores from scrimmage on 300 touches, with only two games of less than 80 yards on the ground (both blowout wins). Rib injuries limited him to ten games last season.
At 5’10”, 190 pounds soaking wet, Hill has game-breaking speed and excellent balance for his size. He sets up defenders in the open field with hesitation and makes them look like they are stuck in the mud at times. He brings some of that unique cut-on-a-dime running style with him. The small back has tremendous acceleration from zero to a hundred and an amazing jump-cut to get rid of multiple defenders. Hill is one of those guys whose legs might point one way and his head looks a completely different one. He can spin and juke out of tackles and leave the defenders wondering how he got away.
While Hill is more of a slashing-type of runner who doesn’t bring a lot of size to the table, 423 of his 930 yards came after contact last season. As a 19-year old sophomore he squatted 565 pounds already – that is three times his weight(!) – and his explosiveness was on full display at the combine, as he led all running backs with a 4.4 flat, a 40-inch verticals and 130-inch broad jump, before his workout was cut short by a pulled hamstring. Hill had his most success on lead-power and draw plays at OSU, but he also ran a variety of different screen plays. He might never put a defender flat on his back with a stiff-arm, but it is effective due to good hand-placement and that gives him enough to get away. And for everybody who thinks he can’t last in the league – just watch him close out the Boise State game for the Cowboys.
Hill’s biggest weakness by far is his work in pass protection, as he extends outside his frame to land a shot and either gets run past quickly or completely misses. Trying to compensate for his lack of size, the former OSU standout doesn’t shoot into contact when trying to chip or take on a rusher, but instead he leans with one shoulder and doesn’t hold defenders off that way. I would rather see him get run over trying to square somebody up than what I’ve seen from him protecting his QB. With just 13 catches last year Hill will have to prove he can be more of a factor receiving the ball and at least make sure that nobody looks at this as an effort problem. As a runner, I see too much wasted movement with him at times and would just like him to get what is there first, as well as not twisting his body into contact. Hill also has a tendency of over-bouncing plays instead of going upfield and that also counts for trying to cut back plays that have guys pulling to the original play-side.
The picture I have in my head when thinking about Hill is him jump-cutting behind a blocker and then putting on the burners. This guy needs just a tiny crease to get into the open and from there on everything is possible. I can not even count the times when I thought he would be brought down, but he somehow escaped and made the pursuit angle of a defender look absolutely stupid. I think you have to reign the explosiveness in a little and make him more of a disciplined inside runner, but this guy is a home-run threat.
7. Trayveon Williams, Texas A&M
Speaking of home-run hitters, Williams became the first true freshman to rush for a 1000 yards in Aggie history. After a lackluster year for the entire team in ‘17, where he shared touches with a less talented and productive Keith Ford, he put up huge numbers under new head coach Jimbo Fisher, racking up over 2000 yards from scrimmage and 19 touchdowns on an average of 6.8 yards a touch in 2018. He is leaving A&M with as the all-time leader in rushing yards in a season and with three spots among the top ten rushing performances.
Williams explodes out of his tracks and when he finds a lane he slices right through the defense. He can take it to the house on any given play with that long-speed, displayed by a bonkers 57 runs of 10+ yards last year (which is one-and-a-half times as much as any other back in the SEC). However, his strides don’t have to be that long – he just has really quick feet. With his step frequency, Williams rarely loses balance and slips off tacklers. He also spins off hits and really makes it tough to grab cloth against him and when someone does wrap around his legs, he steps out of the arms of the tackler time and time again. The 5’8”, 205-pound back is no BS runner, who understand when there really isn’t anywhere to go and it’s time to just push the pile.
However, Williams isn’t just a hard-nosed homerun hitter, he can also change up the pace off his steps with a little bounce as well as the adequate footwork to change directions multiple times before the defense can really adjust. He recognizes defensive penetration off the snap and slightly points his toes a different way when he takes the handoff to avoid initial contact. Overall I think his eyes and feet are linked very well together, as he shows patience and understanding when to cut down his stride length and stutter to allow his blocking to get set up. Williams presses the hole and then cuts upfield as well as any back out there while barely losing any speed. At the second level he makes defenders stop their feet by hesitating before turning on the afterburners and getting past them. Williams can manipulate peaking defensive linemen at the point of attack and open up a path for himself to shift towards.
His effort on the field isn’t limited to his work as a ball-carrier though. At a little above 200 pounds, Williams is one of the most impressive pass protectors I have ever watched as a junior in college. He jacks up even D-ends when he is tagged with chipping them and he does an excellent job taking momentum away from approaching rushers and finding ways to stay in front them. He also packs a punch as a lead blocker for his QB and fellow backs. Williams caught a bunch of swing passes and different variations of screens over the middle and into the flats for the Aggies and he consistently made them work.
Williams exposes the ball too much for my taste by carrying it loosely while swinging his arms through. He already fumbled three times last year and that will be taken advantage of much more at the next level with all those NFL guys going after the ball constantly. He feasted on several lackluster teams and had by far his worst showings against some of the top defenses in college football – 17 carries for 31 yards against Clemson, eight carries for 31 yards against Alabama and ten carries for 26 yards against Mississippi State. I have rarely seen him run any routes developing down the field and we have yet to find out if he can track the ball or actually has a feel for coverages.
While he might not be the most creative runner of the ball, I think Williams is one of the more underrated backs in this class. His numbers as a receiver are inflated by short underneath targets, but I can envision him taking a bigger role in that aspect. He is probably at his best in a power-/gap-scheme, where he can explode through openings and make defenses pay that way, plus he doesn’t have to come off the field with the work he puts in as a pass-protector.
8. Darrell Henderson, Memphis
This kid put up just Ludacris numbers with over 2200 yards from scrimmage and 25 total touchdowns, averaging 8.9 yards per carry and 15.5 yards per catch in 2018. Despite 80 more touches compared to the year prior, Henderson kept his rushing average and he never failed to reach 100 yards when he received at least ten carries in a game. To make this short and simple – he had a phenomenal two-year run.
Henderson offers great explosion and he truly was a threat to take it the distance on any given play, displayed by 55 runs of 10+ yards last season. While he has the burst through openings to bang his head against the goal-post, the stat monster can’t only do it going in a straight line. He is also extremely dangerous when cutting across the grain and forcing defenders to adjust their angles, which prove to be the wrong ones for the most part. For as much as Henderson is known for those 70- and 80-yard runs that are mainly about his breakaway speed, he is a physical inside runner. He can lower the shoulder into a tackler and then pop right back up to keep on going as well as anybody once he has built up some momentum. I have seen him run several off-tackle plays and just crush the initial defender. When he is headed towards the end-zone and defenders make final attempts to grab onto some part of him, you feel like they fall off as if they were trying to hold onto a moving train. That’s why 1321(!) of his yards last season came after contact.
Henderson can also shift laterally when bouncing off tackles and not lose time to get back to running downfield. He doesn’t really run those outside zone plays by going upfield in one step, but he is excellent at maintaining speed and even accelerating through bending the run inside. He also likes lining up as a wildcard quarterback, where his vision on the defense is expanded and he even threw a touchdown from that position last year versus UCF. While Henderson was used primarily as an outlet receiver, I have seen him go up the sideline and reach around for back-shoulder passes. He also does a good job slowing down on screens and letting the blocking get set up. As far as his individual blocking goes, Henderson was asked to lead the way for his teammate Tony Pollard on several occasions and helped spring him loose by showing effort at the second level.
However, I didn’t see Henderson be used a lot in pass protection, which makes me think he didn’t excel in that regard and that would make sense due to some hip tightness. Henderson takes some unnecessary steps before receiving the handoff and makes some questionable decisions when he tries to bounce runs with the edge defender clearly in position to hold his contain. Henderson is at his best when he can build some steam and is able to bend runs, since he doesn’t quite have the short-area quickness to jump around behind line of scrimmage into a different lane. He simply lacks some hip mobility to point his feet North and South from going sideways. Another thing that has marked his collegiate career are the ball-handling problems with three lost fumbles these past two seasons.
While a lack of mobility in his ankles and hips makes me believe Henderson should be much more effective in a zone-based rushing attack, you can’t really argue the numbers he has put up. Last season he forced 56 missed tackles and led all running backs in college football with 5.6 yards after contact on average – that would be a good overall number for most college backs.
9. Devine Ozigbo, Nebraska
One of the more lesser-known names among average college football fans, Devine Ozigbo has quickly climbed up my board after combining for just over 1000 rushing yards over his first three years at Nebraska. The big back established himself as the workhorse in that offense last season, going for almost 1300 yards from scrimmage and 12 touchdowns on 7.0 yards per carry. He might not have been a household name during his collegiate career, but I think that could change in the pros.
Ozigbo can cut down he length of his strides and hesitate to set up his cuts. He has the ability to transition his speed through his breaks and displays incredible mobility in his hips, which enables him to slice underneath blocks and leave defenders a step behind on him after trying to redirect. He can have his lower body evade a tackler laterally while pushing that guy off himself with his arm. Ozigbo presses the line in order to set up defenders squeezing into the middle and opening up space to escape. He combines excellent footwork with dropping his weight to find ways to take advantage of pursuing defenders and has the burst to beat angles towards the sideline. With more than adequate speed to the outside he can also set up defenders with a little one-two step and then cut upfield underneath of them while accelerating through the cut and having them reach out for him.
At six foot, 235 pounds Ozigbo is a load to bring down. He runs through arm tackles when he can get rolling and when he collides with defenders you can hear shoulder pads popping. He drags opponents on his back and consistently stretches forward. Ozigbo literally splits some defenders who are trying to take him to the ground and uses his off-arm very well to keep defenders away from his body, while high-stepping through the grasps of potential tacklers. The heavy bruiser has an understanding for down and distances and he knows when to bury his head into the chest of a big defensive tackle to convert for a new first down. For as powerful as he is however, the former Cornhusker is a smooth receiver who can make some tough catches on passes with bad ball-placement, through concentration and trust in his hands.
Ozigbo can get a little sloppy with ball-security when he finishes runs, even though it led to just two fumbles last season. He had only one successful season in a primary role with the Cornhuskers, as he failed to go over 500 yards through his first three years on campus and pretty much combined for the numbers he put together as a senior. While he did look great in a workhorse role last season, he has yet to prove he can do that over the course of multiple years and has been fighting through some nagging bruises during his collegiate career.
Nevertheless, I think Ozigbo could be a diamond in the rough and he reminds me a lot of Jay Ajayi coming out of Boise State, when I think of a physically strong runner with excellent feet. There are plenty of guys with much better production in this draft, but I am willing to take a day two gamble and develop this kid. He could be special down the road.
10. Myles Gaskin, Washington
Another highly underrated running back during his career with the Huskies, Gaskin recorded 1250+ rushing yards in all four years and had double-digit touchdowns in each of them as well. He leaves Washington with a ridiculous 26 games of 100+ rushing yards. Over the course of his illustrious career with the Huskies I thought Gaskin improved his vision, patience, straight-line burst and willingness for contact, which he ended as the school’s all-time leader in rushing yards and touchdowns by a wide margin.
Gaskin is a tall, lean runner with outstanding lateral movement and shiftiness. He can make people miss in tight spaces and is constantly fighting and twisting for extra yardage through the grasps of defenders. He probably had the best spin move by any running back in the country these last few years. His star-and-stop quickness is off the charts, as he completely freezes pursuing defenders with his stutter-steps and accelerates quickly out of that to kill any angles they had on him. Defenders just seem to slip off this guy because he manages to never present more than half his body. On zone plays he keeps his peripheral vision on the back-side and often times gets the corner for good yardage, as he uses the flow of the defenders against them,
The four-year contributor never really was a household name in college football, but to me he always was one of the most effective runners, who consistently made that unaccounted defender miss. I think he really improved his physicality throughout his collegiate career with a big jump as a junior. Gaskin has the balance to sustain hits and torque his body in different directions to keep going forward. He was a touchdown machine once his team moved inside the ten, scoring a total of 62 touchdowns, and he was even lined up as the Wildcat quarterback at times when they were on the goal-line. The Huskies started using Gaskin more on those swing screens and quick touches in the passing game as well.
Gaskin lost a bunch of snaps last year to a very talented Salvon Ahmed, who brought something different to the table and put up almost 800 scrimmage yards himself. Gaskin had his lowest yards per attempt at 4.9 and dropped a little on my board with some other guys emerging. While he does force a ton of missed tackles by avoiding straight hits, he doesn’t have the pure power to run through defenders head-on. Gaskin also runs himself into trouble at times when the play-side closes down and he tries to make people miss in the backfield or reverse field. In two games in 2017 Gaskin caught 11 combined passes for almost 200 yards, but he never went for more than five catches or 50 yards in any other game during his career and if you take those two outlier games away he had just 272 receiving yards as a four-year starter. I also saw him drop a couple of easy passes on screens and check-down routes, which might not have been perfectly on targeted but definitely catchable.
I had this kid as a top-ten back in each of the last three years when I looked at the competition in college, but he moved down the board a little. With that being said, I think he is still one of the most effective zone-runners in this class and brings a very unique running style with him. I’m not sure if he is a necessarily a workhorse at the next level, but he definitely has a place in this league.
Just missed the cut:
Benny Snell, Kentucky
Snell truly was a workhorse for the Wildcats, but more importantly he was the heart and soul of that entire team while he was there, on his way to becoming Kentucky’s all-time leading rusher in just three seasons, as he went for almost 4000 yards and 48 touchdowns on the ground. He is an incredibly violent runner at 225 pounds with a compact build. Snell runs with a strong, low center of gravity and he packs a mean stiff-arm. Arm tackles will never work with this guy getting some steam, as you see defenders torque his pads while trying to bring Snell down and he just shrugs them off. It seems like Snell crushes collarbones every time he and a tackler lower their shoulders, as the runner loads up his forearm and rips it upwards to shrug the tackler off. He improved his agility going into 2018 and doesn’t mind hurdling an opponent either. Snell has excellent vision for peaking defensive linemen and the leverage on defenders at the second level, which he can take advantage of by cutting the other way and he has a good enough jump-cut to the outside to bounce a run that a defense is loading up inside to stop. Snell stands in strong as a pass protector and was used a lead-blocker on draw and pure ISO plays for his quarterback as well. However, he ducks his head on too many occasions and tends to shift his weight incorrectly. While he has improved his catch numbers a little every year, he combined for just 29 career receptions, which mostly came on check-downs. That leaves me with questions about his ability to be a part of a passing game open. The one big concern I have with the hard-nosed runner is the stiffness of his hips, as I feel like he fails to avoid contact by bending runs at times and combine that with the appropriate footwork. He also lacks some patience to allow the blocking to get set up in favor of just running into the backs of his offensive linemen. Snell reminds me a little bit of a young Marshawn Lynch when I look at his style of play and the personality he brings to the table. He ran all over strong defenses in Mississippi State and Penn State last year on his way to picking up 81 first downs and gaining over 800 yards after contact.
Dexter Williams, Notre Dame
Even though the Irish already had a strong rushing attack with the offensive line pushing people backwards, Williams’ explosiveness took that to a different level when he returned from a four-year suspension in 2018. He went for just under 1000 yards and 12 touchdowns in nine games, giving him an average of 6.3 yards a carry. The 5’11”, 215-pounder had his first touch this past season result in a 45-yard score versus Stanford, as you saw how quickly he can go the distance when he has some daylight – and he doesn’t need a lot of it. Williams operates very well in tight quarters, sorting his through trash while putting his off-hand on the backs of his offensive linemen while complementing that with the appropriate footwork. When he shoots through an opening, he dips the shoulder to avoid contact with a defender reaching out. The Irish back is an expert at side-stepping behind blocks in order to create a running lane for himself. Williams has excellent fluidity in his hips, not having to waist any steps when cutting upfield and basically being able to change directions by about 150 degrees in one motion, plus once he does decide to turn it back he has speed to kill get to the sideline before someone can get an angle on him. Williams looks and runs bigger than he actually measures and when he has momentum it is tough to slow him down, as he breaks a ton of tackles when a defender on the edge doesn’t get his head across on the tackle and the running back can pull his legs out of the reaching arms. With that being said, Williams needs to do a better job protecting the ball when he is swarmed by defenders instead of trying to reach out or these NFL defenders will knock it out of his hands at a much higher rate. He doesn’t really push the pile but instead tries to escape and loses yards in the process. The former Irish RB is a willing pass-protector, but gets overpowered on some occasions. Williams was probably the best running back all Senior Bowl week, showing a lot of burst and peripheral vision for cutback opportunities, while carrying it all the way to the endzone on every single rep to go with that home-run mentality. Williams also caught the ball pretty well in practice down in Mobile, after all of his 16 catches came at or behind the line of scrimmage last season.
Wild Card: Rodney Anderson, Oklahoma
It took Anderson a while to get going and take over the starting role for Oklahoma in 2017, but once he received more than ten touches per game from week seven one, he averaged 166.6 yards and two touchdowns from scrimmage, totalling 1343 yards through the final seven weeks. He really started looking more and more like a young Beastmode, running with tremendous power and contact balance and he seemed to get stronger towards the end of the season, but also it is his unique running style that gives me flashes of Marshawn Lynch. While it doesn’t quite look the same, Anderson is also a guy who uses different stride length and subtle changes of direction to rumble through defenses. That entire stretch was highlighted by a 200 yard rushing performance versus Georgia in the Rose Bowl. While he started off smoking hot in 2018’s season-opener against FAU, going for 100 yards and two scores on just five carries, Anderson was lost for the season early on against UCLA the week after. At 6’1”, 220+ pounds, Anderson carries thick and strong lower body. He runs through a multitude arm and ankle tackles, has good leg drive and people just bounce off him. Anderson runs with great forward lean and becomes a load to bring down, welcoming the contact and running through it. He has a good stiff-arm and uses it to just push off and move even faster at times. It has to be demoralizing for a defense when they have this guy all stacked up and somehow he still ultimately lands a couple of yards ahead of that point. For a guy his size you wouldn’t think the bruising runner would blow anybody away with his acceleration and top-end speed, but you see him run away from pursuing defenders constantly and when somebody gets a hand on him along the sideline it doesn’t really slow him down. Anderson produced some big plays in the passing game, coming out of the backfield as well as split out in the slot. Oklahoma targeted him on wheel or seam routes and you saw excellent adjustments reaching around for the football, but he can also simply be a check-down option, run angle routes or different types of screens and make things happen in the open field. He is pro-active in protection and stays balanced towards the arriving blitzer. He plays a little top-heavy in that department and some NFL linebackers will take advantage of it, but that can be corrected with proper coaching. The biggest question mark surrounding the Oklahoma one-year wonder is his health going forward – a broken leg pretty much cost him all his freshman year, he had to sit out the entire 2016 season due to a fractured vertebra in training camp and when he had finally emerged as one of the top backs in the nation, he suffered a torn ACL last year. Therefore medical evaluations will be key to his draft position and the career he might have at the next level.
The next guys up:
Travis Homer (Miami), Mike Weber (Ohio State), Bryce Love (Stanford), Jordan Scarlett (Florida), Elijah Holyfield (Georgia), Jalin Moore (Appalachian State), Alexander Mattison (Boise State), James Williams (Washington State), Bruce Anderson (North Dakota State), Tony Pollard (Memphis), Alex Barnes (Kansas State), Darwin Thompson (Utah State), Ryquell Armstead (Temple), Karan Higdon (Michigan)
If you have any more questions on the prospects mentioned or any other ones, just let me know in the comments or via mail and I can share my notes with you!
3 thoughts on “Top 10 running backs in the 2019 NFL Draft:”
Pingback: Top 10 linebackers in the 2019 NFL Draft: | Halil's Real Footballtalk
You have any film or know where to find any on Wes Hills out of Slippery Rock? Any help would be appreciated
I only have one full game and the Senior Bowl on him. Hope this helps!