Backs to the future

Posted Mar 2, 2018

Another crop of impact runners is coming.

What was gleaned at running back in last year’s draft turned out to be spectacular.

What’s available this year might be just as good.

“It was the best group I’ve ever seen,” NFL network analyst Mick Mayock recalled of the 2017 running back class during coverage of Day One of the NFL Scouting Combine today on the NFL Network.

That was a group that included Leonard Fournette (Jacksonville), Christian McCaffrey (Carolina), Dalvin Cook (Minnesota), Joe Mixon (Cincinnati), Alvin Kamara (New Orleans) and Kareem Hunt (Kansas City). All six turned out to be impact players or players who were on that track prior to being slowed by injuries as rookies.

“Coming into this year, I think it’s close,” Mayock continued. “And I’m talking about quality up top and depth throughout. It’s really special.”

The headliners this year are Penn State’s Saquon Barkley, LSU’s Derrius Guice, USC’s Ronald Jones II and the Georgia tag team of Sony Michel and Nick Chubb.

“Barkley, he’s a Top-5 pick in any draft,” Mayock insisted. “And then Guice, Jones, Sony Michel, Nick Chubb, trust me, they’re all going to play and make a difference next year.”

Added NFL network analyst Daniel Jeremiah: “I have 10 running backs with top-three round grades. It is a phenomenal year for running backs.”

Barkley is the headliner of headliners.

He posted an unofficial time of 4.41 in his first 40-yard dash and ran a 4.42 on his second attempt.

“Outstanding,” Mayock assessed of Barkley, who measured 6-feet tall and weighed in at 233 pounds.
NFL Network host Rich Eisen applied context to Barkley completing 29 reps of 225 pounds in the bench press and posting a vertical leap of 41 inches.

“Last year there was only one player who had more than 25 reps and a vertical leap of 41 inches or better,” Eisen said. “It turned out to be the No. 1 overall pick in the draft in Myles Garrett.

“Here comes Saquon Barkley.”

CLEVELAND HAS OPTIONS: The broadcast from Indianapolis included a shot of Browns General Manager John Dorsey.

Cleveland has two Top-5 picks (No. 1 and No. 4 overall).

“Keep in mind who he took last year in Kansas City in the first round,” Mayock said. “He traded up to get the biggest-armed quarterback in the draft, Patrick Mahomes. You think he’s looking at (USC quarterback Sam) Darnold and (UCLA quarterback) Josh Allen? I do.”

QB OR NOT QB: Mayock on Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson reportedly being asked to also work out at wide receiver: “If I’m Lamar Jackson, I flat out tell the NFL, ‘I’m a friggin’ quarterback, and I’m a really good quarterback and you’re going to evaluate me as a quarterback.”

To emphasize the point, Mayock referenced Rich Gannon being drafted by New England on the fourth round out of Delaware in 1987.

“New England, after they drafted him, said, ‘By the way Rich, you’re now a safety,’” Mayock recalled. “And Rich said, ‘No I’m not, I’m a quarterback.’ He didn’t report to camp. He forced a trade to Minnesota, ultimately became an NFL MVP (in 2002).

“And my point is Lamar Jackson isn’t some borderline athlete. This is a special talent. I think he has a role as a starting quarterback in the NFL. If I’m if him, I don’t want to cloud the issue at all. ‘I’m a quarterback, evaluate me as such.’

“The league is going his way as far as running quarterbacks. It’s going to take a commitment from an NFL team to say, ‘Philosophically, we’re going to change who we are.’ But if you do that, you’re going to get a player that makes plays.”

MEMORIES OF LATROBE: Mayock, a former 10th-round pick of the Steelers in 1981 (265th overall), recalled his departure from Saint Vincent College: “I still remember the guy that cut me in Pittsburgh, a 14-year-old kid knocking on the door at 5 a.m. I was with a fourth-round wideout, it’s cuts and there was a knock on the door. We knew one of us or both of us are gone. He looks at me and I look at him and we both are thinking the same thing, ‘I hope it’s you,’ which is an awful human emotion but it’s so true.”

COMIC RELIEF: A package consisting of NFL head coaches contemplating which NFL head coach would run the fastest 40-yard dash shed some more light, perhaps, on the nature of the Steelers-Ravens rivalry.

“I’m going with Mike Tomlin,” said Todd Bowles of the New York Jets.

Baltimore’s John Harbaugh had a different candidate in mind.

“I’m putting myself in the category,” he said. “I think I’d be a contender right there.”

As for Tomlin, “I’m not buying it,” Harbaugh insisted. “I mean, he might be good in a sled-pushing contest right now. He’s a good athlete, great hands, big dude, you know? I think I’d have a real good chance against Mike, actually, in a 40-yard dash. I’d like to see that race happen.”