New York Giants 2019 NFL Draft Preview: Running Backs
90+: Elite, All Pro
85-89: Immediate starter, building block for a decade, franchise player
80-84: First round talent, starter and/or majority of the snaps each week
77-79: Day 2 pick, starter within their first 16-24 games as a pro
75-76: Fourth rounder, has starter traits but needs development
71-74: Fifth/Sixth rounder, should develop into weekly contributor over rookie contract
68-70: Draftable, hopeful for special teams impact and long term development
67 and under: UDFA
*NFL Comparison are not a projection of how good they are, more so their style of play.
WHERE THEY STAND
The Giants’ brass made the bold move to draft Saquon Barkley at #2 overall in 2019 over a few franchise quarterback. It is a move that will be under the microscope for years because of the fascination some have with the notion that running backs can’t be taken high because they aren’t that important. Well, Barkley ran away with the Rookie of the Year award after his NFL leading 2,028 total yards behind a terrible offensive line and next to a passing game that saw more than its fair share of struggles. Barkley is the real deal and will continue to be one of the best players in the NFL. Wayne Gallman is the team’s primary backup with the forgotten Paul Perkins and unknown Robert Martin peeking through the back of the depth chart. Elijhaa Penny offered solid fullback play and can bring something to the table as a ball carrier as well.
1: Josh Jacobs – Alabama – 5’10/220
Summary: Junior entry. He forced his way into the rotation more and more as the 2018 season progressed. Jacobs brings an old-school approach to the game. In an era where the passing game and finesse style has become prominent, Jacobs has proven that the physical running game still trumps all. There is a no-nonsense style to his rushing plans in that he wants to get the ball and run over anyone who crosses his path. He plays like he has something personal against the defense and combining that with elite lower body strength and pop, it is a style that works. Jacobs rushed the ball just 251 times in his college career so while he does lack some experience, he pretty much enters the league with as much fuel in the tank as any running back in the class.
*You can view his lack of experience as a good thing if you like the fact he hasn’t been beat up as much or you can view it as a bad thing if you want to see a more proven skill set. I am going with the former, as I think Jacobs will enter the league as a physical downhill force who can make an impact right away. I don’t see an elite level back but there are several teams that could use this kind of presence in the backfield. I think someone takes him in round 1.
NFL Comparison: Jordan Howard / CHI
2: Damien Harris –Alabama – 5’10/216
Summary: After the surprise decision to return for his senior season, Harris continued to show his NFL-ready, physical style that can keep the chains moving. While he lacks standout, top tier attributes within his game, Harris is as safe a pick as you will find in the 2019 Draft. His legs are bricks and his footwork more good enough to factor in space. He also showed more ability as a receiver in 2018 as the offense transformed to a more traditional passing attack in contrast to the previous two seasons. This is a week 1 contributor who will excel in power-back role but could end up being much more.
*This is a guy who you know can just get it done. Put him in any situation and you know what you will get. There are some slight delays and heavy movement within his game at times, but he doesn’t even need to be discussed that much. Get him in your rotation and you have a solid between the tackles back who will work hard, produce in spurts, and surprise you every now and then.
NFL Comparison: Jonathan Stewart / FA
3: Rodney Anderson – Oklahoma – 6’0/224
Summary: Fourth year junior who has been through the ringer when it comes to injuries. Season enders to his leg, back, and knee have cut him short in 3 of his 4 years with the Sooners. The medicals with him could be the make or break when it comes to the final grade. On the field, Anderson is as impactful as any running back in the class. He has the kind of lower body ease and fluidity paired with a nice burst and long speed that can take a small window into a huge gain. Anderson moves exceptionally well and the fact he does it at 220+ pounds with excellent vision and feel make him a very attractive prospect. If the health stays on the positive side, Anderson could be one of the best players in this class a few years from now.
*One of the biggest injury risks in the draft, I won’t deny that. I did factor that into my grade and if he had a complete clean bill of health, we are talking about a top 10 overall player, as I think he does have that kind of ability. Anderson moves exceptionally well for a back with his size and there is a natural ability to find lanes and creases. I love his game but there is no denying his risky, to be kind, injury history.
NFL Comparison: Darrell Williams / KC
4: David Montgomery – Iowa State – 5’10/222
Summary: Junior entry. A two-plus year starter who ended up on the All-Big 12 squad in both 2017 and 2018. Montgomery lacks some of the sexy highlights that some other running backs can put on display, but make no mistake about his final grade. He is a chains mover who constantly breaks through initial contact and picks up plenty of yards after contact with a running style that breeds contact balance and vision. His hands are a weapon and as long as he can improve his blocking presence, he has every-down starter written all over him. Never a star, but certainly a safe and reliable back you should not sleep on.
*In a complimentary fashion, Montgomery reminds me of a poor man’s Saquon. He doesn’t have anything near the tools Barkley has, but the way he can see things, change direction, and burst from a small position gets him a lot of extra yards. Montgomery is a tough dude too, one who will always fall forward and stay hungry to make things happen. Starting caliber back.
NFL Comparison: Mark Ingram / BAL
5: Trayveon Willians – Texas A&M – 5’8/206
Summary: Junior entry. After two solid years for the Aggies where he led the team in rushing both times, Williams broke on to the national scene in 2018. The 1st Team All SEC running back led the conference in rushing while setting a school-single season rushing record. The big play back brings the kind of excitement and big play potential to the field the second he steps foot on it. Despite being on the small side, Williams is very effective in both space and traffic. He can see the field and make fast decisions, sneaking by defenders and wiggling his way into the open field. Once there, he can take it the house every time. While he isn’t the every down franchise back, Williams is a weapon right away that can change an offense.
*This kid is a gamer. He plays with the kind of attitude I want out of a back when it comes to hunger, desire, and hustle. He runs bigger than his listed size and even though I don’t see him as a 20+ touch per game guy, he would be a nice compliment to a backfield that needs spark. Impressed in interviews as well, although his workouts left a little to be desired. Really could see him in round 2 and round 5 based on what teams want.
NFL Comparison: Nyheim Hines / IND
6: Bryce Love – Stanford – 5’9/200
Summary: After sitting behind Christian McCaffrey for 2 years, Love broke out in 2017 with a 2,000+ yard season, winning the Doak Walker Award. He opted to return for his senior season to finish his degree, which may help him with life after football, but on the field it did not. For the second straight year he fought through nagging ankle injuries before ultimately tearing his ACL late in the season. His pre-draft process is all about rehab rather than displaying his sub 4.4 speed. The recovery is key to his grade but even if he gets the green light, teams will have to be worried about a 200 pound back in the NFL. His best fit would be in an offense where is a package player early on, not a focal point.
*Love could have come out last year and been, at worst, a top 75 pick. Now that he went through another year if lower body injuries including the torn ACL late, Love is in the day 3 discussion. He could be one of the steals of the entire class if he can get and stay healthy but that appears to be a big if. Love runs bigger than his size and the stutter step-to explosion is top tier. He has a way of missing contact which is fun to watch. If a team wants to take a chance day 3, the dividends could be enormous.
NFL Comparison: James White / NE
7: Miles Sanders – Penn State – 5’11/211
Summary: Junior entry. Former top high school recruit got stuck behind Saquon Barkley for two years. In his lone season as the guy, Sanders responded with a 2nd Team All Big 10 performance and replicated a version of Barkley at times. With excellent vision and versatility, Sanders can be a weapon in any role. The underrated power runner can consistently fall forward as well as break through initial contact to create on his own. His ability as a receiver far outweighs his impact as a blocker and he can be a weapon within a committee approach right away. Lacking star power, Sanders is a sure bet to be a contributor for awhile.
*There are some out there who think Sanders is the top back in this class. While I did like him early and projected him as a day 2 pick throughout the fall, I’m not as sold on him being more than a solid rotational guy. The ball security issues with him are bad and if they show up in training camp and preseason, that will be the quickest and most direct route to the bench.
NFL Comparison: Tevin Coleman / SF
8: Qadree Ollison – Pittsburgh – 6’0/228
Summary: Fifth year senior. Ollison has had a back and forth career when it comes to both playing time and production. In a backfield that had a lot of changes via the James Conner situation early in his career, Ollison showed promise right away, winning ACC Rookie of the Year in 2015. Even though his role and playing time lacked consistency, Ollison is one of the more intriguing height/weight/speed backs in this class. In addition, he is more than just an athlete. His vision and short area burst combined with powerful downhill steam make him a dangerous back if he is thrown into the right situation. The versatile back enters the league with a good amount of tread left and could be one of the breakout performers early in his career.
*Ollison had a weird career and there may be a lot of untapped upside here. The whole James Conner situation through off the start of his career and Pitt was hell-bent on running the 2 back system n 2018. If Ollison had been in the right situation with the full slate of carries with a better program, we may be talking about a 2nd rounder. High upside guy here and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him as the top back in this class 3-4 years from now.
NFL Comparison: Todd Gurley / LAR
9: Alexander Mattison – Boise State – 5’11/221
Summary: Junior entry from San Bernardino, California. Two year starter who was Honorable Mention All MWC in 2017 and first team in 2018. Mattison is an every down back who can help a team in several ways. He excels between the tackles and also carries standout blocking traits. His ability to naturally catch the ball and move north right away adds yet another dimension to his game that can keep him on the field at all times. The upside has a cap on it, but this kind of back is as safe a pick as a team can make especially in the late day 2, early day 3 area.
*Nothing stands out about this kid’s athletic ability but he is just so solid on all levels and if I had to pick one back in this class to pass protect, it is him. Now I know you aren’t gonna draft a kid based on that, but we’ve seen a lack of blocking really hurt young backs and their offenses. Mattison is better between the tackles than you think and could be an immediate guy right away.
NFL Comparison: Isaiah Crowell / OAK
10: Tony Pollard – Memphis – 6’0/210
Summary: Fourth year junior entry. AAC Special Teams Player of the year in 2016 and 2017. Pollard had 7 career kickoff return touchdowns, an all time FBS record. While he made his name on special teams, Pollard proved that he can factor on offense in a variety of ways as well. He does a lot of little things right and constantly passed test after test as his role with the Tigers expanded. He is a jack-of-all-trades type who can fill multiple roles with one roster spot.
*When initially looking at this kid’s college career, you may be under the assumption I view him as a returner. To be honest, I barely accounted for his 7 return touchdowns and overall production throughout the process. I really like the versatility he can bring to an offense in all situations, he just needs the right offensive mind running the show.
NFL Comparison: Ty Montgomery / NYJ
11: Benny Snell – Kentucky – 5’10/224
Summary: Junior entry with NFL lineage. Son and nephew to former NFL running backs. After his Freshman All American season in 2016, Snell went on to earn 1st Team All SEC honors in 2017 and 2018, leaving Kentucky as the program’s all time leading rusher. Snell has a lot to be impressed by on paper when it comes to production and consistency, but there are athletic holes in his game that can prevent his power running style to become a consistent presence in the NFL. He is an old fashioned, between the tackles back who can find a role and be reliable, but don’t expect much more.
*Don’t underestimate running backs who play with a high level of hustle and hunger. Snell may lack some of the twitch I like out of RBs, but he is a guy who consistently gets the most out of his touches and will impose that will on tacklers. He would be a nice guy to have on your team if you are looking for between the tackles production and a change of pace from a space-dependent back.
NFL Comparison: Jamaal Williams / GB
12: Alex Barnes – Kansas State – 6’0/226
Summary: Fourth year junior entry. A 2nd Team All Big 12 back in 2018 who was the team’s focal point out of the backfield in Kansas State’s run-heavy offense. Barnes may not jump off the screen when it comes to versatility and dynamic playmaking ability, but the ultra-violent and powerful back can elevate the physical style of an offense right away. He carries 225+ pounds with ease and loves to bring the heat when his hands are on the ball. With an effective run blocking line, Barnes can be an excellent short yardage back who will provide good blocking and special teams play.
*This kid tested off the charts on some physical evaluation grading systems. It made a lot of scouts go re-check his tape and there are traits that are nice to see. If you want a short yardage back who essentially doesn’t really look where he is going but just explodes into the traffic and falls forward, Barnes is your guy. I don’t see every down duty but he can be a really effective role player.
NFL Comparison: Peyton Barber / TB
13: Darrell Henderson – Memphis – 5’8/208
Summary: Junior entry. First Team All American in 2018 after he averaged nearly 9 yards per carry. A big play back in every sense of the term who scored 11 touchdowns from 50+ yards out in 2018 alone. Henderson is an all or nothing type player who doesn’t exactly have elite speed or agility, but he is a quick-reaction type mover who plays with hunger and desire. He is a smart runner that understands situations, not just a back that is always looking for the home run. While the stats may have been inflated from poor defensive play by the opponents, Henderson can’t be ignored. There is a natural feel and knack for finding space that will translate at the next level, albeit he won’t be an every down player.
*Hard to ignore the production here. I mean, 9 yards per carry in an FBS conference? Like I said before, you have to consider some of his opponents but he did play well against some of the better teams on their schedule too. Henderson shows vision and easy change of direction. While he won’t break tackles in the NFL routinely, there are traits to his game that will create big plays. I suspect he will go higher than where I have him.
NFL Comparison: Devonta Freeman / ATL
14: Mike Weber – Ohio State – 5’10/211
Summary: Fourth year junior entry. Winner of the Big 10 Freshman of the Year Award in 2016 and Honorable Mention All Big 12 in 2018. Weber is a plain, but effective back who can bring a physical presence to the backfield. He excels between the tackles and could be the ideal compliment to a team that already has speed and space-dependent backs on their depth chart. His ceiling may be limited, but a team will know exactly what they have in him.
*A no-nonsense runner and professional off the field, Weber is one of those day 3 backs who will earn his way into a rotation in year one. I’m not sure I see the very down back in him but he is a safe, reliable guy.
NFL Comparison: Lamar Miller / HOU
15: Justice Hill – Oklahoma State – 5’10/198
Summary Junior entry. After a freshman season that ranked as one of the best in school history, Hill was a 1st Team All Big 12 back in 2017 after leading the conference in rushing. He was a name to watch as a junior, but nagging injuries and the emergence of James Conner-clone Chuba Hubbard, Hill didn’t have the season many were hoping for. However when looking at traits and what he can do for an offense that provides space, Hill is dangerous. He can explode and dart away from defenders but he can’t be the sole focus in a backfield, as the body just isn’t there. Complimentary back who will be a big play asset.
*If you watched Hill play early in his career, you would have made the assumption he was an eventual first round pick. The fear with him resides around durability within his sub-200 pound frame, not a common size for NFL backs. His straight line burst and speed in pads make him a big play threat, but he doesn’t show enough shake to prevent a lot of contact by defenders. The plan needs to be to limit his touches but the ceiling is high when it comes to potential impact.
NFL Comparison: Dion Lewis / TEN
16: Ryquell Armstead – Temple – 5’11/220: 74
17: Jordan Ellis – Virginia – 5’10/224: 74
18: Devine Ozigbo – Nebraska – 5’11/233: 73
19: Elijah Holyfield – Georgia – 5’10/217: 72
20: Reggie Gallaspy – 5’11/235: 72
21: Devin Singletary – Florida Atlantic – 5’7/203: 71
22: Karon Higdon – Michigan – 5’9/206: 71
23: DJ Knox – Purdue – 5’7/211: 71
24: Jordan Scarlett – Florida – 5’11/208: 69
25: AJ Oullette – Ohio – 5’10/209: 70: 69
**TOP UDFA SLEEPER**
Jalin Moore – Appalachian State – 5’10/212
Fifth year senior who finished as the 1st Team All Sun Belt Conference running back in both 2016 and 2017. A nasty, borderline horrific leg and ankle injury cut his 2018 short in October. There were talks about that injury being a career ender but he has recovered and shown enough in workouts in recent weeks to give the idea he will make a near-full recovery. Moore is a really well built, really strong, really decisive runner who can make something out of nothing. And my trend with RBs who I like is how hard they play, and Moore plays with the energizer bunny mentality. There will be some teams that think twice about the ankle/leg, but he is worth the gamble as a priority UDFA.
It may be crazy to think about adding a running back the year after spending #2 overall on one in addition to the fact they have a solid backup in Gallman. I think there needs to be a discussion about a power/short yardage back though, more specifically towards the end of the draft where there will likely be a value available. The only reason I like the idea is if you want to keep Barkley as fresh as possible for as long as possible from both a macro and micro perspective, having him avoid the hits in a lot of traffic on short yardage situations could be a huge help. You don’t want to take the space-touches away from him and you want him catching a lot of balls, but if there is a spot to save him a bit, it would be on the 2nd and 2, 3rd and 1 situations during the middle of the game. In addition, if this team is truly going to be a run-based offense, depth is important. Gallman is solid, but it would be smart to get another body in there just in case.