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2019 NFL Draft Class Preview - Running Backs (Part 1)


Last week, we kicked out our NFL Draft Class Preview series with the wide receiver position. Today, we'll take our first look at the top RB options in the NFL Draft for dynasty leagues.

If you're a devy player or follow college football closely, you'll know that there's significantly less excitement surrounding this year's class as compared to previous years. So if you're in win-now mode and feel like you're one RB short of contention, this could be a good year to trade picks for an established back.

The order shown is based on the rankings at NFL Draft Scout, which will be used as part of the analysis.

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Methodology

Before we jump into the evaluations, I'll provide a reminder to my scouting process as it differs with traditional film scouts and pure analytics scouts. My primary tools are based on the work of Anthony Amico which include a regression tree showing the historical success rates of RBs based on their college production and the age at which a player broke out. In the regression tree, success is considered a 200 point PPR season in the player's first three seasons.

Additionally, I'll examine how heavily the player was utilized in both the rushing and receiving games. Heavy usage can help identify players that are capable of becoming workhorse backs in the NFL.

It's worth noting that RB draft stock is heavily affected by combine performances so these evaluations are preliminary and will evolve over the course of the draft process.

 

Josh Jacobs, Alabama

Height: 5' 9''
Weight: 216 lbs
Final Season Age: 20.9

The first of two Alabama RBs on this list might come as a surprise to readers, but there's been a growing excitement around Jacobs in the draft community. Whether that's driven by his usage in critical situations or the highlight of Jacobs running over an Oklahoma defender in the College Football Playoff, the buzz surrounding this former three-star prospect is growing rapidly.

Josh Jacobs G Att Yds Avg TD Rec Yds Avg TD Kick Return Yards Punt Return Yards Adj All Purpose Yards AdJAPYPG
2016 14 85 567 6.7 4 14 156 11.1 0 0 27 858 61.3
2017 11 46 284 6.2 1 14 168 12.0 2 86 0 538 48.9
2018 15 120 640 5.3 11 20 247 12.4 3 408 0 1295 86.3
Career 40 251 1491 5.9 16 48 571 11.9 5 494 27 2691 67.3

The red flags for Jacobs are somewhat obvious. He never average more than ten carries per game and his career yards per carry is under the ideal 6.0. However, there are a few positive takeaways. Each season on campus showed an increased usage in the passing game and he maintained an average over 10.0 yards per reception. In addition to being featured on the offense, Jacobs used his versatility in kick returns. While he only returned 17 kickoffs over the course of his career, his 29.1 yard average helps demonstrate his potential athleticism and versatility.

Using the Amico regression tree, he gets a positive bump due to his NFL Draft Scout ranking but falls short in adjusted yards per game and rushing efficiency which leads to a 21 percent historical success rate. Jacobs limited usage also leaves him without a breakout season. Based on the study of breakout age, RBs who never broke out only have a 12.1 percent success rate. Because his positive ranking helped his outcome so drastically, he's a player to watch closely.

The concerns about Jacobs' usage are real, but he's been the featured back in high leverage moments and there's reason to expect him to test well at the combine. The scouts are The Draft Network rank Jacobs as high as number 1 and as low as number 3. With this level of hype in January, it's fair to say that Jacobs is no longer a sleeper prospect who could slip in rookie drafts. He projects as a mid-first round rookie pick.

 

Trayveon Williams, Texas A&M

Height: 5' 9''
Weight: 200 lbs
Final Season Age: 22.3

Another potentially surprising name at the top of the NFL Draft Scout rankings, Williams made a name for himself as a freshman at Texas A&M.  He became the school’s first ever true freshman with over 1,000 yards rushing with the highlight game coming against Tennessee. He accumulated 217 yards and a TD and became the first freshman to rush for 200 yards in a game in school history.

Trayveon Williams G Att Yds Avg TD Rec Yds Avg TD Kick Return Yards Punt Return Yards Adj All Purpose Yards AdJAPYPG
2016 13 156 1057 6.8 8 19 91 4.8 0 82 0 1230 94.6
2017 12 173 798 4.6 8 20 192 9.6 0 183 0 1173 97.8
2018 13 271 1760 6.5 18 27 278 10.3 1 0 0 2038 156.8
Career 38 600 3615 6.0 34 66 561 8.5 1 265 0 4441 116.9

Williams' sophomore season presents a big "what if" situation. What if he maintained his rushing efficiency? Would he be considered the top RB in the class? Williams has proven capable of carrying a heavy workload with nearly 300 touches during his final season. And his 6.5 yard average on 271 carries proved that any concerns about his efficiency could be somewhat alleviated.

Using the Amico regression tree, Williams finishes with a 21 percent historical success rate. He did manage a breakout season in 2018 with 156.8 adjusted yards per game. While it would have been better to break out at a young age, the success rate of RBs with a break out over the age of 21 is 22.2 percent compared to the 12.1 percent of RBs who never breakout.

There's a reason why it's a surprise to see Williams ranked at number two, but he's shown flashes of brilliance during his college career. The Draft Network staff ranks him as high as number 5 while others on staff have him outside of the top 10. Through their film analysis, they identified his burst and experience in the passing game as his best traits while also pointing out his small frame as a possible concern. Williams will likely need a strong draft process to be drafted among the top two RBs and he projects as a second round rookie pick in most leagues.

 

Damien Harris, Alabama

Height: 5' 10''
Weight: 215 lbs
Final Season Age: 22.3

The second of the Alabama RBs is the one that some scouts projected as the top RB in the class to start the year. After a National Championship 2017 season, Harris chose to return for his senior season rather than make the jump to the NFL. Whether that was a good decision for the former-five star prospect remains to be seen.

Damien Harris G Att Yds Avg TD Rec Yds Avg TD Kick Return Yards Punt Return Yards Adj All Purpose Yards AdJAPYPG
2015 10 46 157 3.4 1 4 13 3.3 0 174 0 344 34.4
2016 15 146 1037 7.1 2 14 99 7.1 2 0 0 1136 75.7
2017 14 135 1000 7.4 11 12 91 7.6 0 0 19 1186 84.7
2018 15 150 876 5.8 9 22 204 9.3 0 0 0 1080 72.0
Career 54 477 3070 6.4 23 52 407 7.8 2 174 19 3746 69.4

Usage is the big question for Harris. 2018 marked the first season in which Harris received ten carries per game and with the added workload, his efficiency dropped more than a full yard per carry as compared to his two previous seasons. But his 6.4 career average is good and his 22 receptions during his senior year helped improve his draft profile.

Using the Amico regression tree, Harris finishes with an 86 percent historical success rate. However, he also lacks a breakout season which has a success rate of 12.1 percent. With results at both ends of the spectrum, his draft ranking is critical. Should he fall to fifth in the NFL Draft Scout rankings, his success rate would fall all the way to 2.7 percent in the regression tree.

If you read any of my profiles on Harris during the season, you'll know that he's not my favorite prospect in large part due to his limited workload. But some film scouts swear by him. The Draft Network staff ranks him as high as two and as low as six. They cited his short-yardage skill as his best trait while noting that he lacks elusiveness. Most early most drafts have projected Harris as a top RB so it's fair to expect him to be drafted in the first two rounds. Should that assumption hold true, he projects as a top-eight pick in most rookie drafts.

 

Benny Snell Jr.,  Kentucky

Height: 5' 10''
Weight: 223 lbs
Final Season Age: 20.9

If you follow college football closely, Snell being ranked inside of the top five is no surprise. If you don't, it might be a bit of a shock to see a Kentucky offensive player ranked this high. But Snell is more than just any Kentucky offensive piece. He was the Kentucky offense or, more realistically, he was the piece that determined the success of the offense. Snell came to Kentucky as a three-star prospect out of Westerville, Ohio. Despite ranking as the 56th RB in the class, he made an instant impact and was named a True Freshman All-American by ESPN and a Freshman All-American by the Football Writers Association of America.

Benny Snell G Att Yds Avg TD Rec Yds Avg TD Kick Return Yards Punt Return Yards Adj All Purpose Yards AdJAPYPG
2016 13 186 1091 5.9 13 2 39 19.5 0 138 0 1268 97.5
2017 13 262 1333 5.1 19 10 72 7.2 0 -13 0 1392 107.1
2018 13 289 1449 5.0 16 17 105 6.2 0 0 0 1554 119.5
Career 39 737 3873 5.3 48 29 216 7.4 0 125 0 4214 108.1

There's no question whether Snell can handle the workload of a lead RB. The only question is whether his efficiency is a red flag or a product of his offense. Three consecutive seasons with 13 or more TDs and two straight seasons over 200 carries shows how much Kentucky leaned on Snell to create scoring opportunities. Snell has shown flashes of versatility, but he lacks some of the usage in the passing or return game to confidently make the claim.

Using the Amico regression tree, Snell finishes with a historical success rate of 21 percent. Additionally, he failed to qualify for a breakout season while on campus which historically has a 12.1 percent success rate. Both raise some concerns about whether Snell can ever become a top RB in the NFL.

Benny Snell went from potential sleeper to top prospect over the course of his final season.  The Draft Network staff ranks him as high as number 7 while others on staff have him outside of the top 10. They identified his competitive toughness as his best trait while citing his burst as his worst. Snell has been a favorite of mine since the start of the season, but as his stock rises, his efficiency concerns become more important. Never eclipsing 6.0 yards per carry for a season should raise some red flags for those looking at taking him in the first round. He projects as a late first round pick, but that could rise or fall through the draft process.

 

Mike Weber, Ohio State

Height: 5' 9''
Weight: 215 lbs
Final Season Age: 21.3

Coming out of high school, Mike Weber had every major program looking to bring him aboard. As a four-star prospect, there was plenty of excitement about his potential with Ohio State. His senior season saw him rush for 2,268 yards and 29 touchdowns despite missing three games as part of a state semi-finalist team. Weber was named a U.S. Army All-American.

Mike Weber G Att Yds Avg TD Rec Yds Avg TD Kick Return Yards Punt Return Yards Adj All Purpose Yards AdJAPYPG
2016 13 182 1096 6.0 9 23 91 4.0 0 0 0 1187 91.3
2017 12 101 626 6.2 10 10 94 9.4 0 143 0 863 71.9
2018 13 172 954 5.5 5 21 112 5.3 1 0 0 1066 82.0
Career 38 455 2676 5.9 24 54 297 5.5 1 143 0 3116 82.0

After sustaining an injury prior to his true freshman season, Weber sat out 2015 as a redshirt. Weber made a big impact as a redshirt freshman eclipsing 1,000 yards rushing and averaging 1.75 receptions per game. A minor injury before the 2017 season opened the door for true freshman, J.K. Dobbins to take the lead in the backfield. Weber's workload was nearly cut in half, but he maintained good efficiency and improved his TD rate. He capped off his Ohio State career with 954 yards on 172 carries on a predominantly pass-first offense. His 2018 campaign also featured his second year over 20 receptions. The red flags in Weber production are his career average below 6.0 yards per carry, his bad receiving efficiency, and the fact that he was never a workhorse back.

Never breaking out or handling a heavy workload hurts Weber in the Amico models. Using the regression tree, he finishes with a 2.7 percent success rate and by never breaking out, there's only a 12.1 historical success rate. These are noteworthy red flags if he isn't selected as a top back.

None of the staff at The Draft Network rank Weber inside of their top ten so expecting him to be a top-five rookie selection is a bit of a reach. They found his compact running style to be his best trait, but also found that he lacks the lower body looseness to have great lateral cuts. If Weber has a great draft process, he could become a late day two draft pick and would likely be a second round rookie pick. The more likely outcome, however, is that he becomes an early day three pick and subsequently falls to the third round of rookie drafts.

 

Darrell Henderson, Memphis

Height: 5' 9''
Weight: 200 lbs
Final Season Age: 21.3

As a three-star high school prospect, there wasn't as much excitement surrounding Henderson as compared to others in the draft. Henderson had a prolific high school career that saw him rush for 5,801 yards and 68 touchdowns and featured him being named the Mississippi Gatorade Football Player of the Year in 2014. While he wasn't immediately an impact player for Memphis, he saw action in every game of his freshman season and now with two straight super efficient years, there's only a question of how high his ceiling could be.

Darrell Henderson G Att Yds Avg TD Rec Yds Avg TD Kick Return Yards Punt Return Yards Adj All Purpose Yards AdJAPYPG
2016 13 87 482 5.5 5 20 237 11.9 3 113 0 832 64.0
2017 12 130 1154 8.9 9 24 226 9.4 2 250 0 1630 135.8
2018 13 214 1909 8.9 22 19 295 15.5 3 124 0 2328 179.1
Career 38 431 3545 8.2 36 63 758 12.0 8 487 0 4790 126.1

Back-to-back seasons with 8.9 yards per carry is nothing to ignore. Even with only 130 carries in 2017, Henderson topped 1,000 yards and still managed a breakout season with over 135 adjusted all-purpose yards per game. Henderson has averaged more than one reception per game for his career and his two per game 2017 season demonstrated that he's a capable receiver. Whether that translates to being an option out of the backfield in the NFL remains to be seen, but paired with a 12.0 yards per reception career average and there's plenty of reason to be excited about Henderson's explosiveness.

Using the Amico regression tree, Henderson finishes with a success rate of 21 percent. Additionally, Henderson's breakout during his 2017 campaign before the age of 21 has a historical success rate of 43.5 percent. Henderson's stock has been on the rise throughout the course of the season and if NFL Draft Scout raises him up the ranks, he will look like an even better prospect.

Admittedly, I'm late to the party with Henderson. His 8.9 yards per carry as a sophomore should have put him on the radar, but the encore proved to be even more impressive as he maintained efficiency on a full workload. The Draft Network ranks him as high as 2 and as low as 3. They put to his elusiveness as his best trait and note his pass protection as a weakness. Henderson's draft stock has been on the rise and likely will continue to do so. If he's the top overall RB in the class, expect him to be a top-five rookie pick. If he falls slightly, then he'll still most likely be a first-round rookie pick.

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