When the New York Jets gave Isaiah Crowell a modest three year, $12 million deal this offseason, they essentially slapped a band aid on their running back group.
Crowell, who is offered very minimal guaranteed money beyond this season, is a fine player to pair with Bilal Powell in the backfield.
Fine: not spectacular, not poor – just mediocre. With the 29 year old Powell set to hit free agency after this year, the position is a key spot to watch for the 2019 offseason as the unit could undergo a makeover.
With that note, the college football season and running back draft class will be a vital area to watch this year. Here are a few early names to put the spotlight on for your watchlist.
David Montgomery, Iowa State
Weight: 219 lbs.
The frontman of the 2019 running back class, it’s hard to find better film this Summer in that group than Montgomery’s.
With a compact muscular build, patience, vision and the ability to create on his own, Iowa State’s star runner does it all. No, he’s not on the same level as a Saquon Barkley, but he’s really good.
this is what we call grown man YAC – dude is just a nightmare to tackle pic.twitter.com/ZFNnnVQiTv
— Connor Rogers (@ConnorJRogers) June 22, 2018
His blend of physicality and jump cut at the second level of the field is very reminiscent of LSU’s Derrius Guice last year (drafted in the second round by the Redskins).
While he ‘only’ had 1,094 rushing yards last year, his offensive line does him very little favors. He also caught 35 passes, displaying soft hands and quick decision making in getting up field for more yards. The biggest question surrounding him is top end speed.
Opposing defenses are going to key in on Montgomery this year, making his production even more difficult for a budding star. With that being said he’s produced on his own before and is a must-watch player at the college level this season before he leaves early.
Damarea Crockett, Missouri
Weight: 225 lbs.
All it takes is one play of Damarea Crockett to come away with this takeaway: shifty. His open field running is like a knife slicing through butter, as he somehow gracefully winds his way through opposing defenses.
Damarea Crockett is easily one of my early favs from this 2019 RB class – elusive, shifty and strong. Can't wait to watch him this year after missing 2nd half of last season. pic.twitter.com/0iF8Mj1lW8
— Connor Rogers (@ConnorJRogers) June 24, 2018
Here’s the kicker with Crockett though – unlike the other explosive, shifty runners in this class, he carries a muscular 225 pound frame.
He missed a ton of time last year due to injury and has to take care of the football, but from a pure talent perspective he’s right near the top of this group.
Bryce Love, Stanford
Weight: 196 lbs.
Bryce Love is an oddity at the running back position and I don’t mean that as an insult. He looks like a third down back, but only caught 6 passes last year. On the flip side, he handles the workload of a much bigger back, taking on 237 carries last season for nearly 2,000 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns.
As a prospect, it’s clear Love has to pack some more pounds on his frame, which he will. On the field he has elite vision, consistently making the most out of his blocks and aided by great acceleration.
If he displays pass catching ability this year, he could find himself firmly in the top of the second round of the draft. He’s immensely talented, runs much harder than his size indicates and will be a player coaches love to have in their offense.
Devin Singletary, FAU
Weight: 200 lbs.
When you’re nickname is ‘Motor’, you better live up to it. Fortunately for Devin Singletary, who finished 2nd in the nation in missed tackles for last year according to PFF, he certainly does.
— Connor Rogers (@ConnorJRogers) June 24, 2018
His production is off the charts, rushing for nearly 1,800 yards last year with 29 touchdowns. He’s also caught 44 passes over the last two seasons, chipping in on offense in multiple ways.
Singletary’s skill set would be a seamless fit for a team running an outside zone attack. While quite a bit smaller, his running style compares to Sony Michel who found his way into round one last Spring.
Benny Snell, Kentucky
Weight: 223 lbs.
Unlike a lot of runners in this group, Snell checks the box of having workhorse size. With a running style very similar to Jay Ajayi, he’s a physical ball carrier with a thick, compact build.
His desire on the field is impressive where he moves the chains with above average leg drive and power.
3 games through Kentucky RB Benny Snell – another physical workhorse runner in this class with +leg drive, fiery mindset week after week pic.twitter.com/j4VoR1KYvt
— Connor Rogers (@ConnorJRogers) June 23, 2018
After a stellar freshman year where he topped 1,000 yards, Snell exploded as a Sophomore for over 1,300 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns. He wisely uses his power reputation in the open field to set up defenders with a hurdle move and is more elusive than he initially appears.
Being the focal point of the Kentucky offense, he carries a ton of roles for the Wildcats. They use him in the wildcat where his power drives the interior run game, but also often in pass protection where he is more than willing to chip in.
Even without having much pass catching on his resume, Snell is an impressive prospect that sits firmly in the top 5 running backs of the 2019 class right now.
Rodney Anderson, Oklahoma
Weight: 219 lbs.
If you had heard nothing about Rodney Anderson and simply watched his film, you would probably make the argument he’s easily a top two running back in this class.
Unfortunately for him, he broke his leg in 2015 as a true freshman ending his season in October. In the Summer of 2016 he suffered a neck injury, missing that entire year.
While he didn’t end up facing charges, he was accused of rape in November 2017. As always, teams will look into this quite heavily.
For a bigger RB, this acceleration from OU's Rodney Anderson is impressive pic.twitter.com/JHQFfKW3lX
— Connor Rogers (@ConnorJRogers) June 27, 2018
That’s a tough list to go through and will make Anderson’s draft ‘process’ very interesting, but there is no doubt the big runner at Oklahoma is incredibly gifted.
His long strides help him explode through the line of scrimmage where he displays a great blend of speed and power. He averaged 5.9 yards per carry last year and 17.7 yards per catch with 16 total touchdowns.
He’s simply a big play threat that put in his best performance against a Georgia defense in the College Football Playoff loaded with NFL talent. His stock was completely sunk a year ago from right now, but he has a very real chance of soaring into the top 50 next Spring.
Travis Homer, Miami
Weight: 200 lbs.
When Mark Walton went down with an injury last season it was initial heartbreak for The U. At the time, no one expected Travis Homer to come in and thrive like he did right away.
Midway through October against Georgia Tech, Homer got his first share of a heavy workload with 20 carries where he rumbled for 170 yards. He showed off vision, burst and open field playmaking ability for the Canes offense week after week.
The former four star recruit will no longer be slept on after his breakout stretch, especially in a season where he will be the focal point of Miami’s rushing attack. Not only is he an impressive runner, but he showed soft hands in the pass game as well.
He’ll need to bulk up a bit more and test well at the Combine, but Homer has a lot to gain in the 2018 season on his road to the Pros.
Justice Hill, Oklahoma State
Weight: 185 lbs.
In the Big 12 Oklahoma State’s offense has operated with a ton of space, making Justice Hill an absolute joy to watch. He has exceptional burst to get to the outside and turn the corner, but the beauty in his game is his ability to make tacklers look foolish in the open field.
This is filthy from Justice Hill pic.twitter.com/h8gAbOOmb3
— Connor Rogers (@ConnorJRogers) June 28, 2018
Hill will create an interesting debate for teams much like Curtis Samuel did two years ago. He’s absolutely electric, but how will his small frame hold up at the next level?
With that being said, he’s a versatile weapon that can break a game open at any moment. He’s a low key contender for the Heisman Trophy with the video game numbers he’s bound to post.
Damien Harris, Alabama
Weight: 212 lbs.
After back to back 1,000 rushing yard seasons, it was a surprise when Harris opted to return to Alabama for his Senior season. While most running backs declare early to preserve their health, the Crimson Tide have kept Harris’ workload in check with under 300 total carries combined the past two seasons.
With former super-recruit Najee Harris and talented pass catcher/kick returner Josh Jacobs in the same backfield, Harris doesn’t have to take on an extreme workload. His cutback move and breakaway speed has made him a big play threat over the last two years (8.2 yards per carry in 2017, 7.2 in 2016) and it’s no secret scouts have taken notice.
He’s a projected day two pick for the 2019 NFL Draft.