2019 NFL Draft Watchlist: Running Backs, Part 1
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?
1. Bryce Love, Stanford
5’9”, 196 pounds
Age at 2019 Draft: 21 yr., 10 mo.
Projected 40-yard dash: 4.47
Most media outlets have Stanford’s Bryce Love as the top back heading into the 2018 NCAA football season, but at worst he’s top-two in the nation. Love began his college career behind ball hog Christian McCaffrey, so it’s somewhat impressive that Love even saw the 140 rushing attempts and 23 receptions he did from 2015 to 2016. He truly exploded last year when given the lead back gig, rushing 263 times for 2,118 yards (8.1 average) and 19 touchdowns (7.22 percent rate).
Love, a former four-star recruit, will need to address concerns that he is too small to take on an NFL lead back job, show that he can handle receiving duties in addition to his rushing prowess, and prove that his 2017 breakout was not just a flash in the pan. That said, these questions are more nitpicking than anything else; Love is the premier running back to watch going into this next draft cycle.
2. Damien Harris, Alabama
5’10”, 216 pounds
Age at 2019 Draft: 22 yr., 3 mo.
Projected 40-yard dash: 4.55
If any running back could unseat Love at the top of this class, it’s Alabama’s Damien Harris. Harris earned the lead gig in 2016, but he hasn’t topped 150 carries or 160 touches in a season. Despite low volume, he’s been efficient with his usage, getting 280 carries for 2,040 yards (7.29 average) and 13 touchdowns (4.64 percent rate) over the last two seasons.
Harris chose to return for his senior year instead of opting to leap to the NFL, so he’ll have another chance to show he’s worthy of a backfield-dominating role in the pros. He is more of an early-down back than all-around runner/receiver Love, but he’d like to add a bit more to his résumé in that category too. Harris has a projected 100.8 Speed Score, so his tools show an impressive talent just waiting to be unlocked.
3. Myles Gaskin, Washington
5’9”, 191 pounds
Age at 2019 Draft: 22 yr., 3 mo.
Projected 40-yard dash: 4.50
Washington running back Myles Gaskin is a bit on the small side at 5-foot-9, but his body weight ranges by source from 185 to 205 pounds, and his projected 40 time from 4.44 to 4.53. That’s a wide range in his potential tools when considering his projected Speed Score; it could be as high as a whopping 105.5 or as low as a horrid 87.9.
Tools aside, we know that Gaskin has been “Mr. Reliable” for the Huskies, leading their backfield since he was a true freshman in 2015. Gaskin has averaged 5.9 yards per attempt and 6.56 percent touchdown rate across 686 rushing attempts, while totaling 388 receiving yards and four touchdowns on 44 catches. The physical projection is really the major concern for Gaskin, who should be an instant fit with a pass-happy NFL.
4. Rodney Anderson, Oklahoma*
6’1”, 218 pounds
Age at 2019 Draft: ~23 yr.
Projected 40-yard dash: 4.59
It’s important to start off Oklahoma running back Rodney Anderson’s profile here with the understanding that this past year saw Anderson accused of sexual assault. It’s also important to understand that the district attorney of Cleveland County (OK) declined to file charges due to evidence that the alleged victim falsified her story. This is not always the case in matters like these, but for Anderson it seems that he is clear of wrongdoing and truly someone we can watch in earnest going into the 2018 season.
A productive 2017 campaign saw Anderson rack up 188 carries for 1,161 yards (6.2 average) and 13 touchdowns (6.91 percent rate), in addition to 17 catches for 281 yards (16.5 average) and five scores (29.41 percent rate). Anderson has the makings of a potential every-down back in the NFL, but he’s had only one injury-free year in the spotlight himself (he missed most of 2015 with a broken leg and all of 2016 with a neck injury). With a solid 98.2 projected Speed Score, he could be a big riser if he stays healthy and declares for the 2019 Draft.
5. Mike Weber, Ohio State*
5’9”, 215 pounds
Age at 2019 Draft: 21 yr., 8 mo.
Projected 40-yard dash: 4.52
Another young, stocky, bruising running back out of Ohio State, Mike Weber looks an awful lot like Ezekiel Elliott Lite in the way that he barrels through defenders, spins out of tackles, and his jump cuts literally jump over tackles. In his first two years as a starter, Weber has dealt with a hamstring injury limiting him and a timeshare with 2017 freshman phenom J.K. Dobbins, but he still turned out a total of 283 rushes for 1,722 yards (6.1 average) and 19 touchdowns (6.71 percent rate), in addition to 33 receptions for 185 yards.
Weber has an uphill battle to prove in the box score that he can tote the load by himself, with Dobbins dominating the limelight in the Buckeyes’ backfield, but he can put down plenty of tape in the 2018 NCAA season that makes his case and confirms his impressive 103.0 projected Speed Score.