2018 NFL Draft: Penn State’s Barkley headlines rich RB class

1. Saquon Barkley
Penn State
6-0, 233, 40 time: 4.40
Projection: First Round

Born in the Bronx, Barkley is the son of former WBC middleweight champion Iran Barkley. He moved to Pennsylvania, where he went on to become Mr. PA Football for Class AAA/AAA in 2014 while also winning the gold medal in the 100-meter dash.

A four-star recruit, Barkley missed his first two games at Penn State in 2015 but still went on to rack up five 100-yard rushing games and was second in the nation among true freshmen with 1,076 yards. The following season, he led the Big Ten in all-purpose yards (140.86 yards per game) and 22 total touchdowns while finishing second with 1,496 rushing yards. Named a team captain before the 2017 season, Barkley went on to become the first FBS player since 2000 to top 1,000 rushing yards and 500 receiving yards in a season, and finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy voting.

Barkley set numerous Penn State records before declaring early for the draft. He passed Larry Johnson as the program’s career all-purpose yards leader (5,538), broke Lydell Mitchell’s marks of 43 rushing and 53 total touchdowns and joined Evan Royster as the only Penn State players with three 1,000-yard rushing seasons.

Barkley is an outstanding all-around athlete and home-run threat as a runner, receiver and return man. He is extremely elusive with the ball in his hands, using his compact frame, quick feet and a variety of moves to escape blockers in the backfield or at the second level. Barkley has the vision and the lateral burst to get to the corner or exploit cut-back lanes and has more than enough speed to run away from would-be tacklers. He also displays solid hands and good route-running skills.

If there are areas of his game to nitpick, Barkley needs to refine his pass blocking and become disciplined in following designed holes in the NFL, where trying to find the end zone on every carry will lead to more negative plays.

2. Derrius Guice
5-10, 224, 40 time: 4.49
Projection: First Round

Guice grew up in a tough part of Baton Rouge and his father was murdered when Guice was seven years old. Using football as an outlet, Guice rushed for 341 yards and 21 touchdowns as a senior at Catholic High School and earned MVP honors at the U.S. Army All-American game.

The five-star recruit went on to rush for 436 yards and three touchdowns as a freshman backup to Leonard Fournette. With Fournette battling an ankle injury for much of the 2016 season, Guice racked up an SEC-best 1,387 rushing yards and 16 total touchdowns while averaging 7.6 yards per carry. He was also named the MVP of the Citrus Bowl.

Guice battled nagging injuries in 2017 but still managed to rush for 1,251 yards and 11 touchdowns while adding 18 catches for 124 yards and two more scores in being named second-team All-SEC. He is one of only five players in LSU history to record consecutive seasons with 1,000-plus rushing yards and at least 10 rushing TDs. He decided to forgo his senior season, leaving as the fifth-leading rusher in program history with 3,074 yards.

Guice runs with a violent attitude and style, being credited with breaking 36 tackles and averaging 4.1 yards per carry after contact in 2017 by Pro Football Focus. He follows his blockers with patience to allow holes to develop and then accelerating through them. He will also pick up plenty of extra yardage after contact and displays passion in his running.

Guice lacks the true breakaway gear of some of the other backs in this draft. And while he breaks a slew of tackles, he also takes on too much contact rather than eluding it. If Guice is able to stay healthy in the NFL with his physical style, he could quickly emerge as a Pro Bowl back.

3. Sony Michel
5-11, 214, 40 time: 4.54
Projection: Second Round

With 6,659 rushing yards in high school and a number of awards bearing his name, Michel was one of the prized recruits of the 2014 class. He joined Todd Gurley, Keith Marshall and Nick Chubb to form a dominant backfield in 2014. Michel had his chance to see the field as a sophomore when Chubb went down with a serious knee injury, accounting for 1,161 rushing yards in 2015. Despite only four starts his final two years in Athens, he played a significant role in the Georgia offense.

As a senior, Michel rushed for 7.9 yards per carry and led the team with 16 rushing touchdowns, running at his best in the College Football Playoff against Oklahoma (181 rushing yards) and Alabama (98 rushing yards).

A shifty runner between the tackles, Michel doesn’t waste time attacking run lanes and bursting to the second level of the defense. He does an excellent job reading his blockers and finding creases, creating burst off his plant foot to string moves together. Michel would benefit from added patience to his run style and can outrun his blockers. However, in some schemes, the same urgency that made him special and productive in college will be a benefit.

Michel typically took the field in third-down situations because he was a trusted blocker and receiver. Scouts question his ball security after Michel fumbled 12 times in four seasons. Durability is another major ding on the scouting report. However, Michel has all the ingredients of a NFL starting back.

4. Ronald Jones II
Southern Cal
5-11, 205, 40 time: 4.65
Projection: Second Round

Jones arrived at Southern Cal as a football and track star out of McKinney, Texas, and made an immediate impact as a freshman, rushing for a team-high 987 yards to break Charles White’s 39-year-old school freshman rushing record. Jones also earned honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors.

He took over the starting job when Justin Davis was injured in the middle of the 2016 season and went on lead the team with 1,082 rushing yards while scoring 13 total touchdowns. He had four 100-yard efforts while starting the final six regular-season games and made second-team All-Pac-12. He also spent some time with the USC track team in 2016.

Jones saved his best for what would prove to be farewell season with the Trojans, rushing for 1,550 yards and 19 touchdowns in 2017. He earned first-team all-conference honors and decided to forgo his senior year to enter the draft.

Jones, who dealt with a nagging hamstring injury throughout the pre-draft process, is an explosive athlete who accelerates to and through the hole. His track speed also enables him to get to the outside and challenge the pursuit angles of defenders. He often does so by moving from the inside to the outside without losing speed, and he can stop on a dime to make defenders miss. Jones runs with good instincts, setting up his moves downfield and is willing to meet defenders when necessary.

While he can play physical and is a willing – if marginally effective – blocker in blitz pickup, Jones lacks the ideal frame for an every-down back in the NFL and durability could be a concern. He needs to improve his production between the tackles and show that he is more than a check-down option in the passing game, but Jones is a proven playmaker who has drawn wide comparisons to former Chiefs star Jamaal Charles.

5. Nick Chubb
5-11, 227, 40 time: 4.52
Projection: Second Round

With Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall atop the Georgia running back depth chart in 2014, Chubb wasn’t expected to see the field as a true freshman. But Gurley and Marshall suffered season-ending injuries and Chubb beat out fellow freshman Sony Michel, emerging as one of the best backs in the country with 1,547 yards in his first season in Athens.

His career track was altered by a gruesome knee injury in 2015 and Chubb never looked healthy in 2016. Chubb regained his bounce as a senior with a career-best 15 touchdowns, averaging 6.0 yards per carry for the 2017 SEC champions.

Built like a bruiser with a thick lower body, Chubb runs with outstanding balance and determination to stay on his feet through contact. Chubb marries his feet to his eyes to set up defenders with quick cuts, patching together his moves and forcing off-balanced tackle attempts. Chubb showed off his impressive lower-body power at the combine with 38.5-inch vertical and 10-feet-8 broad jump.

With only four catches as a senior, Chubb is somewhat unproven as a receiving threat with Michel often handling the third-down duties for the Bulldogs. But as long as the doctors give the A-Okay with his surgically repaired knee, Chubb will be a solid day two running back target.

6. Kerryon Johnson
5-11 1/2, 213, 40 time: 4.52
Projection: Second Round

Johnson’s brother, Kerrron, is a professional basketball player in Europe and Kerryon was also an all-state player in high school. But it was the gridiron where he truly excelled. Johnson was named Mr. Football in Alabama after rushing for 1,659 yards and 25 touchdowns while leading Madison Academy to its third consecutive state title, and he chose Auburn over Alabama and several other top programs.

Johnson saw significant action as a true freshman, rushing for 208 yards and three touchdowns, catching 14 passes and averaging 27.6 yards on 14 kickoff returns. Johnson built on that success in 2016 despite sharing the backfield with Kamryn Pettway, rushing for 895 yards and 11 touchdowns and averaging 22.3 yards on 12 kick returns.

With Pettway limited by injury in 2017, Johnson emerged as the lead back. He earned first-team All-SEC honors after racking up 1,391 yards and 18 touchdowns to go along with 24 catches for 194 yards and his first two receiving touchdowns as a Tiger. Johnson did miss two games due to injury, but finished ninth in Heisman Trophy voting and opted to forgo his senior year.

Johnson shows great patience in the backfield to the extent that it could be a fault. He allows holes to develop and makes the quick decision to attack. He has also displayed good hands as a receiver and wants to stay on the field, even serving as a kick returning during his first two seasons.

Johnson isn’t especially elusive and will seek to drop his pads and pick up extra yards. Some of that is due to an inability to avoid contact in tighter spaces, and his upright running style gives some evaluators pause about his durability.

He has all the tools to flourish as a three-down back in the NFL, with the biggest question perhaps being how long his body can hold up to the punishment.

7. Rashaad Penny
Running Back, San Diego State
5-11, 220, 40 time: 4.46
Projection: Second-Third round

It is uncommon to lose one 2,000-yard rusher and replace him with another one. But that’s what happened at San Diego State, with Penny stepping into the spotlight to replace FBS all-time leading rusher Donnel Pumphrey.

Pumphrey improved his production every season, even rushing for 1,005 yards and 11 touchdowns as a junior despite starting only one game. With Pumphrey in the NFL last season, Penny led the FBS with 2,248 rushing yards and 2,974 all-purpose yards, which earned him a top-five finish for the Heisman trophy.

He finished his college career with a staggering 7.5 yards per carry average and 38 touchdowns, earning consensus All-American honors and conference Offensive Player of the Year as a senior.

Penny might not be elite in any one area, but he is solid across the board – vision, patience, balance, inside toughness. He finds slivers of daylight and hits them, bursting to the second level with force. Penny trusts the play design and doesn’t waste time in the backfield.

He has improved as a receiver, but his primary flaw is exposed in pass protection, missing blitzers and getting his quarterback hit. However, his value on special teams (tied the FBS record with seven kickoff returns and eight total returns) will be appealing to NFL teams. Penny might not be overly flashy, but he is durable, reliable and the production speaks for itself and he projects as a potential starter at the next level.

8. Royce Freeman
6-0, 229, 40 time: 4.54
Projection: Third Round

Freeman came to Oregon from Imperial, Calif., seeking to continue the Ducks’ pipeline of highly-productive running backs. He wasted no time in making an impact, earning first-team All-Pac-12 honors from multiple publications and being named the conference’s Freshman Offensive Player of the Year after totaling 1,523 all-purpose yards and 18 touchdowns.

Freeman broke LaMichael James’ single-season school rushing record with 1,836 yards in 2015 while being the only FBS player in the country to amass at least 100 yards from scrimmage in every game. He again led Oregon with 945 yards as a junior but missed one game and was limited in several others by a knee injury.

Oregon’s offense continued to evolve through quarterback issues and a new coaching staff in 2017, but the big back looked more explosive than ever, rushing for 1,475 yards and 16 touchdowns and earning second-team all-conference honors. He leaves Eugene as one of only four players in FBS history to top 5,000 career rushing yards and 800 receiving yards.

Freeman is a big back with thick legs and excellent vision. He’s not going to make a lot of would-be tacklers whiff and will struggle to win on the edge against the speed of NFL defenders. But as a North-South runner he is patient in seeking the hole and then attacks with aggressiveness. Not only is he a load to bring down, Freeman is adept at making the most of small spaces and surging through to drag tacklers.

He put up solid receiving numbers in Oregon’s offense, but Freeman is not an elite receiver out of the backfield and lacks the burst to outrun defenders. He could make a good living as a short-yardage runner at the next level. One of the primary concerns being 1,027 touches in college and already a history of some nagging injuries.

9. Nyheim Hines
NC State
5-9, 198, 40 time: 4.38
Projection: Fourth Round

Only the unfamiliar were surprised when Hines turned in a blistering 4.38 40-yard dash to lead all running backs at the NFL Scouting Combine. He was a two-sport star in high school who chose NC State in part because his twin sister, Nyah, received a track and field scholarship.

Nyheim’s track background was evident as a true freshman, when he produced a combined 1,419 all-purpose yards — 243 rushing, 256 receiving and 920 as a kick returner. He followed that up by competing in sprint events and earning All-American and All-ACC honors.

Hines played mostly the slot receiver position as a sophomore, catching 42 passes for 525 yards, but did not reach the end zone. He moved to the backfield as a junior, rushing for 1,113 yards and 12 touchdowns despite a midseason ankle injury, and won the Paul Hornung Award as the nation’s top all-purpose back as well as first-team all-conference honors as a running back.

Hines also finished his career with a 24.7-yard average on 88 kickoff returns, and opted to forgo his senior season for the NFL draft.

Hines is a multi-dimensional threat who will bring out the creativity in the right offensive coordinator. He has extensive experience in the backfield, as a slot returner and brings added versatility as a returner specialist. He possesses sprinter’s speed and is a big play waiting to happen when he gets the ball in his hands in the open field.

By the same token, he is an energizing athlete without a true position. He’s not big enough for full-time duty in the backfield but is a better runner than receiver. Hines will attempt to pick up extra yardage but lacks the bulk to move the pile. He is a chance-of-pace back who could develop into a true multi-dimensional weapon in the right offense.

10. Bo Scarbrough
6-1 3/8, 228 40 time: 4.52
Projection: Fourth Round

Video clips of Scarbrough bowling over tired would-be tacklers late in CFP games became commonplace over the past two seasons. The powerful runner spent his final year of high school at the IMG Academy in Florida, but hails from Tuscaloosa and it was no surprise that he chose to enroll at Alabama.

Scarbrough missed four games of his freshman season due to an ACL injury and suspension, managing only 104 yards and one touchdown while watching Derrick Henry win the Heisman Trophy in a backfield that also included Kenyan Drake and Damien Harris.

Scarbrough draws comparisons to Henry and he rushed for 812 yards and 11 touchdowns as a sophomore, including 273 and four scores in two CFP games despite a leg injury slowing him in the title game. He added 596 yards and eight touchdowns in 2017 before declaring early for the NFL draft.

Scarbrough is a beast out of the I-formation, taking the ball and delivering punishment to anyone in his way. He finishes nearly every run falling forward, creating extra yards with his powerful legs and big frame. He is a proven short-yardage and red-zone threat who also has the physique to stand up to oncoming blitzers, although his technique needs refinement.

That big frame also presents a big target for defenders, and Scarbrough struggles to avoid contact. While he shared backfield duties and had a relatively light workload for a lead back, he does absorb a lot of big hits and durability is a clear concern following a slew of nagging injuries dating back to high school.

Scarborough is a bear to bring down when he has a head of steam, but he isn’t going to break away on his own and will do best in a one-cut scheme.

11. John Kelly
5-9 7/8, 216, 40 time: 4.5
Projection: Fourth Round

Kelly was a three-star recruit out of Michigan who scored touchdowns five different ways as a senior – rushing, receiving, kickoff return, punt return and interception return. He turned down offers from Michigan and Michigan State for an opportunity to play running back for the Vols, rushing for 166 yards and a touchdown as a freshman.

In an offense that featured Alvin Kamara and Jalen Hurd (until he left the program midseason), Kelly led all Volunteers running backs with 630 yards on 98 carries with five touchdowns in 2016. With Kamara off to the NFL, Kelly set new career highs with 778 rushing yards and nine touchdowns in 2017 and was the only player from a “Power 5” program to lead his team in rushing yards and receptions.

He chose to join a deep class of mid-round running backs in the 2018 NFL Draft rather than go through a coaching change entering his senior season.

Kelly’s final grade will be left to the eye of the beholder. He is undersized, but as an aggressive runner with a low center of gravity he makes strong, decisive cuts and keeps his legs moving upon contact. However, he also lacks great vision or a separating gear, and left question marks about his true speed after not running the 40 at the NFL Scouting Combine; reports vary widely about his times at UT’s pro day. Team interviews will also play a major factor with some concerns about his off-field decision-making.

Kelly isn’t an elite athlete, but he is a talented enigma as a one-year starter who got as much production as could be expected playing in a struggling offense in 2017. He projects as a backup with the potential to emerge as more with his competitive on-field attitude as a runner, receiver and blocker.

12. Mark Walton
Miami (Fla.)
5-10, 202, 40 time: 4.50
Projection: Fourth-Fifth Round

Walton overcame a difficult childhood during which his father was murdered, and his mother died last year. A four-star recruit, Walton decided to stay close to home and sign with the Hurricanes after helping lead Booker T. Washington to a state title.

He led Miami with 10 total touchdowns as a true freshman and took over the starting job in 2016 and rushed for 1,117 yards and 14 touchdowns to earn third-team All-ACC honors. Walton got off to a blazing start in 2017, averaging 7.6 yards per carry and scoring three touchdowns before suffering an ankle injury in the fifth game that required season-ending surgery.

Walton decided to forgo his senior year and declare for the draft, finishing his Miami career with 2,630 total yards and 28 touchdowns. The ankle was strong enough for Walton to participate at the Scouting Combine, where he ran a mediocre 4.60 40-yard dash. Pro day timings typically favor the athlete, but some scouts had him around 4.5 at Miami’s March 28 workout.

Walton lacks size, but he does possess a strong lower body and runs with good balance. He will often make the first defender miss and isn’t shy about lowering his pads to pick up extra yardage. Walton won’t emerge as an every-down back unless he becomes more decisive between the tackles, but he does bring versatility as a potential third-down back with his excellent hands, big-play ability and willingness to protect his quarterback.

Coming off an injury and in a deep running back class, Walton could slide down draft boards and prove a steal for a team seeking a combo back who can potentially contribute as a kick returner.

13. Akrum Wadley
5-9 5/8, 202, 40 time: 4.54
Projection: Fifth-Sixth Round

Wadley was a two-sport and two-way star in Newark, N.J., competing in basketball and prep while also earning first-team all-county honors as a running back and defensive back. However, he garnered little interest from FBS programs, with Iowa offering him a scholarship shortly before signing day.

That faith from the Hawkeyes would be rewarded. After redshirting in 2013, Wadley combined for 682 yards on 116 carries as the third-string back over the next two seasons. He moved up to the primary back behind LeShun Daniels in 2016 and lead the team with 1,081 yards on 168 carries while scoring 10 touchdowns.

Wadley decided to return for his senior season with an opportunity to be the full-time starter. He responded with 1,109 yards on 252 carries with another 10 TDs while earning third-team All-Big Ten honors, averaging 4.4 yards per carry.

Wadley’s best asset is nimble feet. While he can move a pile, he is an explosive runner who can make defenders look silly with his array of jump-cuts, jukes general ability to evade would-be tacklers. He can get to top speed quickly and has the burst to gain the edge. He also provides versatility as a receiver, even lining up in the slot.

The athleticism is unquestioned. Wadley does lack ideal bulk, and his vision and anticipation to feel for where lanes are going to open leave something to be desired. He has bulk and versatility, but definitely has room to improve in his aggressiveness in picking up the blitz and his route running. Wadley projects as a dangerous weapon in a committee backfield.

14. Kalen Ballage
Arizona State
6-1 ½, 228, 40 time: 4.46
Projection: Fifth-Sixth Round

The Colorado native was a four-star recruit and Top 100 athlete who chose Arizona State over offers from several other Pac-12 schools and Power 5 programs after rushing for 2,690 yards and 35 touchdowns in high school.

Ballage was used primarily as a short-yardage back as a true freshman, finishing with 138 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. His role increased in 2015 after overcoming mononucleosis, as Ballage logged 653 yards and four touchdowns on 125 carries (5.2 yards per carry). But it was during his junior season when Ballage made headlines. He had only one more carry than the previous season and produced 117 fewer yards on 4.3 yards per carry, but he also scored 15 TDs – including eight in a game against Texas Tech to tie the FBS single-game record.

He set career highs with 157 carries and 669 yards as a senior, although his TDs dropped to six while his per-carry average remained at 4.3. Ballage split carries with Demario Richard each of the past two seasons, serving primarily as the third-down and goal-line back.

Ballage possesses excellent size and athleticism, as his workout numbers at the NFL Scouting Combine attest to — 4.46 40, 122-inch broad jump, 6.91-second 3-cone drill and a 4.35-second short shuttle. He can also squat more than 500 pounds, and his ability to contribute as a receiver and return man will pique the interest of many teams seeking position versatility.

While Ballage has a nose for the end zone, he lacks a good feel for recognizing when lanes are about to open and the decisiveness to attack them when he does. He’s an outstanding athlete, but he’s not extremely elusive and doesn’t consistently break tackles.

15. Josh Adams
Notre Dame
6-1 5/8, 213, 40 time: 4.48
Projection: Fifth-Sixth Round

Adams recovered from a torn ACL during his junior year of high school in Pennsylvania to run track and earn all-state honors on the gridiron with 1,623 yards and 25 touchdowns. He chose Notre Dame over offers from Penn State and Stanford, among others, and rushed for 838 yards and six touchdowns as a backup to C.J. Prosise as a freshman.

He increased his production to 933 yards on the ground and 193 receiving yards to go with six total touchdowns as a sophomore. But it was Adams’ junior season that convinced him to leave early for the NFL draft after rushing for a career-high 1,430 yards and nine touchdowns, although his receiving numbers dipped to 13-101-0.

Adams is a powerful downhill runner who uses his strong legs to drive through contact and pick up extra yards. However, he lacks great acceleration or top-end speed, meaning he needs room to build up to top speed and gets into trouble when he runs east and west. His lack of speed really showed in a handful of games last season, including a lopsided loss at Miami.

As would be expected, much of Adams’ yards come after initial contact. He can bounce off linebackers – in part because he’s often the same size. His production increased every season at Notre Dame, but his need to build up to stop speed while lacking a breakaway gear could make it difficult for Adams to land a regular role in an NFL backfield. He has also battled nagging injuries in addition to the ACL from high school, and played behind an outstanding offensive line at Notre Dame.

16. Darrel Williams
6-0, 225, 40 time: 4.72
Projection: Sixth Round

After rushing for 2,201 yards as a senior in high school, Williams didn’t lack for college suitors.

He chose to stay closer to home and signed with LSU as the second-best running back recruit in the state of Louisiana. However, the state’s top-rated running back (Leonard Fournette) also signed with LSU, causing Williams to go be overshadowed.

After Fournette moved on to the NFL, Derrius Guice filled the featured running back role, but Williams filled in due to injury and averaged 5.7 yards per carry and finished with 1,151 yards of total offense as a senior.

Williams has an NFL build and is a tough inside runner who isn’t afraid to drop the pads and barrel through contact. He isn’t a dynamic athlete and has below-average speed and burst for the position.

Williams is a no-nonsense ballcarrier who gets north-south and resets his vision well on the move. The main appeal with him at the next level is the every-down potential. Williams has soft hands and natural receiving traits and holds his own as a blocker. He’s as surehanded as they come when it comes to ball security. Somewhere on day three, a NFL team is going to get a diverse back capable of contributing early and often.

17. Chase Edmonds
5-9, 205, 40 time: 4.55
Projection: Sixth Round

Edmonds left Fordham as the Patriot League’s all-time leading rusher after accumulating the fifth-most rushing yards in FCS history with 5,862 over his four-year career. He is also the conference’s all-time leader with 74 total touchdowns and 67 rushing touchdowns.

It’s incredible production for a player who did not receive a single FBS scholarship offer despite rushing for 2,378 yards and 25 touchdowns as a high school senior and being named the Mid-Penn Player of the Year. But he still garnered the attention of NFL scouts while tearing up the Patriots League, racking up a conference-record 7,374 career all-purpose yards despite battling injuries as a senior.

Edmonds earned an invitation to the East-West Shrine Game and met with the Giants and Jets among other teams at the NFL Scouting Combine, where he ran a 4.55 40-yard dash.

Edmonds has a lot of experience, which is a double-edged sword with the miles already logged on his compact frame. He had the quickest short shuttle time at the combine, a testament to his acceleration and ability to reach the second level in a hurry. Despite his shorter stature, Edmonds will finish runs with toughness and has an excellent track record with ball security.

The lack of elite straight-line speed is a concern with his impressive production coming against a lower level of competition. If he can improve his blocking and contribute as a receiver, Edmonds has the makings of a valuable change-of-pace back.

18. Roc Thomas
Jacksonville State
5-10, 198, 40 time: 4.56
Projection: Sixth-Seventh Round

Thomas was named Mr. Football in Alabama and the Gatorade Alabama Player of the Year after rushing for 2,211 yards and scoring 32 touchdowns as a senior. He was the No. 2 running back in the nation by Rivals and top five at his position by most all scouting services along with the likes of Leonard Fournette and Sony Michel. The five-star prospect was heavily recruited, ultimately picking Auburn over Alabama.

He rushed for 214 yards and two touchdowns as the third-string back behind Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant as a freshman, and 261 yards and one TD the following year. Still battling to earn significant playing time, Thomas requested his release after spring practices in 2016 and landed at Jacksonville State. He earned All-OVC honors after rushing for 782 yards and seven touchdowns as a junior, then set career highs with 178 carries for 1,065 yards and 13 TDs last season, earning conference Offensive Player of the Year.

It’s easy to see from a physical perspective what made Thomas a five-star recruit. He has a good frame for the position along with excellent feet and good burst into the hole. He can run with patience, although that runs hot and cold, and has excellent athleticism to set up his moves to evade defenders. Thomas also brings value to the passing game, although he does need to display more consistent effort in pass pro.

He battled nagging injuries early in his career at Auburn, contributing to his struggles to earn consistent playing time. The physical traits should get Thomas drafted. He’s inconsistent now, but a patient coaching staff could unearth a complementary back with excellent big-play ability.

19. Justin Jackson
6-0, 193, 40 time: 4.52
Projection: Seventh Round

Jackson was rated as the No. 5 overall prospect in Illinois by Scout.com, and the four-star recruit made an immediate impact for NU. He rushed for 1,187 yards and 10 touchdowns as a true freshman to earn honorable mention All-Big Ten honors.

He followed that up with 1,418 rushing yards and five touchdowns as a sophomore, 1,524-15 as a junior and 1,311-11 last season. Jackson leaves Northwestern as the program’s all-time leader with 6,2989 all-purpose and 5,440 career rushing yards, behind only Ron Dayne and Archie Griffin in Big Ten history for rushing yards. His 40 TDs also rank 10th in FBS history.

Jackson provides a wealth of experience and makes the most of his athleticism by understanding his role, reacting quickly to open holes and providing versatility as a receiving option out of the backfield. Of course, with all that experience comes wear and tear, and Jackson logged 1,264 touches for the Wildcats. However, he has avoided nagging injuries to this point, starting 44 of 51 games over the past four seasons.

Jackson is a jack-of-many trades and a master of none. He lacks elite traits, from ideal size to top-end speed to the body strength to routinely break tackles. He does anticipate well and typically makes the most of the holes opened for him. Jackson was extremely consistent in college, and his dependability should land him a spot on an NFL roster.

20. Phillip Lindsay
6-0, 193, 40 time: 4.51
Projection: Seventh Round

Lindsay was born in Denver and his father, Troy, played fullback for Colorado State, so it was no surprise that Phillip Lindsay chose to stay near home to play college ball. He comes from a very athletic family, as his two sisters were also college athletes – one a volleyball player and the other a basketball player.

Lindsay underwent knee surgery as a high school senior, receiving a get-well-soon from then-Denver Broncos running back Willis McGahee, who had undergone a similar surgery earlier in his career. Lindsay was the first player to commit to CU’s 2013 recruiting class, and the back nicknamed “The Tasmanian Devil” went on to rush for 3,770 yards and 36 touchdowns in 50 games for the Buffs.

He saved his best for last, rushing for a career-high 1,474 yards and 14 touchdowns as a senior, earning honorable mention All-Pac-12 and earning and invite to the East-West Shrine Game.

What Lindsay lacks in size he makes up for with versatility as a runner, receiver and special teams contributor. While undersized for the position and limited in pass pro technique, Lindsay plays with passion, quick feet and a constant urgency, hence his nickname.

Lindsay is a highly-respected team leader (three-time captain) who coaches rave about. He lacks the ideal build for a lead back in the NFL and his heavy college workload may have rubbed some of the tread off his tires.

But he has been a durable performer who increased his production every year, and Lindsay’s locker room presence will help give him an excellent shot to stick on an NFL roster next fall.

–Field Level Media

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