The grind of the college football season can change the dynamics of NFL Draft boards. As early-season favorites fail to impress, a new crop of draft-eligible candidates can emerge.
We identify five running backs definitely worth watching:
1. SAQUON BARKLEY, Penn State
With big-league quickness and sports-car-like acceleration, Barkley boasts a complete set of tools including the ability to evade tacklers. In today’s multi-unit, heavy-passing game plan, Barkley can serve as an all-down back thanks to a fine balance of rushing and receiving yards. Adding a player with Barkley’s ability can really provide a wide range of options for quarterbacks at the line of scrimmage.
As of mid-October, Barkley has yet to reach the 1,000-yard mark, but his skill set is too enormous to ignore and he’s still a top Heisman candidate.
2. BRYCE LOVE, Stanford
Only a junior, Love would have to leave Stanford a year early. He leads the nation with 1,387 yards as of Oct. 14. Love was overshadowed by Christian McCaffrey, who earned a first-round selection in 2017 (Carolina).
NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah described the 5-foot-10 Love as “a slippery back with outstanding speed, quickness and burst. He can go for from zero to 60 in a heartbeat while flashing the top-end speed to take it the distance from anywhere on the field. Although his size would suggest that he works the edges most effectively, Love is a dynamic inside runner with excellent patience, vision and wiggle. He uses a nifty jump cut at the point of attack to get to creases on power runs between the tackles, but he’s not a dancer in traffic. He simply makes the first defender miss before getting downhill to get to the second level.”
All you need to know about Love: He averages 10.27 yards per carry.
3. RASHAAD PENNY, San Diego State
Penny required only seven games to break the 1,000-yard mark, but the every-down back is starting to gain some attention in scouting circles as well as Heisman voters. Where has this senior been? Well, he played in the shadow of Donnel Pumphrey, who became the first player in NCAA history to rush for over 6,000 yards and STILL surpassed the 1K mark as a junior.
USA Today’s Draft Wire says of Penny: “One of the nation’s most underrated backs, we’ve featured Penny multiple times this off-season as a sleeper prospect for the 2018 NFL draft. Through two games as the Aztecs’ lead back, Penny is proving why he should be getting more draft buzz.”
4. DIOCEMY SAINT JUSTE, Hawaii
Averaging 156.3 yards per game, Saint Juste toils in relative obscurity out in Honolulu. At 5-8, 195 pounds, Saint Juste will have to battle his measurements to get ahead in the 2018 draft, but he’s proving he can carry the load as Hawaii uses him to pound the rock on a regular basis.
As of Oct. 14, Saint Juste racked up 183 carries for over 1,000 yards and 5.98 average.
5. DERRIUS GUICE, LSU
Explosive, entertaining runner who has some upside in the passing game. That’s what you hear about the LSU senior. Many draft pundits have pegged Guice to go in the first round as the second back selected after Penn State’s Barkley.
The question is this: Will a nagging knee injury, which cut into Guice’s showcase time his senior season, cost him his ranking the No. 2 player in his category? Only time will tell, but he’s one to watch as the season progresses. Suffice it to say, if he’s healthy, his performance in LSU’s season-ending bowl game will definitely make or break his draft status.