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RB Prospect Lab: The 20 Closest Athletic Comps for the Top 12 RB Prospects

In Part 1 of the RB Prospect Lab series, we looked at the overall rankings for the RBs and discussed the big winners and losers after the combine. Today, we examine the athletic comps for the RB prospects.

As free agency dies down and we shift back into high gear on NFL draft season, it’s time to dive a little deeper on the 2019 RB class. Today, I’ll be using the Combine Explorer to demonstrate how the top prospects compare to historical testing results at the position. I’ll also provide their 20 closest athletic comps and discuss the fit with notable players.

While athletic measurables are often overvalued in the draft process, they play a much bigger role in the evaluation of RBs than they do for receivers. In selecting RBs for our dynasty teams, we want to emphasize the athletic standouts.

I’ve ranked the players by their RB Prospect Lab scores. Some backs have now completed pro day workouts, but these comps and rankings feature RBs who opted to perform at the combine.

1. Ryquell Armstead 60

Armstead was the shock leader in the Prospect Lab after he averaged more than 100 yards a game as a senior and then posted a 4.45 forty and 7.02 three-cone at 220 pounds. It will be interesting to see if he’s selected early enough in the draft to have any fantasy relevance, but his physical profile includes some intriguing comps.

Cadillac Williams and Knowshon Moreno were both first-round picks. Damien Williams exploded to cult status at the end of 2018, and Dalvin Cook should go in the second round of 2019 fantasy contests. Further down the list we run into Ryan Mathews, a disappointing but mildly underrated NFL player.
Without the production of some of the bigger names, potential Armstead owners can take solace in Williams’ recent success and hope that the Temple prospect makes his way onto the radar more quickly.

2. Miles Sanders 54

Sanders was buried behind Saquon Barkley for two seasons, but he looks like the top prospect in the 2019 draft after gaining over 1,400 yards from scrimmage, catching 24 passes, and posting impressive numbers across the board at the combine. Any time a prospect goes under 4.5 in the forty and 6.9 in the three-cone, you’ve got an athletic profile that will play in the NFL.

Felix Jones was a first-round pick in 2008 who gained over 1,200 yards from scrimmage in his third season. Charles Sims caught 51 passes and gained 1,000 yards from scrimmage in his second year before washing out. But the biggest names are former first-round picks Marshawn Lynch and Joseph Addai.1 With Josh Jacobs reportedly running in the 4.6s at his pro day, Sanders is now in competition to be the first RB off the board.

3. Benny Snell 51

Even during a free agency process that saw incumbents and unsigned players lose value, Snell was still one of our biggest ADP fallers last week. Despite posting big numbers against a difficult schedule and for a Kentucky squad that isn’t a traditional power, Snell’s stock has cratered. While potential owners should be wary, he now looks undervalued compared to other big names in the class, most of whom have also struggled during the testing process.

Early-career Alfred Morris is the perfect upside scenario for Snell, while Montee Ball offers a warning about prolific college players with this profile. Peyton Barber and C.J. Anderson are two familiar names who flashed in spurts last year. Snell was a much better college player than either of them.

4. Alex Barnes 51

Barnes didn’t light up the track in the 40, but at 226 pounds, he was a freak athlete in the remaining drills. After catching 20 passes and gaining over 1,500 yards from scrimmage in his final season, Barnes should be a riser throughout the draft process.

Jay Ajayi and Nick Chubb are the two names that jump out at the top of the list, and Barnes is more laterally explosive than the high-profile pair. David Johnson is faster than Barnes, but he’s an example of the of big, agile profile that has yielded numerous sleepers over the last decade.

5. Trayveon Williams 50

Heading into the combine, Williams looked like the prototype of the small-yet-prolific back who’s often a great value in drafts. Unfortunately, a 4.51 forty and tragic 11.88 agility score aren’t results that play at 206 pounds.

This grouping gives you a sense of how difficult it is to find players with Williams’ physical profile. As a small back with terrible tested athleticism, Devonta Freeman offers a glimmer of hope. He plays with far more explosion on the football field than his times would indicate. Gio Bernard and Maurice Jones-Drew are two more encouraging names, although both of them sport far better agility numbers.

 6. Darrell Henderson 47

Henderson looks a lot like Trayveon Williams without the agility numbers. Since posting elite times in the agilities is a way for smaller backs to offset concerns about size – and redeem elements like a 33.5-inch vertical leap – it’s a very bad sign when they opt out instead.

We can’t just ignore Henderson’s 63 collegiate receptions or his 2,200 yards from scrimmage in 2018. Duke Johnson is a good example of a big-time college back who posted a mediocre Prospect Lab score after disappointing as an athlete. Johnson was a great purchase for dynasty owners who were rewarded with an average of more than 60 receptions a year for his first three seasons.

7. David Montgomery 45

Commentators tend to throw the Iowa State offensive line under the bus when explaining Montgomery’s pedestrian production as a runner, but we now have another plausible explanation. Montgomery isn’t an NFL athlete. He’s basically Snell without the strong 3-cone time.

In Part 1, I called Montgomery a poor man’s Alex Collins, and that comp shows up here along with Corey Clement. With so many similarities to Snell, they share most of the same names. Montgomery does possess a much better receiving resume than the majority of the names on this list, an important element to keep in mind before dismissing him entirely.

8. Justice Hill 43

It’s hard not to get excited about Hill’s athletic numbers, especially within the context of on-field exploits that include a 31-catch, 16-TD, 1,600-yard season in 2017.

Despite the strong athletic numbers, Hill’s comps are depressing. Jerick McKinnon lost his chance for the big breakout in 2018, while Nyheim Hines generally impressed after a poor preseason, but the majority of these backs washed out without even creating committee roles. Injuries played a role in numerous instances.

9. Karan Higdon 34

Higdon’s combine keeps him on the draft radar after a solid senior season at Michigan, but at 206 pounds and with a pedestrian production resume, he needed to show more.

If you assume elite agility numbers for Higdon, then he owns some impressive physical comps, but otherwise we’re looking at Duke Johnson and Steve Slaton. Both backs were far better college players.

10. Myles Gaskin 34

It’s impossible not to like Gaskin’s four straight seasons with over 1,300 yards from scrimmage. Before the combine, he shared a lot of similarities with another diminutive but hyper-productive Pac-12 star. Unfortunately, Gaskin didn’t match the raw speed Phillip Lindsay put on display at his pro day and then throughout his rookie season.

James White and Devonta Freeman both eventually emerged in offenses perfectly designed for their talents – White as a postseason hero and passing game dynamo, Freeman as an all-around monster in Kyle Shanahan’s RB-friendly system.

Others of Note

Devin Singletary 24

A 33-TD, 2,100 yard season in 2017 gave Singletary a shot to be one of the first RBs selected before he slogged through a catastrophic combine. These would be depressing times for a big back, and Singletary weighed in at only 203.

Ka’Deem Carey went over 2,000 yards in his sophomore and junior seasons at Arizona, but a lack of NFL athleticism doomed him at the professional level.

Damien Harris 18

Alabama committee backs always do poorly in the RB Prospect Lab, but Harris was a four-year player who lost ground to younger teammates as a senior. Even if you ignore his score due to the depth chart competition, his production and measurables place him well below the usual Crimson Tide suspects. He did impress in the leaping drills after posting only average size-adjusted speed.

Kareem Hunt will be the go-to for supporters of both Alabama RB prospects. Alvin Kamara also pops up here, although his freakish athleticism in the explosion drills far outstripped Harris.

It’s a Weak Class But Not One to Ignore Entirely

This is one of the worst RB classes in recent memory, especially when we look at them as athletes. Relatively few stars show up in the comp groups. I’ve cherry-picked the most interesting players – and in some cases those players are most representative of the draft slots we should expect for the prospect in question – but that also serves to highlight how many of the most similar players aren’t noteworthy.

This is also a class where the top athletes are a little light on production and the top producers disappoint athletically.2 This will create a dilemma for both reality GMs and fantasy owners, but at least fantasy owners will know landing spots before having to take the plunge themselves. We’ll look at how on-field production alters the comps in Part 3.

  1. Both players are slightly larger than Sanders, but the Penn State product is considerably more agile.  (back)
  2. Arguably the top prospects are Alabama players light in both categories, but a different set of rules always applies to them.  (back)
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