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2018 Draft position preview: Saquon Barkley and everyone else at running back

It’s early, but who are five running backs to watch?

NCAA Football: Penn State at Ohio State Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Giants aren’t out of the playoff hunt yet. At 1-6, it is still mathmaticaly possible for them to finish with a 10-6 record and a shot at a playoff berth.

It’s just wildly unlikely, and would be a run of truly historic proportions, which they have shown almost no signs of being able to pull off.

So you’ll just have to forgive me if I use the second half of the season to take an early, position-by-position, look at the 2018 NFL Draft. There is still a lot of time left until the draft — many games to be played, decisions by underclassmen to be made, and the entire pre-draft process (All-Star games, the Scouting Combine, pro days, private workouts, and hours of film to watch) to be gone through. A LOT can change between now and April 26th.

With decisions about underclassmen declaring making things fluid, I won’t be ranking players (for the most part), but I will be commenting on who I feel are the “top” prospects.

I’m starting with the running back position for a couple reasons. First, because a running back is the best player in the draft, and country. Second, because we have had very strong hints that the Giants were very interested in RB Christian McCaffrey in last year’s draft. And finally, because while Orleans Darkwa has shown himself to be solid, and Paul Perkins and Wayne Gallman have flashed upside, we can’t say much more about the Giants’ depth at the position.

So without further ado, let’s get a look at some running backs.

Saquon Barkley (Penn State) - If the Giants wind up with a top three, or five, pick in the draft, they pretty much have to strongly consider Barkley. And even then, he might not make it that far. Not only is he that good, his upside is that high. Barkley is as complete a player as I’ve seen — He has terrific vision, instincts, feet, agility, explosiveness, power, and long speed. He has “receiver” hands and is a solid route runner, is already a polished pass protector, and at 5’11,” 230 pounds, he can block some dudes. He has a sterling reputation off the field, and is regarded as a thoroughly classy young man.

Bryce Love (Stanford) - Love doesn’t have Barkley’s incredible physical ability, but that isn’t stopping him from shredding opposing defenses. Listed at 5’11,” 195, Love isn’t an intimidating runner, but it took him just five games to top the 1,000-yard mark, and he is doing it with extraordinary efficiency, averaging an absurd 10.3 yards per carry. Love is quick in a phone booth, with the vision and patience to find holes and set up his blockers. He isn’t a dominating athlete, but has an undeniable feel for the game.

Nick Chubb (Georgia) - One of the “feel-good” stories of the 2018 draft, it has been a long road for Nick Chubb. The heir apparent to Todd Gurley, Chubb promised a bright future as a freshman filling in for the injured Gurley. The next year, however, Chubb suffered a devastating knee injury of his own. Finally fully healthy and back to his pre-injury form, Chubb’s compact build and explosive power make him a load to bring down while his agility and speed let him turn good runs into chunk plays. His torn ACL will undoubtedly garner plenty of scrutiny, but if it checks out he could wind up a first round pick or a steal in the second round.

Josh Adams (Notre Dame) - Notre Dame’s big, powerful, fast running back, Adams is a forgotten man in the running back conversation. He has the advantage of running behind one of the best offensive lines in the country, but he is a good running back in his own right. Adams is a bit tall at 6’2,” but he isn’t afraid to use his 225lb frame to finish runs. He has good power and a good ability to plant his foot and go as a “one cut” runner. Adams is also used in the Notre Dame passing game, with 31 receptions for 275 yards and a touchdown over his last 20 games.

Royce Freeman (Oregon) - I’m not sure, yet, if Freeman really is one of the five best running backs in the draft, but he is a touchdown machine. A bowling ball of a running back at 5’9” or 5’10,” 240 pounds he has 58(!) touchdowns in 48 career games at Oregon (to the tune of 19, 19, 10, and (so far) 10 TDs, by year). Freeman isn’t particularly fast (and will likely time in the 4.5 second range), but he has an ability to subtly sink his hips and change direction behind the line of scrimmage before powering through (or over) potential tacklers.

Other names to watch

Ronald James II (USC), Darius Guice (LSU), Damien Harris (Alabama), Bo Scarborough (Alabama), Sony Michel (Georgia)