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Prospect Profiles: The Running Back Class

In order to familiarize fans with some of the notable names in the 2018 NFL Draft, Chargers.com will be highlighting top prospects by position each week leading up to the first day of the draft on April 26th.

*First up is a look at some of the premiere running backs according to pundits. *

Saquon Barkley

School: Penn State
Height: 6-0
Weight: 233 pounds
NFL Network Pro Comparison: Barry Sanders

LaDainian Tomlinson.

Marshall Faulk.

Barry Sanders.

There have been some true legends at the running back position over the years, and draft pundits believe that Saquon Barkley has as good a chance as any NFL prospect over the years in joining that elite company.

Simply put, Barkley is considered a generational talent that can be the cornerstone of a franchise for the next decade-plus.  That's why some believe he may be the first running back selected first overall since 1995.

The Penn State product boasts rare elusiveness that elicits the comparisons to LT and Sanders.  His signature jukes can embarrass opponents, but he also has tremendous breakaway speed to leave them in the dust. Pundits rave about his vision, as well as his quick feet to explode through openings once he identifies them.

Barkley enters the NFL Draft as the most prolific running back in Nittany Lion history as the team's all-time rushing touchdowns (43) and total touchdowns (53) leader.  He's fresh off an explosive junior campaign in which he carried the rock 217 times for 1,271 yards (5.9 ypc) and 18 TDs while catching 54 passes for 632 yards and another three scores. All in all, he totaled 671 carries for 3,843 yards (5.7 ypc) and 43 rushing touchdowns while also chipping in with 102 receptions for 1,195 yards and eight TDs in 38 career games.

Combine Metrics
40-Yard Dash:4.40 seconds
Bench Press: 29 reps
Vertical Jump: 41.0 inches

Derrius Guice

School: LSU
Height: 5-10
Weight: 212 pounds
NFL Network Pro Comparison: Marshawn Lynch

It was one year ago that LSU's Leonard Fournette was considered one of the top prospects in the NFL Draft.

Twelve months later, another Tigers running back is also making waves.

While he may have flown under the radar among fans his first two seasons behind Fournette, pundits have long been aware of Guice's talents. 

After all, he established himself as one of the most punishing running backs in college football.

Don't believe them?

All you need to do is put on the film from LSU's win over Ole Miss when he set a school record with 276 yards on the ground.

After averaging 8.5 and 7.6 yards per carry respectively in 2015 and 2016, Guice still managed to average 5.3 ypc in 2017 despite a nagging left knee injury throughout the year. He proved he can be a true bell-cow as he toted the rock 237 times last year for 1,251 yards and 11 touchdowns.  Overall, he carried the ball 471 times for 3,074 yards over his Tigers career, averaging 6.5 ypc with 29 rushing touchdowns.

What makes Guice stand apart is his physical running style.  It's near impossible for one defender to bring down the 5-10, 212-pounder as he thrives in yards after contact.  Pundits believe his style is ideally suited at the NFL level, which is why he is expected to be selected on the first day of the draft.

Combine Metrics
40-Yard Dash:4.49 seconds
Bench Press: 15 reps
Vertical Jump: 31.5 inches

Ronald Jones II

School: USC
Height: 5-11
Weight: 200 pounds
NFL Network Pro Comparison: Jamaal Charles

Ronald Jones burst onto the scene with a dynamic freshman campaign in 2015.

All he did over the next three years was establish himself as one of the most electrifying players in college football.

Despite not starting his first year with the Trojans, he did carry the ball 153 times for 987 yards and eight TDs.  It was the most rushing yards by a freshman in USC history.  Jones built on that debut as a sophomore, starting six of the 13 games he played in, while toting the rock 177 times for 1,082 yards and 12 TDs.  He capped off his memorable college career a year ago ranking in the top 10 in the nation in rushing yards (1,550) and TDs (19) on a career-high 261 carries.  In the process, he was named a third-team AP All-American and First-Team All-Pac-12 pick. Jones finished his career ranked fifth in school history with 3,619 yards.

A prototypical slashing running back, Jones is able to cut on a dime and explode upfield.  He's a nightmare to tackle in the open field, but is equally deft at wiggling out of traffic.  Jones is also lauded for his ball security having fumbled only twice in 591 career carries.

All in all, Jones is seen as a reliable workhorse capable of the home run play.

Combine Metrics
40-Yard Dash:4.65 seconds
Vertical Jump: 36.5 inches

Sony Michel

School: Georgia
Height: 5-11
Weight: 220 pounds
NFL Network Pro Comparison: Knowshon Moreno

Sony Michel is one of two Georgia running backs available this year as Nick Chubb is also expected to be off the board quickly come draft day.

While both figure to have solid NFL careers, Michel brings something different to the table as a top-notch pass catcher out of the backfield. Over his four years with the Bulldogs, he caught 64 passes for 621 yards and six touchdowns.

Combined with his prowess pounding the rock, you can see why Michel is a rapidly rising up draft boards.

The 5-11, 220-pound running back twice eclipsed the 1,000-yard plateau despite splitting carries with Chubb.  Michel particularly turned heads in 2017 as he ran for 1,227 yards 156 carries, averaging a gaudy 7.9 yards that ranked seventh in the country.  He also proved to be a magnet for the end zone, scoring 16 rushing touchdowns on the year.

Scouts describe Michel as a north-south running with a no-nonsense demeanor on the field.   He gives defenders fits with his ability to stop on a dime, breaking numerous ankles throughout his lofty career at Georgia.

Combine Metrics
40-Yard Dash:4.54 seconds
Bench Press: 22 reps

Rashaad Penny

School: San Diego State
Height: 5-11
Weight: 220 pounds
NFL Network Pro Comparison: Javorius Allen

Teams who value production at the collegiate level will be all in on Rashaad Penny.

After all, he is fresh off one of the greatest seasons for a running back in college football history.

Penny was a monster last year for the Aztecs, leading the nation with a whopping 2,248 rushing yards while carrying the ball 289 times.  He also scored 23 touchdowns on the ground.  As if that wasn't enough, he also caught 19 passes for 134 yards and two TDs while adding a trio of touchdowns as a returner on special teams.  As a result, he was a first-team All-American and finished fifth in Heisman Trophy voting.

A workhorse back, Penny gets better the more carries he gets as he wears down the opposition.   He shows great patience at the point of attack with a powerful burst to break tackles.  Defenders better make sure to use proper technique to wrap him up as he routinely sheds arm tackles. The 5-11, 220-pounder also has a lethal jump-cut that gives the opposition fits.

Overall, Penny has a bevy of moves in his tool box and should make an immediate impact in the NFL.

Combine Metrics
40-Yard Dash:4.46 seconds
Bench Press: 13 reps
Vertical Jump: 32.5 inches
Broad Jump: 120.0 inches

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