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Top Five 2018 NFL Draft Prospects- Running Back

Updated on February 4, 2018

These guys will look to be the future work horses of NFL franchises. Today I rank the top five running back prospects in the upcoming NFL Draft.

Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State
Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State

1. Saquon Barkley, Penn State

Bio: A four-star recruit out of high school, Saquon Barkley set the Penn State freshman rushing record with 1,076 yards. As a sophomore and junior, he was named the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year after rushing for 2,767 yards and 36 touchdowns over two seasons.

Strengths: Compact frame carries muscular, powerful base. Facts-pace runner. Offensive lineman's ideal running back with skill to bypass block shedders with superb footwork. Runs with an even pad level. Fluid hips allow for elite elusiveness. Several open field moves to make tackles miss. Can alter running lanes whenever he wants. Understands reads to find open running room. Solid vision. Keeps eyes darting when navigating up the middle. Exploits missed cutback lanes. Lateral burst and agility are top-tier. Able to stick his feet in the ground to burst around the corner when needed. Good feel for understanding distance between himself and defenders once he finds an opening. Feet are always moving and he rarely needs to slow down to change direction. Serviceable receiver. Able to gain separation in his routes. Destroys linebackers on wheel routes. Weight room champion. Very tough and competitive. Added two kick returns for touchdowns this year and will do whatever he can to help his team win. Football character and personal character are unmatched.

Weaknesses: Runs with more dexterity than power. Modest broken tackle numbers during his career at Penn State, but not what you would expect from a back his size. Plays with inconsistent leg drive through contact when running between the tackles. Will need to develop a more north/south mindset in the NFL. Doesn't always trust his running lanes and will look to bounce outside unnecessarily. Gets too fancy with stutter-steps and jukes on first level allowing defenders to close in. Needs to commit on stretch plays and sweeps rather than jumping the gun. Has strings of focus drops as pass catcher and his catch radius is limited. Inconsistent in pass protection.

Projected Round: 1

Compares to: Matt Forte

Possible landing spot: Cleveland Browns

Derrius Guice, RB, LSU
Derrius Guice, RB, LSU

2. Derrius Guice, LSU

Bio: After serving as a backup to Leonard Fournette, Derrius Guice got to see a lot of playing time when Fournette went down with an injury. Despite starting only six games, he was able to lead the SEC in rushing with 1,387 yards in 2016. Guice set the LSU single game rushing record in 2016 with 285 yards.

Strengths: Well built frame, combining powerful lower body with good overall size. Winning combination of speed, power, and balance. Able to see signs of penetration and change his course accordingly. Decent vision and is able to make quick cuts without losing speed. Rarely forces runs up the middle. Sets up blocks and follows the game plan. Regains composure quickly after cutting, reestablishing his base. Exceptional contact balance carrying power to punish smaller defensive backs. Can create plays out of next to nothing. Has footwork and athleticism to spin out of tackle attempts. Enough power to push piles. Production doesn't diminish in the fourth quarter. Angle tackles aren't effective against him. An almost guaranteed homerun when he hits the open field. Not a traditional third down back, but can pick up yards when needed. Plays with anger stemmed from his father being murdered when he was just seven.

Weaknesses: Dealt with recurring injury issues that derailed production throughout 2017 season. Needs to be more decisiveness through the line of scrimmage at the pro level. Burst speed is just average. May not have enough acceleration to beat defenders around the edge. Needs to do better job of dropping pad level at impact rather than just ducking helmet into contact. Would rather finish runs than look for more openings at times. Has some hip stiffness and needs additional room to elude tacklers. Took a lot of big hits in college. Needs practice to understand schemes. Slow cutter as a receiver. Pass protection needs work.

Projected Round: 1-2

Compares to: Marshawn Lynch

Possible landing spot: New York Giants

Kerryon Johnson, RB, Auburn
Kerryon Johnson, RB, Auburn

3. Kerryon Johnson, Auburn

Bio: Alabama's Mr. Football as a high school senior, Kerryon Johnson played in all 13 games for Auburn as a true freshman. During his three years at Auburn, Johnson showed the he was able to do everything in the offense.

Strengths: All-State basketball player in high school who plays with fast feet. Has instant burst to rocket through the line and get to the second level. Gear shifter who can change speeds at will. Accelerates around edge and then gears down for downhill cut. Uses strong stiff arm to dispose of angle tacklers. Runs with power inside. Showed toughness and heart as a workhorse in upset win over Alabama. Creates opportunities with speed and physicality. Never gives up and puts everything he can into each carry. Tough back with the strong feet and contact balance to bounce off tacklers and resume the run. Always the hammer, never the nail. Able to both elude defenders and power through them. Capable third down back who understands protections and rarely misses assignments. Squares up edge rushers in pass protection and has toughness to become even better in the pros. Effective on screens, wheel routes, and check downs. Can adjust to throws outside his frame. Able to be used as a returner and as solo back in wildcat formations.

Weaknesses: Upright runner with thin hips. Durability a concern due to thin frame and running style. Limited downhill runner. Can be a little slow to navigate running lanes. Likes to see a clear point of entry, rather than put effort into finding better options. Runs with average feel for blocking development. Needs to learn how to balance patience with downhill urgency. Yards don't come easy. Doesn't avoid enough punishing hits. Hip tightness limits ability to cut laterally. Could struggle to avoid early penetration in backfield.

Projected Round: 1-2

Compares to: Tevin Coleman

Possible landing spot: Indianapolis Colts

Sony Michel, RB, Georgia
Sony Michel, RB, Georgia

4. Sony Michel, Georgia

Bio: One of the more versatile players in the nation, Sony Michel was effective as a runner and receiver. Sharing time with Nick Chubb for much of his college career, Michel rushed for 1,227 yards on just 158 carries and 16 touchdowns with only two starts.

Strengths: Muscular, well-proportioned frame. Decisive runner who rarely takes unnecessary losses. Runs with discipline and looks for the best running lane. Able to gather and cut quickly as inside zone runner. Has good burst after cuts. Flashes acceleration to climb past linebackers and onto safeties quickly. Six of his touchdown runs went for 16 yards or more in 2017. Strong lower body can rip through arm tackles and allows for prime balance through contact. Has good open field vision to extend runs with second level moves, but will drop his pads to finish runs. Understands the art of setting up lead blockers and pulling guards. Highly respected, vocal leader. Excellent in blitz protection. Understands his blocking responsibilities and will square up and take on rushers. Two year team captain.

Weaknesses: Some tightness in his hips. Lack of agility keeps him from making late cuts to elude incoming tacklers. Low knee bend in early stages of the run causes him to trip over blocker's feet when trying to squeeze through tight running lanes. More angular runner than one who can make sharp cuts. Benefited from Georgia's scheme and improved blocking in 2017. Open field balance is erratic. Plays with a raging bull mentality in short yardage and needs to improve his feel for finding seams. Will duck head and finish prematurely if he doesn't see an early opening to work with. Serviceable as pass catcher, but has had issues with double catching.

Projected Round: 2-3

Compares to: Knowshon Moreno

Possible landing spot: Green Bay Packers

Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia
Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia

5. Nick Chubb, Georgia

Bio: After starter Todd Gurley went down with an injury, Nick Chubb rushed for 1,547 yards and 14 touchdowns while being named the SEC freshman of the year. By 2017, he helped Georgia to a National Championship appearance and finished second in school history in rushing.

Strengths: Has a low center of gravity and strong base giving him natural balance to help stack up yardage after contact. Has some pop behind his pads as a runner. Can attack edge with sudden, lateral cutback if contain blocks fails. One cut runner. Saw foot quickness and burst improve after sluggish 2016. Has adequate acceleration to the edge and is effective with his off-hand at stiff-arming and separating himself from oncoming defenders. Shows proper level of discipline to keep runs between the tackles when designed that way rather than trying to bounce everything to the outside. Has footwork and feel to power through interior traffic and squeeze out hidden holes near the goal line. Patient runner with very little wasted motion. Great ball security.

Weaknesses: Explosion and sharpness still not quite where it was before his knee injury in 2015. Late wiggle is average. Needs to make early cuts to avoid tacklers. Tends to slow down when forced by penetration to make off-schedule moves early in the run. Vision is average at best. Shows occasional hesitation when reading block development. Would benefit by pressing line of scrimmage a little deeper. Often tries to elude defenders rather than powering through them more. Doesn't possess break away speed. Wasn't used often in Georgia's passing situations.

Projected Round: 3

Compares to: Alfred Morris

Possible landing spot: Seattle Seahawks

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