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2018 NFL Draft: Saquon Barkley leads deep RB class

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Editor's note: NFL.com analysts Lance Zierlein and Chad Reuter will provide overviews for eight position groups in the 2018 NFL Draft (April 26-28 in Dallas), beginning today with running backs.

We've heard about the devaluing of the running back position in the NFL for years. While it's certainly become more of a passing league, many of the most successful teams last season relied on feature backs that were top-10 picks, from Leonard Fournette in Jacksonville to Todd Gurley in Los Angeles. New England and Philadelphia used back-by-committee approaches, but their run games (as well as their backs' receiving abilities) helped those teams make their way to the Super Bowl. Clearly, there's still reason to place high value on the position.

While not as deep as the 2017 group, the 2018 NFL Draft's RB class still offers good depth, including some heavy hitters at the top of the rankings, as well as a slew of fast change-of-pace backs and sturdy carry-eaters through the middle and late rounds.

Let's take a deeper look at the 2018 RB class.

Teams with greatest need at RB

1) Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Moving on from Doug Martin this offseason made sense, and now they need someone who can handle 20 carries a game to take some pressure off of Jameis Winston.

2) Indianapolis Colts: Marlon Mack is a solid back, but I think the Colts will be looking to pair him up with one of the top RBs available in the draft.

3) Carolina Panthers: Christian McCaffrey is a playmaker in the backfield or in the slot, but a strong, consistent power back would make the Panthers more well-rounded on offense.

4) Oakland Raiders: Even with Beast Mode and Doug Martin on the roster, the team should be looking for a difference maker in the backfield for the long term.

5) Miami Dolphins: Signing Frank Gore is great -- for 2018. Finding a back to pair with Kenyan Drake in future years should be a priority.

Top 5 players at the position

1) Saquon Barkley, Penn State: Barkley is considered the No. 1 prospect among all positions by some teams, and will excel in all areas for his new NFL squad, including contributing as a receiver and in pass protection.

2) Derrius Guice, LSU: Guice runs larger than his measurements would indicate, finishing his runs with aplomb and bringing an attitude to the position that his offensive line will appreciate.

3) Nick Chubb, Georgia: Chubb suffered a major knee injury as a sophomore. However, it looks like he's moved past that setback both physically and mentally. If he stays healthy, he'll be a Frank Gore-type back who can churn out five or six yards consistently and break off runs of 15 to 20 yards, as well.

4) Sony Michel, Georgia: Michel didn't run the fastest 40 at the NFL Scouting Combine (4.54 seconds; tied for ninth-fastest among RBs at the event). However, scouts that went back to study his game film were reminded of his efficient running style and ability to exploit narrow lanes to explode into the secondary. He's a big-play back.

5) Ronald Jones II, USC: Jones has a burst but really makes his hay with patience and strength through contact.

Most overrated

Josh Adams, Notre Dame: I think Adams can be a contributing back in the league, eating up carries like Rob Kelley and Matt Jones have done at times in their careers. However, I don't agree with those who see him as one of the top 10 RBs in the class.

Most underrated

Mark Walton, Miami: If Walton had not suffered a season-ending ankle injury early last season, he would be receiving much more attention this offseason for his pro-level speed, agility, vision and balance. Scouts looking at his 2016 tape will see a potential starter at the next level, and the team that picks him will likely get a bargain, as I'm expecting him to go in the fourth round.

Boom or bust

Kalen Ballage, Arizona State: No back in this year's class can match Ballage's physical gifts. However, ASU coaches never gave him the full workload that you'd expect for a player of his ability. Was it simply because fellow Sun Devils RB Demario Richard was also worthy of his share of touches? Or were coaches unsure of Ballage's ability to handle the full workload? It won't be a surprise if Ballage goes in the second round, which will be a wise investment if he reaches his potential.

Sleeper alert

Chase Edmonds, RB, Fordham: Only leg injuries prevented Edmonds from breaking all kinds of FCS records in 2017. He's not the biggest back, but he's quick, tough and a reliable receiver. If he can stay healthy, he'll have a long NFL career.

Follow Chad Reuter on Twitter @chad_reuter.

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