2019 NFL Draft: Running back comparisons for top prospects, including Reggie Bush, James Conner and more
There could be a Maurice Jones-Drew or Dalvin Cook lurking, even in an RB class not rife with elite talent
Compared to the Saquon Barkley-led group of a year ago, the 2019 running back class doesn't stack up.
What should we expect during the draft? The theme of this iteration of running back prospects, to me, is more Day 2 value selections than highly sought after first-round talents. Important note: count me in the minority who likes Josh Jacobs from Alabama but does not view him as a top-10 overall prospect. He's good. He's not clearly better than the rest of his ball-carrying contemporaries in this class.
Speaking of the draft, you'll be able to stream our live coverage right here on CBS Sports HQ (or download the CBS Sports app for free on any mobile or connected TV device) breaking down all the picks and everything you need to know during draft weekend.
In this series (NFL comparisons -- some current players, some former. These comparisons are not based on size or race. They're almost solely stylistic.), I'm running through the top prospects at every position and giving
Don't forget: the comparisons don't guarantee a prospect will have the exact same career as his professional counterpart.
(Prospects are listed in the order they appear in my.)
Devin Singletary, Florida Atlantic
NFL comparison: Maurice Jones-Drew
It's easy to remember late-career MJD, when he was more of a bowling ball runner than the spry change-of-pace back to Fred Taylor. However, when MJD came out of UCLA in 2006, he was known as Maurice Drew and was a short, just over 200-pound, lightning-fast, make-you-miss runner. He timed much faster in the 40 than Singletary (4.39 to 4.66), but Singletary is electric in space and plays faster than his timed speed.
David Montgomery, Iowa State
NFL comparison: James Conner
Neither Conner nor Montgomery will run away from many defensive backs down the field. They destroy ankles at the line of scrimmage and at the second level with efficient jump cuts. Also, when linebackers hit them, they bounce off thanks to elite contact balance. We saw how good of a back Conner can be in 2018 despite not having blazing speed. Montgomery will likely be picked around when Conner was selected (Round 3) and start as a No. 2 before the team that picks him realizes he has modern-day feature back traits.
Justice Hill, Oklahoma State
NFL comparison: Reggie Bush
Hill ran 4.40 in the 40 and jumped 40 inches at the combine. He's part of a tiny fraternity at the position that's accomplished such a feat. While he may not have the best vision -- and tends to bounce things outside -- Hill is a super-fluid home-run hitter with impeccable contact balance who flourishes in space. Sounds a lot like Bush to me. The team that drafts Hill needs to get him involved in the screen game right away -- like Bush was as a rookie, when he caught 88 passes for 742 yards and had four receiving scores.
Miles Sanders, Penn State
NFL comparison: Sony Michel
Crafty between-the-tackles runner with deceptive elusiveness, high-end balance, and surprising downfield speed. That describes both Michel -- who went in the first round in 2018 -- and Sanders, the back who patiently waited behind Saquon Barkley for years at Penn State and finished his career with the Nittany Lions averaging a hefty 6.0 yards per carry on 276 total attempts. Like Michel, Sanders is a footwork master capable of making multiple cuts to keep linebackers whiffing at air at the second level.
Josh Jacobs, Alabama
NFL comparison: Ben Tate
The consensus top running back prospect in this class is my RB5. And the comparison doesn't seem too favorable. That's not my intention. Injuries ultimately derailed Tate's career, but he entered the league out of Auburn as a polished, explosive runner capable of putting his foot in the ground, accelerating through backside holes on zone runs and running through defenders. He averaged 5.4 yards per carry as a rookie with the Texans. That's the type of back I see when watching Jacobs. He's a no-nonsense ball-carrier who packs a punch, has plus vision, and can explode through the hole with dynamic leg drive.
Elijah Holyfield, Georgia
NFL comparison: Branden Oliver
Holyfield had a stinker of a combine, which came as a shock to me after watching how tremendous his feet were on the field at Georgia in 2018. Not only does Holyfield instantly notice running lanes, he gets through them efficiently with quick bounce and has some juice to hit decent gainers down the field. While a little bigger than Oliver, their styles are very similar. Neither are speed threats, but both can spring through tight quarters and play with more power than expected for their statures.
Damien Harris, Alabama
NFL comparison: Carlos Hyde
Harris was a mainstay in the Crimson Tide backfield for years and surprised many by returning for his senior campaign. He kinda/sorta got overshadowed by Jacobs but is a quality, NFL-caliber back in his own right. A thunderous runner with tree trunks for legs and loose hips, weak tackle attempts often glance off Harris, and he has adequate acceleration to create long runs in some instances. When he entered the league out of Ohio State in 2014, Hyde was a compact power runner much more fluid in his hips than most backs at his bigger size.
Devine Ozigbo, Nebraska
NFL comparison: LeGarrette Blount
Blount is wider and carries more weight than Ozigbo, but the latter shed weight before the 2018 season to maximize his athleticism, and boy did it ever pay off, as the Nebraska star ran for 1,082 yards at 7.0 yards per carry as a senior. He has more downfield speed than Blount did when he entered the league out of Oregon in 2010. Blount's a rare talent for his mammoth size though, blessed with flexible ankles. Ozigbo is too. He's explosive through the line yet changes directly relatively easy considering his sizable frame.
Rodney Anderson, Oklahoma
NFL comparison: DeAngelo Williams
Anderson is a smooth, one-cut runner who glides across the field at over 6-0 and 224 pounds. He's heftier than Williams was as a prospect, but like Williams, Anderson can squeeze through small creases between the tackles and has impressive downfield speed once he gets into space.
Darrell Henderson, Memphis
NFL comparison: Dalvin Cook
Henderson has eye-opening speed after he flips on the jets, destroying pursuit angles and outrunning everybody often. Cook was that type of freakish home-run hitter in the ACC for his entire career at Florida State. To me, Cook is more laterally capable, but Henderson did flash the ability to subtly avoid defenders down the field while at Memphis. Give either Cook or Henderson some space, and watch out. If they're even, they're leavin'.
Benny Snell, Kentucky
NFL comparison: Alex Collins
At Arkansas, Collins proved to be a clearly talented big runner capable of knifing through the line of scrimmage but lacked downfield speed. Much of that is true with Snell's game. He's a boulder of a back at just under 5-11 but over 220 pounds who's capable of making dazzling, multiple-cut runs to turn what should be two or three-yard gains into seven or eight-yard gains.
Jordan Scarlett, Florida
NFL comparison: Marcus Murphy
Scarlett is bigger than Murphy was when he came into the league out of Missouri, but both backs can deploy awesome jump cuts and stop on a dime then instantly accelerate, making them nearly impossible to be contacted as they slide through the line of scrimmage and into the second and third levels of the defense.
Travis Homer, Miami
NFL comparison: Kerryon Johnson
Homer is a natural running back who always seems to find the intended lane quickly, and he has surprising burst and speed for being a compact runner. His cuts are more fluid than they are jagged. Like Johnson, he plays bigger than his size because of his explosiveness and powerful leg churn through contact.
Alexander Mattison, Boise State
NFL comparison: Royce Freeman
Freeman was a record-setting bell cow at Oregon, a low center of gravity slasher who didn't run by many down the field at the end of his illustrious collegiate career but was a nightmare to tackle. I get a similar feel with Mattison, a powerful throwback type with good lean, burst, and strength to fall forward without much juice to break off huge gains.
James Williams, Washington State
NFL comparison: James White
Williams is the best pass-catching back I've watched this draft season, and he needed to be playing in Mike Leach's extremely pass-happy offense. But it's not just his hands that make him a fun prospect. When he gets the ball on a swing pass, screen, or across the middle, Williams has elite awareness and above-average twitch to elude defenders in space and even make some miss when they're close to him. That combination has made White a devastating weapon in New England.
Myles Gaskin, Washington
NFL comparison: Justin Forsett
Forsett had one season in Baltimore when he ran for nearly 1,300 yards at 5.4 yards per carry and made the Pro Bowl, and despite that being the high water mark in his NFL career, he retired with a more than just respectable 4.7 yards per carry average. Small but blessed with lightning quick reaction to what's in front of him and good burst and wiggle, Forsett stuck around for nine seasons. Gaskin is comparably sized and talented. He repeatedly finds creases you don't think are there and the next thing you know, he's at 100 yards for the game. I can see him having a long stint in the NFL.
Bryce Love, Stanford
NFL comparison: Andre Ellington
Love had a senior season to forget after finishing as the Heisman runner up as a junior following his 2,000-plus yard campaign at Stanford. Short with a tiny frame, Love had no problem banging between the tackles and seemingly could sneak behind big interior linemen before exploding to daylight. Like Ellington at Clemson and in the NFL, Love is not a player a safety wants to see in space, and while he doesn't have elite, top-end speed, he has enough gas to hit some splash plays in the NFL. His feet are light but generate surprising power.
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