The 2017 NFL Draft has come and gone. Now my focus switches to the top talents in the 2018 NFL Draft Class. There were thirty running backs selected in the 2017 Draft. Most drafts in recent years had at least twenty running backs selected. I have watched film on nearly seventy-five 2018 Draft Eligible Running Backs. The film varies greatly in extent, type, and quality. I have ranked them and provided some brief thoughts on all of the prospects. I want to preface this by saying I believe that this upcoming draft class is extremely deep. As many as fifty running backs that, if they come out, can contribute at the next level. While many can contribute, fewer can be a feature back and that is ultimately what I am looking for and projecting below.
There are sure to be many omissions of productive college running backs that draw the ire of readers but this is an attempt to balance their college productivity with future professional potential. I prefer to have at least some tape at the collegiate level on a player when I evaluate them. When evaluating a prospect that plays in a smaller conference or division I prefer a lot of tape. As such, there are very few non-Power 5 conference prospects on this list but I do plan to profile some Group of 5 and FCS players in the near future.
Today through Wednesday I’ll be counting down my (very early) 2018 Top 30 NFL Draft Eligible Running Backs. Today we begin with backs 30 -21.
30) Aeris Williams – Mississippi State
At 6’1 and 222 pounds, Williams has the frame to be a feature back at the next level. While I am confident he has the frame to handle a heavy workload, he hasn’t yet had the opportunity to prove it at Mississippi State as he was used sparingly to begin the 2016 season but came on late. Williams is a power back that is a challenge to bring down as a solo defender. Williams is still a very raw prospect but he has shown good patience, vision, and footwork for such a big back. In addition to proving his durability, Williams will need to show he can be a threat as a pass catcher in 2017.
29) Kamryn Pettway – Auburn
Kamryn “Bubba” Pettway is massive. Listed at 6’0 and 238 pounds, Pettway is the biggest back to make this list. He is a power back, plain and simple. He isn’t slow, especially when factoring in just how big he is, but he isn’t fast nor very elusive either. He has shown the ability to make a single cut and get upfield effectively and that is where he consistently forces defenders to make “business decisions”. Pettway was most effective in 2016 when facing defenses that I would personally describe as “soft”. When you watch him against Alabama and LSU he was very pedestrian averaging 2.7 yards per carry.
28) Ty’Son Williams – South Carolina
Ty’Son Williams is a player that has been getting rave reviews since he transferred to South Carolina from North Carolina. In limited film study, I have seen a back with elite lateral quickness and elusiveness. He has shown nice hands and has the speed and athleticism to hit a homerun when he finds a crease. The 6’0” and 209 pounder has questions to answer in regards to his ability to run between the tackles and take on a feature back workload. That being said, Williams has shown enough elite traits at this point to make the list and he is a guy I will be keeping a close eye on this fall.
27) Bryce Love – Stanford
At 5’10” and 184 pounds, I have concerns about whether or not Love has the size to be a feature back at the next level. In terms of talent, he is one of the tops in this class. While Christian McCaffrey had the spotlight in 2016, Love quietly went about his 783 rushing yards at just over 7 yards per carry. When called upon, he showed he was able to handle 20+ carries and he seemed to hold up well. That being said, doing that twice over one season and having single-digit carries in seven games leaves a lot to be desired. Love has elite sprinter speed and can factor in the passing game but he has to prove his durability in 2017.
26) Detrez Newsome – Western Carolina
Detrez Newsome was the 2016 FCS version of Christian McCaffrey. The 5’10” and 210 pound Senior averaged 213 all-purpose yards per game which led the NCAA FCS, FBS, and Division II levels. Newsome is a great open-field runner that understands how to use angles to his advantage and create separation. He is a relentless runner and competitor that has shown he can compete against the big boys. His last three games against SEC opposition he ran for an average of 118 yards per game at 7.4 yards per carry. Newsome is a complete back that will be a major asset on special teams.
25) Kerryon Johnson – Auburn
Kerryon Johnson has made some splash plays where he looks like a Top 10 back in this class. However, consistency, or lack thereof, is an issue for the 6’0” and 212 pound Junior. Johnson is effective in a spread system as his skillset is maximized when he can get the ball in space. He is an asset as a pass catcher and in the return game. Johnson has outstanding long speed, burst, and balance. While he is bigger than many backs from a height and weight standpoint, he is still very lean and I don’t see a player that can be durable enough as a next level feature back. I see him as a weapon in the NFL but not a guy to build an offense around.
24) Josh Adams – Notre Dame
Josh Adams is solid running back. I see him as a jack of all trades but a master of none. That isn’t a knock on him, it’s just likely an oversimplification for why I will have him ranked lower than many other analysts. At 6’2” and 220 pounds, Adams has outstanding size for a back and he has proven to be an effective pass catcher. While Adams may lack top-end speed, he does display very nice vision and balance for a guy that’s as big as he is. I can certainly understand why many will have him more highly rated than I do but I’m going to use 2017 as a “prove it” year.
23) Rawleigh Williams – Arkansas
Rawleigh Williams is another solid running back. He is a smooth runner that has good but not great long speed. Williams proved in 2016 that he can be a workhorse. Last year, Williams averaged almost twenty carries per game. He also proved to be an explosive receiver averaging over 14 yards per reception. At 5’10” and 226 pounds, Williams has the look of a power back but he actually plays a bit more of a finesse game. He doesn’t shy away from contact but he also rarely doles out punishment. Williams is a productive, high floor and low ceiling back.
22) Shannon Brooks – Minnesota
Shannon Brooks is a 6’0” and 210-pound back from Atlanta. He was very lightly recruited but contributed as a True Freshman at Minnesota in 2015. He is a quick back that does a nice job of hitting the hole with burst. Brooks has nice vision at the second and third levels and while he is very elusive he also runs angry and finishes runs with power. Brooks suffered a foot injury in the Summer of 2016 and his production regressed greatly as a sophomore. Long speed is lacking in his game but he has some really nice tools. If Brooks rounds back into 2015 form I think he has an opportunity to make a climb this season.
21) Kyle Hicks – TCU
In 2016, Kyle Hicks did something that is very rare for a collegiate running back, he led the Horned Frogs in rushing yards and passes caught as a running back. Listed at 5’10” and 210 pounds, Hicks is a tremendous asset in the passing game. He caught an impressive 47 of his 60 targets last year. Hicks has great patience, vision and ability to create in the open field. This versatile back can contribute in the NFL on all three downs. While Hicks reportedly ran a 4.4 40 in high school, I don’t quite see that same elite juice on his film but I do see a player with nice speed that is extremely elusive.
Tomorrow we’ll continue the 2018 Draft Eligible Running Backs countdown with numbers 20-11, be sure to check back.