Josh Jacobs
© Trevor Ruszkowski | 2019 Feb 28
Josh Jacobs © Trevor Ruszkowski | 2019 Feb 28

Over the last three seasons combined, the NFL’s leading rushers are Ezekiel Elliott, Todd Gurley and Jordan Howard.

Last season, the All-Rookie running backs were Saquon Barley, drafted second overall, and Phillip Lindsay, an undrafted rookie free agent.

Joe Mixon and Chris Carson finished fourth and fifth in the NFL in rushing last season. Mixon was a second round Bengals draft choice, and Carson was selected in the seventh round (249th overall) by the Seahawks.

Following the 2012 NFL draft, in which Trent Richardson was a major bust at No.3 overall, teams began to shy away from drafting running backs early. There were no backs taken in the first round in 2013 or 2014. In 2015, Gurley was just too good for the Rams to pass at 10 and Melvin Gordon went 15th to the Chargers.

In 2016, Elliott went fourth to the Cowboys, Leonard Fournette went at No. 4 in 2017, when the Panthers took Christian McCaffrey eighth overall; and last season, Barkley went second, Rashaad Penny was 27th and Sony Michel 31st.

This year, however, is an even greater puzzle and it wouldn’t be shocking if, for the first time since 2014, there are no backs in the first round.

Talk to five different scouts and you could hear five different names as the best backs in this draft, although you will get some consensus that the top five include Alabama’s Josh Jacobs, Penn State's Miles Sanders, David Montgomery from Iowa State and Darrell Henderson out of Memphis.

Part of the dilemma: Much like the NFL, a lot of the top college programs are using duos at the position.

Jacobs’ Bama teammate, Damien Harris is thought to be in the top five backs by some scouts as well.

Asked at the combine how he feels about it, Jacobs said: “I just let the film speak for itself. I ain’t have a lot of carries or nothing like that, but if you look [at] the production I had when I was in the game, it kind of speaks for itself.

“They mostly ask me am I okay with sharing carries. That’s where the new trend in the league is going toward. It’s not really just one-back teams any more.”

Harris continued: “I just like the narrative to be that I’m fresh, I’m healthy, I made I through college with very few limitations, no real major injuries and I just had a healthy career.”

Sanders faces different questions having started for just one season at Penn State after backing up Barkley.

“I like to compete. I’m not afraid of competition at all," Sanders said. "I thought it was going to be a 1-2 punch. It didn’t work out. I still ended up learning a lot. I worked 10 times harder.”

If a team is looking for the most productive and complete back coming out of college, that would probably be either Trayveon Williams, who rushed for 3,615 yards and 34 TDs in addition to 66 catches for 551 receiving yards at Texas A&M or Henderson (3,545 yards, 36 TDs and 63-758 receiving). But because of their lack of size, both currently project as Day 2 selections.

If you’re looking for speed, the fastest 40 among running backs at the combine came from Oklahoma State's Justice Hill, who ran a 4.40 and was extremely productive over three years in that program. But because of his small stature and lack of any special football traits, he could still be available into Day 3.

At the end of the day, the grades on the RB class of 2019 are a mystery.

Jacobs is a consensus choice over his teammate Harris, but he leave’s Bama with 1,491 career rushing yards and never more than 640 in a season, while Harris totaled 3,013 and two 1,000-yard campaigns.

All of these backs and at least a dozen more will get drafted, but what order they come off the board in and who will have the best career is anybody’s guess.