Early look at the 2019 RB class
After back-to-back historic RB drafts, how does the 2019 RB class measure up? Let’s take an early look.
2019 RB class rankings
|4)||David Montgomery||R2||Iowa State||5’11||216||JR|
|7)||Justice Hill||R3||OK State||5’10||190||JR|
|11)||Benny Snell Jr.||Kentucky||5’11||223||JR|
|14)||Mike Weber||Ohio State||5’10||214||rJR|
|15)||Jacques Patrick||Florida State||6’3||234||SR|
*The early “grade” for each QB above is a middle ground between preseason resume and 2019 projection.
Most NFL-ready: Harris
Most Powerful: Anderson
Most Elusive: Montgomery
Best Contact Balance: Montgomery / Harris
Best Vision: Love
Most Patient: Gaskin
Most Durable: Montgomery / Gaskin
Best Receiver: R. Anderson
Best Blocker: Harris
Highest Upside: R. Anderson
Greatest Risk: Love
“My Guys”: Harris, R. Anderson, Montgomery, Gaskin, D. Anderson
Race for the top spot in the 2019 RB class
We’re a whole season away from seeing which guy in the 2019 RB class literally runs into the top spot in next year’s draft. However, there are a clear-cut top-4 for me right now: Damien Harris, Bryce Love, David Montgomery and Rodney Anderson are at the head of the class, and they’re each receiving appropriate pre-season hype. You can make a strong argument for any of them at the top of the rankings, with each bringing something a bit different to the table as prospects.
Harris holds the top spot for me right now. HawkTalk may have been the first place to tout him as an early-round RB prospect a year ago, and he did nothing but cement that status over the course of last season. He’s a great athlete and all-around RB who’s never missed a game, which should make him a safe choice next spring. I think he has the best combination of high floor, high ceiling, and feature-back profile, as of now.
Anderson stands out as the guy who can exceed that. I absolutely love his game, including his size, freak athleticism, receiving chops, and explosive running style. He’s the closest thing there is in this class to a Marshawn Lynch. My only real concern is a big one though: An injury history that includes a broken leg and fractured neck. Lingering medical concerns are the only thing potentially holding him back from being a high draft pick.
Love is coming into this season a little under the radar after his near-Heisman winning performance in 2017. Some evaluators are put off by his small frame and minimal passing-game involvement, but I’m a believer. Love’s another back HawkTalk jumped on early last season. He’s an electric athlete and extraordinarily skilled ball-carrier; a rare game-changer with the ball in his hands. He bulked up to over 200 lbs this offseason; now he needs to stay healthy and make an impact as a receiver to lock up a 1st round spot next year.
Last but not least, Montgomery is the toughest SOB to tackle in college football. You can see above that I have him listed as having the best contact balance and elusiveness in the 2019 RB class. That’s a ridiculous skill-set to have, plus he’s also durable and a weapon in the passing game to boot. He appears to be an inferior athlete to the former 3 RB’s though, capping his upside to some extent.
Year of the undersized RB
Love isn’t the only back in the 2019 RB class with the special talent needed to overcome a small stature. Myles Gaskin, Devin Singletary and Justice Hill are all listed at 200 lbs or less, yet I’ve graded each on day-two (rounds 2-3). Gaskin in particular is one of my favorite prospects in the entire 2019 Draft class. He’s incredibly underrated. I’m also a fan of the similarly undersized Darius Anderson, Travis Homer and Karan Higdon, who currently profile as mid-round prospects.
The class looks solid at the top but lean on depth as of now. Only 2 of my preseason top-12 are Seniors. Check out the player profiles below for preseason scouting reports on several of the top draft-eligible RB’s.
2019 RB class – player profiles
Damien Harris | Alabama, SR
- Steady producer in the Tide’s backfield timeshare, with 2037 rushing yards on only 281 carries (7.2 ypc) over the last two years. Has averaged at least 4 ypc in every game with 10+ carries during his career. Highly touted recruit who’s lived up to the hype and brimming with NFL upside. Plenty of tread left on tires, with only 357 career touches.
- Nicked up with minor foot, ankle and knee injuries at Bama, yet hasn’t missed a game during the last two years. Doesn’t appear to have suffered any significant injuries.
- Nick Saban said he “has the capabilities to be a dominant player” last offseason. Harris put in serious work to get his body right and delivered with consistent high-level play in 2017.
- Possesses all the qualities you look for in a feature-back. Explosive all-around skillset and well-built at 5’11, 213-220 lbs. Special combination of size, acceleration, quickness, open field speed, and an ability to make-you-miss. Averaged a ridiculous 3 yards after contact per rush attempt last year.
- One-cut-and-go style suits him well – looks to get north-south quickly, where he can blast through contact for additional yards or burst through for big gains. Displays terrific vision, smooth cuts and power between the tackles. Both a chain-mover & home-run threat.
- Under-utilized as a receiver in Bama’s offense, but he’s got potential there. Strong hands.
- Alert & tenacious pass protector – can still tighten up technique by squaring up rushers rather than lowering shoulder.
- My only concern is the nagging lower body ailments. He got nicked-up during each of the last two seasons and slowed a bit down the stretch afterwards. There’s no denying his toughness given he hasn’t missed a game, but you wonder how he’ll hold up over a larger workload. He’s a hard, physical runner.
Bryce Love | Stanford, SR
- Followed in Christian McCaffrey’s footsteps as a superstar RB for Stanford, lighting the field on fire in 2017. Finished 2nd in Heisman voting after rushing for 2118 yards (8.1 ypc) & 19 touchdowns. Elite, game-changing talent with the ball in his hands. Nicknamed “Baby Bolt.”
- Grades off-the-charts in the most un-coachable skill: speed.
- U.S. national track record holder in the 100m for boys age-12 (11.64s) and age-14 (10.73s). Also, laser-timed at 4.30 in the 40 in high school. And it translates to the field in a big way.
- Makes defenders miss at will – cuts on a dime without breaking stride or losing momentum. Posted an electric 3.90 short shuttle at the 2014 Nike Opening (98th percentile of NFL RB’s).
- Spring 2017 #s: bulked up to 203 lbs, ran 4.35 forty, and a 4.10 shuttle.
- Tremendous patience & vision to set up blocks – his combo of poise, elusiveness & burst through the hole makes him a huge big-play threat.
- His greatest question mark is a lack of size, and he might not have the bone structure necessary to add much more good weight to his frame. Durability is a question mark.
- Can he hold up as an NFL feature-back? Nicked up with multiple minor injuries while at Stanford, including an undisclosed injury in 2016 (for which he wore a walking boot) + an ankle issue in 2017. Plays through pain – only 2 games missed despite frequent “injury-report” weeks.
- That toughness is apparent on the field, as he runs fearlessly between the tackles with great footwork. Too small to finish through heavy contact, though his athletic ability destroys even the most basic pursuit angles. Also breaks many low tackle attempts with superb balance, low center of gravity, and feet that don’t stop churning. Always runs in control.
- Barely utilized as a receiver, which is mostly a product of the Cardinal offense. Often taken off the field in passing situations. Hopefully he gets more opportunities in 2018, because that caps his projection right now.
- Effort & technique are there in pass protection, but size is a limiting factor.
Rodney Anderson | Oklahoma, rJR
- Missed almost entirely his first two years at OU with significant injuries – a broken fibula in 2015 & a fractured vertebrae in his neck in 2016.
- Former top recruit who’s overcome all sorts of adversity by battling back from those injuries & dealing with a false rape allegation last year. Despite all the time off, he’s busted his tail in the gym. HC Lincoln Riley called him a “freak” last spring:
- On strength testing Riley said, “he’s at the top or near the top in everything. He’s strong, he’s fast, he’s smart. One of the most gifted guys that we have.”
- High school testing numbers included a 4.43 forty, 37” vertical & 3.97 short shuttle at 205 lbs. Ran 11.37 seconds in the 100m in grade 9.
- Now 220 lbs, powerful and supremely athletic.
- Eased into the rotation in 2017 before earning a feature back role mid-season, and he ran with it. In 8 games as a starter, he rushed for 1127 yards (6.4 ypc) & 11 TD’s, catching 14 balls for another 254 yards & 5 TD’s. Complete dominance in OU’s elite offense.
- Explosive downhill runner with one-cut-and-go style. Love his urgency and willingness to lower shoulder & punish any defender in his path. Keeps churning on contact and constantly falls forward.
- Smooth change-of-direction ability & suddenness for a big power back. “Weakest” trait is probably his vision right now, though that’s more a complement of his all-around skillset. His vision & decision-making as a rusher merely appear average at this point.
- Versatile receiving weapon with an ability snag the ball away from his body & break tackles after the catch. Aware & physically capable pass protector, with slightly high pad-level.
- Might have the best chance of all the underclassmen to rise to RB1. The injuries were serious, but hopefully don’t have lingering concerns. The Sooners’ offense should be tremendous top-to-bottom once again, making Anderson a dark horse Heisman candidate.
David Montgomery | Iowa State, JR
- Versatile RB with good size at 5’11, 219 lbs. Rushed for 1146 yards (4.4 ypc) & 11 TD’s as a sophomore, while catching 36 passes for 296 yards.
- Cyclones were basically the Seahawks of the Big-10 when it came to run blocking last year. They ran a ton of shotgun inside zone, and the interior-OL provided little running room. His 4.4 ypc isn’t impressive on the surface, but the team averaged a paltry 3.4 ypc. Their running game was non-existent without him.
- Cuts glass – pristine footwork, pad level & elusiveness, with outstanding stability upon contact. Insane lateral agility – give him any space at all and he’ll make you miss. Also refuses to be brought down – forced a whopping 109 missed tackles on 2017 touches, #1 in all of college football.
- A weapon in the passing game as well – experience in multiple alignments, great hands, and superb instincts after the catch. Forced 23 missed tackles on 36 receptions.
- Quicker than fast – Terrific short-area mobility, but he lacks the long speed to be a home-run threat. Still produces some big plays in both phases with his bag of tricks.
- Doesn’t always make the best decisions – bounces runs or dances sometimes instead of taking what’s there. It’s a product of trying to do too much behind shaky blocking, not an indictment of his toughness. He brings the physicality all game long.
- Beast in pass pro – great compete-level & technique, just needs to improve recognition.
Myles Gaskin | Washington, SR
- The most underrated star running back in college football, whose NFL projection is a lot brighter than it is for most undersized RB.
- Incredibly reliable and productive for the Huskies – 4055 rushing yards (5.9 ypc) and 45 TD’s over 3 seasons, without any missed games or apparent injuries. 3 fumbles on 700+ touches.
- Dynamic talent with standout athleticism – 4.44 forty & 39” vertical at Husky combines.
- Fantastic between the tackles – easily gets skinny and snakes through the smallest of lanes. Accelerates quickly through the hole with excellent finishing speed in the open field.
- Outstanding footwork and elusiveness – as shifty as they come. His patience for letting blocks develop and his stop-start mobility are unreal. He’s got a unique ability to create from a complete standstill. Threat out of the wildcat for UW.
- Like Love, the big question is a lack of size without the frame to add much more muscle. However, he consistently angles his body to avoid worrisome contact in traffic (while still maximizing yardage). His durability is no accident & should continue in the NFL.
- Compact, balanced runner with the explosiveness, toughness and low center-of-gravity to break through contact despite size. He’s got the picture-perfect profile for an undersized RB to still be featured in the NFL.
- Mighty mouse in pass protection who brings it every rep despite small frame.
- Under-utilized receiver out of the backfield who’s stood out when given opportunities. Possesses plus ball skills and YAC-ability.
Devin Singletary | Florida Atlantic, JR
- Monstrous production for Lane Kiffin in the C-USA – 1918 rush yards (6.4 ypc) and 32 TDs in 2017, the latter of which is the 3rd highest single-season mark all-time behind Barry Sanders & Montee Ball. Nicknamed “Motor.”
- Like Bryce Love in his ability to set up open field moves and make tacklers miss in tight space. Doesn’t come close to matching Love’s long speed, but he similarly bounces off arm-tackle attempts, or completely eludes defenders with clean footwork & devastating cuts.
- Lacks ideal size, but he plays with desired toughness whether running or blocking.
- Rushed for a seemingly ho-hum 68 yards & 1 TD vs. Wisconsin, but it was impressive tape. FAU was overmatched up front, yet Singletary showed he could create extra yardage vs. a top caliber defense. He otherwise feasted on FAU’s weak competition.
Justice Hill | Oklahoma State, JR
- Productive freshman year followed by big sophomore season in 2017: 1467 rushing yards (5.5 ypc) and 15 TD’s.
- Yet another undersized RB in a class full of them, yet he doesn’t play like it. Incredibly strong for his size, with video last summer of a 565-pound squat. Also known for having a 40+ inch vertical. Easy to see that kind of power and explosiveness on tape, despite weighing under 200 lbs. Runs fearlessly with toughness and stability on contact and hasn’t missed a game through 2 years for the Cowboys. Shoulder surgery last spring.
- Also has the agility, balance and elusiveness to frequently make defenders grasp at air. Outstanding footwork, vision & decision-making with the ball in his hands. Routinely creates advantageous angles to force weak contact at best by tacklers, which he can easily churn through. Good speed, with quick & timely bursts to get through small creases.
- Avoids risky contact better than Bryce Love, but not to the same extent as Myles Gaskin.
- OSU typically used him on basic routes out of the backfield when passing, often off play-action. His receiving production (31/190/1) doesn’t stand out considering how regularly he was in route. Not kept in to block very much and made a limited impact when he did.
Damarea Crockett | Missouri, JR
- Shoulder surgery ended 2017 season halfway through, and he was suspended for 1 game in 2016 for marijuana possession.
- Quite a gifted athlete. Posted 124.6 SPARQ score in high school, with particularly strong marks in the vertical jump (40 inches) and short shuttle (4.00).
- Efficient rushing production in 1.5 years of SEC play – 1543 yards (6.6 ypc) and 12 TD’s.
- Impressively-built RB at 225 lbs & plays up to his size. Solid combo of balance, explosion & power.
- Electric feet for his size. Manipulates rushing lanes with supremely agile footwork & twitchy stop-start quickness. Makes ‘em miss with ankle-breaking jump cuts. Plenty of short area burst/acceleration, though he lacks special long speed in the open field. Also drops on first contact too often for my taste as of now.
- Active pass protector who looks for work & delivers a blow to free rushers. Strong upper & lower body. Not used in the passing game yet. Significant ball-security issues at this point.
Darius Anderson | TCU, JR
- Originally committed to Missouri, then de-committed and chose TCU over Alabama. Has grown from skinny 182 lbs to 212 lbs in 3 years, and he posted ridiculous workout numbers in spring 2016: a 660-pound squat & a 4.39 forty time. Nicknamed “Jet.”
- 2017 Spring testing numbers: 4.39 forty again, 42” vert, squats 700 lbs, benches 440 lbs.
- Forced a backfield timeshare with incumbent starter Kyle Hicks as a true sophomore in 2017, rushing for 768 yards & 8 TDs. TCU’s running game averaged 4.6 ypc altogether, but it was much more explosive with Anderson in the backfield (6.0 ypc). The Horned Frogs’ offensive line created some big running lanes for him.
- Elite straight-line burst, acceleration & speed. When he has a head of steam, Anderson bounces off would-be tacklers and finishes runs with power. However, he can be too easy to take down without momentum, lacking standout elusiveness and balance at this point.
- More of a pure athlete than polished ball-carrier as of now, lacking nuance in several areas (patience, vision, and the natural rushing instincts to consistently force missed tackles). Unproven as a receiver & pass protector – rarely on the field in passing situations.
- It’s Anderson’s backfield now with Hicks having graduated, so he’ll have a big opportunity in a larger role. Capable of making a Ronald Jones-type jump in his Junior year, but he must improve in several areas to do so. (For perspective – RoJo wasn’t near the player he is now in his sophomore year, but he was still “ahead” of where Anderson was at the same respective time).
- TCU’s OL likely takes a step back after quality seniors moved on to the NFL (and he’ll get more attention from defenses this year), so Anderson will need to use more than just his pure athleticism to reach his early-round upside.
Benny Snell | Kentucky, JR
- Big rushing production through only 2 years in the SEC – 2424 yards (5.4 ypc) and 32 TD’s.
- Strong frame with excellent balance on contact. Runs angry with plenty of power between the tackles, and finishes runs with authority. Falls forward.
- Patient for a power back – good instincts to find the crease and plow through traffic. Great feel for knowing when to bounce runs outside.
- Average athlete – maximizes his talent with controlled running, but he lacks standout speed, quickness and explosiveness.
- You know what you’re getting with Snell. Somewhat limited upside as a 2-down hammer, but he’s reliable.
Karan Higdon | Michigan, SR
- Efficient production in Michigan’s 2017 backfield committee – rushed for 994 yards (6.1 ypc) and 11 TD’s. 1 ypc more than partner Chris Evans, and much higher than 4.4 team average.
- Sprinter speed in the open field – runs away from 3rd-level defenders when he gets the edge/angle on them. Undersized RB who doesn’t play like it. Explosive.
- Kind of a straight-line guy – more a product of his tendencies than physical ability. Hits the line with a strong sense of urgency, looking to get north/south and finish with power.
- Vision seems average and lacks necessary patience at times. Less shifty than other small backs, but the moves are in there. Just doesn’t use them enough.
- There’s something to be said for his no-nonsense style. Not flashy aside from his speed, yet he’s effective. Rarely tackled in the backfield for losses.
- Essentially no pass game usage beside occasional screens, which went for some nice gains.
- Tough pass protector, though limited by size & appears uncertain of assignment at times.