- The 2019 running back draft class features versatile, physical guys who have potential to succeed at the next level—and don’t be surprised if two Alabama RBs hear their names called in the first two days.
With the 2018 NFL season in the rearview mirror, up next for fans is free agency and the draft. The MMQB has a series of position primers to get you up-to-date on the top college players at each spot. Today, the running backs.
Last year, we were treated to a phenomenal running back draft class, highlighted by No. 2 overall pick Saquon Barkley. A year later, Barkley, Sony Michel, Nick Chubb, Kerryon Johnson and others have all turned heads at the pro level.
How does the 2019 squad of running backs look? Could the next Saquon Barkley be lurking? Here’s the MMQB’s running backs NFL draft primer:
Josh Jacobs, Alabama
Jacobs is the most physical runner in this class. Watching his tape, there are a few instances in each game where Jacobs sheds would-be tacklers with such ease, pounding his way through, around and over them. Jacobs also fits the modern running back mold: He is a ferocious blocker and a smooth pass catcher. And he doesn’t just make plays in the flat—he lines up in the slot at times and is an effective downfield route runner.
As part of a three-headed running back machine at Alabama (also ft. Damien Harris and Najee Harris), Jacobs racked up fewer than 300 scrimmage touches in his three years at Alabama. While his sample-size is smaller than most, Jacobs is fresher and has much less wear-and-tear on his body. By comparison, Kentucky’s Benny Snell had 766 touches in three seasons, 2.5 times more. The lack of production might be a red flag to some, but to most it’s a sign of more gas in the tank.
David Montgomery, Iowa State
Montgomery is one of the most versatile backs in this group, earning him comparisons to James Conner. Let’s start with one of Montgomery’s most standout strengths: His pass-catching skills. He hauled in 71 catches for 582 yards in his three seasons as a Cyclone, and he has tremendous downfield vision and patience which aids him greatly on screen passes. On short passes and on runs, he takes the time to read blocks before sprinting forward; scouts look for that kind of pro-level patience.
Montgomery also boasts impressive balance and tackle-breaking ability. Last season, over 700 of his 1,216 rushing yards were after contact. Montgomery is undoubtedly a pro-ready tailback, but keep an eye on his 40-yard dash at the combine. He towards the bottom of the running back draft class in terms of pure speed, and that’s the one aspect that might hurt come draft day.
Damien Harris, Alabama
Nine Alabama running backs have been drafted since 2009, but never before have two Crimson Tide backs been taken in the first two rounds—and now Jacobs and Harris have a chance to achieve that feat. While Jacobs is the headliner, Harris was more productive in college, registering over 1,000 scrimmage yards in each of his final three seasons.
Harris has really good field vision and his north-south skills are top-notch. HHe plunges headfirst into holes and eats up yardage, and doesn’t waste time dancing around—traits that serve him well in short-yardage situations. Harris can leverage his body well to squeeze through compact spaces , but he can fall short at time in open space. He doesn’t possess the most lethal afterburners or top-shelf elusiveness, but the Bama back always seemed to get the job done in that offense. He projects early in the second round.
Justice Hill, Oklahoma State
Last season Hill’s production tapered some after leading the Big 12 with 1,467 rushing yards and 15 scores in 2017, but thanks to his blazing speed, Hill remains a top-flight running back prospect. Hill can outrun almost everyone on a football field, and once he gets to the second level of a defense, it can be game over. But speed means little if you don’t have some niftiness and agility, and Hill checks those boxes. He changes direction on a dime, jukes defenders and has plenty of highlight-reel runs to show for it.
Hill is a bit undersized, however, coming in at 190 pounds. Hill has struggled in using his lower-body power to push through defenders, and a bit of bulk should help with that.
Benny Snell, Kentucky
No running back in Kentucky history amassed more career yardage than Snell, who transformed himself from a three-star recruit into a legit NFL prospect with three 1,000+ yard seasons. At 5' 11" and 223 pounds, Snell has a stocky frame that converts well to short, power-driven runs. His vision and football IQ are two big pluses—Snell does a quick and effective scan of the line of scrimmage as the play starts to develop to find holes, and he is a smart, savvy runner. Those skills serve him well as a blocker too. Snell’s pass protection is fantastic, and the team captain always provides great effort.
Where he blows away with his power and smarts, he lacks in breakaway speed—but he makes up for it with loads of intangibles. He’d be a smart mid-round pick for an NFL team.
Devin Singletary, Florida Atlantic
At just 5' 9", Singletary is one of the shortest guys in this draft class, but he’s one of the most elusive and agile running backs in the country. Backs like Tarik Cohen have shown that being short can turn into a unique advantage, and Singletary has incredible pop and sizzle to his game. He rushed for over 4,000 yards and 66 touchdowns in his three seasons in Boca Raton, making him one of the most productive tailbacks in the country.
Singletary makes decisive cuts that fool defenders with ease. His speed on long runs can be improved—defenders often catch up to him, but in tight spots, his low center of gravity helps him evade the defense. Playing in Conference USA, Singletary didn’t play against the highest level of competition, but his athleticism should convert to NFL gridirons.
Mike Weber, Ohio State
Weber has been one of the most underrated offensive players in college football over the last few years. He rushed for over 1,000 yards as a freshman in 2016 and has continued his high motor through this season in Columbus, even with the emergence of J.K. Dobbins. Weber is a rhythm runner who can catch fire quickly. Take this year’s Rose Bowl as an example: On Ohio State’s first possession, without giving Weber a touch, the Buckeyes went three-and-out. The next time out, he was featured heavily and rattled off runs of nine, 14, 10 and 19 yards, propelling his offense to an opening touchdown.
The stocky Weber has strong balance and is usually unphased by contact. He’s effective in the pass game as well with soft hands for a running back. Weber is unlikely to be used as a feature back in the NFL, but he’ll be a strong change-of-pace asset.
Bryce Love, Stanford
Love tore his right ACL on the last play of his last game at Stanford, and the 2017 Heisman candidate had surgery on Dec. 18. Unfortunately, if Love declared for the draft after his 2,118-yard breakout season, he likely would have been a first-round pick. Now, after an injury-marred year in which he failed to break 800 yards, he’s staring at the middle rounds.
Let’s remember what Love has been at his best: One of the fastest, shiftiest backs in the nation. When he’s been healthy, Love has had dangerous breakaway speed, capable of bouncing a run to the outside in the blink of an eye. He has impressive body control, too, and can follow blocks efficiently. Love’s injury history is devastating, with the ACL tear serving as a warning to future stars.
It’s hard not to root for Love. He wants to be a pediatrician after football, and he returned to school after his earth-shattering 2017 to finish his biology degree and for the “unfinished business” on the field. If he can nurse himself to full health, he’s worth a flier. But he’ll need a team to take a chance on him.
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