Generally speaking in the modern NFL, running backs are considered devalued. However, they can also be highly critical to any offense and can require very specific skills sets to be a proper match. Raider fans saw a mixed bag at the running back position in the 2018 season. Early in the season, Marshawn Lynch was running hard and with passion, but the offense struggled. Towards the end and with a more balanced back in Doug Martin, the offense began to stabilize a bit.
There are a significant amount of similarities between Oakland’s offense and the Steelers. One of them is the need for an all around running back who can protect the quarterback. Being good at pass protection means the offense does not have to sub out depending on what they are trying to do, which can be a tell.
Coming into the 2019 season, the Raiders have second-year undrafted free-agent Chris Warren, free agent Isaiah Crowell, and fourth-year receiving back Jalen Richard. Crowell and Warren have skill sets that are relatively balanced, but there is no exciting back that one could look at to carry the bulk of the load. This draft has a diverse group at running back and although there may not be quite the ceiling of past years, there is definitely quality that can be part of a balanced group.
Wes Hills, Slippery Rock
A typical small school prospect with little tape, but lots of upside, Hills is a guy who explodes off the screen when you watch him. That can be because of the limited competition or it may be because he is a legitimate high end athlete. Regrettably, he was not at the 2019 NFL Scouting Combine and was not able to test in that arena to give an objective base.
Before Slippery Rock University, Hills attended the University of Delaware. Through his years of eligibility, he was a two time captain but battled regular injuries. Because his division one eligibility ran out, he transferred to Slippery Rock to play one more season. He stayed healthy the whole year and rushed for 1,714 yards in 2018. There are question marks with Hills, but there is serious upside too.
Bennie Snell, UK
Many people will look at Snell and tell you that he does not have break away speed. That is likely true as he ran a 4.66 second forty yard dash at the combine. Rather than focusing on what Snell cannot do, let us discuss what he can do. To begin with, he is the epitome of the Gruden Grinder. This is a player who grounded out 1,449 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2018 in spite of playing on a limited offense talent wise.. Moreover, he had over one thousand yards of rushing for three years in college along with a total of 48 career touchdowns.
More than just a running back, Snell is an underrated receiver. He will not be running a vast route tree with lots of tight cuts, but rather a solid check down guy who can ensure he picks up adequate yardage to keep an offense on track. Watching Snell is entertaining for many reason, but he is a quick footed choppy runner who excels in one cut offenses. If a team wants to run inside zone with him and allow him to get his shoulders downhill quickly, he can be a very good mid round option.
Justice Hill, OKST
You will not find a more feisty pass protector than Hill. Add to that his 4.4 speed and his versatile use in college, and you have the makings of a sneaky good mid round prospect with the potentiality to be a starter. There are definitely some technical aspects of Hill’s game that could be cleaned up, including his running style, which can lead to lots of wasted motion. Some critics will also attack him for not having enough big plays, but not every running back needs to be a big play machine to be good.
Hill looks a lot like Charlie Garner and posted similar college numbers. Standing 5’10 and about 198 pounds, he averaged 5.6 yards per carry in college. When you look for a guy who provides a pop or frenetic pace that can counterbalance the steady running styles of Warren or Crowell, Hill is that kind of guy. Naturally there are reasonable questions about how many carries he can handle in the NFL, but smaller guys have succeeded long term.
Miles Sanders, PSU
Penn State produced one of the recent great running back prospects in Saquan Barkley and his talent pushed a high end high school recruit, Miles Sanders. In the one year Sanders had to really show his talents, he went off, producing 1,274 yard on 220 carries and nine touchdowns. Even with minimal production, he is definitely one of the best athletes in this group who can be the bell cow type back that teams are looking for.
Sanders is a very patient runner that will remind some of Arian Foster. To continue the Foster comparison, they are both one cut runners who like to get North and South when he sees the crease. When he gets moving vertically he also gets his weight behind his pads and falls forward to pick up extra yards.
David Montgomery, ISU
This may be the player with the largest discrepancy between his athletic performance at the combine and his tape. When you watch Montgomery, he looks and feels like a top athlete with big time upside and explosiveness. However, his athletic profile is closer to Bennie Snell than anyone else. According to Mock Draftable, his forty ranked in the 28th percentile, his vertical is about as bad as it can get, and his bench press is also very low.
All of that being said, Montgomery is an extremely fluid runner that has a compact frame that can withstand lots of arm tackles. Where Montgomery makes himself especially attractive as a prospect is in the passing game. He has very natural hands and shows a copious amount of feel for running routes. Due to his compact frame and quick feet, he can snap off routes fairly tightly. After he catches the ball in space, he regularly makes a guy miss or will blow right through them. Montgomery has considerable upside as a back and can be a legitimate starter very quickly.
The BAMA Guys: Josh Jacobs and Damien Harris
This pair of running backs are the clear cut top prospects in this draft. What is very interesting about them is their similarities in physical stature and skill set. Both stand 5’10, are around the 220 pound mark, have over 9 ¾ inch hands, and both can do it all. Josh Jacobs is most certainly the top prospect of the draft, but Harris is not far behind him. The biggest difference between the two is the fact that Jacobs has physical characteristics that are elite while Harris’ are close, but only very good.
Coming from the Alabama system that incorporates more professional concepts than most programs, these backs were counted on to be quality pass protectors. For the Raiders, this is just as if not more important than any other aspect of a running backs game. Having quality pass protection can allow the offense to not change personnel from play to play.
In all likelihood, Josh Jacobs will be the first running back taken in this year’s draft and is probably the only one that will be taken in round one. There is a decent possibility that the Raiders select Jacobs with their last pick in the first round in order to settle the offense. Overall, this class may not have the athletes of past seasons, but there are some very solid overall backs that can be quality players for the team that drafts them.