The 2018 NFL Draft Prospect series breaks down draft-eligible players, highlighting their college production as well as their NFL potential. Daily fantasy players should know about NFL rookies before they’ve played a down of professional football because they are among the most misvalued assets in all of DFS. People who know NFL rookies have a significant DFS edge. The draft will be held at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX, from April 26-28.
This piece provides the FantasyLabs rankings for the running backs of the 2018 draft class.
For more information on the five highest-rated backs in the class, see my running back comparisons piece on Rotoworld. To stay up to date during the entire NFL Draft process, Rotoworld is your one-stop-shop for around-the-clock draft news and analysis. Don’t forget to subscribe to the Rotoworld Football Podcast and follow Rotoworld on Twitter and Facebook!
Updated as of Mar. 6.
1. Saquon Barkley, Penn State
Junior | 6’0″ and 233 Pounds | Born February 7, 1997 (Age: 21) | Projection: Round 1
Combine numbers: 40-yard: 4.40 sec | bench reps: 29 | 3-cone: DNP | 20-yard shuttle: 4.24 sec | vertical: 41 in | broad: DNP
It’s unclear if any team picking near the top of the draft is willing to use a first-rounder on a running back — the Colts might have some interest in him at No. 3 overall — but Barkley as a prospect is no less impressive than the backs selected with top-10 picks in the past few years.
- Leonard Fournette (2017, 1.04)
- Christian McCaffrey (2017, 1.08)
- Ezekiel Elliott (2016, 1.04)
- Todd Gurley (2015, 1.10)
In fact, Barkley is more impressive than all of them: He’s a better receiver than Fournette and bigger than McCaffrey. Unlike Zeke, he produced as a freshman. Unlike Gurley, he’s not entering the NFL fresh off an ACL tear. And based on his combine performance, he’s the best athlete of the group. With his age, physical profile, and production, Barkley is the best running back prospect of the past decade. Barkley is almost a stone-cold lock to be a first-rounder, and in dynasty leagues he is without question the No. 1 pick in rookie drafts: To borrow from Mark Twain, the difference between Barkley and the No. 2 pick is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug. Next to Barkley, all other 2018 prospects are fantasy insects. In a running back class loaded with underclassmen who have declared early, Saquon is the best.
For more, see Barkley’s player profile.
2. Rashaad Penny, San Diego State
Senior | 5’11″ and 220 Pounds | Born February 2, 1996 (Age: 22) | Projection: Rounds 3-4
Combine numbers: 40-yard: 4.46 sec | bench reps: 13 | 3-cone: DNP | 20-yard shuttle: DNP | vertical: 32.5 in | broad: 120 in
One of the stars of the Senior Bowl, Penny has the body to handle a full workload. Also, he amazingly has a versatile skill: He’s not only a capable receiver with 34 receptions since 2016, but he’s also an elite return man with seven kick return touchdowns and one punt return score since 2015. For a guy of his size to have the elusiveness and long speed to break that many returns for touchdowns is unreal. To put this in perspective: The last college running back of Penny’s size to have rushing, receiving, and kick and punt return touchdowns in the same season was Penn State dominator Larry Johnson (2001). Although Penny served as a backup for the first three years of college, he forced his way into a timeshare as a junior, rushing for 1,018 yards and 11 touchdowns and averaging 4.8 yards after contact per attempt. As a senior Penny was an absolute wrecker, rushing for 2,248 yards and 23 touchdowns, leading all draft-eligible backs with 80 missed tackles forced and an elusive rating of 128.6 (Pro Football Focus). In total, over his two final seasons Penny averaged 134.3 scrimmage yards and 1.63 all-purpose touchdowns per game. Given his age, physical profile, production, and versatility, Penny has the capacity to be a featured back in the NFL. As a big-bodied multi-talented athletic non-Power Five runner, Penny has some Kareem Hunt — or maybe even David Johnson — potential as a prospect.
As noted by Emory Hunt on a special backfield-focused edition of The Daily Fantasy Flex, Penny is one of the top backs in the draft.
For more, see Penny’s player profile.
3. Derrius Guice, Louisiana State
Junior | 5’10″ and 224 Pounds | Born June 21, 1997 (Age: 20) | Projection: Round 1-2
Combine numbers: 40-yard: 4.49 sec | bench reps: 15 | 3-cone: DNP | 20-yard shuttle: DNP | vertical: 31.5 in | broad: DNP
Over the last decade, there have been nine big-bodied backs to enter the league as either first- or second-rounders and play as 21-year-old rookies (per Pro Football Reference). All of them (except for last year’s rookie) have had at least one NFL season with 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns. Here are the nine backs and their best seasons.
- Joe Mixon (2017, 2.48): 913 yards and four touchdowns from scrimmage
- Ezekiel Elliott (2016, 1.04): 1,994 yards, 16 touchdowns
- Todd Gurley (2015, 1.10): 2,093 yards, 19 touchdowns
- Le’Veon Bell (2013, 2.48): 2,215 yards, 11 touchdowns
- LeSean McCoy (2009, 2.53): 1,624 yards, 20 touchdowns
- Beanie Wells (2009, 1.31): 1,099 yards, 10 touchdowns
- Darren McFadden (2008,1.04): 1,664 yards, 10 touchdowns
- Rashard Mendenhall (2008, 1.23): 1,440 yards, 13 touchdowns
- Jonathan Stewart (2008, 1.13): 1,272 yards, 11 touchdowns
Guice will be drafted at the precocious age of 20 and will almost certainly be selected no later than the second round.
For more, see Guice’s player profile.
4. Nick Chubb, Georgia
Senior | 5’11″ and 227 Pounds | Born December 27, 1995 (Age: 22) | Projection: Rounds 1-2
Combine numbers: 40-yard: 4.52 sec | bench reps: 29 | 3-cone: 7.09 sec | 20-yard shuttle: 4.25 sec | vertical: 38.5 in | broad: 128.0 in
In 2014, Chubb looked like the No. 1 running back prospect of the 2017 draft — and now most draftniks have him as no higher than the No. 3 back of the 2018 class. That’s what a massive injury, a loathsome timeshare, and an extra year of college will do to a great running back’s draft stock. Chubb arrived at Georgia in 2014 as the No. 7 running back recruit in the nation, and he immediately became the backup to starter Todd Gurley, who missed four games to suspension and then three more with an ACL tear. In his seven Gurley-less games, Chubb balled out with 187.6 yards and 1.6 touchdowns from scrimmage per game. For the season he had 1,760 yards and 16 touchdowns, earning SEC Freshman of the Year and being named to the All-SEC first team. He looked like a future NFL superstar. And then in 2015, after averaging 155.4 yards and 1.6 touchdowns from scrimmage through the first five games of the season, Chubb suffered a grotesque knee injury on the first carry of his sixth game. Now two years removed from his knee injury, Chubb displayed great athleticism at the combine and catapulted himself into the Day 1 conversation. As long as nothing negative showed up in his combine medical exam, he should easily be a top-100 pick. Last year he was fifth in the nation with a 96.2 elusive rating (Pro Football Focus).
For more, see Chubb’s player profile.
5. Royce Freeman, Oregon
Senior | 5’11″ and 229 Pounds | Born February 24, 1996 (Age: 21) | Projection: Rounds 2-3
Combine numbers: 40-yard: 4.54 sec | bench reps: 17 | 3-cone: 6.9 sec | 20-yard shuttle: 4.16 sec | vertical: 34 in | broad: 118 in
The Pac-12 Freshman Offensive Player of the Year in 2014, Freeman was so dominant in his first year at Oregon that the coaching staff shifted Byron Marshall — a 1,000-yard rusher the previous season — to wide receiver. Freeman and quarterback Marcus Mariota formed a dynamic backfield duo that led the Ducks to the College Football Championship as Freeman rushed for 1,365 yards and 18 touchdowns. The next year, Freeman became the focal point of the Mariota-less offense, rushing for 1,836 yards and 17 touchdowns and chipping in 26 receptions for 348 more yards. After an injury-impacted junior campaign (in which he still had 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns), Freeman returned to form as a senior, rushing for 1,475 yards and 16 touchdowns in 12 games. In the entire history of the NFL only two running backs to enter the NFL as top-100 picks have weighed at least 230 pounds and had at least 250 yards receiving in a college campaign: Fournette and Bell. For his career he caught 80 of his 89 targets. Freeman has some very underappreciated NFL potential.
For more, see Freeman’s player profile.
6. Ronald Jones II, Southern California
Junior | 5’11″ and 205 Pounds | Born August 3, 1997 (Age: 20) | Projection: Rounds 1-2
Combine numbers: 40-yard: 4.65 sec | bench reps: DNP | 3-cone: DNP | 20-yard shuttle: DNP | vertical: 36.5 in | broad: DNP
An All-American high-schooler from Texas, Jones in 2015 led the Trojans as a true freshman with 987 yards and eight touchdowns rushing as the second timeshare back in an offense led by quarterback Cody Kessler. After that Jones played as the lead back, rushing for 2,632 yards and 31 touchdowns over his 26 games as a sophomore and junior. Last year in particular he was dominant, averaging 20.1 carries for 119.2 yards and 1.46 touchdowns per game. Jones wasn’t prolific as a pass catcher (39 career receptions), but he was adequate with 263 yards and two touchdowns through the air over his two final years. With three straight seasons of 1,000 scrimmage yards and an average of 14 touchdowns per year, Jones was one of the steadiest college running backs in his time at USC. A Pro Football Focus All-American in 2017 with his position-best overall grade of 92.4, Jones is a Day 2 prospect with Day 1 upside — as long as he is able to mitigate his hamstring-tweaked 4.65-second 40 time at the combine with a strong showing at his pro day.
For more, see Jones’ player profile.
7. Sony Michel, Georgia
Senior | 5’11″ and 214 Pounds | Born February 17, 1995 (Age: 22) | Projection: Rounds 2-3
Combine numbers: 40-yard: 4.54 sec | bench reps: 22 | 3-cone: DNP | 20-yard shuttle: 4.21 sec | vertical: DNP | broad: DNP
Although Chubb was the preferred runner at Georgia, Michel could be the superior NFL player. Michel has good size, more receiving production (64 receptions vs. 31 for Chubb), less collegiate wear and tear (590 carries vs. 758), more explosiveness (7.2 highlight yards per opportunity vs. 5.7), and a cleaner medical history. With Kenyan Drake we’ve recently seen an SEC change-of-pace back selected with a top-100 pick have NFL success as a starter. With his strong combine, Chubb could be selected earlier than his running mate, but Michel also looks like at worst a Day 2 pick. It helps a lot that he’s a strong pass protector. Throughout his career, he allowed just one sack on 150 total pass-blocking snaps (Pro Football Focus). With his skill set, Michel could be a three-down NFL back.
For more, see Michel’s player profile.
8. Nyheim Hines, North Carolina State
Junior | 5’8″ and 198 Pounds | Born November 12, 1996 (Age: 21) | Projection: Rounds 2-3
Combine numbers: 40-yard: 4.38 sec | bench reps: DNP | 3-cone: 7.18 sec | 20-yard shuttle: 4.35 sec | vertical: 35.5 in | broad: 119 in
A first-team all-conference selection, Hines in 2017 became just the third player in the Atlantic Coast Conference over the last decade to have at least 1,000 yards rushing, 20 receptions, and a punt return touchdown in the same season: The first two were C.J. Spiller (2009) and Giovani Bernard (2012), both of whom were top-40 draft picks. As a sophomore Hines was forced to play much more at receiver because of the team’s lack of depth at the position, and he finished second with 43 receptions. A sprinter in high school, he also joined the Wolfpack track team in his second year and was named an All-American as the leadoff runner for the 4×100-meter relay squad. Unsurprisingly, he blazed the fastest 40 time of all backs at the 2018 combine. A talented and versatile player, Hines seems unlikely ever to be a lead back in the NFL because of his size, but he has the potential to be a long-time change-of-pace and difference-making receiving back. He’s firmly in the Day 2 conversation after his combine performance.
For more, see Hines’ player profile.
9. Kerryon Johnson, Auburn
Junior | 5’11″ and 213 Pounds | Born June 30, 1997 (Age: 20) | Projection: Rounds 2-3
Combine numbers: 40-yard: DNP | bench reps: 11 | 3-cone: 7.07 sec | 20-yard shuttle: 4.29 sec | vertical: 40 in | broad: 126 in
While Johnson was never considered the best back in college football — or even the Southeastern Conference — he was named SEC Offensive Player of the Year in 2017 and was wise to declare early for the draft. Productive SEC backs hardly ever see more than three years of college action, and the extra year probably wouldn’t have helped his draft stock. A young runner, Johnson is poised to join an impressive cohort of 21-year-old rookie backs to enter the league as second- and third-round selections over the past two decades.
- D’Onta Foreman (2017)
- Joe Mixon (2017)
- Tre Mason (2014)
- Le’Veon Bell (2013)
- Ronnie Hillman (2012)
- Dexter McCluster (2010)
- LeSean McCoy (2009)
- Ray Rice (2008)
- Maurice Jones-Drew (2006)
- Musa Smith (2003)
- Clinton Portis (2002)
- Ahman Green (1998)
As long as he doesn’t have a horrible 40 time at his pro day — he opted not to run at the combine, but his jumps were impressive — Johnson has three-down NFL ability.
For more, see Johnson’s player profile.
10. Jaylen Samuels, North Carolina State
Senior | 5’11″ and 225 Pounds | Born July 20, 1996 (Age: 21) | Projection: Rounds 3-4
Combine numbers: 40-yard: 4.54 sec | bench reps: 18 | 3-cone: 6.93 sec | 20-yard shuttle: 4.28 sec | vertical: 34.5 in | broad: 121 in
A hybrid player, Samuels regularly moved across the formation at NC State and served a variety of functions: Tight end, slot receiver, fullback, H-back, goal-line back, and sometimes even wideout. He did it all. A versatile prospect, Samuels is in the mold of Kyle Juszczyk, Charles Clay, and Aaron Hernandez as a high-level multidimensional contributor, except he’s built like a lead back and was a more prolific college producer (2,719 yards and 45 touchdowns from scrimmage over his three final years). A mismatch chess piece, Samuels (I expect) will ultimately be leveraged by an innovative play caller as an early-down H-back (fullback and slot receiver) with the flexibility to move across the formation and a third-down halfback with the ability to run and catch out of the backfield.
For more, see Samuels’ player profile.
11. Josh Adams, Notre Dame
Junior | 6’2″ and 213 Pounds | Born October 29, 1996 (Age: 21) | Projection: Rounds 3-4
Combine numbers: 40-yard: DNP | bench reps: 18 | 3-cone: DNP | 20-yard shuttle: DNP | vertical: DNP | broad: DNP
After backing up C.J. Prosise for the first half of his true freshman season, Adams closed out 2015 as the starter when Prosise suffered a concussion and sprained ankle, averaging 120.6 yards and 0.8 touchdowns from scrimmage across the five final games. Following Prosise’s departure to the NFL, Adams played as the lead back in 2016, but the offense — ‘led’ by quarterback DeShone Kizer — was just 53rd (of 128 FBS teams) in scoring, and Adams frequently saw his potential goal-line touches vultured by Kizer. Even so, Adams was productive with 1,126 yards and six touchdowns from scrimmage. In 2017, with a new quarterback and a run-first offense, Adams fully returned to form as the lead back, averaging 117.8 yards and 0.69 touchdowns per game. Given his size, production against Power Five competition, and above-average size-adjusted receiving ability (33 receptions in his two starting seasons), Adams is perhaps most comparable to T.J. Yeldon, who was selected with the 36th pick in 2015.
For more, see Adams’ player profile.
12. Chase Edmonds, Fordham
Senior | 5’9″ and 205 Pounds | Born April 13, 1996 (Age: 21) | Projection: Rounds 4-5
Combine numbers: 40-yard: 4.55 sec | bench reps: 19 | 3-cone: 6.79 sec | 20-yard shuttle: 4.07 sec | vertical: 34 in | broad: 122 in
A favorite of Rotoworld’s Josh Norris, Edmonds is perhaps the 2018 version of Tarik Cohen — a smallish big-time producer from a small school. Given his small-school pedigree, Edmonds was as productive in college as you’d expect. Although he had an injury-impacted down year on an underperforming team as a senior, accumulating just 417 yards and three touchdowns in six games, across his four-year career he still averaged 150.7 yards and 1.67 touchdowns from scrimmage per game. A four-year starter, Edmonds was immensely productive as both a runner (5,578 yards, 65 touchdowns) and receiver (85 receptions, 900 yards, seven touchdowns). Before an injury cut short his East-West Shrine Game week, he received positive remarks from industry scouts in attendance. Although his 40 time and jumps weren’t particularly impressive, he led all running backs at the 2018 combine in the agility drills.
For more, see Edmonds’ player profile.
13. Kalen Ballage, Arizona State
Senior | 6’1″ and 228 Pounds | Born December 22, 1995 (Age: 22) | Projection: Rounds 3-4
Combine numbers: 40-yard: 4.46 sec | bench reps: 15 | 3-cone: 6.91 sec | 20-yard shuttle: 4.35 sec | vertical: 33.5 in | broad: 122 in
Long on potential and short on production, Ballage was hyped as a future NFL three-down back after his 2016 campaign, but as of now he’s a mid-rounder with sky-high upside. Built like a linebacker and blessed with good speed, Ballage was a backup runner and part-time edge rusher as a true freshman and committee back as a sophomore. In 2016 as a junior Ballage impressed in waves: Although he managed only 536 yards rushing in a timeshare, he exhibited a David Johnson-esque combination of power running (14 scores) and consistent receiving (44 receptions for 469 yards). In total, Ballage accumulated 1,005 yards and 15 touchdowns and looked like a future star — and yet he had eight of his touchdowns in one game against a defense-deficient Texas Tech team. Without that game, Ballage’s breakout season wouldn’t have been a breakout at all. As a senior, he had just 58.5 yards and 0.46 touchdowns from scrimmage per game.
For more, see Ballage’s player profile.
14. Bo Scarbrough, Alabama
Redshirt Junior | 6’1″ and 228 Pounds | Born September 29, 1996 (Age: 21) | Projection: Rounds 3-4
Combine numbers: 40-yard: 4.52 sec | bench reps: 14 | 3-cone: DNP | 20-yard shuttle: 4.34 sec | vertical: 40 in | broad: 129 in
An Alabama back, Scarbrough is likely to be drafted earlier than he probably deserves, especially after he displayed great sized-adjusted speed and explosiveness at the combine. His production is paltry in comparison to that of other big-bodied runners likely to be drafted, but over the last decade the NFL just hasn’t been able to get enough of the Alabama backfield. Here are all of the previously draft-eligible Alabama backs over the last decade to have at least 500 yards rushing in a college season (as well as the years and rounds in which they were drafted).
- Glen Coffee (2009, third round)
- Mark Ingram (2011, first round)
- Trent Richardson (2012, first round)
- Eddie Lacy (2013, second round)
- T.J. Yeldon (2015, second round)
- Derrick Henry (2016, second round)
- Kenyan Drake (2016, third round)
Scarbrough has never had a full-on breakout season, but neither had Drake before his top-100 selection. His best season was in 2016, when as a sophomore Scarbrough rushed 125 times for 812 yards and 11 touchdowns.
For more, see Scarbrough’s player profile.
15. John Kelly, Tennessee
Junior | 5’10″ and 216 Pounds | Born October 4, 1996 (Age: 21) | Projection: Rounds 4-5
Combine numbers: 40-yard: DNP | bench reps: 15 | 3-cone: 7.13 sec | 20-yard shuttle: 4.51 sec | vertical: 35 in | broad: 120 in
Kelly is just one in a line of productive backs to play for the Volunteers over the last decade.
- Arian Foster: 1,533 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2007
- Montario Hardesty: 1,647 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2009
- Tauren Poole: 1,205 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2010
- Rajion Neal: 1,232 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2013
- Jalen Hurd: 1,475 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2015
- Alvin Kamara: 988 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2016
In 2017 with Hurd at Baylor and Kamara in the NFL, Kelly stepped up as the lead back and turned 189 rushes and 37 receptions into 1,077 yards and nine touchdowns in 11 games. Kelly’s work in the receiving game was particularly impressive: He’s not as dynamic as Kamara, but he did finish 11th in receptions among all Football Bowl Subdivision backs.
For more, see Kelly’s player profile.
16. Justin Jackson, Northwestern
Senior | 6’0″ and 199 Pounds | Born April 22, 1996 (Age: 21) | Projection: Rounds 5-7
Combine numbers: 40-yard: 4.52 sec | bench reps: 13 | 3-cone: 6.81 sec | 20-yard shuttle: 4.07 sec | vertical: 38.5 in | broad: 122 in
A four-year starter in the Big Ten, Jackson is unlikely ever to be a lead back in the NFL because of his size, but that should in no way diminish his achievements at Northwestern. His 1,743-yard, 15-touchdown junior season was especially dominant, and over his three final seasons he was like a metronome, steadily grinding out campaigns of 333, 333, and 331 touches. In the best of scenarios, it’s possible that Jackson could put his Felix Jones-esque frame to use as a three-down rotational back in a committee. Jackson had elite production (6,298 yards and 42 touchdowns in 51 games) and top-tier consistency (four seasons of at least 1,350 yards), so he has potential as a Day 3 prospect. What’s most intriguing about him is his pass-catching ability (122 career receptions), which could help him stick in the league for a while as a change-of-pace and third-down back. He didn’t have a great 40 time at the combine, but it also wasn’t bad for his weight, and he had the second-best agility marks at the position.
For more, see Jackson’s player profile.
17. Mark Walton, Miami (FL)
Junior | 5’10″ and 202 Pounds | Born February 21, 1997 (Age: 21) | Projection: Rounds 4-5
Combine numbers: 40-yard: 4.60 sec | bench reps: 18 | 3-cone: DNP | 20-yard shuttle: DNP | vertical: 31.5 in | broad: 118 in
Even with his poor combine Walton will probably still be selected in the draft. Although Walton isn’t built like a prototypical between-the-tackles grinder, as a freshman he played well as a change-of-pace and receiving-down back who surprisingly was used near the goal line, adding 10 touchdowns to his 754 yards on 152 touches. As a sophomore he emerged as the lead back for the Hurricanes and totaled 1,357 yards and 15 touchdowns from scrimmage in 13 games. Over that time he played especially well as a receiver, averaging 24.5 receptions for 266.5 yards per season. As a junior he started the season on fire, averaging 17 touches for 164.7 yards and a touchdown per game for the first few weeks, but in the fourth game of the year against in-state rival Florida State he suffered his campaign-terminating injury. As a small Atlantic Coast Conference back who has solid receiving and goal-line chops, Walton has been compared to Devonta Freeman by NFL Media’s Daniel Jeremiah and others, but Walton is probably more similar to Duke Johnson or Ameer Abdullah than Freeman.
For more, see Walton’s player profile.
18. Ryan Nall, Oregon State
Redshirt Junior | 6’2″ and 232 Pounds | Born December 27, 1995 (Age: 22) | Projection: Rounds 5-7
Combine numbers: 40-yard: 4.58 sec | bench reps: 15 | 3-cone: 6.95 sec | 20-yard shuttle: 4.16 sec | vertical: 33 in | broad: 122 in
After Nall’s combine performance, in which he exhibited fantastic size-adjusted speed and agility, it’s possible that he might be more than just a fullback in the NFL. Of course, five years ago I was obsessed with Zach Line as a draft prospect, so it’s possible that I’m falling for a Line-like player all over again. It should be noted, though, that Nall is vastly superior to Line as an athlete. As a sophomore and junior, Nall played as the lead back for a Beavers team that went 5-19. Even though the team had almost no passing game and was often blown out, Nall managed to produce, averaging 105.5 yards and 1.19 touchdowns per game over his two final seasons. Despite his productivity, Nall hasn’t gotten a lot of attention as a draft prospect, but that might change after the combine. He’s a big-bodied and athletic bruiser with 49 receptions for 454 yards and four touchdowns receiving over the past two seasons. He has some NFL potential as a fullback and goal-line vulture with third-down ability.
For more, see Nall’s player profile.
19. Akrum Wadley, Iowa
Redshirt Senior | 5’10″ and 194 Pounds | Born March 13, 1995 (Age: 22) | Projection: Rounds 5-7
Combine numbers: 40-yard: 4.54 sec | bench reps: 12 | 3-cone: DNP | 20-yard shuttle: DNP | vertical: 32 in | broad: DNP
After redshirting for 2013 and playing as a reserve for 2014, Wadley was a committee player for much of 2015-16, splitting carries with Jordan Canzeri and then LeShun Daniels as the change-of-pace back. As a senior Wadley saw his usage increase to a workhorse-like 21.5 touches per game, which he turned into an average of 112.5 yards and a touchdown. He’s one of just six major conference backs since 2000 with multiple seasons of 1,000 yards rushing, 300 receiving, and 13 scrimmage touchdowns.
- Steve Slaton, West Virginia (2006-07)
- DeMarco Murray, Oklahoma (2008, 2010)
- Giovani Bernard, North Carolina (2011-12)
- Christian McCaffrey, Stanford (2015-16)
- Saquon Barkley, Penn State (2016-17)
Wadley might be thought of best as an older, smaller, late-round version of what Bernard was as a prospect.
For more, see Wadley’s player profile.
20. Jarvion Franklin, Western Michigan
Senior | 5’11″ and 239 Pounds | Born December 9, 1995 (Age: 22) | Projection: Rounds 5-7
Combine numbers: 40-yard: 4.63 sec | bench reps: 18 | 3-cone: 6.93 sec | 20-yard shuttle: 4.31 sec | vertical: 30 in | broad: 109 in
Franklin didn’t tear up the combine, but as an athlete he was fairly comparable — and perhaps more athletic than — other big-bodied NFL runners in Jordan Howard, Carlos Hyde, and Jeremy Hill. He was especially impressive in his agility drills, as he had the fifth-fastest 3-cone time at the position. A three-star recruit out of high school, Franklin got little interest from Power Five programs, but in his first season at WMU he played like a star, rushing for 1,551 yards and 24 touchdowns while adding 14 receptions for 163 yards and a score. For his efforts, Franklin was named a Freshman All-American, and he became the first player ever to win both Offensive Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year for the Mid-American Conference. As a sophomore he had only 919 yards and five touchdowns as he found himself in a committee, but he rebounded as a junior with 1,641 yards and 14 touchdowns, catching 25 passes on the year, and he followed up that campaign with a solid 1,263-yard, 12-touchdown senior season. Over his 52-game career, Franklin amazingly averaged 106.5 yards and 1.08 touchdowns from scrimmage per outing.
For more, see Franklin’s player profile.
21. Ito Smith, Southern Mississippi
Senior | 5’9″ and 201 Pounds | Born September 11, 1995 (Age: 22) | Projection: Rounds 5-7
Smith wasn’t invited to the combine, and it’s relatively rare for non-combine backs to be anything more than spot contributors in the NFL: He’s not likely to enter the NFL with much draft pedigree, and he’s almost certain not to be relied upon as a lead back because of his size, but he does have some potential. After starting six games as a true freshman and then playing in an uber-productive committee with the senior Jalen Richard as a sophomore, Smith was the primary back for the Golden Eagles for his two final campaigns. In his three full seasons as an every-game contributor Smith averaged 134.3 yards and 1.18 touchdowns per game over 40 contests. Since at least 2000 he is the only college player with at least 4,400 yards rushing and 1,400 yards receiving.
For more, see Smith’s player profile.
22. Darrel Williams, Louisiana State
Senior | 6’0″ and 225 Pounds | Born April 15, 1995 (Age: 22) | Projection: Round 6-FA
Combine numbers: 40-yard: 4.72 sec | bench reps: 22 | 3-cone: DNP | 20-yard shuttle: 4.21 sec | vertical: 32.0 in | broad: 109 in
A longtime backup to the stars and former four-star recruit, Williams did little for the first three years of his career, but as a senior he played in a committee with Guice and had 145 carries for 820 yards and nine touchdowns. On top of that, despite doing almost nothing as a receiver in his first three seasons (15 receptions for 131 yards), in 2017 he morphed into a legitimate pass-catching option, finishing second on the team with 331 yards and third with 23 receptions. In total, Williams finished with 1,151 yards and nine touchdowns on the season, becoming just the second LSU back since at least 2000 to have at least 800 yards rushing and 200 yards receiving in a season. (Fournette accomplished that feat in 2015.) Although Williams had a slow combine 40 time, he at least had a top-eight positional mark in the 20-yard shuttle.
For more, see Williams’ player profile.
23. Kyle Hicks, Texas Christian
Redshirt Senior | 5’10″ and 204 Pounds | Born May 10, 1994 (Age: 23) | Projection: Round 6-Free Agent
Combine numbers: 40-yard: 4.63 sec | bench reps: 13 | 3-cone: DNP | 20-yard shuttle: DNP | vertical: 36.5 in | broad: 122 in
One of the top high-school backs in Texas, Hicks was heavily recruited but chose to stay close to home (Arlington, TX) by attending TCU. After redshirting for a year and serving as a depth back for two more seasons, Hicks dominated the team’s running back touches in 2016 with 203 rushes and 47 receptions, which he turned into 1,459 yards and 14 touchdowns in 13 games. His reception total was good for a top-10 mark among all running backs in the Football Bowl Subdivision and more than what we saw out of all the elite receiving backs selected in 2017 with top-100 picks.
- Kareem Hunt (41)
- Alvin Kamara (40)
- Christian McCaffrey (37)
- Joe Mixon (37)
- Dalvin Cook (33)
After his 2017 campaign Hicks seems poised for a massive senior season — and then in January 2017 he was arrested for public intoxication at a Whataburger near campus. After that, Hicks found himself in a committee, and he had more than 16 carries in a game just once last year. Because of his receiving chops Hicks might be able to stick on a roster, but with his diminished 2017 production and mediocre combine he looks like a late Day 3 pick at best.
For more, see Hicks’ player profile.
24. Justin Crawford, West Virginia
Senior | 5’11″ and 199 Pounds | Born February 19, 1995 (Age: 23) | Projection: Round 6-Free Agent
Combine numbers: 40-yard: 4.64 sec | bench reps: 11 | 3-cone: DNP | 20-yard shuttle: DNP | vertical: 33.5 in | broad: 122 in
A three-star recruit in high school, Crawford went the junior college route and enrolled at Northwest Mississippi Community College, where he amassed 177.5 yards and 1.52 touchdowns from scrimmage per game across two seasons, leading his team to a national championship in his sophomore year as the junior college player of the year. In his two years of major conference play Crawford continued to produce, averaging 1,175 yards per season for the Mountaineers. Although he was used little as a receiver at WVU (22 receptions) in junior college he showed great functionality in the passing game, catching 36 passes over 21 games for 566 yards, which is especially impressive considering that most JC backs aren’t relied on as receivers.
For more, see Crawford’s player profile.
25. Kamryn Pettway, Auburn
Redshirt Junior | 6’0″ and 233 Pounds | Born December 20, 1996 (Age: 21) | Projection: Round 6-Free Agent
Combine numbers: 40-yard: 4.74 sec | bench reps: 22 | 3-cone: DNP | 20-yard shuttle: DNP | vertical: 33.5 in | broad: 116 in
A running back-fullback tweener, Pettway did little his first two seasons on campus, but as a redshirt sophomore in 2016 Pettway was thrust into the starting tailback role, and in his nine starts — he missed four games in the second half to a leg injury — he put up 1,224 yards and seven touchdowns rushing on 209 carries. For his effort, he was named a first-team All-SEC running back. His junior year, though, was a disaster, as he missed all but five games due to suspension and a variety of injuries. Pettway has talent, but he’s almost exclusively a between-the-tackles plodder — he had a sloth-like combine performance — and he caught only six passes at Auburn for 58 yards. If Pettway is able to make an NFL impact, it will likely be as an early-down grinder in a backfield committee.
For more, see Pettway’s player profile.
Photo Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports