Looking Back at the RB Class of 2016

Zeke Elliott and Derrick Henry were in that group, but so were two Eagles, one drafted who is a free agent, the other a Bears pick who will battle for a job in Philly this summer
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For some reason, I became enthralled by the running back class of 2016 this week, thanks to a tweet from a friend and colleague, Turron Davenport at ESPN.

The tweet quoted an NFC scout on Titans running back Derrick Henry that went like this: “He wears your ass out. He’s a train.”

Still, I thought. 

Five years later, Henry is still a train, one that has shown no sign of slowing his way into the station.

Five years is when an NFL running back’s shelf life is supposed to expire or at least beginning to sprout some mold.

Yet, Henry rumbles on.

The RB class of ’16 also featured Ezekiel Elliott, who was the fourth overall pick compared to Henry, who was the next runner taken but not until the second round, 41 picks after Elliott.

Elliott had the worst year of his career last year. Maybe it was a product of terrible offensive line play or maybe, that first layer of mold has begun to bloom.

Perhaps the Cowboys' RB is beginning to feel the toll of a large number of hits. Between running and catching, he has touched the ball 1,654 times. Add the 650 touches he had at Ohio State and that’s 2,304 touches.

Between his time at Alabama and in the NFL, Henry has 1,877 touches, nearly 500 less than Elliott.

The class of 2016 was also interesting from an Eagles perspective.

It was the year they selected Wendell Smallwood in the fifth round, the 153rd player taken overall. He was the 16th of 23 runners taken that year, and the first running back taken by the Eagles since they took Bryce Brown in the seventh round of the 2012 draft.

Since then, the Eagles wasted a pick on Donnell Pumphrey in 2017, got a home run hitter in Miles Sanders in 2019, and may have found a gem in Kenny Gainwell this past spring.

Jordan Howard, who battle for a roster spot this summer with the Eagles, also went in the 2016 draft, going to the Bears in the fifth round, three picks ahead of Smallwood.

RELATED: Jordan Howard Thought his Career was Over - Sports Illustrated

Believe it or not, Howard and Smallwood may have been the fourth and fifth-best running backs taken in 2016 behind Elliott and Henry – you can debate which one should be ranked first – and Kenyan Drake.

Perhaps an argument could be made for Devontae Booker being ahead of Smallwood/Howard, but give me Smallwood, a Super Bowl winner, and Howard, a touchdown-maker.

Here are the players who came after Henry:

Paul Perkins

Kenneth Dixon

Booker

Alex Collins

C.J. Prosise

Kelvin Taylor

Daniel Lasco

Howard

Tyler Ervin

DeAndre Washington

Drake

Keith Marshall

Smallwood

There is nobody after Smallwood of any import, either.

Another note on Smallwood: He was the third player taken in that draft by the Eagles, who had dealt a lot of draft collateral to Cleveland to move up to No. 2 overall to take Carson Wentz.

The player the Eagles took before and after Smallwood?

Isaac Seumalo and Halapoulivaati Vaitai, respectively.

Not a bad draft at all for the Eagles.

Ed Kracz is the publisher of SI.com’s Eagle Maven and co-host of the Eagles Unfiltered Podcast. Check out the latest Eagles news at www.SI.com/NFL/Eagles and please follow him on Twitter: @kracze.