Although the running back position has decreased as a coveted commodity in the NFL, these underappreciated athletes have persevered and evolved into versatile offensive weapons that can both run and catch the football effectively. This year, there are a plethora of prospective running backs that are dominantly dynamic and could start for most NFL teams during week 1 of next season. Although the obvious prospects such as Saquon Barkley and Kerryon Johnson will inevitably garner the majority of the attention because of their prototypical size and impressive production, there is a multitude of sleepers that very well could be the next Alvin Kamara in terms of being the ideal hybrid that can do practically anything on offense.
10. Rashaad Penny, San Diego State Aztecs
Although Penny will inevitably fall down some draft boards because of his stiff and static running style, his physicality and off the charts production cannot be denied. Rushing for 7.8 yards per running attempt and 23 rushing touchdowns, Penny is clearly reliable and deadly when he can make his cuts effectively and get into the open field. Although he may not have the breakneck speed of a running back that is typically coveted, his underrated power and impressive size could allow him to be more productive than most would think as he transitions to the NFL.
9. Myles Gaskin, Washington Huskies
If there is any running back prospect that has shown potential to be the next Alvin Kamara it’s Myles Gaskin. Amassing 21 rushing touchdowns to go along with three receiving touchdowns, Gaskin was consistently a potent receiving threat coming out of the backfield. Although he may lack the girth and intimidating power of a typical running back, Gaskin has the exceptional athleticism and versatility necessary to be a prominent and capable running back at the next level.
8. Akrum Wadley, Iowa Hawkeyes
Although Wadley may not have the exceptional numbers of some top running back prospects (4.4 rushing yards per attempt, 10 rushing touchdowns), he is actually one of the faster running backs in this year’s draft class that was highly efficient as a trusted receiver in college (353 receiving yards, 12.6 yards per reception). On top of that, Wadley could be a reliable kickoff returner on special teams (nine returns, 271 yards), which would allow him to flash his impressive speed in the preseason for any team that acquires him in the draft.
7. Royce Freeman, Oregon Ducks
At 5’11” and 230 lbs, Royce Freeman has the build of an ideal power back that could consistently gash opposing defensive lines at the next level. Averaging six yards per rushing attempt and garnering 16 rushing touchdowns, Freeman has above average speed to accentuate his exceptional physicality that will allow him to become a breakaway rusher in the NFL. If Freeman can show more in the receiving game, he could quickly rise up draft boards and become a steal in the NFL Draft.
6. Ronald Jones II, USC Trojans
Fast, shifty and powerful, Ronald Jones II has all of the physical attributes needed to be a highly successful rusher at the next level. Rushing for 19 touchdowns on 5.9 rushing yards per attempt, Jones is a decisive runner that could immensely frustrate would-be tacklers at the next level because of his power and intriguing elusiveness. When you consider that Jones was dedicated to becoming a stronger back before his final season with the Trojans, he is a prospect that has both the physical tools and work ethic to be highly productive in the NFL.
5. Nick Chubb, Georgia Bulldogs
Arguably the strongest running back in this years draft class, Nick Chubb is akin to a human bowling bowl that can roll right through opposing defenses with relative ease. Although he was rarely featured in the passing game throughout his career at Georgia, this had more to do with the plethora of available backs rather than being inept as a reliable pass-catcher out of the backfield. Physically, Chubb is well-built and very fast, which should allow him to be featured prominently in an NFL offense that loves to utilize a dominant rusher that can handle a massive amount of work.
4. Sony Michel, Georgia Bulldogs
Averaging 7.9 yards per rushing attempt and 10.7 yards per reception, Sony Michel was a threat at all times when he was on the field. As a pure rusher, Michel has the uncanny ability to make his initial tackler miss, allowing him to utilize his elite speed in the open field. Although it’s difficult to say whether Chubb or Michel is the better running back, Michel may have a slight edge over his former teammate as he was more productive as a receiver and was a strong blocker during his time at Georgia.
3. Derrius Guice, LSU Tigers
Although Derrius Guice did not put up the glowing numbers that many thought he would post this season, he was not exactly healthy at certain points throughout the regular season. However, as he got healthier, Guice regain some of his exceptional speed which, coupled with his impressive toughness, allowed him to be incredibly productive down the stretch for the Tigers. Combined with his great field vision that allows him to find the ideal lanes to break through, Guice could become a rookie sensation for any NFL team that is lucky enough to snag him during the draft.
2. Saquon Barkley, Penn State Nittany Lions
What’s not to like about this dynamically dominant running back? His top-notch quickness and breakaway speed when hitting the hole alone make him a consistent game changer. Combined with his elite abilities as a receiver (632 receiving yards and three receiving touchdowns), Barkley cannot simply be stacked up against in the running game as he can lineup anywhere on the line of scrimmage and be featured as an effective slot receiver. In the end, any NFL team would be foolish not to snag up Barkley if he falls to them in the draft.
1. Kerryon Johnson, Auburn Tigers
Although some will argue that Barkley is the best running back in this year’s class because of his dynamic playmaking abilities, Kerryon Johnson proved that he could burst through opposing defenses in Georgia and Alabama that are loaded with NFL talent. A decisive downhill runner that has impressive cutting abilities to go along with his elite instincts, Johnson has all of the tools and then some to be an elite and potent running back in the NFL. Better still, Johnson played injured on several occasions and was still difficult to contain, suggesting that we have yet to see the best of what this gifted and hardworking athlete can actually do on the field when fully healthy.