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2018 Combine Preview: Running back

The Detroit Lions were the worst rushing team in the NFL last season. While that's certainly not just the fault of the running back position, that group has to accept its share of the blame.

Detroit Lions general manager Bob Quinn said after the season he would "absolutely" add to the running back room this offseason. That could be via free agency, the NFL Draft or both.

This is a talented and deep class of running backs in the draft that will be on full display later this month at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.

Running back-needy teams like the Lions, will be able to find backs of all shapes, sizes and skillsets throughout this entire draft.

With the Combine right around the corner, here's a look at some of the running backs to keep an eye on during the week in Indianapolis:


School: Penn State

Ht/Wt: 5-11, 223

View photos of the prospects participating in the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine.

Best trait: He's really the full package when it comes to what NFL teams are looking at for the position. He possesses good size, blazing speed and has natural running instincts. He's shown an elite ability to make defenders miss with great footwork and terrific body control. He's also a very capable receiver and returned two kickoffs for touchdowns this season.

Concern: Barkley is such a complete player that anything here is really just nitpicking for the sake of nitpicking. If anything, he'll probably learn rather quickly that he'll have to get north and south a little quicker in the NFL, due to the speed of defenders at this level. Like all rookie running backs, learning the pass protection side of the NFL game is usually an early adjustment.

Skinny: There are NFL people that make their living analyzing and scouting college prospects. Those people don't throw out big comparisons that often, but some have compared Barkley to Barry Sanders. That's some of the highest praise I've ever seen for an incoming player.


School: LSU

Ht/Wt: 5-11, 212

Best trait: He's a power runner with speed. He isn't shy about putting his shoulder down and taking on defenders, but he also has the home-run speed when things open up for him.

Concern: He dealt with some lingering injuries in 2017, but played through them. His 2016 season (7.6 yards per attempt & 15 TDs) was much better than 2017 (5.3 & 11), which means scouts will have to watch a lot of tape on him.

Skinny: Guice is a no-nonsense kind of runner, who will create yards for himself after contact. He should do very well in short yardage and goal line situations right away. If he returns to his 2016 form, he could be a steal.


School: USC

Ht/Wt: 6-0, 200

Best trait: A former 100-meter champion, Jones has speed to burn. He's one of the more elusive backs in the class that can cut on a dime and get to full speed in just a couple steps.

Concern: He has a rather lean frame, which obviously raises some concerns about his durability and how many carries he can handle over the course of a 16-game season.

Skinny: Jones toted the rock 261 times for USC this past season with 1,550 yards and 19 touchdowns. He's a slasher and big-play threat more than he is a grind it out type.


School: Georgia

Ht/Wt: 5-11, 220

Best trait: In the simplest terms, Michel is a playmaker. He averaged an incredible 7.9 yards per attempt this season, rushing for 1,227 yards and 16 touchdowns, despite starting just two games – he played alongside Nick Chubb – and carrying the ball just 156 times. Six of his 16 touchdown runs were longer than 15 yards.

Concern: He's a one-cut runner, and won't create a lot of space for himself with cutbacks or open-field moves.

Skinny: Michel is the kind of runner who sees a hole, hits it, and gets what he can get. He's got good size and speed, and likes to run north and south. He showed in the college playoffs that he can also be an effective receiver out of the backfield if given the opportunity.


School: San Diego State

Ht/Wt: 5-11, 224

Best trait: Production. Lots of production. He led the nation with 2,248 rushing yards, and scored 23 touchdowns as a workhorse back with 289 carries. He also caught 19 passes and returned two kicks and one punt for a score. Good kick returners know how to set up their blocks well, and Penny showed that same thing this season and during the week of Senior Bowl practices in January.

Concern: Penny isn't believed to have great long speed to be a home-run threat. The 40 time at the Combine will be interesting for him.

Skinny: He went to the Senior Bowl to compete against tougher competition than he faced in college, and led the South Team with 64 rushing yards on nine carries (7.1 average). He also had a 73-yard touchdown reception. He runs hard, and can make defenders miss. He simply churns out yardage.


School: Auburn

Ht/Wt: 6-0, 212

Best trait: Size and speed combo. He combines physicality with a nice burst, which means he can handle inside and outside runs equally well, which is a nice trait to have.

Concern: Some of the concerns addressed by analysts when it comes to Johnson are more on his upright running style. Will it lead to some durability issues?

Skinny: He carried the load for Auburn as a junior this year (1,391 yards and 18 TDs on 285 carries), and was particularly impressive in Auburn's upset win over Alabama and the Tide's terrific defense. Johnson is a three-down back with a lot of versatility to his game, which some creative NFL offenses will love.


School: Georgia

Ht/Wt: 5-11, 228

Best trait: He runs with a low center of gravity, and is very good at shedding contact for extra yards. He's a classic between the tackles runner, who rushed for 1,345 yards and 15 touchdowns for the national runner-up this season. As a freshman in 2014, he rushed for 1,547 yards and 14 touchdowns, and also caught 18 passes.

Concern: He wasn't used much on third down the last three years, and that could limit him some in the NFL. He suffered a knee injury in 2015 that NFL doctors will be sure to check out thoroughly at the Combine.

Skinny: Chubb has the size and the smarts to be a good first and second-down back in the NFL. He's not a home-run threat, but he moves the pile and always seems to be going forward.


School: Oregon

Ht/Wt: 6-0, 234

Best trait: A grind-it-out kind of back with terrific production over his college career. He rushed for more than 1,350 yards and scored at least 16 touchdowns in three of his four seasons at Oregon.   

Concern: He touched the ball 1,026 times in college between rushes and receptions. That's quite a bit of tread on those tires.

Skinny: Freeman is a bigger back with a history of production. He's Oregon's all-time leading rusher. Guys don't reach that status without being really good at what they do. If he can prove he can stay on the field on third down, with his size, he'll garner interest from a number of teams.

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