Fran Duffy's Combine Preview: Running Back

A record 135 underclassmen declared for the 2019 NFL Draft, and over 20 of them were running backs, helping to fill a group that will look to prove itself at the NFL Scouting Combine in a couple of weeks. Here’s who you need to keep a close eye on at the running back position in Indianapolis.

Top Pick

This is the player who I feel is at the top of the class coming into the event.

Josh Jacobs, Alabama

I could have gone another way here, but his upside is very high. It could be argued that Jacobs isn’t even the best back on his own team as we stand here today – I believe that honor goes to Damien Harris, who started ahead of Jacobs for the Tide. Jacobs can impact the game as a runner, as a receiver, and as a special teams maven. He displays natural power and short-area burst with the ball in his hands. The one concern I do have about him is that he can be a bit indecisive at times approaching the line of scrimmage, but with his ceiling, it’s hard not to have him as the top dog at running back in this class. I expect him to go off the board anywhere in the first two rounds.

Workout Warrior

This is the player who I expect to see perform best in the athletic testing portion of the workout.

Devin Singletary, Florida Atlantic

The junior, who has scored more touchdowns than anyone in college football over the last two years, has been a dynamic player for Lane Kiffin. A large reason for that is his athleticism. Singletary has LeSean McCoy-esque lateral agility, speed to burn in the open field, and the ability to make defenders look silly one-on-one in space. His physical tools should put him in position to test extremely well on the turf in Lucas Oil Stadium, and he should be a Day 2 selection in April.

Trust The Tape

This is the player who I don’t expect to test off the charts and is a better football player than he is an athlete. With that in mind, don’t drop him down the board with a subpar workout!

David Montgomery, Iowa State

My guess is that Montgomery won’t burn up the track at the Combine, but that’s OK. I’m not expecting him to thrive in Indy. The junior runner’s strength isn’t his straight-line burst, but rather his contact balance and lateral agility. Montgomery excelled at making the first man miss at the college level and, in ways similar to Kareem Hunt coming out of Toledo (who also did not work out well), I think he’ll be able to do that well entering the league. Montgomery is one of my favorite backs in this draft. I’d throw Mike Weber from Ohio State into this category as well as a player who may not light up the stopwatch but is just a good, solid football player.

Stopwatch Shocker

This is the player who I expect to see test better than most in the media believe they will perform based off of current projections.

Miles Sanders, Penn State

It’s not easy stepping in for one of the best to ever do it, but Sanders had to do that this year for the Nittany Lions as he tried to replace Saquon Barkley.

The junior held his own in that regard, rushing for over 1,000 yards on his way to being named second-team All-Big Ten. No one will mistake Sanders for Saquon from an athletic standpoint. In fact, that’s one area where I have a bit of a question for Sanders transitioning to the NFL – is he athletic enough to set himself apart and consistently make that first man miss? If you’ve been following the Combine in recent years, however, one thing has consistently been true – Penn State players always test like freak shows. Whether it’s been Barkley, Mike Gesicki, or Troy Apke last year, or Chris Godwin the year before that, PSU has shown out in this event. This is a stab in the dark, but I bet Sanders, who ran relays at Woodland Hills high school in Pittsburgh (another omen for success), tests better than most expect.

Will Kill The Drills

This is the player who may or may not be a great athlete, but he will look the best in the position-specific drills after the athletic portion of the workout.

Damien Harris, Alabama

Harris grades out as the best player in this class at the running back position in my eyes, but he doesn’t have true explosive speed in the open field and isn’t the kind of dynamic athlete in space like Jacobs or Singletary. My guess is that he’ll have a solid athletic workout, with nothing eye-opening, but that won’t change my mind about him. One area where he does stand out, however, is with his feet. He’s got outstanding feet to navigate through traffic, and that will show up in the bag drills. Harris also boasts great vision, is a strong pass protector, has very few negative runs on film, and has plenty of tread on the tires despite starting 40 games for the Crimson Tide over his career. I’ll take this kid on my team any day, and I think he’ll end up being a second-round choice in a couple of months.

Most To Prove

This is the player who has the most to prove away from the field, whether it’s during the interview process, medical examinations, or even the weigh-ins.

Dexter Williams, Notre Dame

Williams has plenty of talent, and I expect him to run well at this event, as he was one of the best big-play backs in football when he was on the field this year. Therein lies the rub, however, as the senior only started eight games this season – the only eight of his career, as he was suspended for four games to start the campaign. Williams will have tough questions to answer for his time in South Bend. He was also nicked up throughout his career as well, something else that will get tested during the medical check. If he aces those tests away from the field, it wouldn’t shock me at all if he snuck into the latter part of the third round of April’s Draft.

Most Productive College Player

This is the player who produced at the highest level, either in his final year in college or throughout his entire career.

Myles Gaskin, Washington

Only one player in the storied history of the Pac-12 Conference has racked up over 1,000 yards rushing in four separate years, and that’s Myles Gaskin. The diminutive senior (5-9, 190 pounds) was consistently productive for the Huskies and head coach Chris Peterson, impacting games as both a runner and as a receiver. The question with him, however, is if he is big enough to last in the NFL. Or, more importantly, is he athletic enough to overcome his lack of size? That second question is something he’ll look to answer on the field in these tests, but throughout his career, Gaskin was a playmaker for one of the best teams in the nation.

Best Pro Comparison

Comparing draft prospects to NFL players is tough, but here’s a player with the easiest picture to paint when looking at their NFL future through my eyes.

Trayveon Williams, Texas A&M

Williams started 38 games in his career for the Aggies, and he was a tough guy to bring down ever since he stepped on campus. Standing at just 5-9 but weighing in at 200 pounds, Williams is short but stout, and his patience as a runner really stood out to me on film. The Houston native is a classic "small back who runs big," as he’s not afraid to hit plays downhill between the tackles and be a factor on contact despite his frame.

Watching him play reminded me of a former NFL runner who played for a handful of teams, but Eagles fans may remember him most for his days with the New York Giants, and that’s Ahmad Bradshaw. Bradshaw stood at 5-9, 198 pounds coming out of Marshall in 2007 and made his hay in the league as a competitive downhill runner who fought for every inch he got with the ball in his hands, and that’s how I see Williams.

Best Story

Let’s face it, all of these players have great stories to tell, but which guy has taken the most unbelievable journey to get to this point in their career? Here’s the one that has caught my eyes (and ears) the most.

Rodney Anderson, Oklahoma

One of the true wild cards of this draft class, Anderson has Top 45 ability but the medical record of an undrafted free agent.

Anderson was a second-team All-Big 12 selection as a sophomore in 2017, which was his lone healthy year on campus when he ran for nearly 1,200 yards despite only starting in the second half of the year. He has big-time potential, but it was nearly taken away right when he got to Norman, Oklahoma. On his first collegiate carry, Anderson broke his fibula and tore a ligament in his ankle in his left leg, a serious injury that forced him to miss all of 2015. The following Training Camp, in August 2016, he suffered a neck injury, reportedly a fracture of his C5 vertebrae, and he had to wear a neck brace for three months. 2017 came and went, as he helped lead the Sooners to the College Football Playoff along with Baker Mayfield, and things were looking up for Anderson entering his junior season. Then, a knee injury derailed his final year on campus back in September.

If healthy, Anderson is one of the best backs in this class, but three season-ending injuries in four years are tough to move past, but credit the player for forging through the adversity as he tries to reach his dream of playing in the NFL.

Small-School Standout

This is the player who comes from a lower level of competition (outside of the Power 5 conferences) but still has a very bright future in the NFL.

Jalin Moore, Appalachian State

There were a couple of small-school running backs left off the Combine list (Wesley Hills from Slippery Rock and Bruce Anderson from North Dakota State come to mind first), and while Moore comes from FBS level competition he’s still flying under the radar. Not only is Moore expected to test very well, and his short-area burst and flashes of power are impressive on film. I think he’ll fit best for "gap" schemes (such as Power, Counter, and Trap) at the next level, where that long speed and physicality will serve him well downhill. There are questions about whether or not Moore can be a viable third-down option at the next level, but he shouldn’t have any problems sticking in the league.

Philly Connection

This is the player with a special tie to the City of Brotherly Love or to the Eagles who you should keep a close eye on in Indianapolis.

Ryquell Armstead, Temple

Both Alabama running backs were coached by former Eagles personnel exec Joe Pannunzio. Dexter Williams backed up Eagles running back Josh Adams in South Bend. Hills grew up just southeast of Philly in Wildwood, New Jersey, but how about we go with the kid who played his home games at Lincoln Financial Field in Armstead from Temple, who was at the Senior Bowl last month. This is a rock-solid player who has been making an impact on North Broad Street since his sophomore season and who has even moonlighted as a defensive player in some subpackages for the Owls. A physical, competitive downhill runner, Armstead has a well-rounded skill set that translates well to the next level.

Mr. Average

We get to read all about the measurements for all these players over the next few weeks ... but wouldn’t it be nice to have some context? What is considered a "good" 40-yard dash time for any given position? What about arm length? The broad jump? Here’s what the average player drafted has looked like over the last decade (by my records).

Running Backs
Height 5-10 5/8"
Weight 214 pounds
Hand Size 9 1/4 inches
Arm Length 31 inches
Wingspan 75 inches
Unofficial 40 Time 4.5 seconds
Official 40 Time 4.54 seconds
10-Yard Split 1.57 seconds
3-Cone Drill 6.99 seconds
Short Shuttle 4.26 seconds
Broad Jump 120 inches
Vertical Jump 35 inches

Fran Duffy is the producer of the Emmy-nominated Eagles Game Plan show which can be seen every gameday during the season on NBC10 in Philadelphia. He is also the host of two Eagles-related podcasts, Eagle Eye in the Sky, which examines the team from an X's and O's angle each and every week as well as the Journey to the Draft podcast, which covers college football and the NFL Draft all year round. Fran also authors the Eagle Eye in the Sky column, which runs four times a week during the football season to serve as a recap for the previous game and to preview the upcoming matchup. Prior to joining the Eagles in 2011, Duffy was the head video coordinator for the Temple University football team under former head coach Al Golden. In that role, he spent thousands of hours shooting, logging, and assisting with the breakdown of the All-22 film from the team’s games, practices, and opponents.

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