2019 NFL Draft Watchlist: Running Backs, Part 2
I’m a big fan of democracy. In fact, when I was just a few days old, my dad wrote me in against an uncontested U.S. Senator he refused to vote for; you could say I’ve been a product of the electoral process since birth. That’s why I decided to let you, the people, vote to determine the order we would pick apart the top prospects for the 2019 NFL Draft here on Fantrax.
You collectively determined that you wanted to know about the running backs first and foremost, so we are here to run down the top targets for dynasty or developmental (devy) fantasy football players. Going forward, there will be individual evaluations of players, but this article is a quick “get to know you” for the potential class as a whole.
Measurables projections are courtesy of DraftScout.com, and an asterisk (*) after the name means they are an underclassman and may decide not to declare for this draft class.
Which running backs should you be watching heading into the 2019 NFL Draft?
2019 NFL Draft – Running Backs
6. Justice Hill, Oklahoma State*
5’10”, 185 pounds
Age at 2019 Draft: 21 yr., 6 mo.
Projected 40-yard dash: 4.47
Justice Hill is a good fit for the classic scatback role in the NFL, with his smallish frame and top-tier speed and quickness. He began at Oklahoma State as a true freshman and backup, but he began to take over primary touches in the backfield midway through the 2016 season and dominated them in 2017. Last year alone, Hill posted 268 carries for 1,467 yards rushing (5.47 average) and 15 touchdowns (5.60 percent rate) while adding 31 catches for 190 yards.
If Hill proves to have enough pro-level talent, his experience in a shotgun-spread offense could lead to usage as some team’s “1B.” That said, he’ll need to continue adding to his receiving work to lock into a meaningful role. As thin and light as he is (just 92.7 Speed Score), it would be a shame if he became just a lightly-used change-up back. He has the potential to be more.
7. Jacques Patrick, Florida State
6’2”, 231 pounds
Age at 2019 Draft: 22 yr., 4 mo.
Projected 40-yard dash: 4.59
Florida State power back Jacques Patrick is a lesson in physical potential and missing production. Patrick is built like a Mack but has been run about as often as a collector’s vintage Camaro: barely at all. The former five-star recruit has spent his college career stuck behind budding NFL star Dalvin Cook and now eventual NFL star Cam Akers. Despite a lack of volume, Patrick has been incredibly reliable: on 258 career carries, he’s turned in 1,412 yards (5.5 average) and 16 touchdowns (6.20 percent rate).
Barring an injury to Akers, Patrick will not get a ton of production in his final college year and needs to test well at the 2019 NFL Combine in order to thrill teams. At his current projections, he should earn a great 104.1 Speed Score, but a lack of lateral agility could hurt his draft stock.
8. Benny Snell, Jr., Kentucky*
5’10”, 223 pounds
Age at 2019 Draft: 21 yr., 2 mo.
Projected 40-yard dash: 4.56
I love thick running backs, and at a squatty 32.0 Body Mass Index (BMI), Kentucky’s Benny Snell is built like a barrel and runs like it, too. Snell lacks the electric agility that dazzles on highlight reels, but he runs with power and pad level, bouncing off tackles and pushing for the extra inch on every carry. He makes up for his lack of suddenness with solid vision, and that shows in his stats. On 448 college carries, Snell has 2,424 rushing yards (5.4 average) and a strong 32 touchdowns (7.14 percent rate).
Snell returns to Lexington the clear starter in what could be his final year in the NCAA. Consider a potential path to the pros a la Le’Veon Bell: once a college plodder, Bell slimmed down a bit in the pros and his vision led him to greatness. Snell has similar qualities.
9. Karan Higdon, Michigan
5’9”, 190 pounds
Age at 2019 Draft: 22 yr., 8 mo.
Projected 40-yard dash: 4.50
Michigan Wolverine Karan Higdon falls exactly above my 28.0 BMI threshold for running back sturdiness, although he looks awfully rough in his projections due to weighing just 190 pounds and potentially running a 4.5’s 40-yard dash. That leaves quite a bit to be desired, and while he plays faster than that on tape, he appears to be a straight-line runner – not a quicks kind of guy, which tends to be how lighter backs play.
I digress on my prejudices based on running backs’ weights. Higdon has been lightly-utilized in college, working in a rotation with Chris Evans (not that Chris Evans) and posting over 150 carries just once in his three-year career. Still, he’s put up 236 carries for 1,419 yards (6.0 average) and 17 touchdowns (7.20 percent rate) over the last two years. He could be a quality pro in time.
10. Rodney Smith, Minnesota
5’11”, 210 pounds
Age at 2019 Draft: 23 yr., 2 mo.
Projected 40-yard dash: 4.59
For those who don’t know, I’m a Minnesota alum, so seeing a Golden Gopher on my own list makes me very proud. Rodney Smith deserves this placement too. Smith has fairly average athleticism with just a 94.6 projected Speed Score, but the suddenness of his cuts on tape indicate hidden change-of-direction ability and upside.
His production, however, is a big letdown. Smith has 469 carries the last two years for 2,135 yards (4.55 average) and 19 touchdowns (4.05 percent rate). That said, he also has 40 catches for 295 yards receiving, one of the better pass-catching profiles in this class yet. Smith has to prove a lot in his senior season, but he could be a diamond in the rough.
… And 10 More to Watch
- L.J. Scott, Michigan State – 6’1”, 230 pounds; 4.53 40-yard dash; 109.2 Speed Score
- Mike Warren, Iowa State – 6’0”, 211 pounds; 4.47 40-yard dash; 105.7 Speed Score
- Ty Johnson, Maryland – 5’9”, 208 pounds; 4.48 40-yard dash; 103.3 Speed Score
- Soso Jamabo, UCLA – 6’1”, 210 pounds; 4.50 40-yard dash; 102.4 Speed Score
- Qadree Ollison, Pittsburgh – 6’1”, 230 pounds; 4.63 40-yard dash; 100.1 Speed Score
- Devwah Whaley, Arkansas – 5’10”, 216 pounds; 4.59 40-yard dash; 97.3 Speed Score
- Chris James, Wisconsin – 5’10”, 219 pounds; 4.62 40-yard dash; 96.1 Speed Score
- Devin Singletary – 5’9”, 200 pounds; 4.52 40-yard dash; 95.8 Speed Score
- David Montgomery – 5’10”, 219 pounds; 4.63 40-yard dash; 95.3 Speed Score
- KirVonte Benson – 5’9”, 211 pounds; 4.59 40-yard dash; 95.1 Speed Score
Look for more on the 2019 NFL Draft in the coming weeks.