Prospect Rankings: Top 10 2019 Rookie Running Backs
.(Photo by Alonzo Adams/Icon Sportswire)
We are quickly coming to an end of the college football season, and that means we are coming closer to getting our last looks at the incoming rookies of the 2019 class. While the combine is great and allows us an up-close look at these players who will be populating our fantasy rosters after our rookie drafts. It often doesn’t give an accurate representation of the players, like seeing them against their counterparts in real game action. Last year by looking at these players in game action and analyzing their stats, we were able to let you know about guys like Phillip Lindsay and Ito Smith household names now yes, but at the time players given little thought by fantasy players. While of course, we got players wrong as well me personally I had Ronald Jones II ranked fourth in his class, he obviously has fallen short of those expectations so far this year. Over the next month, I will release an article on a different position of players to start watching out for, for those of you in dynasty leagues who want to get a leg up on your competition. I will give you their current stats and where I have them ranked. As we come to a close to the college season I will revisit each position and show you where players values have changed.
For this article, I will discuss my current top 10 college running backs I expect to declare for the 2019 NFL draft. This list could change from now when I will release a new list after bowl season. All of the stats listed will be from their play in the 2018 season. Their play for last few weeks of the regular season, bowl season and playoffs will increase and decrease players value ahead of the draft. How I analyze the running backs is a mixture of how good they have played against ranked opponents and top defenses. I also take into account who is playing behind a good offensive line to those running backs playing behind a bad offensive line. Once my top 10 are listed I will list a few more players that are right on the cusp of being listed in the top 10, and still players to watch as the college season comes to a close.
Rodney Anderson (Oklahoma)
Rodney Anderson is at least in my opinion the best back in this class, and likely would have stayed in the Heisman conversation had he stayed healthy all year. Anderson is one of the best pure runners of this class but has suffered two serious injuries already in his young career. While his stats won’t look impressive this year due to the injury i encourage you to look at what he did in 2017 to see how dominant he was. Anderson was a four-star prospect coming out of high school per Rivals.com. He has already declared for the draft so there are no fears of him returning to Oklahoma, now all the talk will be about how ready he will be for the NFL combine.
Anderson has great size and athleticism and is one of the best in the game at running patiently behind his blockers. Consistently moves laterally around the backfield waiting for the hole to open and shoots through for positive yards. If he goes untouched he has the speed to take it to the house. He does a great job breaking through arm tackles and avoiding low tackles. He isn’t afraid to run it up the gut into defenders and fight for “quality” yards, he also has quality long speed and sees the whole field. Quite possibly the most lethal running back in this class when in space. He is a quality blocker in the passing game as well which keeps him on the field for entire games, unless he needs to be spelled for a play or two. He also showed in 2017 good hands in the receiving game, and as I touched on above when he is hit in space was a threat to go to the house.
At times he’s had questionable vision behind the line on zone runs. Has shown to cut too quickly and bounced outside on inside runs. In 2018 showed average burst through the hole at times. He has now suffered multiple season-ending injuries throughout his collegiate career. Durability will be his biggest question mark entering the NFL.
In this clip, we see Anderson’s lateral speed as the defensive lineman thinks he has him caught in the backfield. Anderson quickly cuts and takes off up field showing his burst and long speed.
In this clip, we see Anderson take a pitch and use his speed to get to the outside. He is so fast he eliminates the angle the linebacker thinks he has on Anderson. He then hugs the sideline even after getting pushed twice he keeps his balance and goes in for a touchdown.
David Montgomery (Iowa State)
David Montgomery burst onto the scene for most analyst last year after a terrific sophomore year for the Cyclones. A two-star recruit per Rivals.com. He has far exceeded that in his two years as a starter. Montgomery has the size to be a workhorse back in the NFL, and the instincts as well. Many will have Montgomery as their top back coming out this year based on his play over these past two years and his lack of injuries. It would be hard to make an argument against him as he really is the 1A to Rodney Anderson in my eyes.
Montgomery does an excellent job of running through contact and picking up yards. He has shown outstanding balance and has no issue dropping a shoulder and running over or through defenders. Stout compact build and profiles as a workhorse back. Does a good job waiting patiently behind the line and is a surprisingly good lateral mover behind the line looking for a hole, once he finds it has a good second gear to burst through holes. Hard to bring down in the open field makes good hard cuts and usually requires multiple defenders to bring him down, has a nasty stiff arm. Has shown good route running ability when coming out of the backfield.
While he does a good job hitting holes, he shows a lack of long-term speed and burst, so can be chased down even if he gets behind defenders. Does lack vision at times when the first read is closed and tries to bounce outside netting a negative run, happens more often than it should he should take minimal gain at times. Sometimes goes seeking contact during runs when he doesn’t need to. Has struggled to catch the ball at times in the passing game.
In this clip, we see everything good about David Montgomery’s game. He takes a good pass goes up the sideline showing off his speed. He continues to make good lateral cuts to keep moving up the field throws a beautiful stiff arm, before he is caught and pushed out of bounds.
In this clip, we get to watch Montgomery breaking ankles almost literally. His lateral jump cut to make the first defender miss is just incredible, and then he does it again. His ability to make defenders miss being his size is a great attribute.
In this clip, we see Montgomery get a screen pass that looks like its going to be blown up in the backfield. While there is poor tackling here, this is what Montgomery does all game long. He likely won’t be brought down by an arm tackle and continues moving his legs and once he hits open space he hits his second gear. Again he doesn’t have great long speed, but even when he is caught it takes the defender almost 10 yards to bring him down.
Damien Harris (Alabama)
Damien Harris is another in a long line of great college running backs that have come out of Alabama. Of course one of the questions that come with being a running back out of Alabama is will they be any good in the NFL? As we have seen as of late one who has succeeded and two who haven’t quite lived up to the hype. Harris was a five-star prospect coming out of high school per Rivals.com. Harris stands out amongst his peers with his pass catching especially in what he has done in his senior year. He has continued to improve in both facets of the game and has racked up over 1,000 rushing yards the past two years. He has also played against more elite defenses in his career but has only been the starter for the past two splitting time with Bo Scarbrough. His catching ability is what will likely keep him very high up on NFL draft boards.
Harris has a compact powerful frame. He has quick feet does a good job of redirecting quickly. When he finds space he gets vertical doesn’t waste movement in the backfield. He does a great job of finding the smallest of spaces in the line to squeeze through, has great contact balance, he absorbs shots and keeps moving and does a good job of dropping his shoulder through holes. Has great hands when being a receiver.
Harris lacks long speed and burst to get by defenders, getting chased down from behind more often than not. While he has no issue initiating contact he struggles at time to break tackles. He is not elusive in the open field or in space. He needs to develop a better jump cut and stiff arm to allow himself to break tackles. He has really struggled in pass protection which could limit his playing time. Tends to bounce runs outside on inside runs.
In this clip, we see what Harris can do when he hits the open field. For starters the defender gets into the backfield and gets an arm on Harris. However, he’s already started moving and pulls away fairly easily. We then see him hit his second gear eliminating the angles of defenders and making a 50 yard touchdown run look easy.
In this clip, while not an amazing play I wanted to use this to highlight how good his hands are. Hurts throws a pass behind him to the back shoulder and it barely phases Harris. He excels in the passing game and has soft hands.
Justice Hill (Oklahoma State)
Justice Hill has been as consistent as they come past few years, putting up 1,000 yards his freshman and sophomore years, and well on his way to that in his junior year. He was a three-star prospect coming out of high school per Rivals.com. He has continued to improve in the receiving game. He is a bit undersized compared to most NFL backs and doesn’t profile to be a workhorse back. He is explosive and consistently makes big plays, the way he finishes off the season and how the NFL draft process plays out for him should be interesting.
Hill has great burst and does a good job maintaining speed while making cuts and changing directions. Does a good job of making defenders miss or fall off him on lower body tackles. Has great spacial awareness quickly reducing defenders angles and can make defenders on backside pursuit miss him completely. Runs great routes out of the backfield and has great hands, also does a good job coming back to the ball if the quarterback is scrambling or in trouble. He not only is a good pass blocker but seems willing to do it which is a huge plus.
Hills biggest question vision and decision making in the backfield. Consistently runs into the back of offensive lineman not waiting for the lineman to clear holes. Tends to turn and bounce outside expecting to make a play, due to his great play in space but loses yards. He struggles to come to sudden stops, usually taking an extra step or two but has the speed to overcome this for the most part. Tends to try and run through defenders at times when not needed, it is usually ineffective due to his size. Relies heavily on instinct at times and tries to make the “home run” play instead of taking what is given, which leads to negative gains.
In this clip, we see Hill use good patience waiting behind his lineman. When the hole doesn’t open he bounces the run outside and out runs everyone to the end zone.
In this clip, we see just a great run by Hill. He gets stopped about 11 yards into the run, but keeps his feet moving and breakaways uses his speed and fights to the goal line.
Miles Sanders (Penn State)
Miles Sanders is one of my favorite prospects that has a possibility of coming into the 2019 NFL draft. While he has been backing up Saquon Barkley he is the starter this year and has looked every bit as good as Barkley. Sanders is not a lock for this draft as he could return for his senior year and come out next year, which there has been some talk of. If Sanders does come out he likely won’t get the publicity that Barkley did, and he isn’t quite the prospect that he was coming out either. However, Sanders in his own right is a legitimate prospect in this draft and someone I may be a bit low on at this point. How Penn State and how Sanders finishes out the season could see him move up closer to the top of this list.
Sanders is possibly the most elusive back in this class. He is decisive in his cuts and moves smoothly through the backfield allowing holes to open before hitting them. He shows great patience in letting linebackers make their moves before he moves around them and into space. When he gets to the second level he gains chunk yards with great burst and long speed. He is hard to bring down as his lateral moves, cuts, and stutter-step can “break ankles” of defenders as they attempt to stop him. Shows great balance when tackled low and his start/stop ability is some of the best you’ll see thanks to quick feet and his balance.
His experience will be the biggest question by his detractors. Sitting behind Barkley for two years left him little work in his young career. This year has been his first in a full-time starter role, and if he comes out this year we will only have this year on his resume. All that being said he hasn’t played much top competition defense this year. In the games he has he struggled, tending to try and bounce runs outside against top-tier speed defenders. He also hasn’t been utilized as much as Barkley was in the passing game. This may be more a function of the offense than his skill in it, but something that needs to be watched as the season closes out.
In this clip, while not an overly flashy run, I wanted to show Sanders quick cut ability. He breaks an arm tackle and fights forward to make sure he gets the first down. It’s a nice gritty run that shows off some of his lateral cuts.
In this clip, we see Sanders hit the whole quickly and with a good burst. He then makes a nice jump cut to get by the defender and when he gets held at the line keeps his feet moving to power his way into the end zone.
In this clip, we see one of Sanders best runs. His vision, balance, speed, and strength are all on display here. What else can you say except for what an exceptional run breaking eight tackles. Its ok just watch it again we all know you want to.
Bryce Love (Stanford)
Bryce love was considered to be one of the top running backs last year and likely would have been a top selection had he come out. He was a four-star prospect coming out of high school per Rivals.com. His first two years at Stanford he split time or sat behind Christian McCaffrey. Taking the reins of the starting job last year he completely dominated with over 2,300 yards rushing and receiving, which led most people to believe he would come out and capitalize on his value. Most pundits had him as the second-ranked back last year behind just Saquon Barkley, in fact, he finished second in the Heisman voting in 2017, finishing behind Baker Mayfield. He still is considered a top back but has struggled more this year, while some will say its due to his injury he just hasn’t looked the same all season. How he finishes this season could be huge for his stock as at least for me he went from the second best back last year to possibly outside the top five this year.
Love has elite acceleration and speed, on any play can burn by everyone and take it to the house. He is one of the better backs in using his speed on stretch plays to get to the corner and make positive yard plays. Though not extremely elusive he does a good job with jump cuts and skips to avoid tacklers. He does a good job avoiding head-on tacklers and making them arm tackles that he breaks through. Once he is in space he is hard to catch and even harder to bring down. He has shown to be a willing pass blocker.
His vision isn’t particularly great, he doesn’t do a good job manipulating second level defenders. He isn’t overwhelmingly agile, and not a consistent “home run” hitter. Most of his big runs were more due to great blocking than from him creating. Has missed clear cutback lanes at times. Needs to work on his receiving skills. Durability is a great concern, and due to his frame, he might not even be considered by some teams.
In this clip, we see Love burst through the hole, use a beautiful stutter step to get the cornerback to stop for just a second, that’s all he needs to run by him down the sideline for a touchdown.
In this clip, we see Love take a pitch and immediately break to the outside. He does a good job showing off his vision here, as he cuts back inside away from two defenders and out runs everyone to the end zone.
In this clip, We see Love bulldoze over two defenders, and shows off his balance as another defender tries to take him down from behind and almost trips him up.
Karan Higdon (Michigan)
Karan Higdon is a senior running back, who comes from Sarasota Florida as a three-star prospect per Rivals.com. While not an overly big back Higdon does run with a fierce aggressiveness. For me Higdon is an interesting prospect based entirely on his play. He doesn’t have Andersons size, or Hills elusiveness, or even the preferred NFL size like Montgomery. However, what he does have his play style. Almost every time he touches the ball he creates positive yards he can play out of the backfield as a receiver or runner. His NFL draft stock will likely rise as Michigan pushes for the playoffs and throughout the draft process.
Higdon is in his final year of college. He comes in with less work on his legs than most with only 247 carries in his first three years. While he’s already broken 170 this year he is currently just shy of 1,000 yards as well. He is also splitting carries with fellow running back Chris Evans, which is helping keep him fresh as well. He does a good job of patiently allowing blocks to develop before hitting the hole with an explosive second gear. When stuck in around defenders he does a good job of breaking soft tackles and runs aggressively and violent when trying to break through holes. Once he is through he does a good job hitting his second burst to create separation and ripping of large gains. Shows great balance on his runs and his jump cuts, when he changes directions he can quickly maneuver himself to get back up field quickly.
Higdon doesn’t have many glaring weaknesses for me. One of his main concerns is his considered smaller body frame and his aggressive running style. Many will question if his body can handle the beating it will take in the NFL based on his running style. If he is forced to add weight at the next level will he be able to retain his speed? Which currently sets him apart from others in this class. He hasn’t done much in the receiving game he’ll likely need to improve there to be an every down back. He did fail at times to bounce the ball outside when left wide open, preferring to try and run up the middle into traffic.
In this clip, We see Higdon using his power by breaking through three tackles, and using his burst to pick up a big gain for Michigan.
In this clip, I love watching Higdon and the patience he uses to see the blocks form cut back and shoot through the gap for a big gain. Showing off his patience, cuts, balance, and speed.
In this clip, we get to see Higdon show off his speed. He hits the gap that has been opened for him gets to the outside and hits his second gear taking it to the house.
Darrell Henderson (Memphis)
Darrell Henderson is from Batesville, Mississippi and left high school and committed to Memphis as a two-star recruit per Rivals.com. He has definitely showed out and is not considered a top NFL draft prospect at the running back position. He has been racking up stats and showing out for Memphis. Henderson is one of the smaller backs in this top 10 and probably one of the guys lesser known. He has shown it all though in his three year college career and while I expect him to come out in the draft, the draft process will be interesting to watch on a guy some people are worried won’t be a full time back.
|Junior||5’9||200||135||1280||9.5||15||283||18.9||15-rushing, 3 receiving|
Henderson is compact low to the ground runner. He shows great leg strength and power and he does a good job of pushing through contact in traffic, and can often break off into open space for huge positive chunk plays. Henderson also does a good job using he stiff arm on runs to keep defenders at a distance or to just throw them down. He prefers to bounce runs outside and get to the sidelines to make his push up field, and try to take it to the house. He has shown good secondary burst eliminating angles from pursuing defenders. He is also a proven threat receiving out of the backfield, currently has 59 catches so far in his college career and has proven he can catch the ball away from his body has good soft hands.
Henderson does have multiple questions ahead of the 2019 draft process. His physicality and size is one of the main ones. He doesn’t seem built to be a power back, but has shown he can do it, he doesn’t have the elite speed as others in this class, but has shown good burst at times. He will also likely have some durability questions put on him as well. He hasn’t been asked to be the bell cow for Memphis, currently he has 135 carries which is the most he’s had in his entire college career, though he hasn’t suffered any serious injuries. He will also have some question his backfield vision. He plays in a spread offense so many of his runs have a clear running lane or draw allowing everything to be opened to him. Will he be able to make quick decision and react against top tier NFL defenses will be something he will need to prove.
In this clip, we see Henderson get wide open and make a nice catch in stride and immediately get to work. He uses a nice burst to get up the sideline, makes a player miss. He also does a good job keeping his balance after a couple players come in late to try and stop him.
In this clip, we see Henderson hit the hole and use good vision to cut back across the field. He shows off that leg strength as he breaks through a couple tackles, then follows his blockers to the house.
In this clip, Henderson lines up as a wide receiver and blows by his guy at the line. He does a great job adjusting to the ball in the air and takes it to the house. Showing off his ability in the receiving game, which I think is one of his best attributes.
Myles Gaskin (Washington)
Myles Gaskin is another running back I thought might have come out last year, has he has already built up quite a resume. He came back knowing Washington might have a playoff shot in 2018. Washington will fall short of those expectations, but Gaskin has kept churning up yards. Gaskin is a hometown prospect from Seattle he committed to Washington as a three-star prospect per Rivals.com. He has three straight years of 1,300 yards and while he likely won’t reach that his senior year he has still be great for Washington. While he is a smaller back his running and receiving ability will likely have him highly coveted coming into the 2019 draft.
Gaskin is an agile runner with extremely active feet. He has some of the best body control in this class, whether its manipulating the line play to get defenders to fill holes he rolls out of, to his head and body fakes, making defenders go one way as he goes the other making great “slasher” runs. He is rarely brought down by first contact and when he is hit he does a great job continually moving forward. He is a very patient runner who shows explosiveness when needed, and is in my opinion the best pass catcher of this group. He is also one of the best and most active pass blockers of this group.
Gaskin has a smaller thin frame and many will worry if he can handle to hits at the NFL level. Struggles at times with trying to make more out of nothing. Multiple times he spins away from an easy gain and tries to “hit the homerun” which causes him to take too many negative plays. He is to quick to cut back inside at times, and fails to show off his speed when needed. At times he will get loose and fails to open his stride to get by players limiting his breakaway speed.
In this clip, Gaskin shows great burst and speed to get to the outside, he makes a lot of runs look this good.
In this clip, Gaskin makes the first defender miss, then is off to the races where he fights to make sure he gets into the end zone on a nice hard run.
In this clip, we see another typical Gaskin run. Nice smooth run through the hole at the line gives a nice cut and once he hits contact keeps pushing forward till they bring him down.
Mike Weber Jr. (Ohio State)
Mike Weber was the incumbent after Ezekiel Elliot left and many had just as high hopes for him as they had for Zeke. Weber a native of Detroit Michigan decided against the Wolverines and joined The Ohio State Buckeyes as a four-star prospect per Rivals.com. He had an extremely productive season in 2016 when he was fully healthy. Enter 2017 where he dealt with multiple injuries and the emergence of freshman J.K Dobbins, and it seemed Weber might be pushed to a backup role. However, Weber continued to battle and compete with Dobbins as they have become a productive duo out of the backfield. The emergence of Dobbins may have hurt Weber and his value some, but its also allowed him to stay fresh at times. If the Buckeyes can make the playoffs, his play against top tier talent as well as when they play Michigan will be a good test. I expect his 2019 draft process will likely shoot him up some draft boards as well.
|Junior||5’10||214||105||607||5.8||15||84||5.6||3- rushing, 1- receiving|
Weber runs with great balance and a compact running style. He’s not afraid to drop his shoulder and bowl over defenders, and continues to move his feet at point of contact. If Weber gets into open space he has good burst that can eliminate most angles from defenders and ends pursuits. If he gets caught at the line or in the backfield does a good job moving his feet to try and gain some positive yardage. He doesn’t spend much time moving east and west in the backfield, he usually quickly moves upfield and looks to enjoy running over defenders trying to stop him gaining those positive yards.
Weber has some obvious durability concerns after his 2017 season was marred in injury. Due to the emergence of Dobbins his carries have been limited this year, lessening his chances to show out. He is not a very elusive back so his cuts aren’t great, and he needs to take extra steps to change directions. He also doesn’t have a great start/stop motor. Due to the offense of OSU he doesn’t get a lot of receiving work, and when he does its usually wide open check downs, this usually doesn’t happen in the NFL.
In this clip, we see an immediate and nice jump cut from Weber. He breaks a tackle and shows that breakaway speed as he takes it to the house.
In this clip, Weber shows off his explosive burst as he moves to the opening and shoots up the field for the touchdown.
In this clip. Weber shows us again his patience to find the hole, and his explosive burst as he gets through the line and is gone to the house.
These three running backs are right on the outside of my top 10 and guys that still really intrigue me and could easily move into the top 10 throughout the last few weeks of the season and the bowl season.
Elijah Holyfield (Georgia)
Trayveon Williams (Texas A&M)
|Junior||5’9||200||166||931||5.6||22||257||11.7||10 rushing, 1- receiving|
Benny Snell Jr. (Kentucky)