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Saquon Barkley, Derrius Guice will lead rookie running backs

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The rookie class of running backs for 2018 looks like an outstanding group -- it's no wonder that seven were selected in the first two rounds of the 2018 NFL Draft, with six going in the first 43 overall picks. To shine a spotlight on this deep group, I decided to rank the seven backs taken in the first two rounds according to how they'll produce as rookies, with an eye toward their projected career-long ceilings, as you can see below:

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1

Saquon Barkley, Giants

Measurements: 6-foot, 233 pounds, 9 1/2-inch hands, 41-inch vertical jump, 29 reps on the bench press, 4.4-second 40-yard dash.

Drafted: Round 1, No. 2 overall.

Barkley is the best skill player I've graded since 1960, with Bo Jackson being the second-best. Everything about him, statistically speaking, is encouraging. He reminds me a lot of Hall of Famer LaDainian Tomlinson -- Barkley has great skills and character and, crucially, great vision, which Bill Parcells thinks is the most important trait in a running back. I remember watching Penn State play Pittsburgh in 2016 and Barkley jumped out like a sore thumb, racking up 85 rushing yards and 45 receiving yards with five total touchdowns (four on the ground, one through the air). And to show he brings it against premier opponents on a big stage, consider his numbers in the Rose Bowl after the 2016 season (249 yards from scrimmage, three touchdowns against USC) or the Fiesta Bowl last season (175 yards from scrimmage, two scores against Washington). He finished his career with outstanding totals of 3,843 rushing yards, 43 rushing touchdowns, 1,195 receiving yards and eight receiving touchdowns. When you talk to Barkley's coaches, they say no one works harder than him. He's a smart player and he'll block the blitzer. Barkley will be an outstanding player in the NFL for many years, barring injury or an unexpected shift in focus, with Pro Bowl and All-Pro nods in his future. And he'll have plenty of opportunity in New York.

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2

Derrius Guice, Redskins

Measurements: 5-10 1/2, 224 pounds, 9-inch hands, 31.5-inch vertical, 4.49 40.

Drafted: Round 2, No. 59 overall.

Guice runs angry and is a very intense competitor. I'm impressed that he went to LSU even while knowing Leonard Fournette would be there taking up snaps -- that's a good sign of confidence. His career per-carry mark of 6.53 yards at LSU is second-best in SEC history, after Bo Jackson (6.62). He also owns the longest rushing touchdown in LSU history (96 yards) and is the only player in SEC history to post three 250-yard games in his career. Guice takes care of the ball (just five fumbles), has plus quickness and will block. He also had the toughness to play through a knee problem in 2017. I think he needs to work hard to learn the Redskins' offense, but he'll do what he has to do. Guice will be a starter in the NFL and a future Pro Bowler.

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3

Ronald Jones, Buccaneers

Measurements: 5-11, 205 pounds, 8 3/4-inch hands, 36.5-inch vertical, 4.56 40.

Drafted: Round 2, No. 38 overall.

Don't be swayed too much by that 40 time from USC's pro day, where he generally didn't work out that well -- that was likely influenced by a hamstring issue that also caused trouble for Jones at the NFL Scouting Combine. The way he ran away from Texas' fast corners in an open-field catch-and-run last season shows that he's much faster than that mark would indicate. He started 19 games over the past two seasons and cleared 100 yards in 13 of them, and his career total of 3,619 yards ranks fifth all-time at USC. He also broke Charles White's freshman rushing record with 987 yards (6.5 average) in 2015 despite not starting. He has a history of productivity and is going to a team that needs a running back. I'm a bit worried about his hand size -- at 8 3/4 inches, he's below the 9-inch threshold, which indicates potential fumbling issues. But ultimately, I think Jones will start as a rookie and become a Pro Bowler in the future.

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4

Kerryon Johnson, Lions

Measurements: 5-11 1/2, 213 pounds, 9 3/4-inch hands, 40-inch vertical, 10-6 broad jump, 7.07-second three-cone, 4.52 40.

Drafted: Round 2, No. 43 overall.

Johnson is explosive, speedy and -- as we can tell from his 7.07 time in the three-cone drill -- has the ability to change direction well. He had a great high school career -- winning the Alabama state championship three times -- before embarking on an Auburn tenure that saw him put up 3,625 all-purpose yards, the 10th-most in school history. He also averaged 25.12 yards per kick return. He led the SEC in rushing last season with 1,391 yards and was outstanding against Alabama, finishing with 104 rushing yards in Auburn's win. Limited by injury in the SEC championship game against Georgia, Johnson's lack of impact was noticeable -- the Tigers looked like they were driving without a wheel out there. The tough Johnson plays with a Frank Gore-like mentality; he's a win-at-all-costs type who has good vision as a runner. If he stays healthy, Johnson can push for the Offensive Rookie of the Year award in Detroit and should become a Pro Bowler.

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5

Nick Chubb, Browns

Measurements: 5-10 7/8, 227 pounds, 9 5/8-inch hands, 38.5-inch vertical, 10-8 broad jump, 29 lifts, 4.52 40.

Drafted: Round 2, No. 35 overall.

Like Guice, Chubb went to his school knowing he'd face competition at his position: fellow 2018 rookie Sony Michel. I really like when guys accept a challenge like that rather than seeking out an easier path elsewhere. And then, knowing he wasn't ready to come out as a junior after suffering a serious knee injury as a sophomore in 2015, he stayed another season at Georgia. He posted excellent numbers in the pre-draft process, as you can see above. Chubb finished with 4,769 rushing yards at Georgia, second only to Herschel Walker in school history, and a 6.3 yards-per-carry mark with 44 rushing touchdowns and 31 catches. He has a strong lower body and good vision and balance. The only thing that concerns me about Chubb is a lack of long runs in 2017, with just two going for 35 yards or more. He'll be a strong starter on a winning team, but might not become a Pro Bowl-caliber star. I do think he'll play well in Cleveland, where offensive coordinator Todd Haley likes to run the ball. Chubb will get his despite sharing the running back room with Carlos Hyde and Duke Johnson.

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6

Sony Michel, Patriots

Measurements: 5-10 5/8, 214 pounds, 9 1/8-inch hands, 22 lifts, 4.54 40.

Drafted: Round 1, No. 31 overall.

Michel really took over in the Rose Bowl against Oklahoma, ripping off 222 yards from scrimmage (181 rushing) with four total touchdowns -- and notching the winning score on a 27-yard run -- before being named the game's offensive MVP. He finished his career with 3,613 rushing yards, ranking third in Georgia history. However, he only started 11 games in his four years as a Bulldog; I know he and Chubb alternated, but that's why I have Michel ranked below Chubb here. That said, he has plus hands and worked out some at receiver at the combine, although he did have 12 career fumbles at Georgia. Michel is a very talented player who should be very good in the Patriots' system, presuming he stays healthy. I see him being a lot like James White in New England, only better and faster. Of course, the Patriots also tend to rely on RB committees, with only three individuals posting 1,000-yard campaigns over the past 10 seasons in New England.

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7

Rashaad Penny, Seahawks

Measurements: 5-11, 220 pounds, 9 1/4-inch hands, 32.5-inch vertical, 10-foot broad jump, 13 lifts, 4.46 40.

Drafted: Round 1, No. 27 overall.

Penny put up 2,248 yards and scored 23 touchdowns as a one-year starter at San Diego State -- working in the same system that allowed Donnel Pumphrey to top 2,000 yards in 2016. Pumphrey, of course, was held back as a rookie with the Eagles last season by a hamstring tear that ultimately landed him on injured reserve in September. I worry sometimes that a system might be more responsible for a player's success than the player's talent, and that could be a concern with Penny. That said, he was just the fourth player in FBS history to have five consecutive 200-yard rushing games, joining a group that includes Marcus Allen and Barry Sanders. Penny has very good hands as a receiver and is a physical runner. He needs to improve his pass-blocking, but he has outstanding vision and should start in Seattle. If he's not merely the product of a system, Penny will be a Pro Bowler. But for right now, we don't know exactly how good he can be at the NFL level. He'll also have to play behind a Seahawks offensive line that remains a question mark.

Follow Gil Brandt on Twitter @Gil_Brandt.

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