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As the offseason rolls along, C.J. Anderson’s status as a Denver Bronco remains in flux.
With the option of cutting Anderson and saving a substantial amount of money, it would not be a big suprise to see the team move on. In that case, even if the organization believes in Devontae Booker and De’Angelo Henderson, who have shown promise, the backfield could use an upgrade and added depth.
That’s especially true when you consider the team’s rhetoric the past two years, which has repetitively been the same; the offense needs to be a ground-and-pound attack. To do that, you need a true bell cow, a stud in the backfield and Denver will be searching for just that this offseason.
Luckily, the 2018 class of draft-eligible running backs is loaded with talent and one of the best position groups of the entire draft. The Broncos will have plenty of options and here’s who you should be looking for.
Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State
What can be said about Barkley that you haven’t already heard? He’s obviously an elite talent who has size, athleticism and is one of the best receivers at his position that I’ve evaluated in the last five years.
His big-play ability for a back his size is beyond special and very rare. The Nittany Lion is also a competent blocker out of the backfield. His ability to make people miss and outrun defenders to take plays the distance is what really separates him. In the modern NFL, he’s a beast of a playmaker.
His one question mark is his propensity to push runs outside, as he’s not shown the consistency as an interior runner. That’s a big reason why his production this past year wasn’t as spectacular as the scouting reports or highlights would suggest. If he becomes more patient and runs with better pad level up the middle, watch out, he could be a transcendent talent.
Sadly for Denver, there’s only about a 30-percent chance he’ll be around at the fifth overall pick.
After Barkley, there might not be a back that gets selected in the top 15, but there could be a bit of a run in the early second round. Here are some names to know.
Ronald Jones II, RB, USC
Jones is explosive and runs with great pad level and power for a smaller RB. He was unbelievable last season at USC and has a very high ceiling.
Given that he’s more of a speedy home run threat, it would be nice if he had more tape as a receiver, where he was underutilized in college. If he can do that, we’re talking about a special playmaker.
Jones has the upside of a Chris Johnson or Jamal Charles; he has that type of potential. His stock has taken a bit of a tumble after he came up limp running his 40-yard dash, which might help him be around by pick 40.
Sony Michel, RB, Georgia
It’s easy to forget that the elusive and fast Michel is also 215 pounds, and was a star last season for the Bulldogs.
More than anyone in the top three here, Michel has the best combination of physicality up the middle and the ability to make people miss in space. He can also push a run to the outside and make big things happen. Compared to Alvin Kamara by some, he might not be that same elite class of athlete but isn’t that far off.
Like Jones, it would’ve been nice to see Sony used more as a receiver in college but what we’ve seen is promising—as is his blocking ability in the backfield.
Rashaad Penny, RB, San Diego State
Penny comes from Running Back U, where he was the nation’s most productive rusher last season, running for an insane 2,248 yards while maintaining an astonishing 7.7 yards-per-carry clip. He’s bigger than Jones or Michel at 220 pounds and ran in the 4.4s at the combine.
His combination of size, speed, lateral movement, and vision make him really intriguing. He’s a bit underrated but would be well worth a selection at 40 if still around. Penny fits the profile of a 20-carry bell cow to perfection.
Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia
Chubb is a former freshman phenom, who dealt with a litany of serious knee injuries during his sophomore and junior years. Those injuries are the only thing holding him back, as Chubb’s got the size, runs low to the ground and is very powerful.
The other Georgia product is also fast and quick, with the talent to be a stud back. Lots of his selection will come down to the medical staff’s evaluation. If they sign off on Chubb and believe he can get back to his peak form—his combine and senior season production would suggest he can—then he’d be well worth the risk.
Given the injury uncertainty, it’s unclear exactly where he’ll go, but day two seems to be his range.
Round-three and beyond
Kerryon Johnson, RB, Auburn
Johnson’s a bit of the forgotten man in the class, but he shouldn’t be after a huge breakout season in the SEC. All you have to do is watch him make potential future top-10 pick Roquan Smith look silly this season to know how special he can be.
Johnson stands out for a nice combination of explosiveness and patience that allows him to pick his spots and attack the hole at the right moment. He’s a workhorse back with great power, too, even though he’s only 213 pounds.
Johnson is a bit of a one-year wonder, meaning pick 40 might be too rich, but taking him with one of the two picks in round three would be well worth it.
Mark Walton, RB, Miami
Walton would be in the tier above if not for an injury-riddled season that hurt his stock. He’s a smaller back, and his combine numbers were unimpressive, which should allow him to slip a bit. That’s not a bad thing for Denver, as Walton is a baller. He can run up the middle but is a playmaker when pushing runs outside where he’s a terror in space thanks to his electric feet.
Walton also runs low to the ground, can shake you out of your cleats, and isn’t going to shy away from contact.
The Miami product would be a really intriguing weapon in Denver.
Jaylen Samuels, RB/H-back, North Carolina State
Is Samuels a fullback, an undersized tight end or a receiving back you can move around in your formation? That’s the question NFL front offices will be asking themselves. Regardless of position, he’s a stud who can be used in so many different ways and would fit nicely in Bill Musgrave’s offense, which featured the fullback in a variety of ways back in 2016 with the Raiders.
He’s not a bell cow, but he has size, is quick in space and is a phenomenal receiver. He’d be a Swiss-Army Knife playmaker that would give the offense a lot of added versatility out the backfield.
Josh Adams, RB, Notre Dame
Adams was huge for the Irish in 2017, as he’s just a train running downhill. He fits the mold of a big back with speed who you could feed the ball consistently.
Adams has some injury concerns, and he didn’t participate in any of the athletic testing in Indy, though he did reportedly run a mid 4.4 at his pro day.
He’d be worth the risk and has all the talent to be a top-of-the-rotation back, though he is a bit of a straight-line runner.
Bo Scarbrough, RB, Alabama
Scarbrough is an interesting prospect as he had a bit of a down year as a junior but declared anyways. However, the promise he showed as a freshman and sophomore is undeniable.
At 232 pounds, he’s a big back and was phenomenal at the combine, putting up very comparable numbers to what Derrick Henry did a few years back. His ceiling is pretty high, and unlike most Bama backs he still has plenty of tread on his tires.
He does, however, look rigid on tape, but is a handful to bring down once he gets to the second level. Bo has all the talent to be more than just a big back, though at worst he could be a bulldozer type on short down and distance and in the red zone, something Denver’s been lacking.
Two local steals
Kalen Ballage, RB, Arizona State
Ballage was a stud at the Senior Bowl, showing incredible agility and speed for a big physical back. His acceleration is otherworldly, and he also flashed some really nice skills as a receiver. His upside is ginormous and was confirmed at the combine where he excelled at 225 pounds.
The big question with Ballage, who had a few big games in college, is why he wasn’t used consistently or very productive. His upside is certainly worth a selection late in round three or beyond.
The Broncos coaching staff seemed to really like him, as they force-fed Ballage the ball while they tried to get back in the game.
Phillip Lindsay, RB, Colorado
Lindsay recently attended the Broncos local pro day—and rightfully so as his stats and tape were phenomenal.
On tape, he consistently beat NFL-caliber linebackers in the Pac-12. He also proved his value as a receiver in 2016, catching 53 balls for 493 yards.
He’s small but physical and has intangibles that’ll make you an instant fan. Coming into the draft process, he had two big questions—his true speed and the health of his knee. He answered the former with a spectacular pro day in which he ran a 4.3; now we’ll see what teams think of his knee—an issue from back in high school that hasn’t impacted him during the last two seasons.