Christopher Crawford

Draft Round Table

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Round Table: Running Backs

Saturday, April 14, 2018


We’re just slightly under two weeks until the start of the 2018 NFL Draft takes place, and for a variety of reasons, it’s been one of the most talked about classes we’ve had in quite some time.


To help get a better feel of the class, I decided to ask some of Rotoworld’s NFL, NFL Draft, and college football experts to participate in a series of roundtable questions to help break down what makes this such a fun -- but divisive -- group of prospects.


Next up, the running back position. This class isn’t getting quite as much hype as the quarterback list -- for reasons that should be fairly obvious -- but it’s another strong group, and it features a player that many consider to be the best in the entire class: Penn State’s Saquon Barkley.


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On to the questions.


1.  How many RBs deserve to go in the first round and how many will?


Rich HribarJust Saquon Barkley is deserving given his athletic and production profile. While you can still find enough negative runs on his resume as well as ones where he plays with a bit too much finesse in forgetting he's a 233-pound back, his all-encompassing ability in every component of the game points to him never coming off the field and instantly going the group of elite every down backs such as Le'Veon, David Johnson and Gurley out of the packaging.  I do think Derrius Guice will go in the back 10-12 picks of the first round, though. Somewhere like Detroit, Carolina (Marty Hurney is no stranger to sinking draft capital into RBs), New England, Philadelphia could all be in play.  


Mark Lindquist: Three deserve to go off the board on Day 1, that trio consisting of Saquon Barkley, Derrius Guice and Ronald Jones. I have my questions about Guice as a complete back -- as has been well-chronicled, he's not a developed receiver -- but think he may well end up pushing into the teens in two weeks. After that, it starts to get tricky, because I'm not sure if Jones ultimately goes in the first round. Nor do I think Nick Chubb or Sony Michel are going to find NFL teams on Day 1. So I'll say that two backs will ultimately go in Round 1.


This is one of the deepest position groups in the 2018 draft class and that's going to depress slots, especially given the success the Saints and Chiefs found with later selections in Alvin Kamara and Kareem Hunt.


Thor Nystrom: I have two RBs in my top-32, Saquon Barkley and Sony Michel (just barely). If I had to guess right now, I'd predict that two runners will go in the first round later this month, Barkley and Derrius Guice. That's a compelling question, because the answer could turn out to be one, two, three or four.


Evan Silva: I  think just one, and it's Saquon Barkley. I think Derrius Guice is a first-round talent but I don't think running backs with passing-game limitations or (rumored) character concerns are worth the risk when you could just use your first-round pick on a player at a more valuable position.


Raymond SummerlinLike with quarterbacks, this is simply a question of positional scarcity and value. From that perspective, the answer is zero. I am as big a fan of Saquon Barkley as anyone, and his elite ability in the passing game does change the calculus somewhat. Still, you are giving up a shot at an elite player at a scarce position for a shot an elite player at a bountiful position, and that does not make much sense, especially early in the first round. All of that said, I think we will see at least two running backs come off the board in the first.


2. Outside of Barkley, which running back should excite PPR owners the most?


Hribar: It's Derrius Guice. He'll be just 21-years old as a rookie, is the most physical runner in this class and although there seems to be some questions about his passing game ability, Guice's lack of receiving production was more about being underutilized in the passing game than his ability there. He's not Barkley, but the ceiling is very high.


Lindquist:  I'm not particularly in love with this player, but if Kalen Ballage is going to find a level of success in the NFL, that'll absolutely be because of his ability to catch passes out of the backfield. He logged 82 catches for his time at Arizona State, including a hearty 44 in 2016. Say what you will about his career as an outright rusher in the desert, but don't cut off your nose to spite your face when it comes time for you have to your rookie draft later this spring or summer -- even if you're in the same camp as me and feel only lukewarm on his overall game. He has a clear track record of success as a pass-catcher.


Nystrom: Sony Michel. For me, it's not close. Michel showed strong receiving chops in 2015-2016, catching 48 passes. Once it turned the offense over to true freshman QB Jake Fromm last year, Georgia didn't utilize its running backs in the receiving game as much as it had in previous years. And when the Bulldogs did, they used true freshman D'Andre Swift, preferring to squeeze as much usage out of Nick Chubb and Michel as pure runners as they could. Michel is already a strong receiver, and I think he could develop into a dangerous one with more experience. He's also a strong pass blocker, so his NFL franchise isn't going to yank him on third downs like Georgia sometimes did. Of course, Michel is also a fabulous runner. I'm bullish on his long-term NFL prospects, and his future fantasy value.


Silva: John Kelly's receiving skills really stand out for his size and physicality as a runner. I think there's a good chance Derrius Guice's passing-game skills are underrated and were simply limited by the structure of LSU's offense. And some people might view Jaylen Samuels as a running back, others as a tight end. He was really a slot receiver/slotback. So we'll see where he's listed but his value is very strongly tied to his receiving skills.


Summerlin: That is a tough question because none of the top backs outside of Saquon really excite in the passing game. I do think Sony Michel and Rashaad Penny -- if he can improve his pass protection -- can develop into at worst serviceable receivers, but that is really just a projection. John Kelly is a little further down the list than those guys, but he flashed impressive skills in the passing game and looks an awful lot like Kareem Hunt on the field. Value always depends on landing spot, but Kelly is a name to know. I am also interested in where Mark Walton -- or Gio Bernard 2.0 -- lands.



3. Who is the best RB that no one is talking about?


Hribar: We're in an era where every stone has already been turned by at least someone by this stage, but this is a Royce Freeman support space. Freeman checked in far greater than imagined at the combine. Coming in at 229 pounds, he posted 86th and 83rd percentile marks in terms of speed score and agility when adjusted for weight. He's also another back that is far better in the receiving game than how he was used at Oregon and can possibly carve out a larger role than assumed at the next level. Freeman was also ultra productive while playing through injuries and a drastic decline in his team's program from his freshman to senior season. He was a 5-star recruit, hyper productive at a Power 5 School, and posted strong athleticism for his weight at the combine. Archetype him as a two-down runner only if you want, but a lot points to him actually just being good. He fits the profile of many bigger, productive, runners that have come in and been productive rookie fantasy options, such as Jordan Howard, Jeremy Hill and even to a degree, Le'Veon Bell, who was thought of as being a limited runner in terms of athleticism and explosion from scouts entering the league, but popped up huge in production and weight adjusted agility.


Lindquist: NC State's Nyheim Hines. It would be foolish to predict that he's going to be the "next Alvin Kamara" -- that would undersell just how brilliant Kamara was as a rookie in 2017 -- but Hines has appealing athletic traits for a player who may well land outside the first two days of the draft. He's one of the fastest players in the class and tested out respectably in Indianapolis, ranking in the 58th percentile of NFL backs. The obvious knock on him is his size, as he stands at just 5-foot-8, 197 pounds and it's fair to wonder just how much of a workload he'll be able to take at the next level. In an increasing era of position flexibility, where versatility matters, Hines doesn't have to be able to do everything, though.


Nystrom: I'm going to disqualify my top-10 RBs for this question, as they've all been discussed plenty. I'll even toss out John Kelly, a pet favorite of the Rotoworld intelligentsia. I'll go with Justin Jackson, whose draft process has been quieter than a Tuesday evening at Applebee's. Jackson was a four-star recruit who ripped it up at Northwestern from the day he stepped foot on campus. Despite playing behind stinky offensive lines and with a suspect group of skill players, Jackson became the ninth player in NCAA history to post 1,000-plus rushing yards in four straight seasons. He also proved to be one of this class' best receiving backs, notching 122 receptions in college. That production within context is incredible: Jackson was a one-man show at Northwestern, and he was squaring off throughout against vicious Big 10 defenses (Wisconsin, Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, Iowa et al.) geared to stop him. And then he went out and tested as a 75.6% athlete during the pre-Draft process. Despite all that, nobody is talking about him. He's a Day 3 afterthought. People focus on his negatives: skinny dancer with a ton of miles on his odometer and an unorthodox style. Overlooked all his life, my guess is that Jackson will continue to surprise in the NFL. He may never be a bellcow starter, but I think he'll be a valuable committee back for years. And he's going to come on a very cheap price tag on Draft Day.


Silva: I really liked Mark Walton on tape. His athleticism underwhelmed in Indy. Pound for pound, Rashaad Penny is my favorite back in the draft. Penny to me has checked all of the boxes so far. On tape, he reminded me of Carlos Hyde. I would love to see the Redskins get him on day two.


Summerlin: Shockingly snubbed by the Combine, I have not heard much about Ito Smith over the last few months, and I think that is a mistake. One of the most productive backs in the class, Smith averaged 1,791 yards from scrimmage and almost 16 touchdowns over his final three seasons at Southern Miss and caught at least 40 passes each of those years. He also looks good on tape, showing great elusiveness, quality vision, and good receiving ability. At worst, he should be able to help out on passing downs, and I think he can be more than that.



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Christopher Crawford is a baseball and college football writer for Rotoworld. Follow him on Twitter @Crawford_MILB.
Email :Christopher Crawford



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