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Draft Edition: 5 Running Backs Skins Fans Should Know

The NFL Draft is now less than two weeks away! The Redskins have multiple positions that need to be addressed in the Draft and Defensive Line sits atop that list. The previous B&G Report column, compared Defensive Tackles Vita Vea & Da’Ron Payne. We went in depth discussing, who’d be the better fit in Washington. The rumblings in the scouting community are saying; Redskins feel they can get a good defensive lineman later in the Draft and could go another direction with their First Round pick.

Lately the big name that keeps popping up in connection to Washington is former LSU RB Derrius Guice. Guice recently visited Redskins Park, which is no indication that he would be their pick. Teams routinely request visits with as many Draft prospects as possible, prior to the Draft. Going on Senior VP Doug Williams words alone, a running back seems to be very high on their board. When discussing the Redskins options at running back, the usual names arise; Saquan Barkley, Derrius Guice, Sony Michel, Nick Chubb, Ronald Jones and Rashaad Penny. These backs are all projected to go in the Draft’s Top 60-80 picks, with the first three listed as possible first rounders. The fact is, this Draft has talent beyond the first two rounds and the running back pool is deep in 2018! The B&G Report put together 5 Prospects that have been intensely studied and dissected. I’m a believer that if the Redskins have two better non-running back prospects fall to their picks in rounds 1 and 2, they’ll find a very good back in Rounds 3-5. Without a further ado let’s get to it!

Kerryon Johnson Auburn

Johnson is an impressive specimen at 6’0 212 lbs who rarely goes down after initial contact. His stiff arm is savage and usually leads to decent gains after contact. Johnson played through multiple injuries in 2017 and showed to be one of the toughest backs in college football. His upright running style and slight lower build are cause for concern though. He needs to pack on more muscle in his lower body, due to his slight frame. Johnsons’s lower body type is more of a slight/lean receiver, as opposed to a running back. The former Auburn Tiger has a lot of upside as a 3rd-4th Round back. In the right system, he could produce on 2nd and 3rd downs. If I’m the Redskins brass, it’s a hard PASS in round 2 though. This has more to due with Johnson’s lack of breakaway speed, Samaje Perine having similar qualities with a bigger frame and the Redskins just need a more versatile back to lead their run game. If he’s sitting there in Round 3 (if the Skins obtain a 3rd in a trade back) or Round 4, he could be in the discussion as the Redskins next running back.

Royce Freeman Oregon

Freeman is a back that hasn’t been in the discussion as a game changer, but thats exactly what pops off of his game film!The former Duck boasts nice size measuring 5’11 234 with 32′ arms and a sturdy/athletic build. Freeman finished his time at OU as the All Time Leading Rusher and added 16 TD’s to his resume in 2017, while wrapping up his career total of 60 TD’s. He ranked 2nd in the PAC-12 All Time Leading rushing record book with 5,621 yards between2014-2017. Only former USC Great Charles White was ahead of him and has held that record since 1979. Although he only had 4 total career receiving touchdowns, he did register over 800 yards receiving during his time at Oregon. After going more in depth and watching more film, I came away surprised how strong he looked on tape! Rarely did I see Freeman not fall forward after contact and he routinely fights for extra yards. He’s no speed demon by any stretch of the imagination, but his Combine 4.54 second Forty time is nothing to scoff at considering his size. He is without a doubt quicker than fast, but he’s a playmaker! Although he was used mainly in the screen game as a pass catcher, he has the ability to flex out wide if needed and should excel on the next level.Now comes my concerns. Freeman was run into the ground by Oregon, based on the sheer numbers of carries (947 carrier carries with 1,026 total plays from scrimmage). Although he played with a bum knee last year, his medicals checked out and shouldn’t be a concern on the next level. Although the Redskins don’t have a 3rd Round Draft pick, finding a way to get back into the third round would be an ideal spot to select Freeman. I truly believe the hype is minimal based on Freeman playing in the PAC-12 and the possible wear & tear on his treads. If the Redskins go through the first two rounds without choosing a back, trading back into the 3rd round needs to be a priority with Freeman sure to be off the board by Round 4.

John Kelly Tennessee

The former Volunteer back is a bit of enigma. At 5’9 210 he looks the part and seeks out contact, rather than avoiding it. He’s extremely raw, but his sideline to sideline speed is impressive. As a pass catcher he has some ability as well. Now let’s get to the drawbacks, that have some scouts labeling him as a potential bust. His Pass Pro skill set is nonexistent and Tennessee really didn’t ask him to do it. Although I like his lateral quickness, his jump cut move is weak. Everybody is looking for the next Alvin Karma and where better to look then his former team right? Well that would be a huge mistake! Kelly finished 2017 with 1077 yards from scrimmage (299 receiving), but his yards per carry took a dramatic dip in 2017 with 4.1 YPC Down from 2016 in which he had a 6.4 YPC average. Personally I want to see a back get better every year, but leaving with another year of eligibility was a mistake in my opinion. Word is financial/family stability was the reason for Kelly’s early declaration to the NFL Draft as a Junior. Usually underclassman request an NFL Draft projection, which predicts the player as a 1st-2nd round prospect or beyond. Well scouting reports leaked out that Kelly wasn’t even viewed as a 4th Round prospect. I do like Kelly’s upside as a developmental back that could be stashed on the Practice Squad, but a fringe 4th round prospect he is not. If he some how slips to the late 5th round, the Skins could consider him. I don’t envision the Redskins waiting that long though.

Jaylen Samuels NC State

Samuels is considered a versatile running back, who can be used in a variety of ways in the right offensive scheme. At 5’11 223 he has the look of a bell cow back, but his numbers didn’t always tell that story. The opportunity to display his skill set was wasted at the Senior Bowl unfortunately, when Senior Bowl Coaches and staff decided to work Samuels with the Tight End group. This made absolutely no sense, considering he was even small for an H-Back!Samuels displays good hands for a running back, but will have to show more on the next level for coaches to trust him. At times he chest catches balls, which will not work on the next level consistently. The former Wolfpack back was used more of a changeup back, as well as NC State’s on and off again Special Teams Returner.

His Combine numbers were nothing to write home about, but I really liked the instincts he displayed in College and during workouts. Coaches and teammates label him as intelligent leader, who’s just scratching the surface of his talent. As far as his possible role, if Washington decides to draft him? Well Alex Smith had a similar looking back in KC with Kareem Hunt and I can’t ignore the similarities in their playing style. Both are ready made for the NFL passing game as dual threat backs, in Samuels’s case he actually runs crisper routes and gets in and out of breaks quicker than Hunt. Add in his 4.54 second Forty time and I could envision Samuels fitting nicely in Jay’s scheme. The key for Samuels will be his blitz pick up/pass blocking. Also his vision and lack of a jump cut move hurt his stock. These are deficiencies, that have inevitably dropped him on some teams boards in my opinion. As it stands Samuels is viewed as a 4th-Early 5th Round prospect. If the Redskins hold off on running back until the 4th Round, they could make Samuels their next running back.

Kalen Ballage Arizona State

Ballage is my favorite Non- 1st/2nd Round running back. The former Sun Devil has been mentioned in multiple B&G Report columns and has the ability, to contribute on the next level immediately in my opinion. Arizona State used the 6’2 back as their change up option on 2nd-3rd downs. His overall style reminds me of Green Bay RB/WR TyMontgomery, with higher upside and more athletic ability. Both are tweeners, but in Ballage’s case he excels with the ball in space. His ability as a receiving option coming out of the backfield, who can also run crisp routes can’t be understated. The ASU back followed his impressive Senior Bowl performance with a good combine showing. His 4.46 40 Yard Dash and 33.5 inch vertical leap made me a believer! He’s an NFL starter in waiting! This has been a Mid Round gem I’ve followed for months. I’ve seen many prospect evaluators trash Ballege and label him as runner with limited skill set. I’ve read/listened to all his supposed “drawbacks limiting him as asituational running back”. I agree with a few of those sentiments, but his size combined with 4.46 speed separate him from the rest of the mid round picks.The Redskins will be faced with selecting Blue Chip prospects, with their 1st two Draft picks and tough choices will have to be made. With a least 4 Quarterbacks being selected in the Top 10 and probably another 2-3 QB’s going early in Round 2, very good players will inevitably fall. The first round could have more game changers slip, with experts predicting a run on D-Lineman and DB’s in the Top 50 picks. I bring this up because a player like Ballage will probably be there in Rounds 3-4. After the Senior Bowl and Combine, I personally think he elevated his stock to a Late 2nd-Early 3rd Round Prospect. I understand his limitations, but Ballage offers intangibles as a receiver that make him perfect for Jay’s offense. The ASU back displays soft hands and has knack for making the big play, with great size to boot. If he was Blue Chip Prospect, we wouldn’t be talking about him as a Day 2 Prospect. The ASU Coaching staff’s lack of imagination, hampered Ballage’s growth and wasted his skill set at times. They also never put him in position to excel as a pass blocker and this is an area of weakness. What I see in Ballage, is a back that excels in Zone Read/RPO packages and coincidently that’s exactly where Alex Smith thrives! As with Samuels, I do see him as this years version of Kareem Hunt, but with more speed and size. Hunt was the bell cow at Toledo and Ballage was a situational back at ASU. The fact that Ballage has limited wear and tear, along with no injury history to speak of make him an ideal candidate to be selected in the 3rd round by Washington. Based on the Redskins reported desire to trade back in the 1st- 2nd rounds, that could net them a 3rd rounder that they’ll need if Ballage is still available.

Bottom Line

The Redskins seem prime to take a running back in the Top 50, so all this analysis could be a moot point. The thing about the NFL Draft compared to other Pro League Drafts, the NFL is the most unpredictable and anything could happen! Most notably, how often teams trade up and trade down in the NFL Draft. The Bears showed that unpredictability in the 2017 Draft, when they traded up to select QB Mitch Trubisky in the top of the Draft, even though they signed Mike Glennon to a $13 million dollar a year contract that same offseason. The point is knowing your team needs is one thing, but other teams could shake up the Draft leaving Blue Chip Prospects hanging around in the 2nd-3rd Rounds. It’s fine and dandy if Doug Williams and Co want to Draft a running back early, but a few early round trades could change their plans in hurry. I like the running back depth in this Draft and when it comes to best player available and needs, this Redskins team could go in any direction! Stay tuned for the next B&G Report Draft Prospect Evaluation and which prospects could hear their name announced as the Redskins next Draft pick!

Stay Tuned for more Draft Prospect Evaluations and who could have their names called to don the Burgundy & Gold!


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