The 2017 season has long past. The NFL Combine has come and gone. That means we are officially in the home stretch before draft day arrives. What better way to get prepared than a full-on analysis of this year’s running back crop provided by yours truly! I ranked my top-20 running back prospects from this class. Tomorrow my top-10 will be released, so keep an eye out for that, but until then, here are my numbers 11 through 20 of my rookie running back rankings in what is shaping up to be historically stacked class at the position.
11. Kyle Hicks, Texas Christian
The Skinny: This may be the first you’re hearing of Kyle Hicks if you are a casual fan, but I will assure you this won’t be the last. Part of a tantalizing TCU backfield along with fellow ball-carrier and future high draft pick Sewo Olonilua, Hicks is another slippery back in the mold of Jerrick McKinnon. In fact, with his height and tendencies, not to mention his natural lean, I literally thought he was Jerrick at first glance. Hicks isn’t the best athlete and didn’t overly impress at the combine, but he is a football player through and through. Like John Kelly above, I don’t expect a full 3-down workload for Hicks, but with his pass-protection chops, lateral agility, and fluid style, he makes the perfect complimentary tailback.
Player Comparison: Jerrick McKinnon, San Francisco 49ers
12. Royce Freeman, Oregon
The Skinny: A big-time college name at Oregon, I am genuinely surprised Freeman isn’t getting more pre-draft buzz. An uber-athletic, big back, in most drafts Freeman would be right up there with the top ball-carriers in the class. Unfortunately, for him, this isn’t your average RB class. Not your usual Oregon prospect, Freeman isn’t a shifty, undersized tailback, but rather a bruising yet nimble one. With ample long-speed, he is still able to break long runs on a consistent basis and produced huge stats at the collegiate level. His pass-catching ability is nearly non-existent, but Freeman is the perfect 2-down back for a team already with a capable receiving option out of the backfield.
Player Comparison: Carlos Hyde, Cleveland Browns
13. Roc Thomas, Jacksonville St.
The Skinny: If I was to describe Roc Thomas in one word that word would be explosive. A former 5-star recruit who transferred from Auburn to Jacksonville State, Thomas burst is right up there with Ronald Jones’ for tops in the class. A home-run hitter with that same mentality, Thomas is physically jacked and a beast with the ball in his hands. Yes, he’s a small-school guy who didn’t face much competition, but this is the exact type of player you can steal later in fantasy drafts that will come back to help your team in a big way. Ultimately, I’m undecided on whether or not he can be a full-fledged starter, but a Tevin Coleman like change-of-pace and pass-catching role could definitely be in his cards.
Player Comparison: Tevin Coleman, Atlanta Falcons
14. Bo Scarbrough, Alabama
The Skinny: In a draft full of small, scatback types, Bo Scarbrough is a breath of fresh air. With the body of a Greek god, Scarbrough plays exactly how you’d expect from an Alabama back. Unstoppable in short-yardage situations, for a man of his size Scarbrough is a physical specimen, testing off-the-charts at the combine. A long-speed freak, once Scarbrough gets going, like former Crimson Tide back Derrick Henry, there is no way of stopping him. However, his size also makes him take a while to work up to that speed. Although his lateral agility is good (and underrated), his quickness and pass-catching aren’t. Add in a very scary injury history, and Bo is a tough prospect to evaluate. In the end, he still possesses plenty of value and has a chance to be one of the RB steals of this draft.
Player Comparison: Brandon Jacobs, Retired
15. Kalen Ballage, Arizona St.
The Skinny: A Leonard Fournette type of specimen (yes, you heard that right), Kalen Ballage has as much upside as any back in this class not named Saquon. An athletic freak-show, the 6-3, 230-pound ball-carrier showed off his tantalizing potential on several collegiate occasions, including a 7-touchdown game against Texas Tech, and an impressive performance at this year’s Senior Bowl. Unfortunately, with a measly 4.4 yards per carry, and disappointing totals in his senior year, it’s hard to envision him reaching his high upside. In Ballage’s defense, his play was wholly bungled by his coaching staff throughout his career, and being forced into playing Wild-Cat and rotate with Demario Richard didn’t help either. However, these pieces of information can’t go unnoticed and make an already tricky evaluation that much trickier. The definition of boom-or-bust, I don’t think anyone doubts the talent, but whether he can live up to it will be truly fascinating.
Player Comparison: Leonard Fournette, Jacksonville Jaguars
16. Ito Smith, Southern Mississippi
The Skinny: The first true pass-catching specialist on this list, Smith is not to be mistaken for an inside runner. After all, his minuscule stature pretty much ensures that. However, that doesn’t mean he can’t be a successful 3rd-down back at the next level, and a darn good one at that. A gritty ball-carrier with shifty tendencies, a low center of gravity, surprising tackle-breaking ability, and death-defying jukes, he’s sure to be a favorite on many boards when April rolls around. Also very advanced in pass-protection, showing those skills during his time the Senior Bowl, Smith is an experienced player who logged enormous volume for Southern Mississippi throughout his collegiate career. A fact that ensures that out of the scatbacks in this class, he may just be the most pro-ready and able to contribute from Day 1.
Player Comparison: Austin Ekeler, Los Angeles Chargers
17. Boston Scott, Louisiana Tech
The Skinny: A player probably not on many ball-carrier rankings at the moment, Scott likely won’t get drafted, but that doesn’t mean he can’t prove to be a tremendous value down the line. Similar to Smith above, Scott is purely a 3rd-down, pass-catching specialist, but excels in that role in a huge way. With a natural lean and low-center of gravity, Scott may just be the most elusive back in the class. That’s some high praise. He’s an absolute shrimp at 5’6″, but being 203 lbs can more than back a punch. Built like a bowling ball, Scott will have a niche role in the NFL, but he’s easily one of my favorite prospects in this class and will provide immense value no matter how he’s used in the NFL.
Player Comparison: Giovani Bernard, Cincinnati Bengals
18. Jordan Wilkins, Ole Miss
The Skinny: A favorite of fellow DFF member @TonyG_DevyScout, Wilkins is a big back with the lateral ability and a pass-catching prowess that seems to be getting harder and harder to find every passing year. Underused at Ole Miss, Wilkins has the potential to be much higher on this list and has legit 3-down potential at the next level. I don’t see a real “extra gear” in his game, and he sometimes dances around in the hole, but this guy is an absolute football player. He slugged it out with the SEC’s best on a consistent basis and won most of the match-ups. Ironically, despite his size, his pass-catching and blocking ability make it likely that he starts his career off as a 3rd-down back, similar to former Utah prospect Devontae Booker. Like I mentioned earlier, I would not be the least bit surprised if he carved out a starting job at the next level.
Player Comparison: Devontae Booker, Denver Broncos
19. Phillip Lindsay, Colorado
The Skinny: Phillip Lindsay isn’t the most talented kid. He’s not the biggest. But boy, what he lacks for in other areas he makes up for in his determination, work-ethic, and tenacity on the football field. Severely undersized, Lindsay’s physical limitations don’t stop him in one bit, and in some cases, he uses them to his advantage. A quick burst phenom, Lindsay’s ability in the slot and on kick returns at the next level will be tremendous, as will his gunner ability on special teams. Don’t get me wrong, Lindsay will never be a top tier RB, but this is the type of player, and person for that matter, that every team wants playing for them.
Player Comparison: Danny Woodhead, Retired
T20. Chris Warren, Texas
The Skinny: A player who arguably got the shaft while at Texas, Warren is a big bruising back who I like to compare to a “poor man’s” Derrius Guice. With a similar body type to Guice, Warren also is extremely difficult to bring down, often running with much-coveted aggression. Versatile as well, he’s even been asked to play FB or even TE by some teams at the next level, furthering his value. If we are being honest, a poor combine hurt his stock, with testing numbers such as a 4.7 forty and bad jumps, but Warren is still definitely worth a pick, no matter how late that may be.
Player Comparison: Jeremy Hill, New England Patriots
T20. Chase Edmonds, Fordham
The Skinny: The bell of the FCS’ ball, Edmonds is the marquee small-school back in this class. A prospect who aced the combine in his testing drills, most specifically the 3-Cone, Edmonds has “sweet feet” and a rare quickness to his game. There’s no doubting I want to see more burst and grit to his game, but the elements to be a key contributor in the passing and complimentary run game are definitely there. He’ll never lead a committee, but I can ultimately envision Edmonds carving out a long career as a reliable side option in a potent backfield.
Player Comparison: James White, New England Patriots
That’s all for today folks! Hope you enjoyed my run down and be on the lookout for my top-10 tomorrow. If you’ve enjoyed this, my wide receiver rankings will be released in the not too distant future as well.
*Just missed the cut:
Josh Adams, Notre Dame
Akrum Wadley, Iowa
Justin Jackson, Northwestern
Martez Carter, Grambling St.
Kamryn Pettway, Auburn
Darrell Williams, LSU.
Justin Crawford, West Virginia
* Have yet to evaluate:
Trenton Cannon, Virginia St.
Jeffery Wilson, North Texas, etc.
*Note: I view NC State prospect Jaylen Samuels’ best position at the next level as TE. Therefore he did not qualify for the above list.