NFL Draft 2019 running back rankings: Let's break down skills of top RBs, from elusiveness to contact balance

The 2019 NFL Draft is just a day away, and this year it's even more important than usual to list and rank the specific skills and scheme fits of the top running backs, because there's a cluster of Day 2 running backs whose team fit will greatly impact their success or lack thereof at the NFL level.

I've ranked each of the consensus top seven running backs below in the qualities I deem most necessary to be an effective running back in the NFL (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. 

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.    

Installment No. 1 in this series: Quarterbacks


1. Devin Singletary 
2. David Montgomery
3. Josh Jacobs
4. Darrell Henderson
5. Miles Sanders
6. Justice Hill
7. Damien Harris 

Watch one of Singletary's games and you'll think you mistakenly clicked a highlight package. He's super shifty and electric in space. Whether it be a huge jump cut or subtle move through the line, the Florida Atlantic star will make defenders miss with relative ease. Montgomery is more of a jump cut master than anything else. Jacobs has nice one-cut skills, and Henderson is a fluid mover who doesn't lose speed when changing directions. Sanders' jukes are very smooth. Hill and Harris' moves are more violent and twitch-based.  

Sleeper: Jordan Scarlett

Scarlett's hips are tremendously loose. So are his ankles. He can break off three or four cuts in one run and leave multiple defenders whiffing at air. 

Contact Balance

  1. Montgomery
  2. Harris
  3. Singletary
  4. Jacobs
  5. Sanders
  6. Hill
  7. Henderson

Backs can't always make a defender miss in space, so the ability to stay balanced after absorbing is critical to the position. Montgomery has been extraordinary in this facet for the past two seasons. His strong legs and low center of gravity set a strong foundation to bounce off defenders. Harris too runs with great pad level. For being a smaller back, Singletary pinballs around on the inside and stays on his feet often. Jacobs runs through contact more than glancing off it. Sanders and Hill can take hits and keep their legs churning.

Sleeper: James Williams

Williams has excellent balance, which, coupled with his bouncy style, allows him to flourish in space, on outside runs and especially at a receiver. 


  1. Singletary
  2. Sanders
  3. Montgomery
  4. Jacobs
  5. Harris
  6. Henderson
  7. Hill

Singletary knifes through small creases on the inside. Sanders is a similarly efficient between-the-tackles runner. Montgomery is a bit boom-or-bust finding holes. Jacobs sees lanes as they're about to develop. Harris and Henderson consistently follow their lead blockers and know when to cut off them. Hill is a dynamic athlete but lacks in the vision department, often choosing to bounce outside. 

Sleeper: Elijah Holyfield

Holyfield is a lightning-fast processor when deciding the most efficient way to pick up yardage. He wastes no time hitting the cutback lane or finding a hole to the outside after linebackers crash inside. 

Burst/Long Speed

  1. Henderson
  2. Hill
  3. Singletary
  4. Sanders
  5. Jacobs
  6. Harris
  7. Montgomery

Henderson ran 4.49 at the combine. He plays more like 4.29. Once he's in the open field, forget about catching him. Hill can fly too, as evidenced by his 4.40 time in the 40. Singletary is another back whose on-field speed is much more impressive than the 4.66 time he clocked in the 40. Sanders can hit some longer runs but doesn't necessarily play to his combine time (4.49). Jacobs, Harris, and Montgomery are all a clear step behind of the top four backs speed-wise. 

Sleeper: Kerrith Whyte

Whyte, the other Florida Atlantic running back who was a surprise early entrant into this year's draft, is a burner. He ran 4.36 at his pro day and averaged 6.5 yards per attempt on 134 rushes in 2018. He destroys pursuit angles down the field. Others considered here: Darwin Thompson, Bryce Love, and Maryland's Ty Johnson


  1. Harris
  2. Jacobs
  3. Montgomery
  4. Sanders
  5. Henderson
  6. Hill
  7. Singletary

Harris runs much more authoritatively than his nearly 5-foot-11, 216-pound frame suggests. He has tree trunks for legs and awesome balance. Jacobs is a little more sleek, although he weighed in at more than Harris at the combine. Plenty of power to his game overall. Montgomery's power isn't flashy like Harris and Jacobs. He just routinely falls forward for extra yards. Sanders and Henderson surprise at times with their leg churn. Hill and Singletary are space backs who don't use power to win. 

Sleeper: Alexander Mattison

Mattison is a 221-pound back with excellent burst after receiving the hand off. That combination leads to effortless power for him through tacklers at the second and third levels. 

Pass-Catching Ability

  1. Jacobs
  2. Montgomery
  3. Henderson
  4. Harris
  5. Hill
  6. Sanders
  7. Singletary

Jacobs caught 20 passes in 2018 and proved to have very soft hands, even when he was targeted down the field. Montgomery was a reliable check-down receiver in Ames over the past two seasons, and Henderson, Harris, and Hill were deadly on screens. After snagging 26 passes in 2016, Singletary had only nine receptions last season. 

Sleeper: Darwin Thompson 

Thompson is a small back but showed strong hands and dynamic ability in the screen game. Rodney Anderson from Oklahoma -- based on what he showed in 2017 -- was considered here.  

Scheme Fits 


  1. Singletary
  2. Henderson
  3. Jacobs
  4. Hill
  5. Sanders
  6. Harris
  7. Mongtomery

As a fluid mover with outstanding flexibility, Singletary would explode in a zone scheme at the NFL level. Henderson and Jacobs are at their best when they flip on the jets early and only have to make one cut to get free through the second level. I like Harris and Montgomery more in a power scheme that wouldn't put as much strain on their lateral agility. 

Sleeper: Devine Ozigbo

As a big, linearly explosive back with bendy ankles, Ozigbo is a consummate zone-blocking scheme running back prospect. Let him press the front side and either stay the course or plant his foot in the ground and explode through the cutback lane. 


  1. Montgomery
  2. Harris
  3. Sanders
  4. Singletary
  5. Jacobs
  6. Henderson
  7. Hill

Montgomery following pulling guards and fullbacks would be scary at the NFL level because of his jump-cut ability. Much of the same applies to Harris. Sanders, Singletary, and Jacobs will be fine in either blocking scheme. Henderson is more of a flow-y runner than one who'll sink his hips and cut off a lead block. 

Sleeper: Bryce Love

After an unceremonious ending to an illustrious career at Stanford, there's no doubting Love is very accustomed to running behind lead blockers. While he has a lot of mileage on his legs and has battled injuries, Love is just one full season removed from running for over 2,000 yards as college football's premier home run hitter. 

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