Using player comparisons and scores from the RB Prospect Lab, we locate the stars, sleepers, red flags, and long shots from the lauded 2018 running back class.
Earlier this week I presented the 2018 RB Prospect Lab scores. It came as no surprise that Saquon Barkley broke the machine with a perfect score. I love using rankings and projections from the Lab and from excellent RB models like the one Anthony Amico developed this spring. I use those scores in my own rankings, but at the RB position I also place special emphasis on player comparisons. In the past I’ve talked a lot about RB profiles. While attributes like size, speed, and agility can all be important, all successful backs don’t need to be the same. However, runners with at least one standout attribute tend to have better comps than those who are solid across the board.
This is fairly intuitive. We know that RBs who run faster than a 4.5 forty have much better NFL outcomes, but even faster is better and backs with elite agility also outperform. We know bigger tends to be better up to a point — this is much of the idea behind the RB Speed Scores — but that there appears to be a Goldilocks zone for size. Backs in the 200- to 215-pound range can also have excellent comps if they possess plus speed and agility.1
We also know that younger is much better — RBs who begin their careers at age 21 average 150 PPR points per season compared to only 90 points for those who start at age 22 — but that breakout age is even more important. While these comps look at final-season performance, early collegiate production also matters, and we’ll also reference that for some players in order to get a better sense of their potential outcomes.
In Part 1, we examine the RBs with scores and comps that suggest the possibility of stardom.
Not surprisingly, Barkley’s comp group is a who’s who of superstars – young, big, fast, quick players with impressive production. The Penn State star didn’t make as much noise as a rusher, but he led the group in receptions per game, one more reason he’s the perfect prospect for today’s NFL. Despite the loaded class and a beyond-category acquisition cost, he easily triumphed in our RB Tournament.
Guice’s 2017 production was solid for a top prospect, and his comps are not quite as shiny as we might prefer for the consensus 1.02. His score rises due to youth and a good weight/speed combination. While Guice’s production looks even more pedestrian through the lens of Backfield Dominator Rating, his breakout 2016 season was one of the more impressive age- and schedule-adjusted seasons in recent memory.
Penny’s comps demonstrate how slightly older players can still be very successful if they bring crazy production to the table. DeAngelo Williams and Melvin Gordon both rushed for over 170 yards per game like the prolific Penny. We also see several non-power conference schools represented in the San Diego St. star’s comps with Memphis, Fresno St., and Boise St. all making an appearance. Penny presents a strong size/speed combination, and although he faced lesser competition than some of his rivals, was the most explosive on-field runner last season. The polar opposite of Guice, Backfield Dominator Rating shows the hidden value in Penny’s receiving production.
Johnson is younger than most of his weight/speed/production comps, which gives him a similar score despite slightly inferior athleticism.2 In an optimistic scenario, he’s a less athletic Marshawn Lynch or a less proven Dalvin Cook. Although not as prolific as Gordon or as quick as Knowshon Moreno, his 55 collegiate receptions put him in position to be an immediate three-down threat. Johnson ranks No. 6 in the most recent RotoViz Scouting Index, and he’s fallen out of the first round in some recent early rookie drafts. His scores and comps suggest a value at that price.
Stay tuned for Part 2, where we look at the 2018 Sleepers or check out the full 2018 RB Prospect Lab scores.