Under the Radar 2019 NFL Draft Targets: RB (Fantasy Football)
Over the past few years it’s seemed like there’s always been at least one running back per draft class who has been hyped as a “generational” talent, and while the overuse of that term is causing it to lose its meaning, NFL teams have drafted with that mentality. Since 2015; Todd Gurley, Ezekiel Elliott, Leonard Fournette, Christian McCaffrey, and Saquon Barkley have all been taken with a top-10 draft pick. That’s five running backs in four years taken within the first 10 picks of the draft, and in fact, three more running backs in that span were taken later in the first round as well. This year, however, there isn’t a clear consensus number one running back, and it may be the first year since 2014 that we don’t see a running back taken in the first round.
Alvin Kamara, Kareem Hunt, David Johnson, and James Conner were all taken in the third round of their respective drafts and didn’t quite receive the hype they may have deserved at the time, but they prove that plenty of running back value is available after the first two rounds. Right now, we’re still weeks away from the NFL Scouting Combine, and over two months away from the NFL Draft. This is still a very early take, but I’ve combined a list of running backs who I feel are currently being undervalued, and could ultimately be a steal in the middle to late rounds of this year’s draft. I don’t feel like each one of these guys could start as a three-down back on an NFL team in their rookie season, but I believe they all have qualities and skills that are being overlooked or undervalued and I’m going to highlight those traits and tell you why you should be paying more attention.
Justice Hill (Oklahoma State)
Of the running backs I looked at for this article, Hill appeared most frequently ranked above the others and was even inside the top 10 in a couple places. I believe he’s an easy top 10 and potentially a top-five prospect in this class. The biggest obstacle to Hill being successful in the NFL is his size. His 5”10, 190-pound frame does not scream “power back,” and you instantly cross him off your list for goal line and short yardage situations. What he lacks in size though, he makes up for in speed, agility, and elusiveness. Hill was extremely productive throughout his career at Oklahoma State, churning out yearly totals of 1,142 yards as a freshman, 1,462 yards as a sophomore, and 930 yards in his junior season where he missed the last three games.
His lateral quickness enables him to break tackles and slip through some extremely tight spaces. He has an inexplicable ability to drive into a pile and come out the other side thanks to his crafty footwork and contact balance. Behind the line of scrimmage, his vision and decisiveness allows him to cut, hit his holes quickly, and then burst through them. I wouldn’t call his speed elite, but he accelerates quickly and is tough to chase down in the open field.
Oklahoma State didn’t use him as a receiver nearly as much as they should or could have, but NFL teams will recognize that he can be a weapon both catching passes out of the backfield or lining up in the slot. He runs crisp routes and would be a tough task for a linebacker to keep up with. His ability to pass protect is also underrated for a player of his stature. Despite being a potential liability when you need to run the ball up the gut on short yardage situations, Hill is a slippery, explosive running back who can be used as a weapon all over the field.
Devine Ozigbo (Nebraska)
When I heard that Ozigbo was not invited to the NFL Scouting Combine, I knew immediately that I needed to include him on this list. Ozigbo is a beast of a running back at 6”0, 235 pounds, but can cut like you wouldn’t expect from someone his size. When you look at him, you see a bowling ball, north/south runner, but in reality, he’s a much more shifty and elusive runner who can also drop his pads to move the pile when it’s needed.
Ozigbo also has great patience and vision at the line of scrimmage. I’ve watched countless plays of his where he’s able to hesitate briefly and press the line to draw a defender out of position. He then cuts through his hole with the defender a half step behind him, and at a much tougher angle to head him off him before picking up a healthy gain. Ozigbo’s vision allows him to excel in zone blocking schemes where he can quickly diagnose what’s in front of him, wait for his blocking to develop, and hit the right holes. His vision also enables him to take advantageous angles in the second and third levels of the field. He frequently makes linebackers and safeties miss to churn out a few extra yards.
Ozigbo averaged only 4.5 yards per carry and three touchdowns per season in his first three years at Nebraska, but broke out during his senior season when he averaged seven yards per carry and scored 12 touchdowns. With Ozigbo, you get a combination of burst, vision, and power. He could end up being a total steal.
Bryce Love (Stanford)
Love does not project as a three-down running back. He won’t be a bell cow for any team in the NFL, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have value. Love has lightning speed and acceleration and is a wizard with some room to maneuver. I’ve watched him beat defenders to the edge after thinking to myself “there’s no way he’s going to be able to turn that corner.”
If an offense can game plan ways to get the ball to Love in the open field, he can do real damage. He has great instinctual ability to weave through defenders and constantly make them miss. Because of his explosiveness and speed, defenders are forced to whiff at him with their arms, which he’s easily able to blow by.
Stanford didn’t feature him extensively in the passing games, but if he can develop some routes as a pro, he’ll be a real weapon. For a guy his size, 5’9″ and 196 pounds, he picks up the blitz well enough, and could definitely see the field on third downs. Love would need to be a “secret weapon” style running back as part of a stable of running backs, but on the right team with a coach who understands how to utilize him, he could be dangerous.
Ryquell Armstead (Temple)
Armstead had an up and down four-year career at Temple, but finished off on a high note taking 210 carries for 1,098 yards (5.2 yards per carry) and 13 touchdowns. At 5’11” and 215 pounds, Armstead has a great frame for a running back. He’s an aggressive downhill runner who can bowl through defenders with a head of steam. He runs angry and violent and has the speed to break the big play once he gets into the open field.
He’s not extremely agile and wasn’t a threat in the passing game at Temple, but he has the skills to lead an NFL team in early downs and goal line work. Armstead finds his holes well at the line of scrimmage and has great burst after his initial cut. He can truly be a hammer on short yardage situations as he has the leg strength and overall toughness to fight for extra yardage and fall forward. Armstead may be overlooked and considered a liability in the passing game, but he’s got all the tools to be a successful early down and touchdown battering ram running back in the NFL.