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NFL Draft: Scouting the running backs

Taking a look at the top running backs in the 2019 NFL draft class.

Alabama running back Josh Jacobs (8) during the

Alabama running back Josh Jacobs (8) during the second half of the Orange Bowl NCAA college football game against Georgia, in Miami Gardens, Fla. Jacobs is a possible pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. Photo Credit: AP/Wilfredo Lee

Josh Jacobs, RB, Alabama

Height: 5-10

Weight: 220

40 time: Did not run at Scouting Combine

Strengths: Tough inside runner who played at arguably the best college program to prepare players for the NFL … Shared time with Damien Harris but still averaged 5.3 yards per carry and had 11 touchdowns … Good at catching passes out of the backfield – had 20 receptions, including three for touchdowns last season.

Weaknesses: Doesn’t have breakaway speed … Cutting ability is good, not great … While good as an inside runner, may not be able to reach the corner to create effective outside run plays.

Projected draft status: First round

Quote: On he and Alabama teammate Harris possibly being the first two running backs drafted: “We honestly don’t talk about ‘top,’ but we definitely speak about how blessed we are and how special it is that me and him finish together and that we could be possibly the first and second picks (at running back) so that’s definitely huge not only for us but for our school.”

Damien Harris, RB, Alabama

Height: 5-10

Weight: 216

40 time: 4.57

Strengths: Good inside runner with a good feel for where to go based on his blocking … Good, sturdy build for the position … Shows patience and trust in his offensive linemen and doesn’t commit too early … Led the Crimson Tide last year with 876 rushing yards and added nine rushing TDs.

Weaknesses: May not have the natural ability to become a consistent 1,000-yard back in the NFL … Speed is adequate, but not special … Not noted for his pass-catching ability.

Projected draft status: Rounds 2-3.

Quote: On sharing time with Jacobs: “We’re all there for the same reason and that was to help our team be as successful as possible. However we had to do that, whether that was splitting carries or a certain guy getting a certain number of touches week in and week out, that was the challenge we were facing.”

Miles Sanders, RB, Penn State

Height: 5-11

Weight: 211

40 time: 4.49

Strengths: Had very productive year in 2018 with 1,274 yards and nine rushing TDs after taking over for Saquon Barkley … Doesn’t have a lot of wear and tear coming into the NFL … Solidly built and runs with good instinctiveness.

Weaknesses: Not a breakaway threat and was limited against better opponents last season … Not an explosive runner, certainly not in the mold of Barkley.

Projected draft status: Rounds 2-4.

Quote: Sanders on what he showed NFL scouts from his 2018 season at Penn State: “I showed my ability to break tackles. That’s what Saquon did really well. I showed I can catch the ball smoothly, blocking, not making mental errors and protecting the quarterback.”

David Montgomery, RB, Iowa State

Height: 5-10

Weight: 222

40 time: 4.63

Strengths: Very good size for an NFL running back … Does well on inside runs, taking advantage of his size … Productive runner who had a combined 2,362 yards and 24 touchdown runs the last two seasons.

Weaknesses: Lacks big-time speed … Doesn’t have great ability to make quick cuts … Not viewed as a franchise-caliber back.

Projected draft status: Rounds 3-5.

Quote: Montgomery on deciding to enter the draft and not return for his senior season. “It was a difficult decision but I was able to check the checkboxes I had for myself as far on how I felt declaring and going to the next level. I felt like I made the right decision.”

Justice Hill, Oklahoma State

Height: 5-10

Weight: 198

40 time: 4.40

Strengths: One of the fastest tailbacks in this year’s draft … With his speed and shiftiness, can become a reliable third-down back … Very productive runner, who gained a combined 3,539 yards and 30 touchdowns over his three seasons as the Cowboys’ starter.

Weaknesses: Small by NFL standards … Durability in a much more physical league may become an issue, especially after missing last part of his final season at Oklahoma State … Tweaked a hamstring at the Scouting Combine.

Projected draft status: Rounds 3-5.

Quote: Hill on following in the footsteps of Oklahoma State legends Barry Sanders and Thurman Thomas: “Going into Oklahoma State, I just wanted to be one of the greatest. It was a great program full of great running backs. So I just wanted to be a part of the conversation, and I feel like I did that. It was a great experience being up there in Stillwater.”

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