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Ranking best RBs in college football: Saquon Barkley leads top 5

Editor's note: analyst and former scout Bucky Brooks will unveil his top five players at marquee positions this month to preview the 2017 college football season, continuing today with running backs. Click through the tabs above to see other positions.

The running back position has been devalued on draft day but that doesn't mean RB1s aren't an important piece of the offensive puzzle.

Teams are increasingly looking for backs with the size, versatility and explosiveness to create mismatches on the perimeter while also offering solid contributions on the ground. This has forced scouts and executives to tweak their grading scales to place a little more weight on the passing-game contributions of the top running backs at the collegiate level.

Whether it's their ability to catch the ball out of the backfield or to align in the slot or out wide to run routes against linebackers and defensive backs, the elite prospects at the position must be able to create big plays in the passing game to earn a gold star in the evaluation process.

With that in mind, let's here are my top five running back prospects heading into the fall.

5. Bo Scarbrough, Alabama

A big-bodied runner with extraordinary size, strength and power, Scarbrough is an old-school runner with a violent running style that makes him an ideal fit in downhill systems. He pinballs off tacklers in the hole, exhibiting outstanding balance and body control for a 6-foot-2, 232-pound runner. In addition, he flashes a nasty stiff arm and shoulder roll that makes him tough to bring down in the open field.

Although Scarbrough lacks the top-end speed to take it the distance from anywhere on the field, he remains a big-play threat due to his ability to run through defenders as a violent, one-cut runner. If he can show progress as a playmaker in the passing game, the Alabama standout could enhance his value to teams looking for a complete player at the position.

4. Nick Chubb, Georgia

Old-school RB1 with a rugged running style that is straight from 1980s highlight reels. Chubb hammers the ball between the tackles, exhibiting outstanding strength, power and vision with the ball in his hands. He complements his no-nonsense running style with a few subtle moves (cuts) that allow him to slither into creases on the backside.

Although he is not a true cutback runner, Chubb shows enough balance and body control to press the hole on the frontside before slipping out of the back door on inside zone plays and isolation runs in the A gaps. As a relentless workhorse with a game ideally suited for a power-based scheme that allows him to run from a "dot" position (directly behind the quarterback), Chubb will appeal to teams looking for a hammer to utilize between the tackles.

3. Royce Freeman, Oregon

Big back with NFL size and feet. Freeman excels on downhill runs but also flashes the stop-start quickness and burst to slip in and out of holes or attack the edges. He has outstanding balance, body control and wiggle for a big guy, which makes him an easy fit in a zone or gap scheme. As a receiver, Freeman's soft hands and route-running skills could make him a factor as a playmaker in the passing game for a team that features its backs prominently in the progression.

Although he will need to work on his blocking skills to be an elite three-down weapon as a pro, Freeman has all of the tools that scouts look for in a RB1. If he tops the 1,000-yard mark while showing a little more physicality and violence in his game, the senior could be the running back who experiences the biggest rise up the charts during the pre-draft process.

2. Derrius Guice, LSU

Dynamic playmaker with all of the tools that coaches covet in an elite RB1. Guice possesses the speed, quickness and burst to create explosive plays on outside runs. He's also a shifty runner between the tackles with an outstanding combination of strength, power and pop. In addition, he displays exceptional balance and body control, slipping in and out of holes with a nifty jump cut at the point of attack. With Guice also displaying the stamina and toughness to thrive as a workhorse, it's easy to envision him as a feature back in any scheme.

If he can become a bigger part of LSU's passing game (14 career receptions) while showing solid pass-catching skills, he would certainly have a strong case to be considered the No. 1 back in the game.

1. Saquon Barkley, Penn State

Blue-collar running back with a versatile game and homerun potential. Barkley is a rare runner who's capable of mixing finesse and power while working between the tackles or on the edges. Given his ability to create explosive plays on downhill runs or off-tackle jaunts, the Penn State star is a scheme-friendly playmaker who's capable of playing in any offense at the next level.

With soft hands, polished route-running ability and feisty skills as a pass protector, Barkley is the classic three-down back that every offensive coordinator covets at the RB1 position. If he continues to build off the momentum he created at the end of the 2016 campaign (see Big Ten Championship Game and Rose Bowl performances), he'll be one of the most highly coveted prospects in the game.

Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.

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