NFL Scouting Combine

TWENTYMAN: Comparing the top six running back prospects

Posted Mar 1, 2018

Tim Twentyman takes a look at how the top six running backs at the Scouting Combine stack up.

INDIANAPOLIS – The Detroit Lions could be in the market for a running back this offseason via free agency and the draft.

It just so happens that the running back class was the first to show up at the NFL Scouting Combine, so Detroit began their week-long scouting process taking a very close look at that position group.  

“It’s a deep class,” Lions general manager Bob Quinn said Wednesday. “Those guys weighed in this morning. I just came from there. It’s a good looking crew. It’s guys that have different skillsets. Guys that can carry the ball, guys that can catch.”

Interviews have already begun between teams and the running backs, and they’ll be the first group to perform on the field Friday with testing and drills.

Most of the general managers and coaches asked about this year’s running back class have agreed it’s one of the more talented and deeper positions in this entire draft.

Detroit’s struggles running the football last season were well documented. There are five areas in particular that make up the overall health of the running game: Total rushing yards, total yards per game, yards per rush, big plays (20-plus yards) and rushing touchdowns.

This past season, the Lions didn’t rank better than 21st in any of those categories:

Total rushing yards: 1,221 (32nd)

Yards per game: 76.3 (32nd)

Yards per rush: 3.4 (T-31st)

20-plus yard runs: 7 (T-26th)

Rushing touchdowns: 10 (T-21st)

If the Lions do in fact look to bolster that position via the draft, which runner(s) fits best? Here’s a look at six of the top backs in this year’s class, and how their numbers compare in those five key statistical areas the Lions struggled in.

SAQUON BARKLEY

School: Penn State (junior)

Ht/Wt: 6-0, 233

Draft projection: Top 5

Total rushing yards: 1,271

Rushing yds per game: 97.8

Yds per attempt: 5.9

20-plus yrd runs: 15

TDs: 18

Twentyman: Barkley is the whole package – size, speed, catching ability and a versatile runner. He’s in the same category as Todd Gurley, Ezekiel Elliott and Leonard Fournette.

Quotable: “Some of my strengths are that I think I’m a versatile player,” Barkley said. “I think I show on film that I can run the ball between the tackles and outside the tackles. I can catch the ball out of the backfield. I can pass block. I can even play some special teams.”

DERRIUS GUICE

School: LSU (junior)

Ht/Wt: 5-10, 224

Draft projection: Rounds 1-2

Total rushing yards: 1,251

Rushing yds per game: 104.3

Yds per attempt: 5.3

20-plus yrd runs: 9 (19 in 2016)

TDs: 11

Twentyman: Guice compared himself to Kareem Hunt and Alvin Kamara when speaking to the media at the Combine. He runs a little harder than both of those players. He knows how to finish a run, and he does have some versatility to his game as well.

Quotable: “If you don’t draft me I’m going to give your defense hell.” Guice said.

RONALD JONES

School: USC (junior)

Ht/Wt: 5-11, 205

Draft projection: Rounds 1-2

Total rushing yards: 1,550

Rushing Yds per game: 119.2

Yds per attempt: 5.9

20-plus yrd runs: 15

TDs: 19

Twentyman: Jones wore No. 25 at USC for his boyhood idol, former Kansas City Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles. Jones certainly has a similar game. He’s fast and shifty, and always looking to make the big play.

Quotable: “I love his game,” Jones said of Charles. “I like David Johnson’s style and Le’Veon Bell. I feel like I can do it all and I have the capabilities. When I get to a team, I’ll put in the work.

“(I’m a) quick, north and south runner. Decisive. Three-down back. A lot of speed. A lot of jukes.”

SONY MICHEL

School: Georgia (senior)

Ht/Wt: 5-10, 214

Draft projection: Round 2

Total rushing yards: 1,227

Rushing Yds per game: 87.6

Yds per attempt: 7.9

20-plus yrd runs: 14

TDs: 16

Twentyman: Michel said the two players he looked up to the most in the NFL and thought his game compared to were Reggie Bush and LeSean McCoy. Those aren’t bad comparisons from a style-of-play standpoint. Speed and quickness are a big part of his game.

Quotable: “I have vision to hit the hole well,” Michel said. “Good speed to run the football effectively. (The NFL) will be getting a great player, an explosive player. Somebody that makes plays. Somebody that enjoys doing it.

RASHAAD PENNY

School: San Diego State (senior)

Ht/Wt: 5-11, 220

Draft projection: Rounds 2-3

Total rushing yards: 2,248

Rushing Yds per game: 172.9

Yds per attempt: 7.8

20-plus yrd runs: 28

TDs: 23

Twentyman: Workhorse. He liked the comparison between himself and Kareem Hunt. Like Hunt, Penny is coming from a non-power five conference. Hunt played at Toledo, and Penny at San Diego State. Penny really liked the fact that Hunt proved last year that a player doesn’t have to be the first running back taken to have an immediate impact.

Quotable: “Speed. Power. Vision,” Penny said of some of the things that would be on an opponent’s scouting report of him. “I can keep my balance. I can catch the ball, which a lot of people don’t think I can. I’m just excited about (Friday’s on-field workouts) because it’ll speak for itself.”

NICK CHUBB

School: Georgia (senior)

Ht/Wt: 5-10, 227

Draft projection: Rounds 3-4

Total rushing yards: 1,345

Rushing Yds per game: 89.7

Yds per attempt: 6.0

20-plus yrd runs: 19

TDs: 15

Twentyman: Chubb has been through it all. Injury. Four years in the SEC. Carrying the load and then splitting it. He’s a tough, one-cut, no nonsense kind of ball carrier.

Quotable: “I’m pretty well balanced,” Chubb said. “I’m pretty athletic. I can jump high. Jump out. I can run fast. I catch the ball well. I mean, it’ll be fun to go out there (Friday) and compete with the other guys and have fun.”