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2018 NFL Draft RB Rankings

By Jim Johnson
SouthernPigskin.com
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Ranking the draftable running back prospects from the 2018 class, out of Southern Pigskin's coverage area.

These rankings are comprised of what are the draftable/PFA worthy prospects from our coverage area here at Southern Pigskin -- the ACC, SEC, Sun Belt, and SoCon.

These rankings include a basic rundown of strengths and weaknesses, from the pre-combine rankings, plus new round projections, player comparisons, and a more in-depth summation of my personal opinion on each respective player.

Starting with the quarterbacks, they will be released one day at a time until all of the position groups are up. After that, they will be easily found in a comprehensive database from a homepage that includes an updated mock draft.

QB | RB | WR | TE | OT | IOL (OG/C) | EDGE (DE/3-4 OLB) | DL | LB | CB | S

​RUNNING BACKS

1. Derrius Guice, LSU: 5’11, 224

Strengths: The total package as a ball carrier, when healthy. Strong, fast, and elusive. Prototypical size. Rarely brought down by the first defender. Showed improvement as a pass blocker from 2016 to 2017.

Weaknesses: Limited sample size as a pass catcher. Not as many big plays last season as one would expect.

Player Comparison: Ezekiel Elliott

IMO: It wouldn’t seem like it given all the talk about Saquon Barkley being a top five pick, but there’s a case to be made that Guice is the best running back prospect in the class. I would still lean Barkley because of the upside, but there’s a lot more bustability there than with Guice. From an athletic measurable standpoint, he checks all the boxes. Same goes for production. Plus, he showed great potential as a receiving threat out of the backfield, albeit on a limited sample size, largely making the most of his sparing opportunities.

Round Grade: Early 2nd

2. Sony Michel, Georgia: 5’11, 214

Strengths: Makes a lot of guys miss. A weapon in the passing game. Smooth, fast runner that can also earn the hard yards. Solid in pass pro.

Weaknesses: Never had to be the feature back at Georgia. Yet to be seen if he has what it takes to do so.

Player Comparison: Jay Ajayi

IMO: He may not have performed as well as many expected at the combine, but I know what I saw the last four years -- this guy is a superior athlete. Prior to last season, he was consistently a factor in Georgia’s passing game and may well have been the team’s best receiver in 2016. Only a handful of rushers in this draft class forced missed tackles at as high a rate as Michel did and even fewer broke off big plays as consistently. The one question mark would be whether or not he has what it takes to be an every down workhorse in the NFL, but, frankly, these days, who is?

Round Grade: Mid 2nd

3. Nick Chubb, Georgia: 5’11, 227

Strengths: Faster and more elusive than people think. Forces a ton of missed tackles. Picks up extra yards through contact. Extremely consistent.

Weaknesses: A non-threat as a pass catcher. Does a lot of things well, but no one aspect of his game jumps off the tape.

Player Comparisons: Alex Collins

IMO: I came in skeptical of Nick Chubb as an NFL running back given his lack of pass catching ability. However, I’ve come around after a pleasantly surprising combine, effectively the icing on the cake that was his 2017 comeback year. The way he runs, he is far from a highlight machine, which explains why people think of him more as a ground and pound bruiser, which he can be, but he is infinitely more shifty than people give him credit for. He may have the endurance to handle an every down workload, but he probably doesn't have the skill set. That said, in this day and age of backs-by-committee, he should continue to prove his doubters wrong at the next level.

Round Grade: Early 3rd

4. Kerryon Johnson, Auburn: 6’0, 213

Strengths: Decisive downhill runner with good change of direction ability. Tough, played hurt against some of the most talented defenses in the country down the stretch. Much improved as a pass blocker in 2017.

Weaknesses: Not especially elusive. Bore a heavy brunt of the carry load and took a lot of hits at Auburn.

Player Comparison: Middle class Le’Veon Bell

IMO: Johnson shouldered a heavy burden of Auburn’s offensive workload in 2017 and could do the same in the NFL, especially given his receiving ability. His explosiveness numbers at the combine only confirmed what he showed on tape all season. If there’s a concern, it’s that he’s neither shifty, nor especially powerful, often being brought down by initial contact. That said, he makes the most of what his offensive line gives him and still manages to break off chunk plays because of his patience and vision. Johnson won’t be a gamebreaker in the league, but his versatility and reliability will immediately make any offense better.

Round Grade: Mid 4th

5. Mark Walton, Miami: 5’10, 202

Strengths: Receiving threat out of the backfield. Can bounce it outside and pick up yards in chunks. Above average pass blocker.

Weaknesses: Forces fewer missed tackles than one would expect, given his quickness. Indecisive between the tackles. Coming off of season ending ankle surgery.

Player Comparisons: Theo Riddick

IMO: He did not look good at the combine coming off of an ankle injury during the season. The Walton we knew beforehand was a burner with premier lateral agility -- can he get back to that is the question. Assuming he does, he offers great value in the passing game, both as an option out of the backfield and in protection. With the premium placed on that aspect of the offense in the modern NFL, a healthy Walton has a higher ceiling than most backs in this range.

Round Grade: Late 4th

6. Bo Scarbrough, Alabama: 6’1, 228

Strengths: Broke more tackles in 2016 than last year, but having the first man bring him down is still like winning the lottery. Punisher that hasn’t taken too much punishment himself, thanks to Alabama’s running back depth. Smooth, explosive, and especially effective on zone runs.

Weaknesses: A non-threat as a pass catcher. Durability concerns dating back to high school. Minus acceleration.

Player Comparison: Jordan Howard

IMO: It’s so ridiculous how Alabama goes from Derrick Henry to Bo Scarbrough, and now they have Najee Harris. What planet do these guys come from? Like his predecessor, Scarbrough is a physical freak, as imposing as they come, and destroyed the combine in similar fashion. However, that may be where the comparisons to the Heisman Trophy winner end. Scarbrough never carried a workload like Henry’s and while he proved similarly impossible to bring down on first contact, he’s not the pass blocker Henry was, either. There will always be a place for athletes like Scarbrough in the NFL, but I question his usefulness beyond situationally.

Round Grade: Late 4th

7. Nyheim Hines, NC State: 5’8, 198

Strengths: Converted receiver with speed to burn. Extremely elusive both as a ball carrier and after the catch. More powerful than he gets credit for.

Weaknesses: Ball security -- fumbled four times as a rusher last year, and thrice on punt returns.

Player Comparisons: Giovani Bernard

IMO: Hines, a receiver for the Wolfpack up until last season, failed to tap into his pass catching background in 2017, but that should not be a problem as he continues to grow into the position. Aside from that, and some ball security issues, the born playmaker looked a lot like a born running back. For a smaller guy, he even averaged as many yards after contact as Nick Chubb. An excellent pass blocker as well, Hines, who plays with the reckless abandon of man who thinks every play could be his last, if properly channeled, could be one of the steals of the draft.

Round Grade: Late 4th

8. Detrez Newsome, Western Carolina: 5’10, 210

Strengths: All-purpose dynamo. Has consistently outperformed his supporting cast against FBS opposition. Extremely well-rounded.

Weaknesses: Missed some time due to injury last year. Top end speed won’t blow anyone away.

Player Comparison: Benny Cunningham

IMO: Coming from the FCS ranks, there may be questions about Newsome’s NFL future, but there shouldn’t be. Even playing behind an above average, at best, FCS offensive line, he consistently outperformed his supporting cast against FBS competition, posting 100+ yard performances versus North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas A&M during his career. Few players in college football history have had as prolific a career as Newsome. He’s earned his shot. The team that gives it to him will be happy they did.

Round Grade: Mid 5th

10. Jordan Wilkins, Ole Miss: 6’1, 216

Strengths: Solid all-around player that checks all the athletic measurable boxes. Good vision. Constant big play threat as a ball carrier or receiver.

Weaknesses: Shies away from contact. Can be indecisive between the tackles. More drops than one would like in 2017, although in part due to concentration.

Player Comparison: Charles Sims

IMO: From a production standpoint, from an athleticism standpoint, from a potential standpoint, teams should be drooling over Jordan Wilkins. That said, it’s worth questioning whether or not he has the demeanor to succeed as a pro. He’s very elusive and broke off chunk plays at a pretty high clip, but he doesn’t appear to have the inclination to earn the hard yards. Wilkins could end up being a great player, and it’s largely up to him. He just may not want it enough.

Round Grade: Mid 5th

9. John Kelly, Tennessee: 5’10, 216

Strengths: Hard-nosed runner. Tough, was an absolute workhorse for Tennessee in 2016. Reliable pass catcher.

Weaknesses: Not a great pass blocker. No single part of his game really standouts relative to the other prospects.

Player Comparison: Elijah McGuire

IMO: Kelly burst onto the scene during the early parts of 2017, but failed to sustain the momentum he established. His undying determination may be his greatest attribute, for now, as he showed flashes but was not consistent in any facet of the game. He’s proven that he can be a really good runner, a threat out of the backfield, a sufficient pass blocker in stretches, but can he put it all together? Kelly is a risk, but some teams may feel that it’s one worth taking.

Round Grade: Late 5th

11. Jordan Chunn, Troy: 6’0, 227

Strengths: Can be a bulldozer if necessary but is more fleet of foot than he gets credit for. Does a good job picking up blitzes.

Weaknesses: Occasionally gets too cute on interior rushes as opposed to just hitting the hole. Prone to running off balance.

Player Comparison: Rob Kelley

IMO: Jordan Chunn is a battering ram. He is what he is, he knows what he is, and he doesn’t try to be anything else. There is no doubt a place for a back like Chunn in any NFL locker room, but his ceiling may not be as high as some of the other guys on this list. There is some room for improvement in some respects, obviously, but he might be pretty close to his apex self, already. That can be both a pro and a con. Chunn will be able to contribute right away, situationally, but he may never be more than a rotational piece at the next level.

Round Grade: Late 5th

12. Darrell Williams, LSU: 6’1, 229

Strengths: Decisive downhill runner. Capable pass catcher. A physical specimen that has been preserved thanks to the shadows of Leonard Fournette and Derrius Guice.

Weaknesses: Does not possess great feel or pick up as many yards after contact as teams would like, given his size.

Player Comparison: David Fluellen

IMO: I view Chunn and Williams very similarly. Chunn gets a slight boost because he’s more polished at this point, but Williams may have a higher upside given his natural pass catching ability.

Round Grade: Early 6th

13. Ralph Webb, Vanderbilt: 5’10, 202

Strengths: The model of consistency. Possible contributor in the passing game. Highly durable.

Weaknesses: Has taken a ton of hits as Vanderbilt’s workhorse over the years. Not particularly athletic.

Player Comparison: Fitzgerald Toussaint

IMO: Ralph Webb had a truly incredible college career at Vanderbilt. He’s an all-timer, for sure, and may not have been appreciated as much as he deserved. Still, his athletic limitations put a clear cap on his NFL potential. The consistency with which he produced for the last four years should get him a spot in a camp, but he may have a hard time sticking beyond that.

Round Grade: PFA

Jim Johnson - Editor of Southern Pigskin, Producer of "Three & Out", and host of "Explosive Recruiting" on the Southern Pigskin Radio Network. E-mail: jim@espncoastal.com Twitter: @JimJohnsonSP