The second installment of our preseason positional rankings features the 2018 NFL Draft running backs, a position that’s enjoyed a renewed value in the first round in recent years.
Our early look at the quarterback class can be found here.
This year’s class of runners, barring injury, will once again feature multiple first-round talents. This list will continue to evolve as the summer marches on. Here’s a look at our preliminary top 10.
1Saquon Barkley, Penn State
Saquon Barkley is the best running back in the country. He has the perfect build to be an NFL bell cow at 5-11 and 223 pounds. He runs with great balance and pad level and has incredible hip flexibility that allows him to change directions effortlessly. He’s going to have a monster season and will be a top-15 pick when it’s all said and done.
2Derrius Guice, LSU
Finally out of the shadow of Leonard Fournette, Derrius Guice is ready to show the nation that he too is worthy of early first-round consideration. He’s already considered by many to be the best running back in college football with his dazzling combination of power and home run speed. With another season like he enjoyed in 2016, Guice will join Barkley in the top half of the first round.
3Bo Scarbrough, Alabama
Alabama is no stranger to sending big, powerful running backs to the NFL. Last year, Derrick Henry was drafted in the second round by the Tennessee Titans and flashed some scary upside in his limited reps behind Demarco Murray. Bo Scarbrough, who’s unofficially listed as 6-2, 228 pounds, isn’t as freakishly big as Henry but he looks, at times, like a more natural athlete. And that’s saying quite a bit, as Henry is off the charts for his size. Scarbrough has had some injury problems throughout his career, but he has very low mileage on his legs and is starting the season as a fringe first-round talent.
4Royce Freeman, Oregon
One running back who is being overlooked this summer is Oregon’s Royce Freeman. He had a down season by his standards in 2016, especially after coming off of a 1,836 yard, 17 touchdown season in 2015. But at 5-11, 230 pounds, Freeman is tailor-made for NFL play. He’s not a dazzling athlete and he won’t make many defenders miss, but he can run the rock similar to the way Jordan Howard (Chicago Bears) does. He’s an effective between-the-tackles back who will continue to gain positive yards rep after rep until he quietly surpasses 100-yards rushing. Freeman, much like Scarbrough, is hovering around a first-round grade.
5Nick Chubb, Georgia
The fact that Nick Chubb is even ranked in the top-five running backs in the 2018 NFL Draft is an amazing accomplishment. His gruesome knee injury at the end of the 2015 college football season had many — me included — thinking he’d never play again. Now two years removed from his injury, Chubb should be as close to his pre-injury form as he’ll ever be. If he regains that step he seemed to lose in 2016, he’ll challenge Saquon Barkley and Derrius Guice for the top dog in a pack of hungry running backs. I’m not sure he’s going to get there. Still, even without that half-step, Chubb is a very good NFL prospect with starter’s traits who will at worst warrant a Day 2 pick.
6Kalen Ballage, Arizona State
Big and powerful with just enough speed to break off a big run, Kalen Ballage is primed for a monster season in 2017. At 6-3 and 230 pounds, he brings the same kind of physical makeup to the position as Alabama’s Bo Scarbrough. He’s not as tough of a runner as Scarbrough, but he’s an instinctual slasher who will rise up draft boards throughout the year. I’d like to see more production from him out of a traditional running back alignment this season after he chewed up a lot of yards as a wildcat ‘quarterback’ in 2016.
7Akrum Wadley, Iowa
Iowa’s Akrum Wadley is one of the more exciting running backs to watch in 2017. He’s capable of a ‘wow’ moment every time he touches the ball. I recently compared him to Buffalo Bills’ star LeSean McCoy, and I feel confident that if he stays healthy, he’ll be a coveted prospect next April. At 5-11 and 195 pounds, Wadley has to prove he can be an early-down back in the NFL.
8Damien Harris, Alabama
Bo Scarbrough is likely to get more attention in Alabama’s backfield this fall, but Damien Harris is a running back who could end up becoming a better pro prospect when it’s all said and done. He has the size at 5-11 and 216 pounds and possesses quick feet and a really good burst through the hole. He averaged over seven yards-per-carry last season en route to over 1,000 rushing yards. Harris should enjoy another very productive season this year even if he’s not the every-down starter for the Crimson Tide.
9Ronald Jones, II, USC
Ronald Jones, II, is coming off of back-to-back good seasons and is primed to take the next step in his development in 2017. He’ll have the luxury of playing with one of college football’s most talented quarterbacks which will help his exposure on the national stage. Jones is a twitchy running back with big-play potential. He’s a well-rounded prospect, but he needs to bulk up and get a little stronger for the next level.
10Lavon Coleman, Washington
Another big, thick running back, Lavon Coleman — 5-11, 228 pounds — brings a no-nonsense running style to the Washington Huskies offense. He’s a little stiff and probably won’t test exceptionally well in the pre-draft process, but he’s a grinder who will lower the boom in short-yardage situations. Coleman projects as a power back in a running-back-by-committee in the NFL.
Note: Georgia’s Sony Michel is widely considered one of the top running backs in the 2018 NFL Draft. He does not appear on this list because I have not studied enough of his tape to comfortably tier him at this point in the process. Check back often for updates to this and all of our other positional rankings.