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Ahead of the Game - 2019 College Football Running Back Prospects


In my series preview, I presented five draft-eligible wide receivers who project to be early NFL draft selections and potentially great dynasty assets. Today, I'll focus on the running back position, specifically the top three RBs who were expected to declare for the 2018 class and made the late decision to return to school.

Typically, my prospect scouting leans on the athletic traits of RBs, but with the combine still a year away, I'll shift my focus to their receiving capabilities, ability to maintain efficiency on a heavy workload, and their dominance of their team's backfield including projected 2018 usage.

These three RBs aren't necessarily the top three in the class, but all projected as draftable backs in the loaded 2018 class and in a class that is generally seen as weaker, they could enter with a slightly increased draft value.

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NCAA Running Backs to Watch

Bryce Love, RB, Stanford

Bryce Love was such a lock to be drafted, I included him in my draft preview series as one of the top five RBs in the class. Some outlets were projecting Love as a possible first-round pick. And if there's any question as to why, here's a quick reminder of his career to date:

Bryce Love G Rush Att Rush Yds Yards per Carry Rush TD Receptions Rec. Yds Yards per Reception Rec. TD
2015 14 29 225 7.8 2 15 250 16.7 1
2016 12 111 783 7.1 3 8 83 10.4 1
2017 13 263 2118 8.1 19 6 33 5.5 0
Career 39 403 3126 7.8 24 29 366 12.6 2

And I can't necessarily blame Love for returning to school rather than entering one of the deepest RB classes in recent history, it was a real surprise when he announced his intent to return for another season at Stanford.

Love sat behind Christian McCaffrey for his first two seasons and in intermittent work, he had a high yards per carry average and showed some capabilities as a receiver. What stands out most for Love is his improved efficiency during his workhorse 2017 campaign. In his first season over 200 carries, Love not only eclipsed six yards per carry, but he comfortably surpassed it. And he tacked on 19 touchdowns. The slightly concerning side of his production is averaging only 0.46 receptions per game during his breakout season along with averaging less than ten yards per catch.

MS RuYds MS RuTDs Rushing Dominator MS Total Yards MS Total TDs Total Dominator
2017 0.75 0.62 0.68 0.40 0.36 0.38

The former four-star high school prospect solidified himself as the key component of the Stanford offense last year. Not only did he account for 75 percent of the total rushing yards, but he handled 40 percent of the team's total offensive yardage. He'll share the backfield with a similar cast as 2017 so it can be expected that he'll play a big part in the offense once again.

The best outcome for Love in 2018 would include an expanded role in the receiving game while maintaining his elite rushing efficiency. He enters the 2018 season one of the favorites for the Heisman trophy and should be one of the first RBs selected. If he can solidify himself as a first-round selection, drafters will likely be considering him in the top five of rookie drafts.

 

Myles Gaskin, RB, Washington

If you're outside of the Pacific Northwest or don't follow college football closely, Gaskin might be a relative unknown. But he's a true workhorse and one of the most productive backs in the country. And if his stats show anything, it's that he's seemingly evolving each year.

Year G Rush Att Rush Yards Yards per Carry Rush TD Receptions Rec Yards Yards per Reception Rec. TD
2015 13 227 1302 5.7 14 6 19 3.2 0
2016 14 237 1373 5.8 10 19 137 7.2 1
2017 13 222 1380 6.2 21 19 232 12.2 3
Career 40 686 4055 5.9 45 44 388 8.8 4

Gaskin has managed over 200 carries each of his first three seasons and has expanded his work in the passing game each year. Each season, he's appeared to add an additional tool to his arsenal that has improved his stock as a prospect. His handling of a heavy workload in 2015 with a slightly below expected efficiency would have been better than many prospects considering his freshman status. Then, in 2016, he expended his role in the passing game while slightly increasing his rushing efficiency and usage. And then 2017 marked his notable passing of certain efficiency thresholds on a big workload. If he can keep up this efficiency, even with the expected TD regression, he could be a standout prospect by the end of the year.

MS RuYds MS RuTDs Rushing Dominator MS Total Yards MS Total TDs Total Dominator
2015 0.47 0.59 0.53 0.21 0.20 0.20
2016 0.50 0.42 0.46 0.24 0.15 0.20
2017 0.58 0.58 0.58 0.31 0.43 0.37

Despite sharing the backfield with Lavon Coleman, who signed with Houston as a priority UDFA, Gaskin has accounted for the majority of the team's rushing yards for consecutive seasons. His 22 TDs, which includes three in the passing game, represented 43 percent of the team's total.

He'll share the backfield with sophomore, Salvon Ahmed, who was a four-star prospect and handled more than 70 touches as a freshman, but Gaskin should have a healthy share of his team's carries. Ideally, Gaskin would continue to improve his rushing efficiency and if he edged closer to two receptions per game, it could go a long way to help his draft stock.

 

Damien Harris, RB, Alabama

Harris is in the most unique situation of all of the prospects. He may be one of the most talented draft-eligible backs this season, but he may also be the second or third most talented RB on his own team.

Year G Rush Att Rush Yards Yards per Carry Rush TD Receptions Rec Yards Yards per Reception Rec. TD
2015 10 46 157 3.4 1 4 13 3.3 0
2016 15 146 1037 7.1 2 14 99 7.1 2
2017 14 135 1000 7.4 11 12 91 7.6 0
Career 39 327 2194 6.7 14 30 203 6.8 2

There's no questions about Harris's efficiency in the running game. Well over the six yards per carry mark, the only question is whether he'd maintain it on a workload over 200 carries. During his time at Alabama, he's played an ancillary role to bigger backs like Derrick Henry and Bo Scarborough. He may never eclipse the ideal 200 carry threshold because of ever-present competition, but he could prove to be among the most efficient backs in the class.

MS RuYds MS RuTDs Rushing Dominator MS Total Yards MS Total TDs Total Dominator
2016 0.28 0.06 0.17 0.17 0.07 0.12
2017 0.30 0.30 0.30 0.18 0.18 0.18

The biggest obstacle for Harris is going to be his competition for carries. Cases could be made that any of Joshua Jacobs, Brian Robinson, and particularly Najee Harris could be the team's carry leader and Harris will need to become the team leader if he has any chance of becoming a first-round draft pick.  This competition may keep him from ever handling a true workhorse workload, but potentially three straight 1000 yard rushing seasons would be nothing to overlook. He's considered by some film scouts the best RB in his conference and will have chances to score on Alabama's offense.

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