2019 NFL Draft prospect rankings: Running backs

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Here, theScore's Mike Alessandrini and Dan Wilkins break down the top prospects in the upcoming 2019 NFL Draft with position-by-position rankings and an overall top 50 big board.

Top 50
QB | RB | WR | TE | OT | iOL
EDGE | DL | LB | CB | S

Running backs

1. Josh Jacobs

Joel Auerbach / Getty Images Sport / Getty

School: Alabama
Height: 5-10
Weight: 220 lbs

Strengths

  • Sudden, explosive athlete
  • Elite elusiveness to make defenders miss and create yards for himself
  • Rarely brought down by first contact
  • Incredible balance allows him to barely break stride while shaking tackles
  • Will drop his shoulder and completely run through a defender
  • Good vision and decisiveness to hit the right running lane
  • Keeps plays alive and finishes runs with an impressive level of effort
  • Big-play ability as a pass-catcher
  • Physicality translates to impact as a pass-blocker

Weaknesses

  • Doesn't have home-run speed
  • Lacks production of a typical high-level running back prospect

Bottom line

Here's to wagering a guess that the NFL learned from letting Alvin Kamara slip to the third round of the 2017 draft. Jacobs is an entirely different player, but one of the few negatives working against him - as was the case for Kamara coming out of Tennessee - is that he wasn't the feature back at Alabama. Everything in his game so clearly projects to the next level, so the limited mileage should actually be considered a positive for his long-term outlook in the NFL. Jacobs is a first-round talent who can make an impact in all phases on offense and it'll be no surprise if he immediately emerges as one of the league's top backs.

2. David Montgomery

David K Purdy / Getty Images Sport / Getty

School: Iowa State
Height: 5-10
Weight: 222 lbs

Strengths

  • Perhaps the class' most elusive running back - forces countless missed tackles using both power and quickness
  • Built well and has a strong lower body
  • Very shifty with his cuts
  • Excellent balance through contact, which allows him to break tackles with ease
  • Patient and sets up his blocks
  • Experienced weapon in the passing game and has soft hands
  • Great footwork in the backfield - very good in traffic
  • Able to jump outside to edge if the initial hole isn't there

Weaknesses

  • Lacked explosive plays in a weaker defensive conference
  • Tested poorly athletically
  • Average burst
  • Vision needs work - can struggle to find the correct running lane

Bottom line

Montgomery is an excellent fit in today's NFL. His incredible body control and shiftiness in the open field make him a nightmare to defend. The former Iowa State rusher doubles as a legitimate receiving threat, making him an instant impact player at the next level. Montgomery has all the makings of a good prospect and is truly a three-down back, but may lack some juice to be a truly elite rusher.

3. Darrell Henderson

Jonathan Bachman / Getty Images Sport / Getty

School: Memphis
Height: 5-8
Weight: 208 lbs

Strengths

  • Very productive collegiate career
  • Home-run threat on every carry with breakaway speed
  • Good vision and understands cutback lanes
  • Elusive - shakes tackles easily with power or open-field jukes
  • Feet are lightning quick and always moving
  • Explosive from any spot on the field
  • Soft hands and productive when given receiving opportunities

Weaknesses

  • Rarely played against stacked boxes
  • Not experienced in pass protection
  • High center of gravity for a small back

Bottom line

Henderson is an explosive running back prospect who profiles well in any offensive scheme. He's not the biggest ball carrier, but the 2018 All-American is a scoring threat with every touch. Henderson displays all the tools to be a successful rusher in the NFL and could develop into one of the premier all-around players at the position with additional experience as a receiving threat.

4. Devin Singletary

Michael Reaves / Getty Images Sport / Getty

School: Florida Atlantic
Height: 5-8
Weight: 203 lbs

Strengths

  • Elite elusiveness with ability to constantly make defenders miss
  • Can turn sure losses into gains by creating yards for himself
  • Impressive balance through contact
  • Good vision to set up blocks and find cutback lanes
  • Aggressive runner who has some physicality to his game
  • Receiving skills give him upside in the passing game despite a lack of production
  • Willing pass-protector who delivered some big hits on blitz pickups

Weaknesses

  • Undersized at the NFL level
  • Lacks breakaway speed
  • Underwhelming athletic testing raises questions about style translating

Bottom line

Singletary is an exhilarating playmaker. He's smaller than the prototypical running back, but he certainly doesn't play like it. And while he doesn't have the long-distance speed some may have expected, that's not necessarily what leads to his big plays anyway. The Florida Atlantic star is constantly making defenders miss, both in the open field and in confined spaces, possessing the kind of elusiveness that allows him to create extra yards for himself. Singletary has a three-down skill set that should earn him a feature role early in his NFL career.

5. Miles Sanders

Joe Robbins / Getty Images Sport / Getty

School: Penn State
Height: 5-11
Weight: 211 lbs

Strengths

  • Dynamic athlete who explodes in and out of cuts to avoid defenders
  • Elusiveness helps him create yards on his own
  • Excellent balance
  • Patient runner with vision to find the ideal lane
  • Physical mindset to finish runs
  • Timed speed answers some questions about ability to hit the big play
  • Willing and capable pass-protector

Weaknesses

  • Ball security an issue
  • Often tries to do too much rather than taking what's there
  • Flashes pass-catching ability but no production

Bottom line

It's tough to get past the visions of Saquon Barkley while watching Sanders at Penn State. He's not the same level of elite player, as evidenced by his placement on this list, but he does do a lot of the same things. Sanders is an explosive athlete who runs with patience, balance, elusiveness, and physicality. If he can address his fumbling issues, there's little reason to believe he won't be one of the most productive running backs in this class.

6. Rodney Anderson

Brett Deering / Getty Images Sport / Getty

School: Oklahoma
Height: 6-0
Weight: 224 lbs

Strengths

  • Explosive athlete capable of making big plays both as a runner and receiver
  • Good patience and vision to allow plays to develop before hitting the correct lane
  • Smooth runner who can make one cut and get upfield
  • Good anticipation and ability to create yards for himself
  • Finishes runs with physicality and shakes weak tackles with good balance through contact
  • Rare receiving ability in terms of route running, hands, adjustments to the ball
  • Extensive route tree
  • Can be lined up anywhere on the field and contribute in the passing game

Weaknesses

  • Recovering from a torn ACL suffered early in his final season in college
  • Extensive injury history
  • Needs work in pass protection

Bottom line

Anderson's valuation for NFL teams will depend largely on the results of his pre-draft medicals. He comes with risk, as he's recovering from a torn ACL that ended his 2018 season and has an extensive injury history beyond that. If he's healthy, Anderson's ability to contribute at a high level both as a runner and as a receiver out of the backfield gives him upside similar to that of the top two-to-three runners in this class. He could end up as one of the steals of this draft.

7. Devine Ozigbo

Steven Branscombe / Getty Images Sport / Getty

School: Nebraska
Height: 5-11
Weight: 233 lbs

Strengths

  • Great size for a three-down role
  • Feet are always moving
  • Good start/stop ability and very elusive
  • Smart runner with good vision and power
  • Converts short-yardage plays effectively
  • Excellent balance through contact and a strong lower body
  • Made a number of impact plays in 2018

Weaknesses

  • One-year wonder after three subpar seasons
  • Lacks breakaway speed
  • Poor pass-blocker
  • Not experienced/useful in passing game

Bottom line

Ozigbo is a load to tackle in the open field due to his quick feet and body control. He's as athletic as he is intelligent and could offer tremendous value in the middle rounds. Ozigbo may, however, struggle to see the field early in his NFL career due to his lack of blocking and receiving chops. Still, the tools are there for him to thrive in an early-down role.

8. Darwin Thompson

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School: Utah State
Height: 5-8
Weight: 198 lbs

Strengths

  • Big-play machine who can score from anywhere on the field
  • Consistently leaves defenders grasping at tackles with rare elusiveness
  • Speed to beat defenders to the edge and pull away in the open field
  • Explosiveness displayed in the way he hits the hole and gets upfield
  • Shows impressive balance through contact to bounce off tacklers and fight for extra yards
  • Flashes some physicality when finishing runs
  • Comfortable and productive receiver out of the backfield
  • Willing pass-protector

Weaknesses

  • Would be significantly undersized as workhorse running back in NFL
  • Won't have required strength to hold up against bigger players in pass protection
  • Played only one year of Division I

Bottom line

As the NFL continues to trend more toward an open offensive game, we're finally seeing more willingness to evolve and move away from positional prototypes. That's where a player like Thompson fits in. He's undersized both in terms of height and weight, but he's an absolute nightmare in the open field. If a team can create a Tarik Cohen-like role for him within its offense, there's no reason why Thompson can't become that kind of playmaker at the next level.

9. Trayveon Williams

Joe Robbins / Getty Images Sport / Getty

School: Texas A&M
Height: 5-8
Weight: 206 lbs

Strengths

  • Very productive against tough competition
  • Calm runner who thrives with running room
  • Explosive second gear in the open field - resulted in a number of long runs
  • Good balance to avoid being tackled at first contact
  • Displayed good hands as a check-down option
  • Uses sharp cuts in space
  • One of the better pass-blocking running backs in this class

Weaknesses

  • Doesn't possess ideal size
  • Not overly athletic or powerful as a runner
  • A bit stiff when changing direction
  • Not very effective on short-yardage/goal-line plays
  • Doesn't always make the best decision on which hole to hit

Bottom line

Williams is an intriguing back that thrived in college despite matching up with some tough SEC opponents. He's a breakaway rusher that may not be big or athletic enough to be a bell cow, but he has the opportunity to thrive in a secondary role due to his receiving potential and pass-blocking prowess. Williams will be targeted as a thrasher for a team looking to complement a starter.

10. Damien Harris

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School: Alabama
Height: 5-10
Weight: 216 lbs

Strengths

  • Great size/build for NFL
  • Compact, strong runner who is tough to tackle
  • Excellent burst through the hole
  • Productive short-yardage rusher
  • Runs with great technique and pad level
  • Has flashed pro-level receiving skills
  • Excellent ball security

Weaknesses

  • Subpar change-of-direction skills - not very effective when the designed hole isn't open
  • Average athlete who isn't very explosive in the open field
  • Limited lateral quickness around the line of scrimmage
  • Doesn't force many tackles compared to his counterparts
  • Doesn't possess breakaway speed

Bottom line

Harris is a stout rusher with a number of ideal traits for the position, but his NFL upside may be capped. The former Crimson Tide rusher profiles best as a complementary power back in a zone-rushing scheme. Harris is a good athlete for his size that doesn't thrive in space, but between-the-tackles running backs are still a hot commodity around NFL circles.

11. Alex Barnes

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School: Kansas State
Height: 6-0
Weight: 226 lbs

Strengths

  • Physical runner who finishes runs and is always falling forward
  • Powers through weak contact and maintains balance to pick up extra yards
  • Great patience to set up blocks and vision to find running lanes
  • Lateral quickness to make defenders miss on cuts
  • Explodes out of those cuts and gets back up to speed
  • Route running, hands, and ability to track the ball indicate receiving upside
  • Willing and capable pass-blocker

Weaknesses

  • Doesn't have home-run speed
  • Runs slightly upright for a back who relies on physicality
  • Not much production as a receiver

Bottom line

Barnes was one of the biggest risers among running backs after the combine, as he put together one of the most impressive athletic profiles in the class. The combination of explosiveness and short-area quickness for a physical runner of his size is outstanding. He'll never have the long-distance speed to be a true home-run hitter, but similar to James Conner, Barnes can do just about everything else.

12. Justice Hill

Peter G. Aiken / Getty Images Sport / Getty

School: Oklahoma State
Height: 5-10
Weight: 198 lbs

Strengths

  • Productive every year in college
  • Explosive athlete with burner speed
  • Shifty in the open field with a lovely juke move
  • Good vision - usually chooses the correct hole to hit
  • Feet are always moving
  • Shown ability to handle a number of carries despite size limitations

Weaknesses

  • A bit undersized for a full-time role
  • Not experienced as a receiver and not effective as a pass-blocker
  • Can avoid tackles but lacks balance to break them head on
  • Was rarely exposed to stacked boxes in the Big 12
  • Sometimes tries to do too much in the backfield
  • Not efficient in short-yardage runs

Bottom line

Hill likely won't see the field much early in his career due to his lacking third-down skill set, but he's an intriguing prospect who possesses a number of ideal traits. The former Oklahoma State standout is a home-run threat on every carry and one of the top athletes at his position - he just needs to add more tools to his repertoire. If Hill can develop into a quality receiver out of the backfield, the sky's the limit. At the very least, he can be a solid complementary back.

13. Elijah Holyfield

Scott Cunningham / Getty Images Sport / Getty

School: Georgia
Height: 5-10
Weight: 217 lbs

Strengths

  • Lightning quick feet with the ability to make defenders miss near the line of scrimmage
  • Good between-the-tackles runner
  • Angry rusher who plays with power
  • Good frame and strong lower body
  • Effective pass-blocker when given the opportunity
  • Difficult to tackle one-on-one

Weaknesses

  • Disastrous combine highlighted by 4.78-second 40-yard dash
  • Lacks burst as well as breakaway speed
  • Looks for contact in the open field rather than trying to make defenders miss
  • Can lack decisiveness in the hole
  • Limited receiving experience and abilities, has only 7 career receptions
  • Not a fluid athlete

Bottom line

Holyfield generated serious hype prior to the combine, but all hopes of an early-round selection came crashing down in Indianapolis. The reality is the former Bulldog lacks burst and breakaway speed - even on tape - and has very limited experience as a receiver. That'll put him behind the eight ball early in his NFL career, but Holyfield possesses enough traits to be drafted on Day 3 as a future early-down runner.

14. James Williams

Thearon W. Henderson / Getty Images Sport / Getty

School: Washington State
Height: 5-10
Weight: 197 lbs

Strengths

  • Incredible college receiving production - 154 catches over last 2 seasons
  • Shuffler who can make defenders miss with shiftiness
  • Incredible balance through contact for size/frame
  • Thrives in space
  • Tough runner with competitive nature
  • Displayed a good one-cut burst

Weaknesses

  • Despite receiving experience, routes were limited in college
  • Not overly productive as a ball carrier
  • Average athleticism and explosion
  • Slender frame and lacks power
  • Not effective as a pass blocker

Bottom line

Williams has rare receiving chops for a running back prospect, something that will garner interest from a number of NFL teams. He's neither explosive nor athletic but can fill a third-down role on any squad with a bit of improvement in the pass-blocking department. Williams could be a Day 3 draft steal.

15. Alexander Mattison

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School: Boise State
Height: 5-11
Weight: 221 lbs

Strengths

  • Physical back who invites contact and punishes defenders
  • Surprisingly agile and elusive for a rusher of his size
  • Impressive balance and ability to string together moves
  • Explosive athlete with great acceleration through the hole

Weaknesses

  • Lack of long-distance speed limits big-play ability
  • Doesn't offer much as a receiver out of the backfield
  • Physicality doesn't translate to consistent effectiveness in pass protection
  • Limitations on third down will have him in an early-down role

Bottom line

Mattison is one of the more interesting sleeper prospects in this draft class. As much as the league, and these rankings, will prioritize backs who can contribute and thrive on third down, there's also still space for early-down runners. The latest in a long line of backs out of Boise State provides plenty of value there. Mattison is a big, physical body who packs a punch and has more explosiveness and wiggle than you'd expect. He's the perfect complement to a passing-down specialist.

Other notable prospects

Jason O. Watson / Getty Images Sport / Getty


Bryce Love (Stanford)
Myles Gaskin (Washington)
Mike Weber (Ohio State)
Benny Snell (Kentucky)
Ryquell Armstead (Temple)

Top 50
QB | RB | WR | TE | OT | iOL
EDGE | DL | LB | CB | S

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2019 NFL Draft prospect rankings: Running backs
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