2018 NFL Draft Positional Preview: Running Back Edition

If you thought the 2017 NFL Draft was filled with RB prospects, then you haven’t seen anything yet. While 2017 may have boasted more depth, the 2018 class potentially is filled with much more star power at the top featuring elite prospects such as Saquon Barkley and Derrius Guice. Mix in high upside guys like Bo Scarbrough, L.J. Scott, Akrum Wadley and Kalen Ballage, among others, this RB class could go down as one of the best in NFL history.

Below I compiled a preliminary RB preview featuring the best RBs to watch for during the 2017 college football season, along with some of my personal favorites. Check it out and let me know who I left out in the comments section below!

Saquon Barkley (Penn State, JR)

Barkley is a legit 3 down back. He has the speed and the burst to get to the edge and bust a long one against any defense in the country. Speed doesn’t define Barkley’s game, with the speed comes the power. When Barkley has a full head of steam he can either make you miss or run you over in the hole.

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Good luck to Safeties once he gets to the second level. Barkley has great vision, he knows when to bounce it outside and can find small holes to work through.

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What coaches will like about Barkley is that he won’t have to come off the field in passing situations. His ability to come out of the backfield as a pass catcher adds to his game.

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When it comes to blocking, Barkley is not afraid to come up and make a block on a blitzing LB. After racking up 1,076 rushing yards and 7 TDs in his freshman year along with 1,496 yards 18 TDs in 2016, expect Barkley to be a Heisman candidate. If Barkley can stay healthy, he can potentially break Penn State’s all-time rushing record; he is currently just 1,360 yards away. Barkley is essentially a first round lock, unless a setback occurs. It’s still very early in the Draft process, but after seeing Elliot and Fournette get drafted at #4 two years in a row, don’t be surprised if something similar happens to Barkley after a strong season.  

Derrius Guice (LSU, JR)  

The 5’11”/212 pound running back runs like it’s the last time every single time he touches the balls. A violent downhiller runner that looks to cause pain when he meets someone in the hole.

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Guice is a very versatile back. He breaks a lot of tackles and makes cuts without losing speed. His balance is a big part of his game. He is able to bounce off defenders and also runs with a good pad level.

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Guice has the speed to score from any part of the field at any time. He can get to the edge at will.

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Just out runs everyone here.

Guice didn’t really catch many passes as a freshman or sophomore (only 9 catches as SO), but he is more than capable of catching check downs and screens. The more this guy has the ball in his hands the better.

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I would say he isn’t afraid to sacrifice his body for a block.

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Guice can also return kicks.

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As a freshman Guice showed flashes that he could be the guy when Fournette declares. He rushed for 436 yards and three touchdowns on the limited carries he received. Noone really saw Guice having the year he had as a sophomore with Fournette still on the team. When Fournette went down with an ankle injury, LSU gave the keys of the offense to Guice. He rushed for 1,387 yards and 15 TDs – both lead the SEC. Now that Guice is a full time starter, sit back and enjoy the show. The Texas A&M game says it all.

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Bo Scarbrough (Alabama, JR)

The big, physical, quick RB. Scarbrough is just as big as Derrick Henry, but moves a lot better and is way more elusive. Great combination of size, athleticism, power and running behind that Alabama O-line is definitely helpful.

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This run just shows what type of athlete this guy is for being such a big back. Even though Bo is a big back, he shows great footwork and speed. He’s quick enough to get to the edge on any play and sticks his foot in the ground when a cutback lane is there.

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Bo really showed what he was capable of doing in the game against Washington. He rushed for 19 carries for 180 yards and 2 TDs. He ran hard and once he got to the second level, it’s good luck to whoever wants to attempt a tackle on a 6’2”/230 pound RB when he’s going full speed.

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Pretty much throws Quincy Wilson off of him.

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When he gets to the second level, he is going to be problem bringing down.

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Like most big backs, you kind of expect them to be able to pick up the blitz. Bo is definitely willing to block.

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He did nothing in the receiving game as a sophomore. If he can establish himself in the passing game, he will have more upside than Derrick Henry, in my opinion. Scarbrough wasn’t a thought in the Alabama offense as a freshman; but after Derrick Henry left, Bama used a committee of backs. Sharing carries, Bo carried the ball 125 times for 812 yards and 11 TDs. This year he can prove that he can be a workhorse. Bo will get more than 125 carries, you best believe that. If Bo can stay healthy, he can definitely be a 1st rounder as durability remains his biggest concern.

Nick Chubb (Georgia, SR)

Chubb’s freshman year was one for the record books which bursted him onto the national scene. After his scary knee injury his sophomore year, we questioned if he could return to the old Nick Chubb. Chubb had a great junior campaign. He carried the ball 224 times for 1130 and 8 TDs. He easily could of declared and been a high draft pick in the 2017 Draft, but decided to return to school in what was a shocking development.

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Chubb has outstanding vision; he’s able to quickly locate open lanes to run through. He is capable of attacking the edge, but Chubb is at his best between the tackles.

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Even after a scary knee injury, he bounces off tacklers driving through contact.

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These are the Nick Chubb runs we like to see.

Chubb isn’t really asked a lot to catch the ball with Sony Michel still at Georgia, but he’s capable of catching the ball out of the backfield, but isn’t as fluent as a guy like Barkley or Guice. Unlike the other backs, Chubb’s tape shows he needs to improve as a blocker as he isn’t as willing as the other guys to pick up a block. Blocking is definitely a area where I would like to see Chubb improve on.

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Chubb ended his JR year rushing for 142 yards and 1 TD on 17 attempts. Look forward to seeing more runs like this next year.

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Dependent on his combine medicals, the tape indicates that Chubb is a 1st round talent.

L.J Scott (Michigan State, JR)

Scott is probably my favorite running back in this class. He has great power and body control running between the tackles. He is a big back at 6’1”/230 that has great speed and burst for his size and just looks like a natural smooth runner. Scott showed in 2016 that he has breakaway speed between the tackles or bouncing it outside.

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He is a very patient runner waiting for blocks to develop and hitting the hole. His great vision always allows him to do this successfully. Scott can also be used as a weapon out of the backfield; with his speed it is hard for linebackers to run with him. Scott is a natural pass catcher.

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Because of his frame, Scott breaks plenty of tackles and he needs to be wrapped up if you want to bring him down. Arm tackles do not work against this guy, he will just shrug it off and keep moving.

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Solid footwork for a big back as he is able to cutback rather easily and find holes.

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Big backs like Scott are expected to be reliable pass blockers.

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As a freshman, Scott had 146 carries for 699 yards and 11 TDs. It was a disappointing year for Michigan State football at 3-9, but Scott managed to rush for 994 yards on 184 attempts and 6 TDs. Scott is coming off a minor surgery, but the talent is there as you saw it in glimpses last season as he tallied 236 total yards against Ohio State’s defense and 186 total yards against Michigan. Scott is in for a big year and the best thing they’ve had on that offense since Le’Veon Bell. 

Mike Weber (Ohio State, RS SOPH)

Weber is a downhill, hard-nosed runner. Weber has good enough speed to get to the edge, but is truly at his best when he is between the tackles. A north-south runner, Weber consistency breaks arm tackles. When Weber keeps his feet moving he can really push the pile; fights for every yard.

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He is a patient runner who has solid vision and is able to find cutback lanes.

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Weber has quick feet that allow him to maneuver quickly through holes and change direction.

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Weber lacks the elite burst that these other backs have, there are times when he can bust a long one for a touchdown but gets caught.

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Weber is a solid pass blocker, but in his redshirt freshman year he didn’t really impact the receiving game. He had a solid redshirt freshman year rushing for 1,096 and 9 TDs. Weber needs to show up in big games this year; no more Curtis Samuel to bail out the Buckeyes.

Overall I think Weber is due for a big bulk of carries this season and should help the Buckeyes get to another College Football Playoff.

Akrum Wadley (Iowa, RS SR)

A very elusive, shifty running back, Wadley rushed for 1,081 yards on 168 attempts and 10 TDs on the season. After a good year he thought about declaring for the 2017 NFL Draft, but decided to return for his senior year. Speed, elusiveness and making plays in space is what Wadley is known for. Even though he doesn’t have the frame of a prototypical NFL running back, Wadley has showed he can run through the tackles or use that 4.4 speed to get to the edge.

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Making 1st round selection Jabrill Peppers look silly here.

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His speed will be a problem for linebackers at the next level. He is a great pass catcher and when he gets the ball in space, watch out.

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Reliable hands: wasn’t the greatest throw here.

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For his “small frame”, he runs hard and breaks more tackles than you’d think.

Clearly a place where you want to see Wadley improve is in pass protection. At the end of the day, Wadley is dynamic game changer that can score anytime he touches the ball. His cuts, jukes and spins will “wow” you. Baby McCoy in the making?  

Royce Freeman (Oregon, SR)

A back with a solid frame at 5’10”/230, Freeman is powerful and also has great vision and balance to complement his game. Freeman also eludes tackles with quickness and speed. He is a handful to bring down; running through defenders and dragging them for yards.

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Shows good patience on runs as he waits for blocks to develop, then hits the hole.

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Freeman over the years has proved that he can be a valuable weapon in Oregon’s passing game.

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Like the majority of the RBs in this class, Freeman could improve in pass protection but he is definitely a willing blocker.

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Freeman busted onto the college scene his freshman year rushing for 1,365 on 252 carries and 18 TDs. He only topped his freshman season by rushing for 1,838 yards and 17TDs (283 carries). Freeman’s junior year he fought through some injuries but posted a career low in yards and touchdowns. He had 168 attempts for 945 yards and 9 TDs. If he can stay healthy, I expect him to see a heavy workload for a big senior year.

Kalen Ballage (Arizona State, SR)

Ballage is a 6’3’/230 pound running back that can do a little bit of everything. Ballage for sure doesn’t look like a running back. He has elite speed and burst to cut through the second level. He is an effective power back. Ballage being the big back that he is, if you don’t get low and wrap him up, he will take you for a ride.

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ASU used him in wildcat taking direct snaps. Ballage is at his best between the tackles but has the elite burst to turn the corner. He is a goal-line back that powers his way into the end zone.

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He shows great patience waiting for seams to open before he hits them hard.

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He is a reliable pass catching option collecting 44 receptions for 469 yards, with two games in 2016 with over 100 yards receiving

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This past season he broke the single-game rushing TD record scoring 8 TDs against Texas Tech. The part that is really impressive about this is he only touched the ball 15 times. In his senior year I would hope ASU gives him more of a workload because in the limited amount of snaps he got per game, he made big plays. 126 carries for 536 yards and 14 TDs. Ballage is a big play back that can change the game through the air or on the ground.

About The Author Chris Gragnani

Chris is from NY, he is a big time New York Giants and USC Trojans fan. Chris played quarterback for Suffern High School and was given the opportunity to play football in college at Stonehill College. He transferred to LIU Post where he played for one season. Chris, a new writer is looking forward to gaining experience and sharing his college football/NFL Draft work. Follow Chris on Twitter @GragnaniReport for any college football or NFL talk.