Hey fantasy loyalists, the NFL Combine is here, and it’s time to evaluate the running backs. What are we looking for, exactly? You hear a lot of things, like how a forty time dictates how successful a football player can be. Others say there is nothing to learn from guys running around in tights and shorts.
Well, finding running backs that will be successful early is the most important part of fantasy, and step one in the process of making your draft board. It’s all about identifying who the possible standouts could be and letting the draft weed out the imposters. There are “tells” I like to look at to identify the hidden top 20 running backs in the combine. So let’s dive in.
First, you always have to look at what’s worked in the NFL. “History repeats itself,” and you see the same type of player at different times in NFL history. Top running backs have shared similar styles of running and can be sorted into Classes.
First, let’s look at the Dynamic Class of running back. These backs are the whole package: Quick and fast, they have hands like a wide receiver, are quick in and out of their cuts, and have the mental stability to compete every day. Examples of this class are Alvin Kamara, Christian McCaffrey, and Saquon Barkley, who were three-down backs that took the league by storm.
These are game breakers that don’t need a top offensive line to produce because they can make big plays outside the hash marks. Josh Jacobs and Bryce Love seem to be the best examples of this. Too bad neither was able to compete in the combine. But when you look at the tape, you can see that they have “three-down back” written all over them. Two other backs who can be (and I put a big question mark on “can be”) this type of back are Mike Weber (40 time: 4.47, Bench: 22/225, Vertical: 33.5) and Miles Sanders (40 time: 4.49, Bench: 20/225,Vertical: 36) who are quick and fast.
The next class what I call the Balanced Back, or your traditional HB. These guys aren’t as explosive as the Dynamic Class, but they just do everything very well. Examples of this class of back are Ezekiel Elliott, Melvin Gordon, or Todd Gurley, who have been very successful in the NFL. Trayveon Williams (40 time: 4.51, Bench 19/225, Vertical: 33) and Damien Harris( 40 time: 4.57, Bench 16/225, Vertical: 37) David Montgomery( 40 time: 4.63, Bench 15/225 Vertical 28.5) best represent this class. They aren’t the quickest or the biggest backs, but most importantly they’re balanced. These type of backs need to run behind their pads, can be physical, have good hands, but can also make you miss. However, they do need a fairly good offensive line or scheme.
I call the third class Doctor Smooth. There are some backs that run fast, some that are quick, but smooth runners are so sweet to look at. The first example that comes to mind is Arian Foster. That running style is very rare. This year, Devin Singletary (40 Time: 4.66, Bench 15/225, Vertical:35) is that guy. His running style is so smooth (it’s beautiful) and he can make you miss. Keep your eye out for this guy. He is my sleeper for the draft, and hopefully, he goes to a team with a great offensive line scheme. But beware if he doesn’t–offensive line success will dictate his success.
The fourth class is the Thumper/Bruiser, the “meet me in the hole and watch me truck your ass” type of backs. Examples of this class include Jordan Howard, Natrone Means, Iron Head Heyward, and the greatest of all time Earl Campbell. Watch for Elijah Holyfield ( 40 time: 4.78, Bench: 26/225, Vertical: 29.5) who fits the build of a big back that runs behind his pads nicely. But there is a huge caution flag that needs to be thrown up. This class of back needs a good offensive line. The main reason why is if they have slow starts and there is speed on the defensive line they’re D.O.A behind the line. So you have to keep the defense off of them so they can get started.
The fifth class is the fast, lightning-quick Scatback. This back can be a three-down back like Warrick Dunn, but mostly they just turn the game upside down like Tarik Cohen. The back that best fits this class is Justice Hill ( 40 time 4.0 Bench: 21/225, Vertical: 40) who ran the fastest time at the combine for running backs. He didn’t do much else at the combine, but looking at the tape he could be a better slot and third-down back than an every-down back.
Other running backs to look at are Benny Snell (40 time: 4.66, Bench 16/225, Vertical: 29.5), whose uncle played for the Jets with Joe Namath, so he has the pedigree. Darrell Henderson (40 time: 4.49, Bench: 22/225, Vertical: 33.5) is another back with a high yard per carry average and makes very hard cuts with a physical output at the end.
Next up will be the wide receivers! Thank you for reading. You can find me on Twitter @Chrisheatcanes.