After going a couple years without a running back being selected in the first round, we have seen in the past four drafts multiple runners picked on Night 1 — including at least one selected in the top five in the past three years.
The trend one way or the other does not have much to do with the value of the position but how talented the running backs are each year. If there is a special runner, he is going to get selected very early. In the 2019 NFL draft, there aren’t any “special” backs but a bunch of good ones who will have productive careers. For that reason, it wouldn’t shock me if the number of backs picked in the opening round this year is between zero and two.
With that said here are Pro Football Weekly's top six backs in the 2019 draft:
Williams is short (5076) but not small (208 pounds). He has excellent strength and quickness, as well as a quick burst. Williams has good speed (4.51) and plays even a little faster. He has a knack of coming up with big plays, and once he gets in space, he seldom gets caught. Williams ran for 1,760 yards and a 6.5-yard-per-carry clip. He consistently gets yardage after contact and is a very reliable receiver. He may also be able to return kickoffs. Williams probably won’t go before the third round but could very well be a starting running back his rookie season. A very undervalued player.
Anderson is a very talented runner, who, if he showed good durability in college, may have been the first running back selected. The problem is, Anderson only played one full season in his four years at Oklahoma. That was in 2017, when he ran for 1,161 yards and had 17 receptions. In his other three years, he played in a total of four games. Among his injuries are a torn ACL, a fractured neck vertebrae and a broken leg. The problem is, running backs who have injury problems in college seldom stay healthy in the NFL. Still, some team may take Anderson around the fourth round, and if he can stay away from injury, he has some special traits.
Playing at Memphis, Henderson might not have received the publicity of some of the runners at the Power-5 schools. But just turn on the tape and you will see an exciting, explosive back. He’s not big (5-8, 208), but he is very fast (4.49) and extremely quick. He has a knack of turning what looks like a short run into a big play. Henderson ran for 1,909 yards this past season, with 19 receptions. In short, he is a big play waiting to happen. The downside is that with his limited size, he may not have a very long career, but that is typical at the position.
Going into the 2018 college season, Montgomery was thought to be the best running back in the class. He didn’t disappoint, running for 1,216 yards and adding 23 receptions. Montgomery has a compact build (5100 – 222), and though he isn’t fast (4.61), he is very quick with a burst. He has very good vision and is an excellent cut-back runner. As a receiver, he shows very good hands and consistently creates yardage after the catch. He is also one of the better pass blockers in the group.
Watching Montgomery's tape, he plays much faster than he times. His play speed is more like 4.55. If you wanted a player he compares to as far as style and athleticism it would be Kareem Hunt, who put up big yards for Kansas City his first two seasons before off-field issues led to his release. Like Hunt, Montgomery may not go before the third round, but he has the talent to be a lead back as a rookie.
Many draft analysts have Jacobs as the this year's best runner — and I can see their argument, as he is very good in his own right. But unlike my RB1 Miles Sanders — who became a starter in 2018 — Jacobs was never the starter at Alabama but was easily a better player than the guy ahead of him.
Jacobs played in a rotation at Alabama, so he ran for only 640 yards in 2018. He is not an overly fast guy (4.62 at the ‘Bama Pro Day), but Jacobs is very quick with excellent strength and balance. He also has excellent vision and run instincts and consistently finds the open seam. As a receiver, he has soft hands and gets up field quickly after the catch.
Like Sanders, Jacobs did not have a lot of touches during his career, so that is an advantage coming into the league. If Sanders isn’t the first runner off the board, Jacobs will be. Either could go near the bottom part of the first round.
During his first two seasons at Penn State, Sanders didn’t get to play that much because there was a guy by the name of Saquon Barkley playing in front of him. Barkley, of course, was the second overall pick last year and went on to win Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Sanders got his chance in 2018 and had a superb season, running for 1,274 yards and nine touchdowns, with 24 receptions. Though Sanders isn’t as big as Barkley, he has good RB size at 5110 – 211 and great speed (4.49). He is quick, fast and elusive. Like many college running backs, his biggest weakness is he needs work with his pass protection, but he has shown an excellent willingness to block. On the positive side, because he was a backup for two seasons, Sanders doesn’t have the wear and tear on his legs of many college backs.
Previous 2019 NFL Draft positional breakdowns by Greg Gabriel: