Ranking the talented RBs in the NFL draft
Derrius Guice of LSU, shown at the NFL combine in March, is one of several running backs NFL teams could build around.
USA TODAY Sports Weekly takes a position-by-position look for the April 26-28 NFL draft in Arlington, Texas. This week: Running backs. 1. Saquon Barkley, Penn
State (6-0, 233 pounds): If there’s a better player in this draft, good luck finding him. Barkley’s combination of breakaway speed, strength and sweet feet enable him to run over, through, around and away from defenders (though he might be wise not to go airborne quite so often in the NFL). An everydown player, he racked up more than 3,800 yards over the past two seasons, averaging 5.7 yards per carry, and catching 82 passes. A beloved teammate who seems capable of assuming a “face of the franchise” mantle, Barkley should have at least as much instant impact as recent first-rounders Todd Gurley, Ezekiel Elliott and Leonard Fournette. He made a mockery of the scouting combine (4.4 40, 29 reps bench-pressing 225 pounds, 41-inch vertical leap and wonderful when answering questions from the podium). 2. Sony Michel, Georgia (511, 214): As ubiquitous as the Alvin Kamara comparison is, it truly is quite apt. Michel isn’t a burner, either (4.54 40 speed), yet he seems to glide effortlessly past defenders. When he is caught from behind, it’s usually after immense damage has already been done. Like Kamara, Michel shared his Southeastern Conference workload, so he’ll enter the pros with plenty of tread on the tires. He averaged a gaudy 7.9 yards per carry last year in college football’s best conference and saved his best performance (222 yards from scrimmage, four touchdowns) in the Bulldogs’ College Football Playoff semifinal defeat of Oklahoma. Should be a bigger receiving threat in NFL. 3. Derrius Guice, LSU (5-11,
224): How good is he? The Tigers hardly missed Fournette when Guice replaced him, partially in 2016 and permanently last year. Expect to see some NFL defensive backs making “business decisions” when they see him running downhill in their direction. A violent but patient runner, Guice will remind some of Marshawn Lynch in his prime. Like Fournette, he’ll probably prove to be a better receiver with more capable quarterback play. 4. Nick Chubb, Georgia (511, 227): It’s lazy to pigeonhole Chubb, the other half of the record-setting duo he formed with Michel, as the between-thetackles banger. It’s a job he did with a great degree of effectiveness, but it’s worth noting his timed speed at the combine (4.52 in the 40) was actually better than that of his Bulldogs wingman. Chubb also trumps Michel when it comes to ball security. He’ll have to prove he’s more than a two-down player in the NFL, but Chubb could be fantastic if dropped into a zoneblocking system. Injury history could ding his stock.
5. Rashaad Penny, San Die
go State (5-11, 220): A man among boys in the Mountain West. He led the country by running for 2,248 yards in 2017 and scored 23 TDs on the ground. He also took seven kickoffs to the house over the past three seasons. He’s a load when combining his size with 4.46 40 speed yet also nimbly changes direction. 6. Ronald Jones, Southern California (5-11, 205): He personally invites the inevitable Jamaal Charles comparisons, which are fueled by Jones’ slen- der frame, No. 25 jersey and, most important, his explosive speed and home-run ability (20 TDs in 2017). Can cut on a dime when he needs to. Makes most of downfield blocking. Will need to show he can assume bigger role as a receiver. Nagging hamstring injury has curbed predraft workouts. 7. Kerryon Johnson, Auburn (6-0, 213): Discount any player who runs for 18 TDs and nearly 1,400 yards against mostly SEC competition at your peril. That said, he doesn’t seem to have an eye-popping attribute, and his basketball player’s frame might not hold up well in the NFL. 8. Kalen Ballage, Arizona State (6-2, 228): Very impressive speed (4.46 at 40) for a man his size, but he wasn’t an especially productive player for the Sun Devils. Did catch 44 passes in 2016 and can return kicks. 9. Bo Scarbrough, Alabama (6-1, 228): The Tide’s version of Derrick Henry-lite, though Scarbrough isn’t much smaller than his 6-3, 247-pound predecessor. A punishing runner, too, Scarbrough has also absorbed more than his fair share of injuries. 10. Royce Freeman, Oregon (6-0, 229): Add 4.5 speed to a sturdy build. His 6,435 career yards from scrimmage for the Ducks is impressive, but he’ll enter the NFL with more than 1,000 touches on his odometer over the past four years. 11. Mark Walton, Miami (Fla.) (5-10, 202): Could immediately carve out a spot as a third-down back. Great hands. A bum ankle limited him to five games last year. 12. Nyheim Hines, North Carolina State (5-8, 198): Given his likely role as a specialty player, it’s hard to peg his worth. Size is an obvious drawback, but his 4.38 speed will be an enticement. He might be better served to play in the slot.
Sony Michel is drawing comparisons to Alvin Kamara, the reigning NFL rookie of the year.