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Top 5 NFL 2019 Draft Class Running Backs

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Following last week’s article on the quarterback class, I now present some of the top running back prospects in this year’s draft.

While there may not be any generational players like in the past several classes, these running backs definitely don’t fall short in talent. These backs may not end up in the first round, but they hold great value for days two and three.

I do want to clarify that the ranking order of these prospects could change during the scouting process. Not because of public opinion bias, but views may change as more tape is analyzed and more information is collected. So, let’s get to it!


Top 5 NFL 2019 Draft Class Running Backs

Check out the latest NFL Mock Draft analysis for the upcoming draft.

Joshua Jacobs, Alabama

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If you watched the College Football Playoffs, this name should sound familiar. The 5’10, 215 pound back put his name on the map of every casual college football fan. In his 3 year career under coach Nick Saban, Jacobs never had the backfield to himself. He split carries primarily with Damien Harris this year and the now-Dallas Cowboy Bo Scarbrough in 2016/2017. Hence, why you won’t find him at the top of any major stat rankings.

The one relevant stat that you should be eyeing is his crushing yard per carry average. Jacobs averaged 6.0 yards per carry in his freshman and sophomore year and 5.9 yards per carry over his career. With an increased workload in 2018, his stat-line remained very impressive: 120 carries for 640 yards and 11 TDs (5.3 YPC).

One thing’s for sure, Josh Jacobs is a winner. Well, anyone out of Saban’s factory comes out with iced out fingers. Jacobs has a 41-3 career record at Alabama, three National Championship appearances (one win), and two SEC Championships. Proven winners always have a spot on my team, especially ones that can share the spotlight.

In contrast, the question remains: can he handle an NFL workload? In his 44-game career in Tuscaloosa, Jacobs only logged double-digit carries in seven career games! Two of those were in the playoffs this season.

Scouting

Concerning his traits as a runner, Josh Jacobs is one violent running back. If you haven’t seen the tape of him running over big Oklahoma Safety Robert Barnes for a touchdown, check out the above video.

As shown in this play, Jacobs is a complete back with solid receiving skills out of the backfield. He will hurt you if left alone in the flat. He has a great combination of speed and agility in the open field, combined with physicality when useful. His power, fused with elite balance through contact makes him very elusive and hard to tackle. Defenders constantly slip off of him. Add in the break-away speed and this guy is a home-run hitter.

As if I hadn’t praised him enough, Jacobs is the best blocker in this class. He was used in two-RB sets as a lead-blocker for Harris, as well as on jet-sweeps and absolutely laid people out. Oh man, his blocking fun to watch. He is the most complete back in this draft, and surely has offensive coordinators drooling over him.

David Montgomery, Iowa State

Standing at 5’11 and 215 lbs, David Montgomery looks the part as a four-down back. He earned the starting job for the Cyclones with four games left of his freshman year. The man hasn’t stepped off the gas since. He earned First-Team All-Big 12 selection in his two full seasons as the starter.

This year, Montgomery finished second in the Big 12 in rushing yards and touchdowns (1,216/13). Both career-high numbers were accompanied by a 4.7 yards per carry average. He led the Big 12 in plays from scrimmage, answering any questions on his workhorse ability. Behind his seven 100-plus rushing yard games, the Cyclones finished third in the Big 12. A noteworthy achievement considering AP Polls had them pegged for seventh.

His career at Iowa State ended on a peculiar note, as they lost to Gardner Minshew’s Washington State in the Alamo Bowl. Montgomery had one of his most productive outings of the season with over 140 rushing yards and a touchdown. However, he lost his only fumble of the season in the game. Here’s the oddity; Montgomery fumbled on the final game of each season he played for Iowa State!

Scouting

Regarding his skill-set, Montgomery’s best asset is his balance through contact. His feet are always churning, and he’ll practically never submit to the first tackler. Arm tackles will not get it done. He’s patient behind the line of scrimmage with good lateral footwork. Montgomery’s quite a Cyclone to catch with superb elusiveness.



While he is explosive out of his cuts, I do question his breakaway speed. His burst and short-area quickness, however, are not in question. Regarding Montgomery’s impact in the passing game, it is quite underrated, both as a blocker and receiver. He shows soft hands and an impressive catch radius and can hold his own in pass pro.

Damien Harris, Alabama

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Alabama running back, Damien Harris, is about the same size as his partner Josh Jacobs. But their skill-sets are very complementary. Harris has four seasons with the Crimson Tide in his back-pocket, including two 1000-yard seasons in his sophomore and junior years. He achieved this with fewer touches than in his final season. This year, he ran for 876 yards on 150 carries and nine touchdowns. The Alabama backfield combined for 2,299 yards and 24 touchdowns with Jacobs and Najee Harris (not related). They are stacked with NFL talent.

Similar to Jacobs, Damien Harris comes out of Tuscaloosa with Championships galore. He’s aware of the work ethic needed to win and has shown he can share the spotlight and be efficient doing it. While Harris only had nine 100-yard games in his 50-game career, he has shown he can be productive with every touch he gets. In his last three seasons with the Tide (45 games), he averaged less than four yards per carry only three times!

Scouting

As I highlighted earlier, the complementarity of the Alabama backfield is a major reason for their success. While they look alike physically, Harris is a different style runner than Jacobs. Hands down, his best trait is his vision. It’s like he sees the gaps before they open up and before you know it, he has just slashed through your d-line. Harris takes short, choppy strides between the tackles which allows him to adjust very quickly to defenders getting off blocks. He runs with a good combination of agility and power. He has great football intelligence and won’t try to do too much. He’ll grind out those 3-4 yard physical runs between the tackles. He is very safe with the football given he hasn’t fumbled in his last two seasons.

Harris is explosive and quick in tight spaces, but his main concern is breakaway speed. Will he be able to beat speedy safeties to take runs to the house? If not, this could limit his abilities in the passing game as he may struggle to create separation with linebackers. He does show soft hands catching the football, so teams shouldn’t be too worried about his receiving skills. Harris will need to work on his pass protection at the next level.

Harris is a very interesting prospect as he offers relevant traits for the next level, but similarly to Jacobs, he’ll need to show he can handle a full season’s workload as a feature back. He may fit best as a grind and pound back in a well-established committee.

Elijah Holyfield, Georgia

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Elijah Holyfield is yet another running back with a boxing background, but he wasn’t coached by any regular boxer. He is the son of great boxing legend Evander Holyfield, in case you were wondering where he gets his power from. Growing up in an athletic household usually promotes a strong work ethic and professionalism, something scouts will like about Elijah. This year, Holyfield and De’Andre Swift equally split the load for the Bulldogs after Nick Chubb and Sony Michel’s departure for the NFL. They both have almost identical stat-lines. Elijah ran for 1,018 yards on 159 carries and seven touchdowns.

Holyfield played in two SEC Championship games with the Bulldogs. Despite not having a major impact, he was on the 2017 SEC Championship team Auburn. He didn’t log a snap in the 2017 playoffs, unsurprisingly considering who was ahead of him on the depth chart. Holyfield wasn’t used much in the passing game, mostly because Swift was so effective in catching the football.  However, he hasn’t shown any inabilities. I found him effective in pass protection when he was asked to block.

Scouting

Elijah Holyfield is a violent, north-south runner who will have no problem pounding the ball between the tackles. He always finishes his runs physically, pushing forward for every yard he can get. You’ll always get maximum effort from Holyfield. He hits his gaps with excellent burst and is extremely dangerous once he gets into the open field. He has the speed and endurance to take any run to the house. Speed and burst in the open-field make me think he could have a great impact in the passing game. His mix of speed and explosiveness make him a dangerous threat on outside run schemes as well.

At times, I would rather see him juke a defender instead of running through defenders. But you have to love his physicality as he can wear a defense out. However, similarly to Jacobs and Harris, would he be able to be the feature back in the NFL? One could argue the NFL is evolving towards a backfield-by-committee approach, as offensive coordinators look to diversify their offensive weapons. Whether this is true or not, Holyfield definitely has a role in the NFL.

Darrell Henderson, Memphis

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Henderson is a different style running back from the ones listed above. He’s less of a power back, but undeniably athletic. Henderson rushed for the second-highest yardage total in college football this season and tied for most rushing touchdowns (1,909/22). This averaged out to 8.9 yards per carry (214 carries), which was the highest average in the country. Get this, he did it while giving up 208 carries to his teammate Patrick Laird. Talk about a run-first offense.  This season earned him First-Team All-American honors. He has tied Chuck Weatherspoon for the highest YPC over his career  (minimum 300 carries).

After writing his name in college football history books, Henderson now turns to take his game to the NFL. Henderson failed to win a conference championship with the Tigers, falling twice to the undefeated (at the time) UCF Knights. His second time around, he gashed the Knights for 210 yards and three touchdowns on only 16 carries. This year, Henderson logged six games of over 200 scrimmage yards, and only failed to reach pay-dirt in two.

Scouting

While his stats are extremely appealing, one must dive into his tape to better understand who Henderson is as a runner. He has elite long speed (may log one of the fastest 40s by an RB at the combine). And as defenses noticed this year, he is almost impossible to catch once he hits top gear. He arguably possesses the best wiggle in the draft. His ability to weave through traffic in space makes him very dangerous as he is naturally elusive. While he is agile enough to put a move on a defender, he won’t hesitate to run defenders over in the open field.

As specified, his traits would make him more dangerous in space rather than as a power back against stacked boxes. He won’t pound and wear defenses down late in games, and his goal-line ability seems limited. Henderson was pretty productive as a receiver, but mostly off of screen plays. He doesn’t always catch cleanly, but his impact in the open field outweighs the bad. He’s had a low workload his entire career, and although his production has been astonishing,  I doubt he can be a feature back for an NFL offense. He will, however, be a very dangerous weapon for any offensive coordinator to plug in.


Conclusion

Overall, this running back class is filled with a dense variety of profiles who can all find success in their own niche. While a clear-cut feature back is hard to identify, unlike past draft classes, NFL teams will all have a chance at finding effective offensive weapons. Teams like the Jets, Buccaneers and, Raiders who will probably search for a feature back, may need to stick to their backfield by committee approach. This draft should provide some diverse elite talent.


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About Selyan Lonqueux

Selyan's a football addict (no rehab planned). Winner of countless fantasy football championships. Prospect tape grinder, rookie draft smasher, and re-builder of dynasties. Oh, and also plays wide receiver.

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