We are 6 weeks into the college football season and it’s time to take a look at the top running backs in the Draft. When you examine the class, it seems like it is not as deep as previous classes, but talent can be found at the top. I will look at the Top-3 running backs on most scout’s boards. One of these backs is also a running back that may receive the highest grade I have ever given a running back in the Draft.
Saquon Barkley (Penn State)
Season Stats: 649 rushing yards, 6 TD’s / 29 receptions, 395 yards, 2 TD’s
Pro Comparison: Edgerrin James (Indianapolis Colts 1999-2004)
I had to go back a little bit to find a player I thought fit the mold of what Saquan Barkley can be in the NFL, especially Edgerrin James’ first two seasons in the league for the Colts, before his knee injury in his 3rd season.
Edgerrin James first two NFL seasons in Indy:
1999: 1553 yards rushing, 13 TD’s / 62 receptions, 586 yards, 4 TD’s
2000: 1709 yards rushing, 13 TD’s / 63 receptions, 594 yards, 5 TD’s
I make the comparison between the two because of their agility and their ability to be extremely “shifty” to make defenders miss between the tackles and in the open field. James also had the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and create chunks of yards that way as well. They both can win with their agility, but will also fight for more yards with some physicality. I think Barkley will be more physical than James just due to his freakish lower body strength.
I was looking forward to Penn State vs. Indiana and Barkley playing a better defense than their previous matchups this season. I notice a couple of things that matter when a player plays a good defense with a lackluster offensive line. He is solid in the open field and can make people miss, but also always seems to fall forward, which is gaining an extra positive yards for the offense to move the chains. There is no doubt he is explosive and make a big play at any time, but he could really explode with a decent offensive line and scheme in the NFL.
I will continue watching him this season and see if he can be the top graded running back I have ever graded. Right now he is close to Ezekiel Elliott in his overall draft grade, but there is still more season to come.
Derrius Guice (LSU)
Season Stats: 364 rushing yards, 5 TD’s
Pro Comparison: Melvin Gordon (Los Angeles Chargers)
When I watch Derrius Guice run the football, I see a one-cut running back with home run speed. That can transition to the NFL nicely with the right scheme, where the running back is expected to see the hole. When you watch Guice play, he has good vision at the line of scrimmage and bursts through the hole. If he breaks the line, he has home run speed and can turn it into a big play. This reminds me of Melvin Gordon at Wisconsin and his transition to the NFL. Guice and Gordon are not as shifty as other backs in the open field, but are physical enough and have the top end speed to create more yards. Guice is not putting up the stats in college that Gordon did, but they have very different offensive situations from Gordon’s Wisconsin days to the current struggling LSU offense.
If you watch these highlights against BYU, he doesn’t jump off the screen. He is a runner that gets positive yards quickly and doesn’t try to dance for more yards. He is a back that likes to see the open hole and look for a big play by hitting it quickly and flying up the field. He does have a knack for finding positive yards, which is not a bad thing when he transitions to the NFL.