2018 NFL Draft rankings: Elusiveness, power and everything to know about RBs

Saquon Barkley is the most hyped running back prospect in a while, but how does he really stack up to his contemporaries in this loaded draft class of ball-carriers?

Despite athleticism being crucial at running back -- and any position really -- the more nuanced ball-carriers are typically the players who produce at a higher level int he NFL. After closely examining the specific "skills" critical to the running back spot, it's time to rank prospects in each facet. 

Below I've ranked each of the consensus top seven running backs in the qualities I deem most necessary to be a successful running back in the pros (listed in order of importance). I've also added one player who should be available a bit later in the draft that excels at each particular trait.

Installment No. 1 in this series - Quarterbacks

Elusiveness

  1. Barkley
  2. Sony Michel
  3. Derrius Guice
  4. Ronald Jones
  5. Nick Chubb
  6. Kerryon Johnson
  7. Royce Freeman

Barkley is amazingly flexible and fluid in his movements, and his low center-of-gravity and powerful, compact frame combine to generate ridiculous cuts behind the line of scrimmage, at the second level, and down the field. 

Michel has the ability to change direction devastatingly fast, and for being a runner known for his between-the-tackle prowess, Guice is more than capable of deploying ultra-sudden maneuvers in tight quarters. He's just not as bendy as Barkley in the open field. 

Sleeper: Ito Smith

Smith has a good argument for the most impressive jump-cutting ability in the class. His skill there is LeSean McCoy-like. Seriously. You do not want to meet him in space if you're a linebacker. 

Balance

  1. Barkley
  2. Guice
  3. Chubb
  4. Jones
  5. Freeman
  6. Johnson
  7. Michel

Similar to why he was No. 1 in the elusiveness category, Barkley is tops here mainly due to his rare athleticism and a super-strong lower half. Guice and Chubb are sub 6-foot backs over 220 pounds who tend to stay on their feet after contact. In fact, Freeman and Johnson are similar to Chubb and Guice in that regard, and Michel is certainly capable of running through arm-tackle attempts.

Sleeper: John Kelly

Kelly is comparable to former Tennessee teammate and reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year Alvin Kamara with his balance once he absorbs contact. He carries his weight well and prepares himself to deaden the force of a potential tackle, maintain his equilibrium, then continue downfield. 

Vision

  1. Guice
  2. Jones
  3. Barkley
  4. Chubb
  5. Michel
  6. Johnson
  7. Freeman

Yes, a category in which Barkley isn't No. 1. I'm as excited about the Penn State star as the next guy, the only drawback I noticed with his game is the tendency to frequently rely on the "bounce outside" when that route may not have been the most efficient path to more yardage. Guice is an absolute master at finding cracks in the defense, as is Jones. On those plays, Guice will make two defenders whiff then finish with immense power. Jones will locate a crevice then explode 50 yards for a touchdown. 

Sleeper: Justin Jackson

Jackson tested better than I expected at the combine, which boosts his stock because I saw him as a technician on film who continually read his blocks and set up his blocks wonderfully to accumulate those non-flashy but important five- and- six-yard gains often at Northwestern. You don't average 4.8 yards per carry on 1,142 collegiate carries like Jackson did without plus vision. 

Burst/Long speed

  1. Barkley
  2. Jones
  3. Guice
  4. Michel
  5. Chubb
  6. Freeman
  7. Johnson

As we saw at the combine with his 4.40 in the 40 at 233 pounds, Barkley can absolutely fly. He also showcased that outlandish speed on a few kick returns and long runs during his illustrious career at Penn State. Jones' burst through the second level is tremendous, and Guice is underrated in this area. Johnson's acceleration is more noticeable than his sustained speed down the field.

Sleeper: Nyheim Hines

Hines ran 4.38 at the combine and that speed is clearly visible on film. While his burst relative to his long speed leaves a little to be desired, Hines is electric in space.

Power

  1. Guice
  2. Barkley
  3. Chubb
  4. Freeman
  5. Johnson
  6. Jones
  7. Michel

Watch LSU's game against Alabama in 2017. Guice faced eight-man boxes essentially all evening and took them on like King Leonidas in the movie "300." On a few occasions, he met linebacker Rashaan Evans in the hole and made him pay, finishing his run falling forward, which is one of his trademarks. Barkley and Chubb create plenty of power with their size and speed, and Freeman and Johnson lay the lumber a few times each game. Jones doesn't have a power-back frame but runs extremely hard.

Sleeper: Josh Adams

Adams isn't a short, bowling ball of a runner. He's tall and runs upright. As a one-cut guy, he leans on his leg churn to explode through tackles, something he does frequently each time out. 

Pass-catching ability

  1. Barkley
  2. Guice
  3. Johnson
  4. Jones
  5. Michael
  6. Freeman
  7. Chubb

Barkley's value is higher than the "normal" top running back because of his comfort catching the football and what he can do after it's in his hands. The rest of the backs on this list weren't routine pass-game features yet are all fun on screens and can create big gains on simple swing passes. Chubb simply didn't catch many passes at Georgia, with only 31 grabs in his four-year career.

Sleeper: Akrum Wadley

Wadley isn't a dynamic athlete and doesn't have 4.40 speed to win races down the field. He's a deft block-reader on chaotic screen plays and does have enough juice to quickly acceleration through a lane that opens after a downfield block, even if it's against the grain. Watch his game against Penn State for the best example of this. 

Scheme Fits 

Zone

  1. Barkley
  2. Jones
  3. Michel
  4. Johnson
  5. Guice
  6. Freeman
  7. Chubb

Basically every team runs some semblance of inside zone, and most incorporate outside zone each game. Barkley's fluidity helps him on these stretch plays, and he definitely has the ability to plant his foot in the ground and flip on the jets through a cutback lane. Jones has plenty of instant acceleration to press the frontside on a zone run, and Barkley-esque talent to hit the backside lane. Johnson is a smooth mover too.

Sleeper: Adams

The former Notre Dame star reminds me a lot of Tevin Coleman, someone who's thrived in the Falcons' zone-based run scheme for years now. He produces enough momentum behind the line to make would-be tacklers bounce off him and is always peeking at that cutback option.  

Power/Gap

  1. Guice
  2. Chubb
  3. Barkley
  4. Michel
  5. Jones
  6. Freeman
  7. Johnson

Give Guice a lead fullback or a pulling guard on a variety of plays in the first two quarters, and linebackers will want no part of him in the second half. The same goes for Chubb, and Barkley's power is slightly underrated. Michel has the explosiveness to cut off lead blocks, as does Jones. 

Sleeper: Rashaad Penny 

Ultra-productive in San Diego State's well-established power-blocking scheme, Penny is a plus athlete with 4.46 speed at 5-11 and 220 pounds. He undoubtedly knows how to read blocks directly in front of him and cut off them near the second level. 

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