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NFL Draft: Breaking Down the Top Running Backs

For the first time in years, there is no generational running back talent in the NFL Draft. We’ve been spoiled in recent years with names like Todd Gurley, Ezekiel Elliott, and Saquon Barkley all being dubbed generational talents and living up the hype. In the 2017 NFL Draft we didn’t have just one generational talent back, but we did see Christian McCaffrey, Leonard Fournette, Dalvin Cook amongst others. This class will not live up to those, at least in the high-end talent department. Another note about this running back class, it lacks speed as a whole. Basically, none of the top backs ran a sub 4.50 40-yard dash.

While there is no elite talent at the position this year, the class is filled with talent that can go in the early-to-middle rounds and make an immediate impact at the position. Much of their Fantasy Football value will be tied to where they end up, but knowing the talent of a player can help prevent falling in love with a player based simply off hype, like Ronald Jones in 2018.

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Top RBs in 2019 NFL Draft Class

Josh Jacobs is the most common top ranked running back, at least from what I have seen. Not having an elite top talent is interesting, because depending on who you ask, you will get a variety of backs as the top back in this class. Jacobs is a powerful back who is not afraid to lower his shoulder and run defenders over. But he is not all power. He also runs well behind the offensive line and has the vision to find the holes and the burst to break through them and pick up chunks at a time. At 5’10 and 220 pounds, he has the size to not only be a starter, but to be a bell cow back at the NFL level. He also uses that size to fight through tackles. He is the safest prospect at the position.

However, he is not without flaws. While he has good burst, like most backs in this class, he lacks that breakaway speed. He ran a 4.60 40 at his pro day (did not run at the combine). The other concern is not really about his game, but his usage in Alabama was not like your typical back coming out of college. He had a career-high 120 carries and  20 receptions in his junior season. He has the size to be a bell cow, but we have not seen him do so at the collegian level. He has just three games under his belt with 15-or-more carries and just two games with four catches (no games with more than four catches). I believe the talent will lead to production, regardless of the college use, but if someone questions that, it is hard to knock it.

Devin Singletary is a back I expect to be higher on than most. Is he the second best back in this draft class? Many will say no, but he stood out when watching these guys play for one simple reason: he reminds me of a less athletic LeSean McCoy. When you watch Singletary certain traits stand out, but none more than his elusiveness. Singletary is quick side-to-side and can make deadly cuts that will leave defenders looking foolish. He also has great burst after the cut, meaning he can make a defender miss and then excel to add big chunks before the next defender can get to him. That trait is even more dangerous when you factor in his vision and ability to find space. He is also the exact opposite of Jacobs when it comes to college usage. He totaled 714 carries and 51 receptions while attending Florida Atlantic. He has shown the ability to handle a large workload.

The biggest knock on Singletary’s game is he can lose yards while trying to make that big play. Honestly, watching him get stuffed at the line of scrimmage and attempt to run back and hit the outside only to be tackled for a loss… also reminded me of McCoy. He doesn’t have the speed that McCoy has, which obviously limits his ceiling, but he is going to be fun to watch. The other knock is the size, as he is 5-9, 200 pounds. The question seems to be if he can be a lead back or if he is best used as a complimentary piece on third down or as a change of pace back. Either way, I think Singletary possesses the skill to make an immediate impact in fantasy, as long as he ends up on a team that will give him an opportunity in 2019.

David Montgomery is a popular pick by many as the top running back in this class. Like Singletary, he can make great cuts and has great burst after making those cuts. He has a knack for making a cut behind the line of scrimmage and turning nothing into something. That helped him in college, as he did not have the best run blocking O-line, at least judging from what I saw. Montgomery has had over 250 carries in two straight seasons and has averaged over 25 receptions the last two years. His knock, like many of the backs in this class, is he does not have that elite speed. He also can become too cut happy at times, trying to bounce out and hit the home run too often.

Darrell Henderson is another elusive back. He can make defenders miss but is also not afraid to lower his shoulder and run through a defender. He has good vision and can read blocks well. He was one of the few top backs to run a sub 4.50 40-yard dash, running it in a whopping… 4.49. Unlike other backs in this class though, Henderson is a big play threat who does have some explosiveness in those legs. However, a lot like Montgomery and Singletary, the knock against him is he tries to hit the home run too often, which leads to him losing yards at times. The other concern with Henderson is size, as he was listed at 5’8, 208 pounds at the combine (although he played around 200 pounds). Due to his size, NFL teams may view him more as a complimentary back rather than a lead one.

Damien Harris may be the most well-rounded back in the draft. He has good vision and ever better patience to allow a running lane to develop. He is a consistent runner with a nice complement of power and speed. Coaches will love him because he does not lose yards trying to hit home runs. That could be because he lacks the explosiveness and necessary speed to hit those home runs. He ran a 4.57 40, which beats teammate Josh Jacobs but is still not great. He does not possess the highest ceiling of this class, but I do feel very safe saying he will make an impact at the NFL level.

Miles Sanders is another of the top backs that you could see go off the board in the third or fourth round of the NFL draft. One of his biggest strengths is his hands and his pass catching ability. He also has the ability to make the first defender miss and has some power in those legs as he can be hard to take down at the end of a run. The first knock on him is not fair… but he followed up Saquon Barkley at Penn State and he is no Saquon. He is, however, a mid-round talent in this years NFL draft. The real aspect of his game I want to see him improve on is his route running. While he has great hands he is not a polished route runner and can get lazy at times, not finishing the route strong or being late to turn his head. His pass blocking ability has also been questioned. Both will need improvement if he is going to be able to utilize his pass-catching abilities at the next level.

These are the top running backs of the class, but there are many others that will go in the later rounds. Continue to come back to Fantrax for the latest NFL Draft news – with a fantasy football twist! And if you got the itch to draft already, best balls are open for as little as $10!

Follow me on Twitter, @MichaelFFlorio.

Michael Florio is the winner of the 2018 FSWA Baseball Article of the Year and was a finalist for the 2017 Fantasy Football Writer of the Year. He has hosted video/radio shows, written for a number of print and web publications including the AP, NY Daily News and much more!

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