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 we finish counting down my (very early) 2018 Top 30 NFL Draft Eligible Running Backs, with the Top 10. Just in case you missed the Monday article we counted down 30-21 and yesterday we went through my 20th-11th ranked running backs.
10) Sony Michel – Georgia
Always a bridesmaid, Sony Michel has quietly gone about his business averaging 5.5 ypc on 434 totes, caught 55 passes and scored 22 TD. The former 5-star is listed at 5’11” and 222 pounds and displays incredible versatility. Michel has outstanding sudden cut ability and runs with tremendous power when finishing plays. He is one of the more talented pass catchers at the RB position in all of college football. Michel may not have elite long speed but he has nice burst and is a proven, complete back.
9) Ronald Jones – USC
Ronald Jones has elite speed. The 6’1” and 195 pound Junior doubles as a sprinter on the USC track team. He boasts a 10.37 100 meter time from high school and his sprinter speed translates well to the football field. Jones is extremely elusive in the open field and his change of direction is as sudden and impressive as any back in his class. Jones is an upright runner that I wouldn’t describe as powerful in the way he finishes but his athleticism, instincts and burst help him to get out of sticky situations. He is a special player in space.
8) LJ Scott – Michigan State
When watching LJ Scott, it is easy to draw the comparisons to former Spartan, Le’Veon Bell. At 6’1” and 231 pounds, you see a very nice combination of patience, vision and power. While he hasn’t been a volume pass catcher, as Bell showed he could be in college, Scott was productive in making explosive plays in 2016 as a receiver. One troublesome thing that I’ve seen from him on tape is that he gets caught from behind more than I’d like to see for a potentially elite back. Scott has the look of a talented NFL RB and is another guy with potential to creep even higher up my list in 2017.
7) Myles Gaskin – Washington
The thing that jumps off the tape most to me when watching Gaskin is his balance. At 5’9” and 192 pounds, he has a low center of gravity and shows great vision and field awareness. The Washington RB stormed onto the scene as a true freshman in 2015 and has since posted back-to-back 1,000 yard rushing seasons. Gaskin has been an asset in the passing game and displays incredible athleticism as he recently posted a 4.45 40 time and a 39 inch vertical. While he isn’t the biggest back, his balance and leg drive allow him to bounce off would-be tacklers very effectively. His size is a mild concern but he has shown to be very durable thus far. Gaskin has 466 career carries thus far and just one fumble.
6) Jordan Scarlett – Florida
Jordan Scarlett should finally get the chance to be the Gator’s feature back in 2017. Florida has used a very befuddling, “by committee” approach, when it has been very evident they have a terrific back that needs to eat. Listed at 5’11” and 213 pounds, Scarlett has a great blend of power and speed. The Florida native ran a 4.30 40 in high school but finishes runs like a much larger power back. Scarlett is decisive when hitting the hole and shows the versatility to run through or around linebackers. Scarlett has been lightly used as a pass catcher thus far in his career and that is my main question about his game moving forward.
5) Nick Chubb – Georgia
Nick Chubb was on pace to be number one on the majority of analyst’s lists prior to a knee injury in 2015. At 5’10” and 228 pounds, Chubb has a powerlifter’s strength and he runs like it on the field. Prior to the leg injury, he had good long speed and last year he showed that he had regained it at times but will need to consistently prove it in 2017. Chubb has one of the most talented backfields in college football but still rates to put up big numbers as a Senior. He has outstanding vision, balance and determination. In 2014, he was a large contributor in the pass game but has been very lightly used in part of ‘15 and ‘16.
4) Kalen Ballage – Arizona State
Best known for his 7 TD game against Texas Tech, the 6’2” and 227 pound Senior is an athletic freak. He runs with speed, power and has great feet for a back his size. He is an asset in the passing game and has the frame to hold up as a feature back in the NFL. Productivity, or lack thereof, is my issue with him. He averaged just over 4 ypc in 2016 and was held to 19 carries for 32 yards combined in three games against the top defenses he faced. A new OC in 2017 should help and his upside is through the roof but in the words of Kid Ink and Chris Brown, “Show Me”.
3) Bo Scarborough – Alabama
Bo Scarborough is a freak athlete. He is undoubtedly a tremendous talent that has solid college productivity under his belt. Standing 6’2 and 228 pounds, the Tuscaloosa native is a mountain of a man that can seemingly only be stopped by injuries. With multiple knee injuries and most recently a broken bone in his foot, Big Bo will need to prove he can stay healthy in the upcoming season. Scarborough is a freight train that has excellent top end speed and regularly punishes defenders. While he doesn’t have the best moves in his class, his blend of speed and power make him far more than just a short yardage back. Pass catching and health are the question marks moving forward.
2) Derrius Guice – LSU
Derrius Guice, the angriest, most violent runner that I have watched in recent years. Guice runs with unbridled passion and power. He is rarely brought down on first contact and loves to make defenders pay when they step up to tackle him. Elite vision, balance and speed are traits that the 5’11” and 212 pound Baton Rouge native possesses. Lightly used in the passing game thus far at LSU, Guice’s new OC plans to line him up some in the slot so this season we should learn a lot about his ability to be a three-down back at the next level. If he shows proficiency as a pass catcher, he and Barkley could very well be interchangeable at the top for me. Guice is a rare talent.
1) Saquon Barkley – Penn State
One of the most complete backs at the collegiate level in the past decade, Barkley will contribute as a runner, blocker, receiver and on special teams. At 5’11” and 228 pounds, Barkley is a freak athlete that ran a 4.33 40 in the spring of 2017. Not only does he have elite long speed, he shows elite vision, body control, burst and hands. I believe he could even serve exclusively as a very productive slot WR at the next level. Barkley’s hands and ability to create in space are fantastic. My favorite move is his hurdle which he uses regularly to leave defenders tackling air. Barkley is another rare talent.