Devy 100 – Four Star Running Backs, Part One

Rob Willette

Fantasy football is an inexact science. Numerous factors can conspire to make even the surest of things an uber-bust (looking at you, Trent Richardson). Take this one level down to the college ranks, and you’re really engaging in a mostly futile exercise which involves interpreting how college talent translates to the NFL. This leads to an incredibly high bust rate and immortalizes individuals like Jamie Harper in the Hall of Disappointment.

This is the third annual installment of The Devy 100, an endeavor which embraces the Sisyphus-esque journey known as a devy league. Rather than a standard, mundane numbered list, this breaks 100 players into tiers. As an ode to recruiting rankings, they’ve been assigned a star ranking. A brief description of each star ranking and how I perceive them below:

  • Five Star: The elite. They look poised to become high NFL draft picks and have the skills to become annual fantasy contributors.
  • Four Star: These are potentially elite players. They just have one flaw – be it inexperience, modest physical tools, or limited production – which prevents them from joining the top tier.
  • Three Star: These are individuals I would not be actively pursuing in standard, smaller devy leagues. However, in larger leagues they merit a roster spot and at the least they’re someone worth monitoring.

There are, of course, players who don’t fit any of these criteria but we’re not talking about them in an article. We continue with four star players at running back, part one.

Jovon Robinson, RB Auburn Tigers

The transition from the JUCO ranks was not as smooth as expected from Jovon Robinson. He was slowed by an ankle injury during training camp which allowed both Roc Thomas and Peyton Barber to secure spots at the top of the depth chart, with the latter surpassing 1,000 yards and declaring for the draft early. It wasn’t until late in the year when Robinson found his footing, and when he did, he was impressive. I am higher than most on Robinson since he can do some special things for such a large man. His burst and runaway-freight-train running style are impressive and should have him in line for his true breakout season. If he can remain upright throughout a full SEC season, his stock should soar.

Samaje Perine, RB Oklahoma Sooners

Samaje Perine became nationally known after a record-breaking performance against what you could kindly call a hopeless Kansas defense in 2014, but I was actually more impressed with what I saw in 2015. He dropped a few pounds and maintained his rugged, powerful style while adding a bit of wiggle and spice to his game. He plays a simple yet effective game, and I think he will be a productive two-down thumper who probably has yet untapped receiving ability.

James Conner, RB Pittsburgh Panthers

Before even delving into James Conner’s game, it is time for some good news: his recovery from a cancer diagnosis seems to be going well. 2015 was about as rough as it could be for Conner’s health, as he suffered a season-ending knee injury in Pitt’s opener before learning of his diagnosis later in the same fall. We never got to see the trimmed down Conner for long, which is incredibly disappointing since we knew he could dominate defenses with brute force. Seeing how the weight loss impacted his agility was crucial in placing him in the devy running back hierarchy. The question marks are certainly large with Conner at this point, though he does not appear to be a man to bet against.

Bo Scarbrough, RB Alabama Crimson Tide

Bo Scarbrough has been more myth than prospect to this point. We’ve patiently waited through a year or ineligibility, a four-game suspension, and an ACL tear, but we appear set to finally see him suit up full-time for the Crimson Tide this year and he is a heavy favorite to lead Alabama’s backfield in touches. A physical specimen at 6-foot-2, 240 pounds, Scarbrough is a slashing runner with a thunderous way of finishing his runs and he is such a natural receiver there was talk he could easily make the transition outside early in his college career. He’s one of the least decorated runners in the class of 2017, but when it is all said and done he may be one of its best.

Myles Gaskin, RB Washington Huskies

PAC players are annually underrated due to their conference’s start times. This allows guys like Myles Gaskin to fall just enough under the radar to net a great value in devy drafts, at least early ones. It was a fantastic true freshman campaign for Gaskin, as he teamed with true freshman quarterback Jake Browning to give the Huskies one of the nation’s most unheralded offensive tandems. The short, sinewy Gaskin used electric feet and elite burst to weave through the front seven; he gets to the second level in a hurry and has a knack for turning seemingly short gains into chunk plays. He has a few years to add some weight to his frame, and as is he is one of the college football’s more unheralded talents.

Corey Clement, RB Wisconsin Badgers

Expected to fill in nearly seamlessly for the departed Melvin Gordon, 2015 was instead a lost season for Corey Clement. A nagging sports hernia injury and off-field incident conspired to wipe away most of his year and prevent him from being a top back in the 2016 class. Instead, Clement returns for his senior season, one in which he should pile up some monster numbers in Wisconsin’s system. Built like your prototype at running back, Clement is a maven in tight spaces thanks to his lower body strength and pad level. He can scoot through the smallest of holes and finishes his runs well. I don’t see dynamic talent, but he has a solid overall game which should lead to him carving out a significant role at the NFL level.

Jalen Hurd, RB Tennessee Volunteers

Jalen Hurd is one prospect whom I have completely come around on. I was incredibly low on him out of high school; he has proven me wrong at every turn. Much like Scarbrough, he does some pretty freaky things for such a large running back. His feet and ability to change direction are fantastic and he does a good job of absorbing as little punishment as possible for such a tall runner. We’re at a point where we need to take a different approach to tall runners, and Hurd is another back who is going to break the mold at the position.

Saquon Barkley, RB Penn State Nittany Lions

Debuts are seldom as electric as the one Saquon Barkley put forth in 2015. Well-built with thighs seemingly fused together, he brushes off tacklers as though they’re cardboard cutouts and uses incredibly balance to churn for every yard possible. A solid athlete with plus instincts for virtually every nuance of the position, it is tough to find a negative with Barkley. He even caught 20 passes in 2015.

rob willette