Now that the NFL draft is drawing near and dynasty owners all across the country are making their draft boards, it’s time to start helping by reviewing all running backs in order of current average draft position. Not all players pan out at the NFL level, so I am going to be critical at times that require it.
The following is a quick summary of the 13th through 16th ranked running backs by ADP. In this series, I will review as many rookie RBs that I can cover prior to the draft, four at a time. My track record over the past three seasons is near 100%, as shown on our DLF forums by users who have tracked my history. I’m going to put it all on the line yet again for the 2019 rookie season.
I studied the following players for roughly an hour each. I not only watched game footage, but also searched for high school and collegiate interviews. Knowing if a player has the mental capacity to become a student of the game is important, and since I can’t be in the room with them, there’s no better substitute than interviews.
Myles Gaskin, Washington (ADP RB13)
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He is 22 years old, going on 23, and has already touched the ball over 1,000 times in college. Gaskin already has some negatives about him, and I think placement will dictate the value left to be had from him.
Gaskin was a four-year player all through college. He amassed nearly 6,000 total yards and 62 touchdowns over his career at Washington. For the NCAA, that makes him 13th all-time in yards, and 17th all-time in touchdowns. At 5’9” 205 pounds, that’s already a lot of abuse.
Any running back cannot afford to make repeated contact against the defense, and that’s the beauty of Gaskin — He was able to avoid contact frequently in every play. Take any highlight and play it at 50% speed. You will see him make the slightest shakes and moves that force a defender to guess rather than react, which makes him hard to tackle.
He stays low to the ground and is shifty. He uses a proper stop-and-go technique, keeps his hips pointed directly ahead of him, and uses his speed to break away from defenders when he gets into the second level. I routinely watched as defenders took bad angles to tackle him. That’s the sign of great speed and/or acceleration.
All of his combine numbers are literally just in the range of “starter” quality. He’s not a high end guy according to the numbers, but he was able to avoid big hits his entire career and that’s a big reason why he was never injured.
I do believe that Gaskin has RB2 upside if he can land with just the right team to utilize his talents and keep him fresh. He’d be the number one player in a ‘running back by committee’. I think Gaskin can be one of the biggest steals of the draft.
Probability of Success: 80% (RB2 ceiling, flex floor)
Elijah Holyfield, Georgia (RB14)
The son of Evander, he has the prototypical size that I look for in a running back — 5’10” 217 pounds. During his entire time at Georgia, he touched the ball 222 times, but only seven of those were catches out of the backfield. So he’s already not a three-down back.
A lot was made about his speed and it’s worth a mention. Holyfield ran a dismal 4.78-second 40-yard dash at the combine. Not only was it the worst 40-yard time of the day, it was the ninth worst among running backs in the last 20 years. And no, none of the slower times were by guys you’ve ever heard of.
The next-worst 40-time by a guy who actually got drafted and had some success in the NFL was Rex Burkhead who ran a 4.73, but he had an amazing three-cone, 20-yard shuttle, and an impressive average vertical jump. Holyfield can’t catch passes, is slow, and didn’t partake in the other drills.
But I digress. When I watch Holyfield play on tape, he looks just like an NFL caliber running back. He outran corners to the edge, he jump-cut twice on one play, he had proper stutter-steps to allow his offense time to set up blocks, etc. He did everything you’d want your running back to do.
He didn’t look blazingly fast, and the combine supports that belief. He had quick feet and lowered his hips very well, perhaps the second or third best of any runner I’ve watched this year. However his broad and vertical jumps, two drills that measure explosiveness and burst, are two different results. The broad jump says he can, while the vertical says he can’t. I’m genuinely puzzled.
The big question is — Can he be a successful back in the NFL? The answer is — Kind of. He doesn’t catch passes so third downs are out. He doesn’t have elite speed so he’s not even going to get the majority of work on first or second downs.
I think Holyfield can be, at best, a touchdown-dependent flex play on a semi-weekly basis. He could be the go-to guy on short yardage plays. Think Brandon Jacobs with better feet. Or a smaller version of LeGarrette Blount. That’s his ceiling.
Probability of Success: 15% (as a touchdown-dependent flex)
Alex Barnes, Kansas State (RB15)
This man right here set the all-time NFL rookie running back record for the most bench reps at the combine with 34. He also posted the best 20-yard shuttle and the second-best three-cone drill of this years’ draft class.
His speed wasn’t near the top, but his vertical and broad jumps were. He has all the measurables when it comes to agility and explosion, which means he’d be an excellent zone runner if put into that system.
I haven’t shown a single running back catching a pass until now, but this one is worth it. 25 yards downfield, has a step on his man and his quarterback feels fully comfortable making the throw. Barnes rewards him by catching it one-handed and brings it in safely just prior to contact a fraction of a second later. Brilliant play.
His tape looks similar to his combine — nice speed, great quickness, great change-of-direction and burst. He’s patient and he utilizes his blockers very well, perhaps better than I’ve seen anyone else do so far.
He doesn’t break a lot of tackles, and he sometimes gets impatient and hits the wrong hole in the offensive line. His jump-cuts and stop-and-go feet are okay, but they need work if he’s to be successful at the next level. He seems to have good football IQ so his arrow will be pointing up.
He’s really good at making players miss in open space. He’s average when it comes to making defenders miss at the line of scrimmage. Something that separates the elite player from the good player is one’s ability to create space. Barnes isn’t that player.
I would expect Barnes to succeed the most as the lead back in a two-back system. He can run and catch very well, so his value would go up in a PPR format. If he goes to the right system, I see his value being RB2 for much of his career.
Probability of Success: 80% with an RB2 ceiling.
Devine Ozigbo, Nebraska (RB16)
Ozigbo to be a fan favorite and as a result, he’s climbing draft boards all over the country. I don’t know if NFL evaluators feel the same way, but he’s intriguing for a number of reasons.
He’s a big guy, measuring 5’11” and 233 pounds at his pro day. Because he’s so big he’s not afraid to back down from contact, as shown by his tape which has several punishing collisions. He’s going to need to slow that down if he wants to have an injury-free career (see Leonard Fournette).
28 running backs were invited to the combine, and Ozigbo was not one of them. He’s a one-year wonder who’s bigger than he is fast, recording a 4.54 40-yard at his pro day. His vertical was 37 inches, which is amazing considering his size.
As nice as some of these measurables are, there are some causes for concern right out of the gate. He’s going to be 23 this year, so he’s already one or two years older than most other running backs. Being that running backs have such a short lifespan, Ozigbo is going to have to get to work right away in order to be fantasy relevant.
His tape has some impressive plays here and there, but he wasn’t patient enough to allow his blockers to develop, often choosing to run past them and take on unnecessary blows and not gain as many yards as he could have otherwise.
He has good downhill speed, but his strides are so long that he’s unable to slow down to make a move. This creates more contact with defenders than needed. If you watch his tape versus top talent, he fails to deliver over and over again.
Ozigbo is fun to watch and there are times where the big man makes a move to get past a defender, but too often he’s dancing around too much instead of moving upfield. He needs a lot of coaching. Placement will mean a lot in the long run. He’ll never be the main guy.
Probability of Success: 25% as a flex in a RBBC. Possibly touchdown-dependent
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