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Ranking the top 5 running backs in the 2019 NFL Draft

Stacking the top workhorses...

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Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles enter the offseason with a clear need at running back. If not in free agency or via trade, are there answers in the NFL Draft? I wouldn’t get your hopes up; this group is notably lacking top tier talent.

There are contributors to be found if you look hard enough, and look I did. I made the rounds on the backs being talked about as the cream of the crop and whittled my list down to five.

Important Context You’ve Already Scrolled Past...

Full disclosure: The prospects on this list have at least three games worth of film done on them. There are other backs I’ve not scouting or need to do more work on but none that should shake the apple cart too bad. These are preliminary grades and preliminary rankings. This should still give you a good idea of what the final list will look like when all is said and done.

Regarding the grading system, each player gets ten traits graded. They include critical factors like athleticism, mental processing, play speed and more position-specific traits like burst, finishing, and vision. Traits more crucial to the position are weighted, tallied up with the rest, and boiled down into a final number with a max of 100. For context, the highest grade I assigned to a player last year was Quenton Nelson, who finished with a bonkers 84.6.

One last qualifier.. A significant omission from this list is Rodney Anderson of Oklahoma. If it weren’t for his excruciating injury history, he may have challenged for the top spot. I’ll write him up soon, but it’s truly a shame such a talented player will have his draft stock determined by doctors in Indianapolis.

Now that you’re done not reading any of the qualifiers and are ready to be mad online, let’s kick if off with my top graded running back in the class!

1. JOSH JACOBSAlabama

Josh Jacobs is the savior of this running back class and we should be thankful for his declaration. His blend of play strength, athleticism, and receiving ability combine to form the most “complete” back in the class.

The question is, if his film is so good, why did he accrue less than 300 touches at Alabama? To be honest, I have no clue. On one hand, it’s impressive that a 3-star recruit cracked the rotation at all considering Alabama’s stable of 5-star studs. On the other, shouldn’t it have been apparent that he was the guy this year? Damien Harrissurprise return hurt his chances, but the major question is one I’m not qualified to answer.

Putting the volume question aside, Jacobs has everything you want in a feature back except prolonged, proven results. He’s a playmaker in a sea of roleplayers and likely is the top workhorse selected.

The best part? He looks pretty darn good scoring on mesh-sit wheel, an Eagles staple.

Summary: Potential feature back that can start immediately and play all three downs.

Grade: 77.1 of 100 (Mid/Late Round 1)

2. DAVID MONTGOMERYIowa State

Proven producer, elite finisher, and a short, stocky frame that generates a lot of movement after contact. Clips of Montgomery melting contact like butter on a cast iron pan likely filled your Twitter timeline during the season. All told, he totaled nearly 3,000 yards for the Cyclones. He beats you up, he wears you down, and he’s tough to get a clean shot on.

In the NFL, Montgomery is going to be a nightmare for second level defenders. It’s not that he’ll run away from them, because he doesn’t have that type of home run speed. He’s elusive not due to his lateral agility, though he’s quite balanced in his cuts even if they lack explosion.. he’s elusive because he understands angles and how to set up defenders in a favorable manner. It’s this nuance that accentuates his contact balance and allows him to absorb and reject tacklers at such a high rate.

The NFL Combine will answer valid concerns about his play speed, though it looks decent enough on film. Yet, I’m not completely convinced. The 40-yard dash will be less important than the 10-yard split contained within. That will measure his burst through the hole and ability to get past the second wave of defenders. If he hits a decent mark there, it’ll prevent him from sliding down boards. Right now I have this trait graded as a 4 out of 7 or “solid”, which is just enough to not be a hindrance.

The other knock that may not go away is his contributions in the passing game. He had fairly light usage as a receiver, mainly as a check down option.

For a back with his physical profile, I expected a more finished product as a pass blocker. There were issues with a lack of pop in his hands, the understanding of space in relation to his quarterback and blitzers, and overall technique. A lot of this can be cleaned up and I have no doubt Montgomery will be willing to put the work in to improve those areas.

Summary: I see Montgomery as a productive and reliable “1a” back that will be limited in the passing game.

Grade: 70.8 of 100 (Mid/Late Round 2)

3. DARRELL HENDERSONMemphis

It’s hard to ignore Henderson when he averaged 8.2 yards per carry on 431 carries. That’s mind-blowing efficiency. As a junior he found the end zone 25 times. My personal statistician tells me that’s a lot.

Henderson’s best trait is his ability to chain together hard angle cuts while maintaining speed. He’s got sweet feet and accelerates smoothly through and after changes of direction. Henderson is super elusive in the open field and gives filling safeties fits. This happened to the poor safeties at UCF multiple times.

There are clear areas to develop with Henderson. Patience and decision-making on inside runs remain a weakness, but not a glaring one. I don’t believe his finishing will get much better from a pure power stand-point but he does well to slither for extra yards. There’s also room to develop as a receiver as he was mostly used on low average depth of target routes. On a positive note, after the catch he works well in space and will be exciting in the screen game.

Summary: Henderson can be an immediate contributor as a “1a” with tools to develop as a receiver.

Grade: 68.9 of 100 (Late Round 2)

4. BRUCE ANDERSON – North Dakota State

I’m going to higher on Anderson than most. He has untapped potential as a receiver and his limited opportunities in that area produced very good results. He’s fluid in and out of his breaks and I feel comfortable projecting him up a rung in that area of his game.

He struggled in pass protection in Mobile, but the tools and desire are there. You could argue a lack of experience in that role led to some unpolished reps during individual drills, but I’d be lying if I was sure if that will become a strength soon.

As a runner, Anderson has the leg churn to create extra yards and enough speed to consistently win the corner. He could clean up some things as an inside runner but mostly displays excellent patience. Anderson flashes the agility to bounce from gap-to-gap and generates a lot of power from his lower body.

Trait-to-trait, Anderson graded consistently “solid” to “good”, meaning he’s neither special or poor in any area. That’s not a bad thing if you like “just good” players. I do, and I like Anderson a good deal.

Summary: Anderson is an immediate “1b” contributor and an eventual “1a” starter with upside as a receiver.

Grade: 67.3 of 100 (Late Round 2)

5. DEVIN SINGLETARYFlorida Atlantic

The nation’s leader in touchdowns, with 52 trips to pay dirt in the last two years, rounds out the group. He isn’t going to wow you with a flashy athletic profile, but the more you watch his tape, the more you appreciate his game. He’s at one with contact and slips tacklers at an alarmingly high rate.

From my article on Singletary back in December:

Pro Football Focus credits him with 89 broken tackles this season, which leads all other backs in the country by a comfortable 26. That’s an improvement on last year’s tally, when he broke 83 tackles. He’s been doing his thing for a while, amassing 714 carries, 4,289 yards and 66 touchdowns in his career at FAU.”

It was smart for Singletary to declare early; he’s accrued 765 touches while at Florida Atlantic and needed to take advantage of a weaker running back class. Given the opportunity, Singletary is a solid complimentary piece to any backfield needing consistent production.

Summary: Singletary projects as a “1b” that can be featured in spurts and will take time to develop in the passing game.

Grade: 63.5 of 100 (Early/Mid Round 3)

It’s early in the process but those rankings is how I see things now. I have no doubt there will be small alterations, but I have faith in my process and my numeric grading scale.

If teams are looking for a specific type, small differences in the final grade shouldn’t matter. I could alter the formula to spit out a number that favored early down backs or route running demons. It would slide players up and down the board depending on what I needed. With that in mind, maybe an Eagles’ specific board is required. Would it push Bruce Anderson above Darrell Henderson, or Henderson above David Montgomery? I’m not sure, but as we approach the draft, it’s worth it to find out.

More study is needed on all of the players that made it and those that didn’t. Testing still needs to happen to check those pesky unchecked boxes. How much will that impact the rankings? Who knows. But right now, these are my top five running backs. The Eagles should be interested in all of them.