We’ve had a few weeks to digest the Scouting Combine results and let the dust settle. Many of us have already made a pre-draft list and know what to expect in the first few selections of our dynasty draft, but beyond that lies uncertainty for all of us. I’m here to help you analyze and rank rookie running backs in this year’s draft.
This is part four of a five-part series. All parts can be found here. As a former running backs coach who has toured the East Coast to attend clinics and hobnob with NFL scouts, I’ve had a great deal of success ranking backs coming out of college, and I’d like to share some tidbits from what I’ve learned from studying this draft class. Below is the ranking system I will use for the duration of this series.
This article will not be like the three that directly preceded it. Rookie running backs with a ranking of RB13 or later tend to fail more than they succeed, so I don’t spend a lot of time on them unless there’s something that needs to be mentioned.
Some of the following players you’ll see me offer a quick blurb because there’s not much to know, though I’ll go into detail with others because they are worth a serious look come draft day.
- A = Elite/Early to middle first-round pick
- B = NFL starter potential/Late first or early to middle second-round pick
- C = RBBC or COP Back/Middle or late second to third-round pick
- D = Lifetime backup or goal line back/Late third or fourth-round pick
- F = Bust/Draft with extreme caution
Kenny McIntosh, RB Georgia
Rookie ADP RB13
McIntosh is pretty big with a long stride and great hands. He never rushed for more than 829 yards in a season, but he didn’t have to with Stetson Bennett at quarterback. His best contribution came in the passing game, where he snagged 43 receptions for 505 yards.
I didn’t find anything he did to be outstanding, but he did do everything well. He didn’t create space, he didn’t show great prowess in zone running, and he didn’t overpower defenders. His combine numbers almost entirely under-performed across the board, which matches his game tape.
He has all the traits of a three-down back, he comes from a pro-ready offense, and has decent size at 6’0” and 216 pounds. He will be a third-day pick, and he’ll surely get some snaps on offense during his rookie season.
I would love to spend a third-round pick and flip him when he inevitably takes over due to injury, but he’s not a guy I want long-term. There are other players ranked lower who I’d rather spend my time on.
Eric Gray, RB Oklahoma
Rookie ADP RB14
Gray is a solid running back with great skills. I wish he was a little bit bigger, faster, and younger, because if he was he would be right up there with the elites. He’s 5’9”, 207 pounds, and 23.5 years of age.
He ran a 4.62-second 40-yard dash on his pro day. While not terrible, it is not that impressive either. He does have a great burst which is good because it complements his game very well. He can jump cut, dead leg, stop and go, etc. He has solid fundamentals and a great skillset, he just lacks that top-end talent to catch him up with the rest of the pack.
The play below is a good demonstration of his skills. He’s patient with the handoff which allows his line to set up, he bursts through the hole when it opens, then he suckers the safety inside to finish off the play. It’s a job well done, and I think some NFL teams will like plays like this enough to take him early on that third day.
I love his skillset overall and I’d be happy to have a share or two, but he’s not going to be a long-term product because he’s lacking that elite talent. He’ll be a solid complementary back who’ll get opportunities to play due to injuries, and that’s when you flip him.
DeWayne McBride, RB Alabama-Birmingham
Rookie ADP RB15
I’m not 100% certain what anybody sees in him, but I think it might only be the stats. He put up over 3,000 rushing yards in two years, but he did so against mediocre talent, and I didn’t find anything too impressive in all those runs either, which were basically large holes in blown defenses.
He has decent size at 5’9” 209 pounds, and runs very hard for a man his build, but there’s not much more to like beyond that. I think he mostly got what was in front of him, and used his above-average talent to take care of the rest.
Deuce Vaughn, RB Kansas State
Rookie ADP RP16
He’s 5’5”, 179 pounds, and only ran a 4.56 40-yard time. He’s not someone who will ever be the starting tailback, nor be a guy who can split carries, so you can stop reading right here.
He’s quicker than he is fast and has some decent moves in his game, but unless he switches position to slot WR, he won’t have any value going forward. He’s not a guy I want on my roster as a running back.
GRADE: D- or F+, but higher as a wide receiver.
Keaton Mitchell, RB East Carolina
Rookie ADP RP17
He may only be 5’8” and 179 pounds, but he ran a 4.37-second 40-yard dash. That, mixed with his back-to-back 1,100+ rushing-yard seasons, will get him drafted somewhere.
However, no matter where he ends up, he’ll be too small to be one of the top two backs on his team. He’s a change of pace back at best who will score some long touchdowns before he fades into oblivion.
Below is a play in the Cincinnati game. This is a huge hole by NFL standards, and someone with Mitchell’s speed should have zipped through it without a problem. He chose to bounce it outside instead. Decisions like this will not fly at the NFL level, so he has a long way to go.
GRADE: F+, only because of his speed
Evan Hull, RB Northwestern
Rookie ADP RP18
First and foremost, he had one of the best interviews I’ve ever seen. This was a top-three interview of all time, hands down. After doing some research, I found that he was heavily recruited by every single Ivy League school before deciding on Northwestern, which he thought would give him the best chance to make the NFL given the lack of other offers, so that explains it.
Hull is just big enough and just fast enough to have a decent career in the NFL. He’ll never win the starting job, though I can see him contributing on offense at some point in his career. As much as I like him, ultimately there’s nothing to see here, so I will most likely be passing on draft day.
Mohamed Ibrahim, RB Minnesota
Rookie ADP RP19
Ibrahim was a five-year player in Minnesota and will be nearly 25 years old if and when he takes the field this year. His play is below average as there are still many things that need to be worked on. A project player at 25 years old is basically camp fodder. Avoid at all costs.
Chris Rodriguez, RB Kentucky
Rookie ADP RP20
This could be my favorite late pick in the draft. He’s just big and fast enough to be a starter in this league. His tape is full of quality plays up the middle, which is hard to find at the collegiate level. He uses his feet well to avoid big collisions, yet he has good power when making contact with defenders.
Rodrigues is 5’11” and 217 pounds. He plays with good pad level and is decisive in his movements. He never seems to get caught behind the line of scrimmage as he keeps his feet moving at all times.
I had a plethora of plays to choose from to display his talent. He made defenders miss with speed, burst, and power. Below is the play I went with because it’s against the stellar defense of Georgia. Count how many defenders it took to bring him down.
The power and/or speed was on display in every play. Chris Rodriguez was running the ball as if it would be his last carry, every carry. There weren’t many highlights or game films that I watched from beginning to end, but I did with Rodriguez, as it was just a joy to watch. And not for nothing, but his interviews were flawless as well.
I’m calling it now; I wouldn’t be shocked to see him drafted in the third round in the NFL Draft. If that happens and his landing spot has a thin backfield, his value will rocket faster than any other back in the draft.
This is my sleeper pick.
Tiyon Evans, RB Louisville
Rookie ADP UNRANKED
The interesting thing about Evans is that I came to the same conclusion all three times I watched his tape. That’s very impressive because I normally pick up or don’t see the same thing every time I scout players, but with Evans I did just that. I said the following in my notes three times over:
- Seems to lean into his cuts
- Relies on his speed but doesn’t appear to be that fast
- Doesn’t play as big as his body suggests he should
Evans has good speed as evidenced by his 4.52 40 time, but a terrible 10-yard split and vertical jump suggest his burst is quite low. This makes Evans more of a downhill runner than a do-it-all back. The lack of catches in the passing game supports that theory.
I think Evans can make his money by being a goal line or power back, but he needs to be coached up to that point. He’s not NFL-ready, so if you take a flier, you better have the patience before you sell too soon.
Camerun Peoples, RB Appalachian State
Rookie ADP UNRANKED
Peoples is a big guy with decent speed. Standing 6’0” and 217 pounds, he had his way with defenses from smaller schools. I found his style of play to be a little upright for my liking, but he has great balance to even that out.
His film was OK, but the lack of quality defenders trying to stop him really hinders what attributes I’m trying to judge. He had some great runs, but as I was preparing to display them for this article, the bad tackling and poor defensive play in general was the primary reason the run looked so good. This was a theme throughout his highlights.
He lacks top speed, but has good quickness and burst to be useful in short-yardage situations. I don’t think he’ll have much value beyond that, and the fact that he’ll be a 24-year-old rookie when the season starts puts me off even more. He’ll need a good landing spot to improve my opinion of him.
Tavion Thomas, RB Utah
Rookie ADP UNRANKED
He is too big (237 pounds), too slow (4.74-second 40-yard dash), and he was just arrested on felony domestic violence charges. Stay away.
Deneric Prince, RB Tulsa
Rookie ADP UNRANKED
SaRodorick Thompson RB
Rookie ADP UNRANKED
I’m grouping these two together because I want to save time. I’ve scouted them both and there’s nothing here. I see good things, but I don’t see NFL-level talent that warrants a fantasy draft pick of any kind.
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