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Top 10 RB prospects of past 3 NFL draft classes: Barkley No. 1

  • By Daniel Jeremiah and Bucky Brooks
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Editor's note: analysts and former NFL scouts Daniel Jeremiah and Bucky Brooks of the Move The Sticks Podcast share some of their scouting notes, including:

» Good news for a player who struggled mightily in his NFL Scouting Combine workout
» Brooks' take on one of the top prospects who'll be in action this week at a pro day

But first, we kick off this week's notebook with Jeremiah's look at how this year's group of running back prospects stacks up against the top RB talents that have entered the league in the previous two drafts.

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My colleague Charles Davis has used the phrase "running back revolution" several times over the past 2 years to describe the tremendous influx of talent at the position in the 2016 and 2017 drafts. This year's group of RB prospects is just as impressive. I always believe it's helpful during the evaluation process to rank the current group of prospects among the players at the position from the previous two drafts. I recently looked up the grades I gave to the running backs in the '16 and '17 draft classes and I slotted them in with this year's crop of talent. Here's the order I have them in based on their draft grade.

1) Saquon Barkley, Penn State
Draft class: 2018
The skinny: Barkley is a unique player because of his combination of size, speed, versatility and character.

2) Leonard Fournette, LSU
Draft class: 2017; fourth overall pick, Jacksonville Jaguars
The skinny: I loved Fournette's physical running style coming out of LSU.

3) Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio State
Draft class: 2016; fourth overall pick, Dallas Cowboys
The skinny: Elliott was the best pass-protecting back I've ever evaluated, and he does everything else at a very high level, as well.

4) Christian McCaffrey, Stanford
Draft class: 2017; eighth overall pick, Carolina Panthers
The skinny: McCaffrey's ability to dominate as a route runner/pass-catcher led me to give him a very strong grade coming out of Stanford.

5) Dalvin Cook, Florida State
Draft class: 2017; 41st overall pick (Round 2), Minnesota Vikings
The skinny: Cook was so silky smooth as both a runner and receiver in the Florida State offensive attack.

6) Alvin Kamara, Tennessee
Draft class: 2017; 67th overall pick (Round 3), New Orleans Saints
The skinny: It's still a mystery to me that Kamara fell to the third round of last year's draft.

7) Derrius Guice, LSU
Draft class: 2018
The skinny: It's hard to believe Guice and Leonard Fournette played in the same backfield. How did LSU not win more games?

8) Ronald Jones, USC
Draft class: 2018
The skinny: I love the homerun-hitting ability Jones brings to the table.

9) Sony Michel, Georgia
Draft class: 2018
The skinny: Michel has all of the tools to develop into one of the best running backs in the league.

10) Derrick Henry, Alabama
Draft class: 2016; 45th overall pick (Round 2), Tennessee Titans
The skinny: Henry needs a little bit of room to get going, but I loved the way he carried the Alabama rushing load during his final season in Tuscaloosa. -- Daniel Jeremiah


Oklahoma's Orlando Brown had a workout to forget earlier this month at the NFL Scouting Combine. However, the mammoth offensive tackle helped himself behind the scenes at the event.

I spoke to several different teams about which players impressed during the evening interviews at the combine, and Brown's name was mentioned by multiple teams. He presented himself very well and evaluators came away impressed with both his football knowledge and his personality. Now, I believe his poor workout hurt his draft stock, but I think it's still possible that Brown -- once considered a likely first-rounder -- could get picked in the second round, and I would be surprised if he lasted past the third round. -- Daniel Jeremiah


Smart. Fast. Physical.

Those three words are frequently used to describe the ideal safeties that NFL defensive coordinators covet in their secondary. Defensive play callers prefer traffic cops with a high football IQ, outstanding athletic traits and nasty disposition to roam the deep middle on championship-caliber defenses. If those prospects also possess natural ball skills and superb instincts, they have a chance to develop into Pro Bowl-caliber players in a defense that showcases center-fielder-types between the hashes.

At Wake Forest, Jessie Bates checked off several of those boxes as a playmaking safety with solid instincts, awareness and diagnostic skills. He'll be in the spotlight on Tuesday at the Demon Deacons' pro day.

As a former high school baseball and basketball star, he displays the range and ball skills to make plays over the top as a deep-middle defender. As a freshman, he led Wake Forest with five interceptions, exhibiting soft hands and natural takeaway skills. Although his ball production declined in 2017, he flashed the kind of movement skills and versatility to excel as a center-fielder as a pro.

Against the run, Bates exhibits adequate instincts and tackling skills running the alley. He's a dependable wrap-up tackler with a knack for corralling running in space. While I wouldn't classify him as a "banger", Bates will throw his body around to stop runners in the hole. He flashes enough physicality and toughness to hold his own as a designated center-fielder in a single-high safety defense.

From a critical standpoint, Bates' limited playing experience (only two seasons of major college football) is a concern for teams looking for a plug-and-play playmaker at the position. He simply hasn't played enough ball to jump right in as a difference maker in Year One. In addition, there are also some concerns about his slender frame as a 6-foot-2, 195-pound safety. While he's big enough to roam the middle, I wonder if he can hold up against punishing running backs in the hole.

Overall, Bates reminds me of Kurt Coleman of the New Orleans Saints. Bates is a solid player with enough skills to start on a quality defense, but I don't know if he's a difference maker at the position. -- Bucky Brooks

Follow Daniel Jeremiah on Twitter @MoveTheSticks.

Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.



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