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NFL Draft 2018: Scouting the running backs

Penn State running back Saquon Barkley stretches at

Penn State running back Saquon Barkley stretches at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis on March 2, 2018. Credit: AP / Michael Conroy

Saquon Barkley, Penn State

Height: 6-0

Weight: 233

40 time: 4.40

Projected draft status: Top 5 overall

Strengths: Barkley was a highly productive runner at Penn State, where he ran for 1,271 yards and 18 touchdowns last year. He averaged 5.9 yards per carry, and also had 54 catches for 632 yards and three receiving touchdowns . . . He is extremely quick getting to the open hole . . . Has prototype size and speed . . . Follows his blocks very well . . . Has superior quickness and cutting ability . . . Had a terrific all-around performance at the Scouting Combine, further enhancing his status as one of the top running back prospects in recent years.

Weaknesses: Occasionally prone to negative yardage plays . . . Sometimes tries to manufacture yards . . . Generally good ball security, although lost two fumbles last season . . . Not always effective running between the tackles.

Quote: Browns coach Hue Jackson, who has the first and fourth overall picks: “Everything I’ve seen, he is definitely in the conversation [of a top-five pick]. Tremendous character, tremendous football player, and I think he’s going to help an organization. We need guys that come in and make a difference, and [Barkley] is one of them. So he’ll be in the discussion.”

Sony Michel, Georgia

Height: 5-11

Weight: 214

40 time: 4.54

Projected draft status: Round 1-2

Strengths: Michel averaged 7.9 yards per carry last season, rushing for 1,227 yards and 16 touchdowns. He would have had more yards, but shared time with RB Nick Chubb . . . Very powerful runner who plays well between the tackles . . . Has good instincts following his blocks . . . Solid blocker and pass catcher.

Weaknesses: Doesn’t have breakaway speed . . . More of a straight-ahead runner who doesn’t rely enough on cutting ability . . . Has some fumbling issues.

Quote: ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper: “He’s got that burst outside, the bounce outside ability, the inside running ability. He blocks extremely well in pass protection. He catches the ball out of the backfield. I think Sony Michel helped himself late [in 2017]. He probably went from a fourth- or fifth-round pick up to a second-round pick.”

Rashaad Penny, San Diego State

Height: 5-10

Weight: 224

40 time: 4.46

Projected draft status: Round 2-3

Strengths: Penny had an outstanding senior season, running for 2,248 yards and 23 touchdowns. He added 19 catches for 135 yards and two receiving touchdowns . . . Has a good burst and can accelerate very quickly . . . Can be a power-type back with his size, but also has enough speed to break away if he can get to the open field . . . Has good balance.

Weaknesses: Has been mildly criticized for not being a good enough cutback runner . . . Tends to run upright . . . Won’t get the same volume of carries in the NFL as in college, so will need to make the most of more limited opportunities.

Quote: Penny on what a strong Senior Bowl performance means: “It definitely boosts my confidence. At times you think that you don’t have what it takes to go out there and compete against a lot of other great guys. But then you realize that it’s just all confidence and getting it together.”

Derrius Guice, LSU

Height: 5-10

Weight: 225

40 time: 4.49

Projected draft status: Round 2-3

Strengths: Guice had some big shoes to fill after the departure of Leonard Fournette, but he performed exceptionally well, leading the SEC in 2016 with 1,387 rushing yards and following up with 1,251 yards in 2017 . . . Runs with good power and plays well between the tackles . . . Draws favorable comparisons to Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch . . . Runs with purpose.

Weaknesses: Doesn’t have tremendous initial burst . . . Lacks home run speed, although it’s certainly good enough . . . Can improve pass blocking.

Quote: Guice: “If you don’t draft me, I’m going to give your defense hell. As a runner between the tackles . . . in my opinion, there’s no one better than me in that area, point blank.”

Nick Chubb, Georgia

Height: 5-10

Weight: 220

40 time: 4.52

Projected draft status: Round 3-4

Strengths: Chubb was a very good inside runner at Georgia, and was part of a strong 1-2 punch with Sony Michel . . . Had a strong year in 2017 with 1,345 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns . . . Has a solid base and good balance . . . Considered a good one-cut runner, which is extremely valuable in today’s NFL . . . Runs well between the tackles.

Weaknesses: Doesn’t have quite the burst of other backs . . . Doesn’t have breakaway speed . . . Pass blocking has been an issue, limiting his availability on passing downs at Georgia.

Quote: NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock: “Chubb is one of the toughest running backs in this class, downhill, north-south, one-cut, make you miss. I think he’s a warrior. I love him. He’ll fit zone scheme and be a really good player.”

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