OU's Anderson Headlines a Promising 2019 RB Class
The 2018 NFL Draft featured a crop of running back prospects unlike any other class in recent memory. From the top of the first round to late day three, and even in the undrafted pool, the group oozed with guys who had the ability to make noticeable contributions on the next level. While this upcoming class doesn't appear to have a slam dunk prospect comparable to Saquon Barkley, nor the exceptional quantity of backfield talent, there are definitely some potential early round draftees to be very excited about.
1. Rodney Anderson, Oklahoma (RS Junior)
If there's anyone on this list that I'm confident can become the next star RB, it's Rodney Anderson. After suffering season-ending injuries in back-to-back years, he emerged as a key piece in the Sooners' dynamic offense, totaling 1,161 rushing yards on 188 carries (good for 6.2 yards a tote) and 13 touchdowns, in addition to 17 receptions for 281 yards and 5 touchdowns through the air.
Anderson is a freight train of a ball carrier. The burst top-end speed and he displays at a hulking 6'1" and 220 lbs combined with outstanding power and balance is downright special. He runs with a magnitude of violence and explosion that is unmatched in college football, and makes him an absolute nightmare to bring to the ground. He's capable of taking on multiple hits through the hole and still staying on his path, and can lower his shoulder and obliterate defenders coming down to meet him head on. Anderson is a committed finisher that runs with good forward lean and leg drive. Aided by a thick and extremely explosive lower half (formula for success in the vertical jump), it often takes a crew of defenders to halt his progress. He's not just a pure power back, however. His athletic ability and shiftiness, both in space and crowds, are traits to marvel at. Anderson's agility also enables him to escape from tight traffic near the line of scrimmage, as he's able to make sudden maneuvers to avoid defenders spilling into the backfield. He possesses fluid hips that allow him to plant his feet and change direction, and can then accelerate out of cuts in seamless fashion. In terms of vision, the preseason All-Big 12 selection is solid oand has made significant strides in that area throughout 2017. He's a nice fit for Oklahoma's zone run heavy scheme, where he makes decisive initial reads as a between the tackles runner, does an excellent job of setting up blocks on the second level, and rapidly locates and slides into cutback lanes. Anderson is a phenomenal pass catcher who can run routes out of the backfield and has even seen snaps split out wide. He displays the sudden out of breaks to separate against linebackers, excellent hands, and impressive body control. His skills suggest he warrant more receiving reps, and whether or not he will see more time catching the ball I don't know, but the fact that Anderson is already as strong as he is in this area is a huge boost to his draft value.
The Oklahoma standout needs to develop more trust on his guys up front to pick up their assignments on outside zone, where he tends to keep runs inside rather than following his blocks on the play side. Anderson needs to take big strides in pass protection, where he's reliant on using his big body > proper technique to hold up.
2. Damien Harris, Alabama (Senior)
Damien Harris was Alabama's best ball carrier in an absolutely loaded backfield. Despite sharing the rock with a slew of other future early round draft picks (and Jalen Hurts), Harris put up 1,000 rushing yards, on an astounding 7.4 yards per carry, and 11 touchdowns in his junior campaign.
Harris' vision is remarkable. He has a natural feel for the cutback lane, showing an understanding of how to set up blocks and the patience for them to occur. Harris is a supremely quick processor, able to anticipate openings before they even unfold. He takes full advantage of late creases, instantly planting his foot and hitting the gas to account for them. A terrific maneuverer in traffic, he has the agility to sidestep potential tacklers, and has the burst to hit the second, and potentially the third level once he finds daylight. He's not overwhelmingly powerful like Rodney Anderson, but Harris is built very well in his own right, possessing a compact frame with good thickness throughout. His outstanding power and balance through contact, plus the proper pad level he runs with, allow him to regularly slip arm tackles and maintain footing. His long speed is above average, but he's worked to slim down some to help himself there. Harris has yet to contribute much as a receiver, however he's enough flashed quality hands and RAC ability to be trusted as a checkdown option and target on swing passes.
Where Harris falls short, like many, is in pass protection. As of now, he cannot be relied on to account for blitzing linebackers or safeties. His technique and habits need to be overhauled to stay on the field on 3rd downs. The biggest thing he can do for his draft stock is to become a more impactful player in the passing game.
3. Myles Gaskin, Washington (Senior)
Gaskin is fresh off the best season of his college career as the focal point of the Huskies offense. He finished with 1,380 yards on the ground (6.4 yards/carry) and a Pac-12-leading 21 touchdowns. He also tallied 232 yards and 3 scores on 19 catches.
Gaskin excels at manipulating defenders to create gaping holes for himself. He runs with very good patience that allows for blocks to develop and exhibits impressive burst through the hole into the secondary. Prepared for defenders swiping at the ball, the Lynwood, Washington native holds the ball high and tight to his body. But elusiveness is this man's calling card. With ridiculous lateral explosiveness, body control, and fluidity in his lower half, Gaskin is able to make magic happen when he's swarmed in the backfield; he can string together multiple jump cuts and spins to get himself out of sticky situations, and then break away with instant acceleration. These same traits are also effective weapons in the open field. Gaskin is a ruthless ankle taker, excellent at exploding out of cuts and shaking defenders in space with stutter steps and head fakes. He's been overlooked in the early stages of the draft process because of his lack of size, but in reality there is no shortage of contact balance or physicality in Gaskin's game. He's capable of working through initial contact and finishes runs with pure determination, with the forward lean and leg drive to pick up extra yards. And the skills he brings to the table don't end there. Last season, we saw Gaskin add an important element to his game that makes him that much more deadly: catching passes. He's a smooth route runner too crisp and explosive for most linebackers to handle in coverage. He shows tremendous concentration and soft hands to reel in tight window throws and extend for catches outside of his body. A willing pass blocker, Gaskin has found success in technique and executing cut blocks.
Despite the high-end traits Gaskin displays, his small stature could cause him to slide in the draft. He's not the type of running back who can straight up pummel guys with power. How he'll hold up as a blocker is a concern as well. But I'm higher on Gaskin's pro prospects more than just about anyone out there and confident that he can become one of the top backs in the league.
4. Bryce Love, Stanford (Senior)
A Heisman finalist a season ago, Bryce Love is often the first player mentioned in discussions for the next winner of the award. Love was always a talented player, but didn't emerge as a superstar until it was his turn to take the reigns as Stanford's starting RB. And not only did he replace Christian McCaffrey, he went on a rampage, putting up an absurd stat line of 2,118 rushing yards and 19 touchdowns. Not to mention at 8.1 yards per carry (8.1!!). A number that high while also seeing the workload Love did is extremely rare.
Love's background as a track star is immediately apparent in his game. He's a dynamic athlete able to rip off long run after long run with his home run speed and big time burst that obliterates pursuit angles. He has the lateral quickness and hip swivel to make subtle changes of direction and the vision to navigate through traffic. Don't let his 5'9", 200 lb frame fool you: Love possesses unusual strength and balance through contact for such a small back. He can bounce off tackle attempts and keep his legs churning through contact for more yards.
Evaluators will keep an eye on how much he contributes to the Cardinal passing attack. His numbers were solid as a freshman (15-250-1), but cooled off significantly in his sophomore (8-83-1) and junior years (6-33-0). With the increasing emphasis on backs that can go out and catch passes, Love simply needs the opportunities to show what he's made of. If he proves to be a quality receiver, he could shoot up my board and even be in contention for the RB1 spot. Oh, and like most of the guys on this list, he's pretty poor in pass protection.
5. David Montgomery, Iowa State (Junior)
Montgomery burst onto the scene in 2018 with 1,146 yards and 11 touchdowns rushing (4.4 yards a pop). He also had 36 receptions, 296 yards, and a touchdown through the air.
Montgomery was easily one of the most entertaining players in the nation last season. His contact balance is, simply put, unmatched at the collegiate level. With his strong frame and low center of gravity, he breaks tackles with abnormal frequency. He's got good burst and power than he can successfully generate into momentum, and then lower his shoulder and batter defenders in the hole. That, combined with Montgomery's elusiveness is what makes him so unique. The Cyclones star is fantastic at creating something out of nothing with his sudden feet and wiggle in his midsection. In open space, he's even more lethal, embarrassing defenders left and right with nasty jukes and monster stiff arms. His skills translate well to as a checkdown option. He's a good hands catcher who's adept at turning upfield and picking up yards after catch.
My main concerns with Montgomery stem from vision and instincts (or lack thereof). His feel for lane development and cutback lanes are off, and can spend too much time dancing in the backfield if he's unable to find a clear-as-day path to the second level. His long speed is also quite average, and shouldn't be expected to be too much of a threat when breaking away to the secondary. While Montgomery has some heart as a pass blocker, his technique and blitz recognition will definitely need to see improvements in his junior season.