Although I am not in Mobile this week for the Senior Bowl; my fellow colleagues here at Breaking Football along with many other great football minds have made the pilgrimage to South Alabama. Going into this week, the running back group has been thin. With Georgia running backs Sony Michel and Nick Chubb declining their invitations, and Royce Freeman being a scratch from this week’s exhibition, the chance to be top dog for the group has been up for grabs. After extensive film study for each running back prior to this week, here’s how I ranked the Senior Bowl RBs:

1. Rashaad Penny

2. Ito Smith

3. Kalen Ballage

4. Darrel Williams

5. Jaylen Samuels 

6. Akrum Wadley

With practices now a wrap, and only the glorified scrimmage on Saturday remaining, here’s my breakdown for each running back:

Rashaad Penny, San Diego State

College football’s leading rusher in 2017 was certainly impressive in his film. While I took my the majority of the season to warm myself up to the thought of Rashaad Penny being a top running back in this class, the whole season tape (with some 2016) convinced me that’s he’s one of the good ones.

Penny’s best quality is his old school running style, primarily because he ran in the Rocky Long offensive system that emphasizes power and trap runs. Those running backs compliment Penny, because he runs with outstanding power and awareness. His vision is full-screen, as he’s able to jump cut and yet bring himself back to being square and running vertical.

Athletically, Penny is solid but doesn’t flash on film. He possesses solid speed and agility but isn’t going to be the most dynamic option for your offense.

The Mobile Rundown: From what I’ve seen in practice footage and heard from my NFL Draft peers, Penny’s weaknesses on film were evident throughout the week. Penny is a great runner, but isn’t a complete running back yet. I believe he has solid hands to potentially catch PA fakes or check downs, but he is a bit inconsistent due to his concentration drops. He’s also a horrific pass blocker, the tape speaks for itself on that one, and it’ll need improved drastically. I can see Penny having the “grinder” role such as a Jordan Howard or Carlos Hyde type, but ultimately he’s a two-down back right now that’ll need to be a paired with a dynamic threat in the backfield.

Ito Smith, Southern Mississippi

The hometown hero is getting his opportunity this week to represent his roots proudly. Ito Smith has arguably been my highest riser among the entire running back class.

He brings you everything you desire in a young running back: speed, elusiveness, versatility, grit, and vision. The vision aspect is probably my favorite aspect of Smith’s game. He’s a back that gets down to business and never overemphasizes.

The Mobile Rundown: The general consensus seems to be that “Judge Ito” has proven to be as advertised in his tape. He’s simply a huge threat coming out 0f the backfield. While he might be a guy who has to work his way into more snaps throughout his rookie season (he is a slow starter in begin games), there’s definitely some upside to his already polished game.

Kalen Ballage, Arizona State

Kalen Ballage seems to be one of the broadest prospects in the entire draft when it comes to his evaluation and draft value. Athletically and physically, he clearly has the tools that many are not blessed to have. The weigh-in measurements on Monday (6’2”, 222 lbs, with 33” arms) prove that he’s a specimen.

On film, he has really high peaks and very low valleys. My frustration with Ballage came with his fundamentals. Due to his lack of usage throughout his senior season, Ballage appeared to search for the home run play at any given opportunity, which cost him chances to see better production per touch. When Ballage was rolling though, he was nearly unstoppable.

The Mobile Rundown: Many folks at practices say that Ballage won the week down at the Senior Bowl within the running back group, and it wasn’t even for his backfield carries. Ballage shined this week (as he did on film) using his athletic gifts to his advantage in the pass game to look as dynamic as possible. Ballage will have an interesting role of the league, I believe his best opportunity will lay with a team who’s willing to give him about 12-15 touches a game whether it be in pass game or running with the rock in the redzone. The potential is there for Ballage to mold into something fun.

Darrel Williams, LSU

The late addition to the group after the Royce Freeman roster scratch, Darrel Williams was undoubtedly looking to peek out of the Derrius Guice shadow of hype and make his own name known this week. While his opportunities for touches weren’t as appointed in comparison to Guice, Williams always gave maximum effort in each run and looked to make the most of his individual carries. At 5’11” and 229 pounds (Senior Bowl official measurements), Williams is well-rounded. He’s a smart and bruising runner who actually has some decent athleticism, while also being a solid pass catcher out the backfield, and is a strong blocker.

The Mobile Rundown: Williams proved this week that he was well deserving of his late invitation to the Senior Bowl, and that he should be considered in talks referencing this deep running back class. The obvious knock on Williams is his limited production while in college. Sitting behind Leonard Fournette and then Derrius Guice his entire career, Williams will be playing with a chip on his shoulder to show he can be a NFL running back.

Jaylen Samuels, NC State

Jaylen Samuels was a guy whom I was surprised was listed as a running back for the Senior Bowl, and after the news of Michel, Chubb, and Freeman being no shows; it was expected for him to potentially see a lot of opportunity this week. To be frank, I haven’t done a multi-game evaluation of Samuels as a running back. I believe his optimal NFL value is being a pure flex-back or potentially a tight end. I know most are opposed to that idea due to his size, but Samuels has the frame to potentially bulk up. I see him as a Delanie Walker clone in the league, and if a team is willing to utilize him properly he could see huge numbers. But from what I’ve watched from him as a running back, Samuels is a thunderous runner who is unpredictable in his running status. Which is a good thing for an offense, because he can either make a man miss or just simply run right through him.

The Mobile Rundown: The final day of practice appears to be where Samuels had his best day. He’s shown his versatility as both a runner and a receiver this week. It would be appear as if many (like myself) are expecting Samuels to strike the most when the iron is hottest. He’ll be one on the favorites on Saturday to walk away with the Most Valuable Player award.

Akrum Wadley, Iowa

Akrum Wadley is one of the running backs that I was most excited to keep a tab on at the beginning of the season in August. Being one of the most exciting players in college football, Wadley at times could be a human highlight reel. That’s where highlights and big plays can be deceptive though, as Wadley’s full game films told a different story.

He’s already limited due to his frame of 5’9”, 187 pounds. While he has flashes as an inside runner, Wadley typically doesn’t gain many yards after contact because of his lack of lower body power and drive. And we’ve all seen the clip of Wadley just walking past his manned defender in pass pro, so that doesn’t need to be reiterated. Flash plays like the one below though could make you excited for Wadley being drafted on your team in the later rounds:

The Mobile Rundown: Despite a variety of different reports about Wadley’s performance this week, he was given the “Practice Award” by the Senior Bowl for the best RB during the course of the week. From what I was able to see, Wadley obviously excelled more as a receiver out of the backfield than a ball carrier. I see Wadley as a James White type of player at the next level, but that means he’ll have to be drafted by the right team. Organizations such as the Patriots, Rams, or Eagles could all be teams that game plan for Wadley ideally to his strengths, and utilize him as a weapon in the open field.

About The Author Cagen Cantrell

Cagen is 19 years old and originally grew up in Columbus, Ohio up to his pre teen years, before later residing in Chino Hills, CA and now currently resides outside of Los Angeles, CA. His favorite teams to follow correlate with his roots, as he is a Cincinnati Bengals and Ohio State Buckeyes fan; but also enjoys following UCLA during their season. Cagen had a brief amateur career playing the game of football during high school and in college. He played one season at East LA Community College as a running back. Cantrell's former writing history came in 2016 when he was a writing and scouting contributor to Paulo Figari's website NFLDraftSquad. While contributing there, he covered west coast prospects, and completed dozens of scouting reports for that season's mass draft guide. Cantrell looks forward to the opportunities presented at Breaking Football, and is ecstatic to help his colleagues deliver fresh insights towards the NFL Draft and the entire game of football.