This year’s crop of running backs is supposed to be one of (if not the best) ever. But what if I told you that next year’s class was even better? This year’s class is led by an amazing group of underclassmen, who are not guarantees to enter the draft. The senior class itself is actually underwhelming. Of my top 25 running backs, only eight will definitely be in this draft class (meaning they are seniors or have stated that they will declare). I don’t envision a scenario where the remaining 17 underclassmen all enter the draft, so they would likely be part of the 2018 class instead. I’ll go over some of the players who I expect to return next season, and some of the top players in the 2018 class as well.
2017 players I expect to return:
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Joe Mixon, RB Oklahoma
With Samaje Perine likely declaring, Mixon can be the feature back for the Sooners and prove to scouts that he can go a full year without an incident on his record.
Curtis Samuel, RB Ohio State
Ohio State lost a ton this year to the draft, and many were concerned about how young their team was, yet they’re still in a good position to make the playoff. With only one senior starter and the way they reload, the Buckeyes will likely have a good shot at the national championship next year. I see Samuel coming back to try and lead the Buckeyes to a championship.
Jeremy McNicholas, RB Boise State
Small school players rarely declare early, and in a loaded class like this one it wouldn’t make much sense for McNicholas to declare. He can come back and continue to put up dominant stat lines just like Jay Ajayi did, and potential go in the top 3-4 rounds of the 2018 draft.
Kalen Ballage, RB Arizona State
After an eight touchdown explosion against arguably the worst defense in the country, Ballage has been fairly quiet this season. He’s been getting more touches, and that will continue into next year. Arizona State should be better next year and Ballage will have more of a spotlight to make an impact.
Elijah Hood, RB UNC
Hood has been banged up, and much like everyone else on this list he will likely be in line for more touches next year. TJ Logan graduates, as do three of the team’s top receivers. With a subpar year this year, Hood could vault himself up a few round with a big year next year.
Bo Scarbrough, RB Alabama
Scarbrough is only a redshirt sophomore, and hasn’t done enough this year to put himself in the conversation to be drafted in the top three wise. Talent wise he’s one of the more talented backs in the country, so a big year next year should help boost his stock.
Kamryn Pettway, RB Auburn
Like Scarbrough, he’s only a redshirt sophomore. While he was originally Auburn’s fullback, he’s taken over as the team’s starting running back and I’ve been very impressed with him this season. Pettway should continue leading Auburn’s rush heavy attack next season and get more recognition for himself, which will help his NFL draft stock.
While these backs are talented, the 2018 class already has a few studs. Here are a few to remember:
Saquon Barkley RB, Penn State
Called me biased, but I think Barkley is the best back in the country from an NFL draft standpoint. He’s extremely athletic, has excellent vision, can cut on a time, and can run defenders over. He’s also a capable defender and the one of the strongest players on a top ten Penn State team. I’d take him over any back in this class, and in recent drafts the only backs I’d take over him are Ezekiel Elliott and Todd Gurley.
Derrius Guice, RB LSU
Is Guice the best back on his team? A few people believe so, and I can certainly see why. Like Barkley, Guice is a freaky athlete. His cuts are simply amazing, and he has the best vision in this class. He’s not quite as fast as his more heralded teammate Leonard Fournette, but he has better lateral agility. For that reason, add me to the growing list of people that think Guice is the best back on his team, and he would easily be a top five back in the 2017 class for me.
Ronald Jones II, RB USC
Jones is eerily similar to my top back in the 2017 class, Dalvin Cook. Like Cook, he has the Jamaal Charles comparison a lot, and it makes sense. He has great breakaway speed, excellent vision, and lateral agility and burst that is second to none. He’d earn consideration in the five to ten range of this year’s class for me, and if he continues the tear he’s been on lately I believe he could climb even higher.
A few other names to keep in mind for next year are Jordan Scarlet (Florida), Damien Harris (Alabama), and Jacques Patrick (FSU). The year of the running back should continue into next year as this year’s classes pushes some talent down into an already strong 2018 class.
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