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.
Beginning yesterday and finishing tomorrow I’ll be counting down my (very early) 2018 Top 30 NFL Draft Eligible Running Backs. Yesterday we counted down 30-21 and today we continue with backs 20-11.
20) Royce Freeman – Oregon
Many would have called me crazy (and they still may) if I would have ranked Freeman in this spot a year ago. I felt he regressed in 2016 but that could be partly due to him battling through injuries. The massive 5’11” and 230-pound Senior is an impressive athlete for a guy his size. The biggest area of concern for me is that if he misses a hole his lack of consistent burst and below-average open field moves hinder his effectiveness. His size, power, and hands ensure that he could be an asset as a short-yardage back in the NFL but I feel his NFL success will be very scheme-dependent. I acknowledge that I could be criminally low on him.
19) Lavon Coleman – Washington
Lavon Coleman is one of the most terrifying backs in college football when he is running with a head of steam. The 6’0” and 225-pound Senior is a freight train with shockingly good speed for a guy that looks like a bowling ball. Recently timed in the high 4.4s, Coleman has great burst to go with his long speed. While he doesn’t have the best moves in his class, I do see nice vision and see him as much more than a short-yardage back. He has shown he can carry a heavy workload as a runner but his involvement as a pass catcher has been very sparse. Coleman is a very nice downhill runner that could excel in the right NFL system.
18) Mike Weber – Ohio State
Mike Weber reminds me some of Mark Ingram. Weber does a nice job of putting his foot in the ground and exploding through the hole. Not only does he show nice burst and vision, he is well built at 5’11” and 214 pounds and displays good power. He is not the most elusive guy in the open field nor is he going to blow anyone away with his 40-time but the combination of his strengths leads to a very solid and productive RB whose game translates to the next level. Weber made 23 catches in 2016 but wasn’t very explosive. I see a player with a steady floor and ceiling at the next level.
17) Damien Harris – Alabama
Damien Harris is a solid, well-rounded back. The 5’11” and 214 pound Junior has seen the field since he was a True Freshman at Alabama. That in itself is an impressive accomplishment. That being said, I don’t see many elite traits in Harris. He is a versatile player that runs, catches and blocks well but I don’t think I would rank him towards the top of any of those categories in comparison to his classmates. Harris isn’t the fastest guy but he does show nice burst, change of direction and vision. I see Harris as a high floor, low ceiling back.
16) Justin Crawford – West Virginia
Justin Crawford is a nightmare in the open field. He is one of the most elusive players in his class. Not only does he have great long speed, he has incredible acceleration and seems to get to his top-speed very quickly. The 6’0” and 202 pound back was used very inconsistently at West Virginia in 2016. He showed the ability to be a bellcow, four games with 18+ carries but also had six single digit carry games. His time at JUCO helps to paint a better picture of him as he averaged over 20 carries per game and made 29 catches in 2015. Fumbles have been an issue for him in the past as he averages 1 per 35 carries in college.
15) Ty Johnson – Maryland
Ty Johnson finished the 2016 season with 1,004 rushing yards. What’s most impressive is that he did it on 110 carries which at 9.1 yards per carry, was best in the FBS. The 5’10” and 205 pound Maryland native was lightly recruited but when the Maryland staff saw his speed at a camp they immediately offered him. Johnson has elite sprinter speed and showed in 2016 that if he gets a crease he is gone. He is also a fantastic pass catcher and threat in the return game. The questions I have about his game center around durability. I don’t know how he will hold up running between the tackles and getting feature-back touches.
14) Rashaad Penny – San Diego State
Rashaad Penny is the quietest returning 1,000-yard rusher in the country. The backup to Donnel Pumphrey, Penny averaged 7.5 ypc and scored 11 rushing TD in 2016. At 5’11” and 220 pounds, Penny is a very smooth, gliding runner. He is a fantastic returner on special teams that possesses tremendous speed. Penny has great hands and averaged almost 15 yards per catch last year, hauling in 15 of his 19 targets. Penny will have a chance to prove he can be the bell cow in 2017. Pumphrey, his predecessor, logged 350 carries last year in the run-heavy Aztec offense. I want to see more film on Penny as the feature back but he is a potential high riser in 2017.
13) Akrum Wadley – Iowa
The 5’11” and 185 pound Junior has tremendous ability. He is one of the most natural pass catchers in this class and is outstanding in the open-field. He displays a variety of nice moves including a spin-move which is truly a thing of beauty. Wadley shared the Hawkeye’s workload in 2016 with LeShun Daniels. The biggest question that I have about Wadley is how can he hold up as a feature-back from a durability standpoint. He has a lean build and plenty of room to put on good weight and I think his ability to do that in 2017 will determine how high his ceiling is. In terms of pure potential, Wadley takes a back seat to very few others in his class.
12) Mark Walton – Miami
The first thing that stands out to me about Mark Walton’s game is that he is an outstanding pass catcher. Walton caught 27 of his 38 targets in 2016 and has very soft hands. The 5’9” and 205 pound Junior has a low center of gravity and his balance, footwork and vision are top-notch. Walton has an uncanny knack for finding a small crease and he has the elite burst to get through it, leaving defenders in his wake. Walton won’t be confused for a power runner but his instincts and athleticism are so good that he often shields himself from taking the brunt of contact from defenders. I want to see him prove his durability and if he can, he is a potential high riser.
11) John Kelly – Tennessee
I have extremely high hopes for John Kelly in 2017. He is one of the lesser known names on the list at this point but I believe that will soon be changing. Kelly is listed at 5’9” and 212 pounds and shows a great blend of speed and power. Kelly has outstanding footwork, balance, and vision. He is a determined runner with great leg drive that will consistently fight for extra yardage. Kelly has elite sprinter speed and shows legitimate home run ability if he finds a seam or gets to the perimeter. Kelly’s 2016 advanced metrics show he was almost identical to Alvin Kamara from a productivity standpoint. Kelly will need to prove he can be a feature back in 2017.
Tomorrow I reveal my top 10 running backs eligible for the 2018 NFL Draft, so make sure you check back in.