Pic: USA TODAY
In this week’s edition of ‘Inside the War Room’, we focus on the running back position, with a preview of the top senior running backs in the nation. We also debate the hot topic of whether or not undersized backs are valued in today’s NFL landscape. In addition, ‘ITWR’ updates several prospect injuries, plus a pair of D2 gems on the NFL radar and much more!
DOES SIZE MATTER???
This year’s senior crop of running backs is lacking in both size and overall talent. It’s doubtful that any senior running back will be drafted in the first round of the draft and it seems unlikely that we will see 21 running backs selected, like we witnessed in 2018. This year’s senior class is led by two backs on the smaller end of the spectrum in Bryce Love, who comes in at 5-10, 202 pounds and Myles Gaskin who is listed at 5-10, 193 pounds. However, if you look at recent draft history, their lack of ideal size might not be as big of a concern as it would have been ten years ago.
In the 2018 NFL Draft, we saw some of the premier running backs weigh-in under 210 pounds. The first undersized running back selected was Ronald Jones [Bucs], who was 5-11, 205 pounds and likely would have been drafted even higher than the 38th overall pick, if he ran a 40-yard dash under 4.65 seconds. The top small school running back drafted last year also came in at 205 pounds, in Chase Edmonds [Cardinals], who was selected in the fourth round. Edmonds is another player who saw his draft stock fall more due to average testing numbers and injury, rather than his lack of size.
Part of the reason you are seeing smaller backs going higher, is because teams are now splitting carries between two backs, instead of seeing one back carry the ball 25 times a game. This lighter workload allows smaller running backs to hold up the pounding in the NFL. Another reason smaller backs are becoming more popular, is due to the fact that more teams are running a spread offense, instead of the older style of downhill running. This type of offense looks for backs who can make plays in space and get through the hole quicker, as opposed to the bigger back, who can deliver a blow. Yet another reason teams are going after the scatback, is that they can be dangerous in the passing game with their ability to make yards after the catch.
Of course, we still don’t see many of the undersized runners going in the first round either. The major reason for this is, if a team is going to invest a first round pick in a runner, they still want this player to be the bell cow and carry the team like Leonard Fournette or Todd Gurley. Unfortunately, backs who lack the traditional bulk, many times struggle in pass protection.
While it’s unlikely either Bryce Love or Myles Gaskin go in the first round, it also wouldn’t be a surprise if they are taken ahead of a bigger runner such as Damien Harris, who lacks game-breaking speed. Also, if Love and Gaskin fall to the third day of the draft, it will most likely be due to concerns with their ability to hold up as a blocker, not due to being lighter than your traditional back.
Pic: Daily Emerald
- The best secondary in Division II football is very likely located in St. Joseph, Missouri, as Missouri Western is home to two legitimate NFL prospects in Brandin Dandridge and Vayante Copeland. Dandridge is a senior who finished second in the MIAA last season with four interceptions to go along with his 18 pass breakups. What stands out on film with him is his physical style of play, as he loves to press the opposing receiver and aggressively go for the ball, which is one of the main reasons he made so many plays on defense in 2018. While Copeland is only a junior, he has already caught the attention of NFL scouts. He has proven he can play at a high level as well, as he made seven starts over the two years he was at Michigan State.
- A small slashing back to watch from the FCS level is John Santiago of North Dakota. While Santiago may lack, teams will love his ability to return kicks. In 2017, he averaged 21.9 yards on kickoff returns and 18.5 yards per punt return, which allowed him to be named an FCS All-American for the third straight season. As a runner, he shows nice elusiveness in the open field and displays the quick burst that makes him such a dangerous threat in the open field. A smart team would be wise to bring in Santiago and see if he can make the switch to slot receiver, as he shows consistent hands as a return man and lacks the power to see significant time at running back. Santiago could contribute as a return man while still developing the finer points of playing the wide receiver position so he would be able to make an instant impact as well.
- The FBS version of John Santiago is Oregon’s Tony Brooks-James. While Brooks-James doesn’t stuff the stat sheet quite like Santiago, he may have more natural talent. The first trait that stands out with Brooks-James is his impressive speed, as he has been named the second fastest man in college football by both NFL.com and Bleacher Report; it would not be a surprise if he ran in the 4.3-range at the NFL Combine. Brooks-James can also hurt opposing teams in multiple ways, including as a punt returner, catching the ball out of the backfield and returning kicks. He was the only Pac-12 player with a kickoff return for a touchdown in 2017 and averaged 25.7 yards per return. Despite only having 1,557 career rushing yards, he has averaged 6.9 yards per carry and scored 14 times on only 226 carries. The one concern teams will have is his lack of size (5-9, 190), along with his propensity to get injured.
- This past weekend I had the opportunity to attend the Broncos-Bears preseason game. The rookie I came away impressed the most with had to be second-round draft pick Anthony Miller, who showed outstanding ball skills and caught a jump ball between two Denver defenders. This sure-handed wide out should compete for the number two receiver job, alongside free agent pickup Allen Robinson immediately. On the Denver side, second-year player Chad Kelly continues to show he has the potential to develop into the long-term answer at quarterback. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank the Chicago Bears for allowing me and my nephew to have on-field pregame passes. The fact that he got to be on the field for his first ever NFL game, will be an experience he remembers for the rest of his life.
DRAFT STOCK MARKET
Brian Burns, DE, Florida State
A prospect who is already receiving high praise this season is Florida State junior defensive end, Brian Burns. He was recently compared to Myles Garrett when it comes to his explosiveness off the ball by his position coach Mark Snyder. Over the past two seasons, Burns has registered 23 tackles for loss, to go along with his 13 sacks. The biggest question with him is what position will he play in the NFL, as he lacks the weight to play defensive end coming in at 6-5, 235 pounds.
Marquell Cartwright, RB. North Carolina A&T
During his first two seasons of action, North Carolina A&T running back Marquell Cartwright rushed for just 518 yards, while backing up current Chicago Bear Tarik Cohen. However, Cartwright earned the starting job last year and more than doubled his career rushing total, gaining 1,190 yards, while leading the MEAC in rushing touchdowns and rushing yards per game. While Cartwright lacks the explosiveness shown by Cohen, which very few backs possess, he does offer some pro-caliber traits that could earn him a late-round draft grade, including good balance, a stronger lower body and overall determination as a runner.
C’yontai Lewis, TE, Florida
C’yontai Lewis may be one of the prospects to benefit the most with Dan Mullen being the new man in charge in Gainesville. The Gators new hire should help Lewis significantly, as Mullen has a history of involving tight ends in his offense and has already had a focus on this position in camp. It would not be a shock to see Lewis triple his production from 2017 when he only caught seven passes for 42 yards, despite seeing significant playing time.
Jon Hilliman, RB, Rutgers
New Rutgers running back Jon Hilliman hopes to take full advantage of the graduate transfer rule, as he moved from being a backup at Boston College to the lead ball carrier at Rutgers. Since arriving on campus Hilliman has impressed the Scarlet Knights coaching staff with his leadership ability and consistency in pass blocking. If Hilliman can have a solid season, he could earn a shot at being picked up as a priority free agent, which might not have been the case if he had stayed at Boston College.
Quintez Copeland, WR, Wisconsin
Wisconsin wide receiver Quintez Copeland finds himself in some legal trouble from an incident that happened in April. Copeland will be facing criminal charges for sexual assault, which has led him to take a leave of absence from the team. The loss of the junior wide receiver could make a significant impact on the Badgers passing game as he led the team in touchdown receptions last year.
Josh Woods, OLB, UCLA
Unfortunately, a player UCLA was counting on having a big year this year in outside linebacker Josh Woods, who will now miss the entire year with a torn ACL. Woods started to come onto the scene as a junior, recording 30 tackles in the first seven games of the year before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury. Woods will have the option of taking a redshirt for this season and returning in 2019, which he would be wise to do.
David Konowalski, DE, Bowling Green
Another player who will miss the 2018 season with an injury is Bowling Green defensive end David Konowalski, who tore his Achilles. While he was graded as a priority free agent going into the season, he’ll be a big loss for the Falcons defense, as he led the team in sacks last year with three and a half. It’ll be interesting to see if this senior defender tries for a medical redshirt for the 2018 season or stays in this year’s draft.
Jordan Scarlett, RB, Florida
Florida junior running back Jordan Scarlett needs a bounce-back year after missing the entire 2017 season due to a suspension. On the positive side, Scarlett has looked impressive since he has rejoined the team, as he rushed for 57 yards and two touchdowns on 10 carries in the spring game. He has also stood out in fall camp and is likely to be one of the leading ball carriers for the Gators this year. If Scarlett can play like he did in 2016 when he led the team in rushing, he could have the option of coming out early and being drafted in a relatively weak running back class.
2019 NFL DRAFT SENIOR RUNNING BACK RANKINGS
This year’s running back class lacks the star power we have seen from the most recent classes, including in 2018, where we saw three running backs selected in the first round and five taken within the first 40 picks. The best part of this senior class is a few Non-Power Five backs that could be good values, led by one of the more underrated players in the country, Jalin Moore of Appalachian State. From the FCS ranks, two players who showed they have the ability to contribute at the pro level are Marquell Cartwright of North Carolina A&T and Bruce Anderson of North Dakota State. While these three players are being undervalued, one player who might be overdrafted is Qadree Ollison, who has only rushed for 525 yards over the past two seasons, yet is considered to be a top-10 running back by some draft pundits.
- Bryce Love, Stanford
- Myles Gaskin, Washington
- Damien Harris, Alabama
- LJ Scott, Michigan State
- Jalin Moore, Appalachian State
- Karan Higdon, Michigan
- Ryquell Armstead, Temple
- Jacques Patrick, Florida State
- Rodney Smith, Minnesota
- Marquell Cartwright, North Carolina A&T
- Bruce Anderson, North Dakota State
- David Hamm, McNeese
- Tony Brooks-James, Oregon
- Jon Hilliman, Rutgers
- Tevin McCaster, Youngstown State
- John Santiago, North Dakota
- Lexington Thomas, UNLV
- Marquis Terry, Southeast Missouri
- Aeris Williams, Mississippi State
- Qadree Ollison, Pittsburgh
- James Madison, Idaho State
- Marc Jones, Gannon
- Justin Green, St. Francis
Michigan offensive tackle Grant Newsome has retired from football. … Georgia wide receiver Terry Godwin has been battling a left leg injury in camp. It doesn’t look like it is a serious injury though as he has been able to practice with the injury. … Iowa State running back Mike Warren has been seeing some snaps at safety in practice. … Alabama junior offensive tackle Matt Womack underwent surgery to repair a broken foot. … Penn State defensive tackle Torrence Brown has retired from football, due to injuries. … A few NFL teams are looking at Lehigh running back Dom Bragalone as a fullback. … Michigan has named Shea Patterson its starting quarterback. … North Dakota State has named Easton Stick a team captain for a third straight year.