After the NFL Combine testing, the guys who didn’t participate did themselves more favors than the ones who did.
My belief with running backs is that they do not hold much independent value and are reliant on scheme and the offensive line’s success, but there is a level of athleticism that needs to be met in order to capture opportunity.
The landing spot of these players is crucial to their success at the NFL level and this list will change after the draft completes. Coming off an incredible 2018 class of running backs, this is one that has little three-down potential but guys who can succeed in the right system.
These are my top 10 running backs of the 2019 NFL Draft.
[Also See: Top 10 running backs in the 2019 NFL Draft]
1. Josh Jacobs – Alabama
Having a player who wasn’t commanding the majority of his backfield’s carries as my top running back may seem hard to believe, but Jacobs had the misfortune of playing with Damien Harris (below) and Najee Harris, a top 2020 prospect. Jacobs is a 3-down running back who has been used as a receiver and is a crushing blocker.
Josh Jacobs is a violent ball carrier who initiates contact well and constantly moving his legs to maintain his balance. He doesn’t need to run defenders over as he has great quickness to make defenders miss with his feet. Jacobs is a nightmare in space. His receptions over his three seasons in limited opportunity were: 14, 14 and 19 showing the ability to do this at a high level.
Jacobs opted not to participate in the NFL Combine due to an injury but will participate at his Pro Day.
2. Miles Sanders – Penn State
Watching his tape, you will see a patient runner with great lateral quickness accompanied by great burst through gaps. He has shown the vision to know whether or not to bounce his run to the outside. Sanders runs with power and loves to make defenders miss with his agility rather than trying to run them over, but doesn’t shy away from contact if necessary. In this lone season of production, Sanders had 22 receptions and showed the ability to be used in the slot and uses his hands at the catch point.
His testing at the NFL combine proved Sanders to be an above average athlete across the board with all of his testing.
[Also See: NFL free agency winners and losers]
3. Darrell Henderson – Memphis
One of two smaller conference guys on this list, Henderson had elite production in the American conference playing for Memphis.
Henderson posted a whopping 8.9 yards per carry during his final two seasons, remarkable. Henderson showed that he has the ability to break off a long run on any carry but his tape lacked the long speed that you would be looking for in a back of his size. Henderson has a very balanced style of running and his elite level of production emphasized that he has a place to play in the NFL. His reception totals over three seasons: 20, 24 and 19 proving he is able to play on third down which is crucial for his perception by NFL evaluators.
I believe his last season reception number would have been even higher if it weren’t for teammate Tony Pollard who was a wide receiver-running back hybrid who syphoned receptions.
His testing at the NFL Combine did not showcase him to be an elite athlete but still ran a 4.49 40-yard dash which is above average and proved that he has the speed to play at the NFL level.
4. Rodney Anderson – Oklahoma
Rodney Anderson is one of the most intriguing prospects of this class. He has the size, the speed and the skills required to be an elite NFL running back.
The problem with Anderson is his injury history. Freshman year (2015) he suffered a broken leg after the first two games. Before his sophomore season (2016) Anderson suffered a neck injury that forced him to miss the entire season. His final season (2018) Anderson suffered an ACL tear in the 2nd game which forced him to miss the remainder of the season. None of these injuries are lingering injuries that will follow a player but his durability is a concern. In his healthy 2017 season, Anderson was a star.
He appears to be a really great athlete on tape, he averaged 6.2 yards per carry and as a receiver looked very natural running routes from outside and in the slot. Anderson is worth a mid-round draft pick for his tantalizing upside at a low risk price for an NFL team.
Anderson decided not to participate in the NFL Combine but is looking to host a personal pro day in April before the Draft.
5. Damien Harris – Alabama
Damien Harris was the lead ball carrier in the Alabama backfield for the past few seasons competing for touches with mentioned above, Josh Jacobs and 2020 prospect Najee Harris.
Harris is a very polished running back who has the mechanics you’d expect from an Alabama running back: run through the hole, quick cut and then get north. Harris lacks the lateral quickness that you would want from a running back in the modern NFL where teams are deploying more spread offense concepts. In his final season Harris improved as a pass catcher reeling in 22 receptions showing the ability to do it consistently.
Harris participated in the combine and proved himself to be an average athlete.
6. Justice Hill – Oklahoma State
Justice Hill was the winner of the NFL Combine for all of those who competed, boosting his value for the NFL Draft as one of the smaller backs. Hill’s skillset as a running back isn’t one you want for a bell-cow back but on 3rd down and other passing situations he is the guy. In a spread concept that emphasizes the pass, Hill will find his success. Hill is explosive in open space, landing on the right team is more essential for a player of his stature. I envision his future as a back to be similar of Tarik Cohen, not in size, but in skill-set and role.
At the NFL Combine, Hill ran a 4.4 40-yard dash and tested well to prove that he is a superior athlete at the position.
7. Alex Barnes – Kansas State
Alex Barnes came into analysts’ radars seemingly out of nowhere at the end of the season after producing a really impressive junior season at Kansas State. He ran for over 1300 yards at 5.3 yards per carry while adding 20 receptions as well. Barnes has the prototypical size you look for in a NFL bell-cow. Barnes has decent speed for his size with great patience to let the lineman make their blocks and shows really incredible burst through gaps.
At the NFL Combine Barnes ran a 4.59 40-yard dash but considering his size, this is impressive.
8. Trayveon Williams – Texas A&M
Trayveon Williams is another smaller back who may not be seen as a guy who can handle a backfield to himself, despite doing it at the college level. Williams was very productive at the college level collecting over 2000 yards on the ground and through the air.
Williams lacks the elite speed and agility of a guy you would want from his stature, he did well with contact at the college level but I fail to see it as something he will carry to the NFL. He is a really great 3rd down back through the air or protecting the quarterback. At Texas A&M, he was used out of the backfield, slot and wide. His receptions over three seasons: 19, 20 and 27.
At the NFL Combine, Williams ran a 4.51 which shows that he is an average athlete when you factor in his size.
9. David Montgomery – Iowa State
David Montgomery was an early season favorite at the position in a seemingly disappointing class. Montgomery averaged 4.7 yards per carry over his final season and throughout his career at Iowa State. One of the lights on his production was his ability as a receiver with his reception counts over three seasons: 13, 36 and 22.
Catching the ball isn’t an issue for him, which helps his value. His frame for the position also really helps his outlook as a running back. The issue with Montgomery is his speed and his poor vision. A slow, power back who wants to break runs outside may work in the Big 12 but it is not going to work in the NFL. A lot of the argument for this is the poor offensive line play from Iowa State. Montgomery’s success in the NFL will be from his ability to catch the ball. He is basically Jordan Howard with good hands.
Montgomery’s 40-yard dash was a 4.63
10. Devin Singletary – Florida Atlantic
Devin Singletary was one of my favorite players coming into the 2018 season just after posting a 1900 yard 32 touchdown sophomore season. He followed that season with a 1300 yard 22 touchdown junior season. Devin “Motor” Singletary could have a highlight reel for almost every game he played at C-USA’s Florida Atlantic, but when you watch his tape you could tell that speed was definitely going to be a concern of his.
Singletary’s vision and ability to break defenders’ ankles will be the key to his potential success at the NFL. One major concern of his game is the decline in his receptions each year. Schematically, Florida Atlantic wasn’t looking to throw to running backs. They deployed a lot of jet motion and RPO concepts to attack through the air.
Singletary disappointed at the combine running a 4.66 40-yard dash at such a small frame.
Honorable Mention: Ryquell Armstead – Temple