This year’s draft is not quite as deep at running back as quarterback is, but it is still a rather large pool of talent and options for prospective teams. Although there’s approximately forty draftees entering this year’s draft as a running back prospect, only seven or so show true potential and could immediately help their future teams. It used to be that teams invested in one, maybe two running backs for years and years, but today we see the teams with the most running yard potential have two primary running backs that share the carries and a third back that is steady and solid, but not a major player. We’ll delve into where they could go and to what teams they could end up with.
As anyone who watches sports networks of any sort knows, Saquon Barkley is the overall favorite running back and rightfully so. He did nothing but put up big numbers during his tenure at Penn State and had zero off the field problems. As far as analysts and scouts go, he’s a wet dream. His size, weight, and ability have impressed scouts since day one and he is the only potential top ten running back this year. Of his potential future teams, the ones that stand out the most to me are the Browns, Colts, and Buccaneers. The Browns are undoubtedly picking a QB with the first pick, but their second pick is up in the air and could land on Barkley. The Colts have zero in house prospects that could legitimately carry the team and with Andrew Luck still unsure if he’ll play this year, the Colts need a playmaker in the backfield. Lastly, the Bucs have an offense that is not going anywhere and their front office refuses to let their joke of a QB loose so they desperately need some help in the backfield. Any way the cards fall, he’s not making it out of the top ten.
Second, we have Sony Michel out of Georgia. He and his counterpart, Nick Chubb, tore up defenses this year making their run to the National Championship game. The only game they were really stopped was against Auburn. He is a very comparable player to Barkley and the biggest reason I believe he wasn’t as dramatic of a player on the field is that he shared a backfield with another amazing running back and SEC defenses, for the most part, are still better all around than Big Ten defenses. He could also very well go in the first round, it just depends on where other players are falling. The teams I see he has the most potential with are the Redskins, Lions, and Patriots. Now that the Redskins have Alex Smith, they’ll need a dependable back to allow for his style of gameplay and give him some solid help. The Lions haven’t had a truly viable running back to offset the passing attack of Matthew Stafford since Ameer Abdullah’s rookie year and Michel could be the early downs back to carry the run game they need. Finally, the Patriots haven’t really needed a great back since Tom Brady came into the picture. However, he is aging and cannot carry the team as he once did and having at least a solid run threat with someone we’ve actually heard of wouldn’t hurt. The Brady era is on its way to an ending in the coming years and the Pats have to begin looking to the future.
Third, we have Derrius Guice out of LSU. While 2017 left him plagued with injury, 2016 was an outstanding year that left little to the imagination. According the LSU staffers, he is finally back to his 2016 capabilities. He was the lead rusher in the SEC in 2016 while only starting six games. There are those out there who say he is a better back than Michel and Barkley, but only time will tell. He’s the last back in my list that has first round potential, because of this he can go to considerably more teams, but I’ll go with my top four. In the first, I think only the Patriots and Panthers are still viable options, but only because they have a slight need. In the second, I believe the first team with a running back need will swipe him up. In this case, the Browns or Giants. I’ve already went over the reason for the Browns and Pats so please, just refer above. The Panthers have McCaffery to replace Stewart, but I can’t see them having him step up for the future. He offers an excellent option for the pass and different schemes, but he’s no stud back, and Stewart is on his way out of the NFL. The Giants need an option to help the last Manning, who is also on his way out of the NFL in the coming year or two. The Giants have neither the talent nor the option to rely only on their passing attack, so investing in their future for both QB and RB makes sense with the talent in this draft.
Fourth, with no surprise, Nick Chubb. Chubb is essentially the twin of Michel so I won’t spend as much time with him. He is just as impressive as Michel, but to me he appears to need more maturing on the field with his decisions. He was highly potent in the Georgia offense every time he touched the ball, but could still use further development. This is the only reason he fell to number four. While he is most certainly out of the first round at this point unless a team shocks us, which happens from time to time, he won’t leave the second round. I suspect the teams in the market for him are the Browns, Giants, and Colts. The Browns and Colts have so many picks in this draft, its hard to tell where they’ll pick up a RB since it’s a fairly deep position this year. These teams are all in the market for the same reasons above. I truly believe that these three will spend a pick each on a RB in the first or second and have an outstanding RB that can start immediately.
Fifth, is our first prospect west of the Mississippi River, Ronald Jones out of USC. He reminds me most of Jamaal Charles in both build and playing ability. He was a solid ball carrier every year with USC and while he started slow with talent ahead of him, once he had the ball and was starting, it was apparent he was a player. He is the lightest of my picks so far at 200lbs and I suspect whichever team he goes to will undoubtedly put some weight on him. Like Chubb, I doubt he gets out of the second round with so many teams in need of a quality running back. He is a serious option for the Colts, Buccaneers, and Raiders. The Colts, as said before, have the need and picks. The Buccaneers will pick him up if they don’t pick up Barkley in the first round, which many believe they will so long as no one snatches Barkley before them. The Raiders have Marshawn Lynch and while he used to be the most perennial back in the NFL, he just isn’t the player he once was. With Gruden coming in this year and not putting up with any BS, he could be looking for a real option to replace Lynch and I don’t see them spending a first round pick on a RB, they’re players in the second and beyond.
Our honorable mention list has only two players on it because they’re the only RBs left that will likely go in the second round but could feasibly slide to the third but not beyond the third.
First on this list and sixth overall, Kerryon Johnson out of Auburn. Johnson proved to be a threat his sophomore year and after the injury of Pettway his junior year, he showed the nation what he could offer. He helped carry the team to the defeat of two number one teams and an Iron Bowl title in which he was injured. Sources say he still isn’t at 100% and his combine left something to imagine because of this so his stock dropped a bit. However, when completely healthy I see him as an immediate starter and a huge threat in the passing attack as well as the running game. His potential teams are the Texans, 49ers, Redskins. The Texans are in need of someone else to be a legitimate threat out of the backfield and to compliment Desean Watson. Now that the 49ers have Jimmy G and their defense is stacked, giving Jimmy G a partner in the backfield is a very logical decision, especially one that does so well in the passing game. I outlined why the Redskins need a RB earlier, but I cannot see them falling further than the second or third to find a legitimate starter to accompany Alex Smith.
The last player on our list and the seventh player that could have an immediate impact on his future team is Rashaad Penny. He ranks pretty low with several of the lists and rankings I’ve seen because of what I believe to be is the team and conference he played for. He is out of San Diego State in the Mountain West Conference which is not known to produce the highest levels of players, but Ladinian Tomlinson came out of TCU while they were still Mountain West so he just might be one to keep an eye on. He has all the build, speed, and playability of others on this list and I really believe he is the most underrated back on my list but only time will tell. His future teams could be the Chargers, Rams, and Bills. The Chargers have Melvin Gordon and while he’s been a solid back, he doesn’t put up big numbers and is shouldering the heaviest load in carries of any back in the league and needs a serious counterpart to help him. The Rams have Todd Gurley but he needs a legitimate backup and extra carrier to help out if the Rams want to be the team they appear to be spending the money to become. The Bills have LeSean McCoy who used to be a powerhouse and while he is still a viable threat, he needs help. The Bills have the team they want, they just need a QB and extra RB to solidify them as a power in both their division and conference.
There are others who will be picked up obviously, but these are undoubtedly the best backs of the draft and offer the most to start off with to their future teams. There might be a few others that come out and shine as Kareem Hunt did last year for the Chiefs, but I believe they will be few and far between after this list.