Running backs in today’s game are being undervalued, but rightfully so if you look around the league. Some of this past seasons playoff teams were doing damage with mid to late round guys or free agent additions. The Kansas City Chiefs, for example, lost their star running back in Kareem Hunt; however, their offense didn’t miss a beat with Damien Williams as the new starting running back. Williams was an undrafted free agent out of Oklahoma who signed with the dolphins after the 2014 draft. He ended up with 477 yards and three touchdowns in four seasons. After a slow start as the Chiefs running back, Williams finally settled into his new role averaging 5.0 yards per carry to go with 385 yards and 4 touchdowns the last six weeks of the season (including their playoff win over the Colts).
Shifting over to the Rams, CJ Anderson, an end of season signing, has really been a boost for the Los Angeles Rams with Todd Gurley nursing injuries. Anderson amassed seven yards per carry to go with 299 yards in two regular season games with the Los Angeles Rams and added another stellar performance in the playoff game when he rushed for 123 yards and a pair of touchdowns. These performances by those cheap free agent signings will continue to shift teams’ focuses on targeting mid to late round guys. A perfect example would be the impact Phillip Lindsay displayed for the Broncos this past season as an undrafted rookie, and the struggles of former number four overall pick, Leonard Fournette, who the Jacksonville Jaguars hope will bounce back next season to solidify his lofty draft status after passing up on franchise quarterbacks Deshaun Watson, and Patrick Mahomes. A perfect example would be the impact Phillip Lindsay displayed for the Denver Broncos this past season as an undrafted rookie, and the struggles of former number four overall pick, Leonard Fournette, who the Jaguars hope will bounce back next season to solidify his lofty draft status after passing up on franchise quarterbacks Deshaun Watson of the Houston Texans, and Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs .
Continuing on Philip Lindsay, compared to his draft status and the draft status of Saquon Barkley, you’ll realize Barkley only managed to gain 270 more yards and only two more touchdowns, compared to the undrafted runner. Now if you compare their contracts, Barkley has an average salary of close to eight million per year based on his draft status as the number two pick, compared to Lindsay who has an average salary of under 500k. Although, Barkley is a special talent as a GM in the NFL, would you pay that big of a difference in salary for only 270 more yards and two touchdowns if you’re only looking at it from a production standpoint? Does it make much sense? Not really if you’re Chris Ballard who’s currently the general manager for the Indianapolis Colts and former GM of the Kansas City Chiefs. There were rumors before free-agency of the Colts possibly targeting Pittsburgh former all-pro running back, Le’veon Bell, this off-season, but if you know Chris Ballard, you’ll know that the odds of that ever happening were slim. Ballard has chosen running backs, Kareem Hunt, Marlon Mack, Jordan Wilkins, and Nyheim Hines. All of those running backs have one thing in common: they all were mid-round draft picks, which shows Ballard’s understanding that you don’t need an early round draft pick to have success running the ball as a team. The Seattle Seahawks, for example, drafted Rashad Penny last season, but their leading rusher on that team wasn’t Penny; it was a seventh-round draft pick, Chris Carson, who finished top five in rushing yards. To go into a bigger perspective, if you look at the top 30 rushers from this past season, you’ll notice only seven out of the 30 were first round draft picks. Out of the top 10, only four were first round picks, including a 33-year-old Adrian Peterson who had a bounce back a year after being cut by the Vikings. Before last season he managed to finish number seven in rushing yards as a team behind Latavius Murray, who was a sixth-round draft pick in the 2013 NFL draft. Many will say this past season was an anomaly, but if you go back to the 2017 season, you’ll also realize that out of the top 30 rushers, only six were first-round draft picks, which included a quarterback in Cam Newton.
Focusing on this past free agency period, you’ll notice no running back got paid big money many will take a look at Le’veon Bells contract and wonder if he made a smart decision to sit out last season but, from looking at his contract you’ll notice last season the Steelers were only willing to offer Bell 20 million guaranteed. Meanwhile, Le’veon Bell’s Jets deal is for a max of four years, $52.5 million, with incentives and escalators that can push it as high as $60.15 million. The full guarantee is $27 million, with $35 million in injury guarantees. That suggests teams aren’t willing to dish out big money to star RBs based on the short span life for running backs unless teams are loaded with cap room or just simply want to fill seats with big-name free agents which the jets had to do especially to help out former first-round pick Sam Darnold.
Now some may say how about Todd Gurley and David Johnson? who signed big money deals for 45 million guaranteed and 30 million respectively before the Bell signing. In hindsight, Gurley knee issues might have cost the Rams a Super bowl while Johnson failed to notch a 1,000 season for the second straight year as well as a 3.6 yards per carry will give teams, even more, pause when dishing out big contracts to running backs. Teams showed signs of that during the free agency period as the other running backs aside from Bell did not receive any contract above seven million guaranteed and most of those free agents were under the age of 29 and currently still includes CJ Anderson who had a fantastic showing towards the end of the regular season. Which leads us to the 2019 NFL draft class.
The NFL is all about value when it pertains to the draft with the success of teams this past season and last season you’ll notice teams are finding more value in cheap FA signings and also running backs drafted after the first round which leads us to the 2019 NFL draft class.
The 2019 NFL Draft running back class is not exactly top heavy, and doesn’t possess a Saquon Barkley, but this draft is deep and has a lot of mid to late round guys that can have great impacts on offenses for years to come. The consensus top backs around the league are Joshua Jacobs, a running back out of Alabama, and David Montgomery, out of Iowa State University. Listed at 5-10, 216 Lbs., Jacobs is the definition of a football player, whether he’s returning kicks, taking snaps as a wildcat QB, blocking, breaking long runs, or catching passes out of the backfield. He’s impressive and displays great vision, toughness, balance and power. Matt Miller from Bleacher Report, has compared him to Alvin Kamara, running back for the Saints. Scouts will question the benefits of him playing behind Alabama’s amazing OL but Jacobs has the vision and jump cut ability that teams love in running backs. David Montgomery is another talented running back out of Iowa State, listed at 216 lbs. Montgomery possess light feet for his size, which enables him to bounce plays to the perimeter and find extra yards behind an average Iowa State offensive line. Montgomery runs IMO similar to former NFL running back, Michael Pittman, but has the feet and patience of former Texans All-Pro, Arian Foster.
As I stated earlier, this class is deep with mid to late round guys. Some of my other favorites that are flying under the radar are Miles Sanders, running back out of Penn State, Sanders, dazzled at his combine as well as his pro day to where he’s no longer considered a sleeper. Rodney Anderson out of Oklahoma, Devin Singletary out of Florida Atlantic, and one of my sleepers from this class was the FCS’s second-leading rusher, Ryan Fulse. Sanders displays amazing jump cuts to go with start-stop ability, which makes him a handful to tackle in 1 on 1 situation. Anderson has durability concerns as he’s only managed to rushed for 1,000 yards in only one season, but his patience and footwork don’t go unnoticed. Singletary is one of my favorites, courtesy of Jordan Reid from Twitter, who is an exciting prospect to watch. He reminds me of Shady McCoy because he possesses elite quickness, vision, balance, and power for his size. Singletary rushed for 4,287 yards and 66 touchdowns in his career for the Owls; he is legit. Although he had a bad combine showing with his 40 times of 4.66 Singletary quickness and vision should help him excel at the next level. Ryan Fulse is an unknown, as he didn’t get invites to any all-star games, but the senior running back amassed 3,090 yards to go with 24 touchdowns in two seasons for the Wagner Seahawks. It wouldn’t shock me if he got on a team’s roster as a free-agent signing. In all, although this draft class is not highly touted, it does provide teams with a plethora of mid to late round talented runners that can make impacts on the next level.