A – Top tier
B – Starter
C – Backup
D – Practice Squad
Recent Prospect Grade Comparison: Ezekiel Elliot, A+/A
1. Saquon Barkley – The number one overall prospect in this class and the best running prospect in years, Barkley is as close to flawless as you will get from a prospect. He consistently makes the first player miss, and is very good at avoiding huge collisions. He has great wiggle as a runner, with an amazing cutback and juke move to go with his homerun speed. He has great start-stop ability at the line, and above average vision to find open running lanes. As a power back, Barkley is similarly proficient, as he is very strong between the tackles and is adept at falling forward. His dexterity and balance are tremendous, and they are what make him an elite prospect. He has outstanding body control both along the sidelines and through contact, allowing him to make plays that very few can. He is very good at catching the ball both out of the backfield and as a wide receiver, although his pass blocking is merely decent. If there is a flaw, it is that he can try to get the big play rather than just putting his head down for a few yards; however, the highlight reel plays he makes by doing this more than makes up for this slight and infrequent deficiency.
2. Derrius Guice – Although he is more of a power back, Guice is a well-rounded runner who can excel both inside and outside. He is exceptionally strong, and runs with power and tenacity. He is a very determined runner, finishing every run by gaining every possible inch. He is great at avoiding head on hits in traffic and at the line. Additionally, he is a very slippery runner with very good balance, helping him generate a lot of yards after contact. As an outside runner, he has excellent acceleration and very good speed. While he also has good agility and bouncing ability, he knows how to pick up tough yards. His vision is also good, not great; however he is exceptionally good at finding small bits of space to pick up extra yards through contact and traffic. He is a solid receiver out of the backfield, and is very good at pass blocking. As a pure runner, he is very good in all aspects of the position, and will bring good intensity to a teams run game. Although not as big and strong as his LSU predecessor Fournette is, he has a better feel for running the football.
3. Kerryon Johnson – A well rounded runner, Johnson’s has the combination of speed and power to become a top tier runner. He has great vision and outstanding patience at the line of scrimmage. He runs low, enabling him to explode through holes and work well in tight spaces. He is amazing running through contact, and is especially adept at shaking off half-hearted tackles. Similarly, he is very good on the goal line and in short yardage situations, as he knows how to get lower and pick up extra yards. With very good long speed and superior agility, he is a good runner in open space. This combination of speed moves and effective use of power make him a deadly runner in all situations. Additionally, Johnson is very intelligent in all aspects of the game, with great pass blocking ability, decent receiving skills, and exceptional awareness. He knows how to handle various situations in games, contributing to his good pass blocking. The above average awareness is also a major factor in his running style, as he is extremely effective in knowing when to utilize each aspect of his skill set. However, there are some questions about his injury history, especially as his running style can lead to many head on collisions.
4. Royce Freeman – Freeman is an excellent power runner who is surprisingly fluid running the ball, similar to Frank Gore. He is somewhat slow compared to the other top runners in college football, but is able to effectively use what speed he has. He is a low runner who is very good at running through contact between the tackles. He is also strong, able to shake off tackles and bowl defenders over. Freeman has outstanding vision and runs effortlessly through open lanes. Additionally, he has great feet and agility, a talent that was reinforced by a terrific job at the combine. He has very good patience at the line of scrimmage as well, with the strength to shed tackles behind the line of scrimmage. He seems to have suspect lower body explosion, although he had average testing in such events at the NFL combine. For a bigger back, Freeman is an above average receiver out of the backfield. Even when his offensive line struggled he was able to make some plays, but he is even more dominant with decent blocking. While he doesn’t have the look of an elite prospect, he should end up being an extremely good player as a workhorse running back.
5. Ronald Jones II – One of the most elusive runners in the draft class, Jones II is a tall speed back with limited power. He possess elite breakaway speed and is extremely fluid and elusive in space. His juke move is outstanding, and he has great agility and ankle-breaking potential in his cutback. His vision is very good, and he slips through holes quite smoothly and easily. It is very hard for defenders to get a hand on him, although he is not that hard to bring down when they do. This is partially due to his high running style, which takes away some of balance and power. He still exhibits some explosive momentum in finishing runs, but such toughness is rare. Surprisingly, he is a solid runner in short yardage situations, as has a nose for the end zone. He has great burst to the outside, and is skillful at bouncing runs to the outside for big plays. However, he tends to make too many bounces, leading to lost yardage. He is not very good at pass blocking, as he is on the lighter side. He has decent hands, although not quite what one would expect from a player his size. While not quite a bell-cow running back, in part due to injury concerns, Jones II can be an explosive playmaker as a lead back.
6. Nick Chubb – An outstanding all around runner before his knee injury, Chubb’s value has worsened considerably since he was unable to fully regain his speed and agility. He is a a very strong runner who runs low, making it very hard for defenders to tackle him without facing violent contact. He has decent top end speed, but has very good burst and acceleration. However, he looks faster than he did last year, meaning that he could potentially get better if he can regain the form he had in his freshman season. Similarly, he has an amazing juke move that would improve if he can become more confident making cuts. Particularly, his vision suffers because he lacks some confidence in his ability to hit holes. He is exceptionally good at shaking off tacklers that aren’t right in front of him, however he sometimes seems tentative when pressured in tight spaces. Because of this, he lacks the desired wiggle while running inside. He also can serve as a disciplined one cut downhill runner. For a strong back he displays able hands and solid pass blocking ability. He is a very talented runner despite the flaws, and there is Pro-Bowl upside if he can fully recover from the injury. His speed, strength, and explosiveness remain top tier, although the combine did not eliminate doubts about his cutting ability.
7. Mark Walton – A smaller running back, Walton is a complete back who could excel on 3rd downs or in a committee. He is a very agressive runner who uses his strength to deliver blows to the defense. However, he is still an elusive runner who keeps his pads low to effectively pick up yards. His agility gives him potent juke and spin moves, although his cuts into space can be slow. As such, his vision is spotty and inconsistent, and he is often indecisive making cuts into holes. Similarly to Nick Chubb, some of this is due to recovering from an injury. He has great balance, allowing him to stay on his feet and keep his speed through both high and low contact. He has above average breakaway speed and acceleration. He is a decent pass catcher and route runner out of the backfield. Walton also excels at pass blocking, using good technique on defenders that are bigger than him. He is a shifty runner who would fit well in a scheme where he would handle around 15 touches a game. If he can regain some more of his explosiveness, he can be a great role player.
8. Akrum Wadley – Wadley is small satellite back in the mold of Darren Sproles – a dangerous big play threat as a runner and receiver. Although he lacks power, he is a tough player who has elite elusiveness in space. His agility is off the charts, and he is able to effectively string moves together to elude multiple defenders. He has great start-stop ability, allowing him to make jukes and cuts at full speed and in quick succession. He has such wiggle that he is rarely tackled by the first defender, and he can hit holes with good burst and acceleration. He has great top end speed that enables him to get the edge and break off big plays. His vision is very good, and he doesn’t try to force runs outside like other speed backs do. Additionally, his cutback is exceptional in traffic and open space. He is a very good receiver, and can work out of the slot as well as out of the backfield. Because of his small stature, he can be a problem in pass protection. Wadley is an elite scat back who will excel on third downs and as a rotational runner.
9. Justin Jackson – Jackson is a jack of all trades but a master of none. He is technically sound in all aspects of the position, as he is a decent receiver, capable pass blocker, and can run both inside and outside. He is elusive running on both sides of the tackles, and can create a few extra yards for himself on some plays. He is mainly an outside runner, although his potential is limited by his average speed and acceleration, making him lacking as a major big play threat. He is especially adept at waiting for his blockers to make him running lanes instead of just trying to outrun them. His vision is otherwise average. He has very quick feet, although he is not great at making sharp cuts suddenly. However, he explodes out of his cuts after a few gather steps, which works effectively in open field situations. Additionally, he had an outstanding outing in the quickness drills and workouts at the combine. He is a solid player who has the potential to be a starter, but could be a serviceable backup.
10. Rashaad Penny – Although the top rusher in college football, Penny’s skillset is not as dominant as his stats make him seem. He is a prototypical running back in the modern NFL, with the size, speed, and receiving ability to be an every down runner. He is very fast and has decent burst, allowing him to get the edge and break big plays on outside runs. He has solid start-stop ability to help him change speeds and find open holes. Additionally, he has good patience at the line and ability to allow his holes to develop. He has good vision and is very good at finding creases, but he also misses as many cutback lanes as he sees. However, he does do a good job knowing when to bounce outside. Although he possesses some agility, his elusiveness is suspect and he is not great at making defenders miss in one-on-one situations. When he is at his top speed he can run smoothly through holes, but he is generally not very good at planting his feet and making sharp cuts. Despite his size and aggressiveness, he is not a great in short yardage situations due to his lack of balance. He is a good receiver out of the backfield and can play a little in the slot. He is also a capable pass blocker. Although he has the skills to be a good runner, the lack of ability to create plays by himself limits his upside.
11. Sony Michel – A smaller speed back, Michel is an unrefined runner who survives on his pure speed, something that is not a given at the NFL level. He is very explosive and plays at a very fast pace on all his runs. However, this seems to be his only gear, serving as a detriment to his overall talent. He has outstanding agility and a particularly effective jump cut, especially when he can get the edge. Although he typically has good vision, his excessive use of his speed causes him to miss holes or not allow them to develop. Additionally, he is not able to make his own plays as much as one would like to see out of such a big play runner, and seems to rely too much on good blocking. He is a slippery runner who is adept at getting lower and extending when he knows he is falling, but he possesses little power and doesn’t seem to be able to shake off many arm tackles. He has average receiving ability, but is a problem in pass protection. He has the potential to be a capable rotational back at the NFL level if he has good coaching.