Outside of Saquon Barkley, it is not immediately obvious which rookie running backs will have the most success going into the 2018 NFL season. Although many have postulated that the running back position would become less prominent as quarterbacks became the high paid offensive playmakers, several players at the position have actually become vital playmakers on their respective teams. In recent years, running backs have become dynamic receivers that can make plays coming out of the backfield or even lining up in the slot.
Unsurprisingly, this necessary evolution has forever altered the way running backs are utilized in both college and in the pros as spread offenses and gun slinging quarterbacks are now viewed as the end all be all of high scoring NFL teams. In this years NFL Draft, there were a multitude of dynamic athletes at the running back position that have the capabilities to be highly effective at both running with and catching the football. Although some of these athletes may take some time to fully blossom, it cannot be denied that many of them have what it takes to be featured heavily in their respective teams plans on offense.
A physical back that is immensely tough, Nick Chubb has the running style of an old school rusher that is at his best when running at and through opposing defensive lines. What many pundits and fans may not have gleaned from Chubb's game is his exceptional vision when finding lanes and his impressive balance when it comes to staying upright after sustaining hits by physical defensive fronts. Even playing alongside Sony Michel at Georgia, Chub was heavily utilized, especially later on during a given contest, when opposing defenses were gassed and could not hold up against the relentless physical rushing style of Chubb.
Although he may not possess elite speed, Chubb has the instincts and unwavering confidence to be a serious contributor for the Browns, in spite of the fact that he will have to compete for snaps as Carlos Hyde and Duke Johnson Jr. are proven playmakers in their own rights.
Similar to Chubb, Kerryon Johnson is also highly aggressive when running through defensive lines, the only difference being that Johnson is much better at accelerating though open lanes. Although some may argue that Johnson was aided by the unique schemes that Auburn utilized offensively, Johnson's physical attributes, especially when it comes to his speed, will allow him to turn some heads for a Detroit Lions team that has not had an elite rusher since Barry Sanders.
While Johnson has dealt with some injuries issues in the past, his presence on the field is hard to ignore as he is able to combine patience with lateral quickness and is highly explosive when he finds the ideal lane to power through. Although he will have to prove himself early on to earn ample playing time as the starting running back, Johnson is a tremendously hard worker that has plenty of intriguing abilities to become one of the breakout rookie contributors this season.
One of the most productive college running backs during his time at San Diego State (23 touchdowns, 2,248 rushing yards), Penny was a scoring machine that was able to be a one man show thanks to his deceptive burst and instincts. Although he may go for the home run play a bit too much at times, it's hard to argue with Penny's statistical production as he regularly befuddled opposing defenses with his playmaking ability and he was especially deadly when making plays in the red zone.
On top of his rushing abilities, Penny is a strong receiver that will provide Russell Wilson with a dump off option when the Seahawks offensive line inevitably breaks down. Aside from his inability to contribute as a blocker on the offensive line, Penny has all of the physical attributes to be utilized in a plethora of ways as both a hard-nosed rusher and as well as a speedy receiver coming out of the backfield.
Arguably the fastest running back to be selected in the NFL Draft, Sony Michel's elite speed is well complimented by his swift cutting abilities, which he is able to pull off without losing any of his built up speed. While he is not especially strong, he is hard to bring down once he gets going as he does a great job at running behind his pads. Given his sensational agility and strong ball security skills, Michel has the potential to be just as dangerous as a reliable receiver as his is as an incredibly confident running back.
Although the Patriots have strong depth at the running back position even after losing Dion Lewis free agency, Michel's impressive versatility and toughness will be a welcome addition to a Patriots offense that loves to run obscure receiving plays with dynamic and athletically gifted running backs. While James White will see the most looks as the Patriots receiving running back, Michel's value as a do it all playmaker could see him featured more prominently as the NFL season progresses.
Although the off the charts of abilities of Saquon Barkley have been stated to point of being almost redundantly aggravating, it only takes a quick look at his film to discern that the heaping praise that he has received is completely justified. A natural rusher when maneuvering between the tackles, Barkley is incredibly difficult to bring down as his strength combined with his draw dropping athleticism lend itself to him finding and bursting through an open lane with ease.
Even more impressive is Barkley's exceptional capabilities as a receiver, particularly when he lined up in the slot when the Nittany Lions deftly executed well timed pick plays. To top it all off, Barkley's strength and size allow him to be an effective blocker against an oncoming pass rush, which the Giants will desperately need if they hope to revitalize an offense that was incredibly anemic last season.