Under The Radar Draft Candidates: RB
If your NFL team is in need of a running back, you may be tempted to think it is Saquon Barkley or bust this year. You would be right that he is far and away the best running back prospect in the class, and likely in over a decade. Similar things were said about clear-cut number one running backs in the previous three drafts: Leonard Fournette, Ezekiel Elliott and Todd Gurley. They have, of course, been every bit as good as forecasted, but there have also been a number of fantasy first rounders come off the board much deeper into the NFL Drafts.
David Johnson was the 7th running back selected in his class and 86th overall. Alvin Kamara and Kareem hunt were the 5th and 6th running backs taken in last year’s class and didn’t go until the third 3rd round like Johnson. It doesn’t stop there though, Jordan Howard, Kenyan Drake, Jay Ajayi, Devonta Freeman, Alex Collins, Aaron Jones, and Jamaal Williams were all recently drafted in the 3rd round or later.
Likewise, we can expect another running back gem or three to come out from under the radar in this year’s draft class. Today, I’ll give you five names who have what it takes to go from an afterthought to an RB1 within a season or two like all of the names listed above.
Rashaad Penny (San Diego State)
It feels a bit odd to talk about my second favorite back in the class as undervalued, but apparently, most don’t see him as a 1st or 2nd round running back. Sure, Penny needs to work on his pass blocking and receiving game or he will never be a three-down workhorse. With that said, he’s got the ability to be a dominant first and second down back from the get-go. He doesn’t possess the speed of Barkley, but finding a 225 pound back with Penny’s burst is rare in itself. Beyond the speed/size combo, his patience and vision are unmatched in this draft class. He runs with authority and if provided the opportunity, would shine in the right role.
Kalen Ballage (Arizona State)
I can’t imagine he will still be under the radar after the next few weeks. Ballage should benefit perhaps more than any other skill player at the NFL combine and his stock may launch into the second round. He isn’t there yet, however, because of concerns about his production and running style. Ballage was a big-time high school recruit just a few years ago, but ended up under-utilized for the Sun Devils through college. He’s got the body to be a bell cow, however, and should be able to stay on the field for all three downs. Despite being 6’2″, 227 pounds, Ballage is among the best receiving backs in this draft class. There is some risk in drafting Ballage, but he’s got as much upside as anyone in the class outside of Barkley.
Bo Scarbrough (Alabama)
The big knock with most running backs coming out of Alabama is that they are overworked by the time they arrive at the NFL. That won’t be the case with Scarborough, however, as he was given just 251 touches in three years. At times, he looked like the 5-star recruit Alabama thought they were getting, but he was inconsistent and injured throughout his college career. When you watch him play, it is easy to dream on him becoming similar to prime Peyton Hillis or LeGarrette Blount, but he’s got to have the opportunity to touch the ball. If he does, we may be laughing in a few seasons about him dropping to the 5th round.
Nyheim Hines (N.C. State)
There have been plenty of knocks on Hines for his size (5’9″, 200 pounds), but he is bigger than former all-pro backs, Ray Rice and Maurice Jones-Drew. He is one of the most elusive backs in the draft and has breakaway speed like we’ve seen with Tarik Cohen in flashes. He has produced throughout his career for the Wolfpack both on the ground and especially in the passing game. Don’t be surprised if he carves out a role as a rookie similar to what we saw with Jerick McKinnon this season. If he ever gets a crack at significant touches then we’ll be talking about one of the most exciting running backs in football.
Roc Thomas (Jacksonville State)
After entering college as a top 10 running back in the country, Thomas found himself planted behind Kerryon Johnson. He bolted Auburn for more opportunity in the OVC then proceeded to average over 6 yards per carry in each of his past three seasons while contributing quite a bit in the passing game. Roc has the top-end athleticism teams look for, but he needs to put on 10 to 15 pounds or he will be too small to be anything more than a Duke Johnson at the next level. That is a quality player, of course, but Thomas has potential for much more.
Do you think a name is missing? There were seven running backs that I considered “above the radar”. Saquon Barkley, Derrius Guice, Ronald Jones II, Kerryon Johnson, Sony Michel, Nick Chubb, and Royce Freeman all have a decent shot at being selected in the first two rounds. While two or three will likely slip into the third round, each would be considered a value at that stage in the draft.