As compared to recent years, this running back class simply is not very good. That does not mean there are not good players who ended up in good situations – three of the first five or six rookie picks are likely to be running backs – but both the top-end talent and depth are not on par with previous seasons and likely next year’s crop. After the first seven backs, it is basically a crapshoot. Good luck.
1. Josh Jacobs, Raiders
Jacobs’ case as the No. 1 back is not difficult to make. The No. 1 runner on most boards heading into the draft, Jacobs was the first back off the board in the first round and landed with a team which is looking to replace Marshawn Lynch and just lost Isaiah Crowell to an Achilles’ tear. Oakland re-signed Doug Martin following that injury, lowering their available carry total, but it would be a shock if Jacobs is not the workhorse starting Week 1. Given his draft capital, three-down skills, and situation, Jacobs is one of two players – N’Keal Harry is the other – with a real claim to the 1.01 spot in single-quarterback formats.
2. David Montgomery, Bears
The only real difference between Jacobs and Montgomery is draft capital. While he was the fourth back off the board in the third round, Montgomery fell into a spot which gave Jordan Howard 270 touches last season, and Howard was not even a good fit for the offense. Perhaps Mike Davis siphons away more work than Benny Cunningham and Tarik Cohen’s role expands, but Montgomery is a good bet for 250 touches as a rookie and has the talent to take advantage.
3. Miles Sanders, Eagles
Sanders is at the bottom of the first-tier of running backs, but he still belongs in the same conversation with Jacobs and Montgomery because of his talent and draft capital. Unfortunately, he did not end up in a great situation for immediate production. Traded to make way for Montgomery, Jordan Howard found his way to Philadelphia and should at least offer some competition on early downs. Moreover, the Eagles have tended to use a committee under Doug Pederson – injuries have played a role, but no back has received more than 37 percent of the total carries in a season since Pederson arrived – and names like Corey Clement, Wendell Smallwood, Josh Adams, and perhaps even Darren Sproles are reason for concern. Sanders is a good bet to take on the lead job at some point in 2019, but it is unclear how large his role can really grow.
4. Darrell Henderson, Rams
Henderson’s landing spot is very disappointing. My No. 2 back heading into the draft, Henderson is otherworldly explosive, averaging 8.2 yards per carry in his career and 6.2 yards after contact per attempt in 2018. He would have had a case for the No. 1 spot if he ended up in a good situation, but behind Todd Gurley on the depth chart does not fit that description. That said, the Rams deciding to both match Malcolm Brown’s offer sheet and trade up for Henderson suggests some internal concern about Gurley’s knee, and Sean McVay suggested Gurley could get more rest moving forward. Both of those things open up paths to production for Henderson, and his talent is worth a gamble once the top tier of receivers is off the board. Still, he will end up lower in rookie drafts than most expected before last weekend.
5. Justice Hill, Ravens
Hill has several things working in his favor. First, he was a three-year producer in college who played ahead of Chris Carson as a true freshman. Second, he demolished the Combine – 4.4 forty, 40-inch vertical, and 10-foot-10 broad – with speed and explosiveness which shows up on tape. Third, he landed in an offense which wants to run the ball as much as possible. If he can beat out Gus Edwards and Kenneth Dixon, he should see touches behind Mark Ingram and has the long-term upside for more.
6. Devin Singletary, Bills
Hyper-productive and extremely elusive in college, Singletary looked like a much better prospect before he ran a 4.66 at the Combine with a 7.32 three-cone time. That flop is negated somewhat by the Bills making him the fifth back off the board early in the third round, but the landing spot is less than ideal from a short-term perspective with LeSean McCoy, Frank Gore, and T.J. Yeldon also on the depth chart. That said, McCoy and Gore are two of the oldest running backs in the league – Gore is the oldest – and there is also the possibility McCoy is moved before the season. He might not bring immediate production, but the long-term path to carries is fairly clear.
7. Damien Harris, Patriots
There does not appear to be that much special about Harris, but he is at worst a reliable back who forced Josh Jacobs into a timeshare at Alabama. In a less muddled spot, he would have been higher on this list, but it is tough to know where he fits with the Patriots. It is unlikely he pushes Sony Michel as long as the 2018 first-rounder is healthy, and he is not a real threat to James White’s role. Perhaps he supplants Rex Burkhead as the No. 3, but the short-term upside is difficult to see.
8. Ryquell Armstead, Jaguars
Like Alexander Mattison (below), Armstead ended up in a spot where he will have a good chance to win the No. 2 job behind a running back who has struggled to stay on the field – and in Leonard Fournette’s case seems to be at odds with the front office. Unlike Mattison, Armstead is actually a decent athlete, although that did not help him post anything better than average per-carry numbers in college. There is not much special about Armstead’s game, but he landed in a decent spot behind an uncertain starter. That is worth a look in the later rounds.
9. Alexander Mattison, Vikings
He is kind of like a slow Latavius Murray, so that is exciting. In all seriousness, though, the No. 2 job in Minnesota is valuable. Dalvin Cook has yet to show the ability to play anywhere near a full season, and even if he does, Murray was a factor in the red zone even when Cook was healthy last year. There are more talented backs below, but Mattison has a clearer path to carries.
10. Rodney Anderson, Bengals
Anderson was not the first back the Bengals selected – Trayveon Williams was taken 29 picks before him – but he is the better Dynasty option because he has a shot to develop into a three-down back and the handcuff for Joe Mixon if his health cooperates. That is a big if given he was only able to appear in 17 games in college, but without those durability concerns Anderson would have gone much higher in this draft. He is more talented than many of the backs ahead of him on this list.
11. Bryce Love, Washington
What Bryce Love did as a junior (2,151 yards from scrimmage, 19 touchdowns) was spectacular, but it is both fair to wonder if he is still the same back coming off an ACL tear which reportedly “raised red flags” in the pre-draft process and what his role will look like in Washington. Adrian Peterson is obviously not a long-term concern, but 2018 second-rounder Derrius Guice is even though he is also returning from a torn ACL, meaning Love might have to improve in the passing game to earn a real role. At this point in the draft, it is worth betting on what he showed as a junior, but there are some serious concerns.
12. Travis Homer, Seahawks
A pre-draft favorite for me, Homer is an explosive back with three-down traits who will have a good shot to outperform his draft slot. Unfortunately, he landed in a backfield topped by Chris Carson and 2018 first-rounder Rashaad Penny. Homer earning a large rookie role would not be the first time a back came out of relatively nowhere to get carries in Seattle, but the deck is stacked against him contributing on offense early. Still, it makes sense to bet on talent late in drafts.
13. Trayveon Williams, Bengals
The issue with Williams – and why he is below teammate Rodney Anderson despite being drafted 29 picks earlier – is long-term upside. A smaller back without good measurables, Williams will likely top out as a complementary back. That role could be open fairly soon in Cincinnati with Giovani Bernard in the final year of his contract, but Bernard has been basically a fantasy ghost while Joe Mixon has been healthy the last couple of seasons, and the arrival of a Sean McVay protégé suggests that is unlikely to change. On top of that, Anderson is the more likely option to step up if something happened to Mixon.
14. Benny Snell, Steelers
Draft capital is the only reason Snell is this high in the rankings. His fourth-round status and college production have to be taken seriously, but Snell just might not have the athletic ability to flourish in the league and is stuck behind James Conner and Jaylen Samuels. Drafting him is betting on the Steelers being right, which is not a terrible bet to be fair.
15. Devine Ozigbo, Saints
Ozigbo was much higher than this in pre-draft rankings, but despite what Phillip Lindsay did last season, going undrafted is a major red flag. That said, Ozigbo has a good shot to make the roster behind Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray and has enough talent to eventually carve out a fantasy-worthy role. They are all dart throws at this point, so it makes sense to aim for talent and hope it works out.
Honorable Mention: I am not sure how good Darwin Thompson is, but he landed in an unsettled Kansas City backfield, giving him a shot at early production…Jordan Scarlett was a back I liked more than consensus before the draft and has a clear path to the No. 2 job in Carolina, but he is waiting on a Christian McCaffrey injury…Dexter Williams is an interestingly similar player to new teammate Jamaal Williams, and both are worse than Aaron Jones. It remains to be seen if that matters with the new coaching staff…Ty Johnson’s short-term path to touches does not look promising, but 4.45 speed at 208 pounds is worth keeping an eye on…Tony Pollard was drafted first and will likely get some change-of-pace touches, but he does not profile are a true handcuff. Mike Weber does and would like have more value than Pollard if something happened to Ezekiel Elliott…James Williams enters a wide-open backfield with good pass-catching chops. That is worth watching…There is nothing particularly special about Myles Gaskin, but Miami’s depth chart basically guarantees him a roster spot…Karan Higdon is a solid if not spectacular back entering a situation which is more unsettled than it might look on the surface…Jalin Moore is a player I liked more than most before the draft, but going undrafted to the team which just signed Le’Veon Bell is a tough beat.