5 NFL Draft-eligible running backs to watch this season

Arizona State Sun Devils running back Kalen Ballage (7) warms up before the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 15, 2016, in Boulder, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
AP Photo/David Zalubowski

With the infusion of talented running backs entering the NFL recently, the landscape of ball carriers in the NFL is experiencing an overhaul. The 2018 class of backs is shaping up nicely and offers another outstanding crop of options for team’s in need of improving its running game.

Here are five you should keep an eye on this season.

Saquon Barkley, Penn State

Barkley looks like he could be special. Entering his junior season listed at 5-foot-11, 223 pounds, he offers a blend of power and elusive traits. Threatening numerous Penn State records, Barkley is already being slotted in the top five in early mock drafts. He started his career with consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons, averaging 5.7 yards per carry with 25 touchdowns. In 2016, Barkley came on as a receiving threat,  racking up 402 yards in the air. Barkley firmly has a seat at the table when considering who will be the first running back taken should he declare for the 2018 NFL Draft.

Derrius Guice, LSU

LSU produced a top-five pick in the 2017 NFL Draft at running back in Leonard Fournette, and many believe that Guice is better. Last season, while Fournette dealt with injuries, Guice shined, tallying 1,387 rushing yards averaging 7.6 yards per carry ,and scoring 15 touchdowns. With new offensive coordinator Matt Canada in place after he revitalized Pittsburgh’s offense, Guice is primed for a monster season and should be in contention for the Heisman Trophy. A first-team All-SEC selection, Guice is listed at 5-11, 212 pounds. Offering considerable power, Guice compliments his ability to run through contact with strong elusive traits. Debating Guice vs. Barkley will be a discussion that will be familiar from now until the draft.

Nick Chubb, Georgia

Amid a streak of 13 games with at least 110 rushing yards, Chubb’s career trajectory was derailed by an unfortunate season-ending left knee injury in October 2015. A physical, balanced and powerful runner, Chubb is still working on regaining his form. Before his injury, Chubb averaged 7.38 yards per attempt on 311 carries. Since his return, Chubb’s average per rush has dipped to 5, on 224 carries. Director of NDT Scouting Kyle Crabbs is still waiting for his burst to return:

“But when watching Chubb’s 2016 film, it’s apparent he’s still searching for the extra juice and explosion that made him such a devastating runner over the course of his first two and a half seasons with the Bulldogs program.”

If Chubb fully regains his form, the first-round isn’t out of the question for the bruising back.

Kalen Ballage, Arizona State

Ballage captured the nation’s attention with his record-setting eight touchdown performance against Texas Tech in Week 2 of the 2016 season. Part of a standout duo with Demario Richard, both are back for their senior seasons, and big things are expected from the veteran tandem. Ballage flashes tremendous burst, power and receiving skills for a back listed at 6-3, 220 pounds. With that said, he does have some areas to improve upon in terms of consistency with hitting holes and being decisive. If it all comes together in his senior season, Ballage offers tremendous physical upside.

Sony Michel, Georgia

Georgia is loaded at running back this season with both Michel and Chubb entering the season fully healthy. In a bit of a surprise, fellow FanRag Analyst and NDT Scouting National Scout Jon Ledyard ranked Michel over Chubb in his preseason SEC running backs. Ledyard is a fan of Michel’s traits:

Michel isn’t the biggest or fastest back, but he’s a savvy runner with good elusiveness and wiggle around the box to evade defenders. His vision is superb, and he always falls forward, fighting hard through contact to maximize every touch. Michel is also an experienced receiver, with soft hands and the athletic tools to be dangerous in the open field if he can play a little more under control. Although I’m excited to see how Nick Chubb performs in his second year back from injury, I really wish we could see Michel in a feature role for the entire 2017 season, especially considering how superb he was as a starter in 2015.”

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