2018 Senior Bowl Preview: Running Backs

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]In preparation for the 2018 Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama, I’ll be previewing the running backs who will be attending the all-star game. I will highlight their strengths, and identify the weaknesses they need to improve on to raise their stock in the upcoming 2018 NFL Draft.

Kalen Ballage, Arizona State, 6’3”, 229 lbs.

Kalen Ballage is a true senior who played 46 career games while at Arizona State. He shared carries with Demario Richard for the past 3 seasons, totaling 1,984 yards and 27 TD’s. Ballage is a very big RB coming at 6’2” 230, and has the AA to match, making him an intriguing prospect.

Ballage has very good vision, and does a nice job of finding the lane with consistency, he shows good patience in the hole, and is decisive when hitting the hole. He accelerates to top speed once he picks his lane. He also brings a good amount of talent to the passing game. He has very good hands, runs good routes, and is able to get open easily against LB’s in space.

Ballage struggles to finish runs because of his upright running style that allows him to go down easy at first contact. You rarely see him break tackles or make defenders miss in the open field, and it was big issue at ASU. I also question his long speed, as he didn’t break too many big runs on the year, and when he ran go-routes he was not able to separate deep. I still think his overall athleticism will have him turning heads in Mobile, and allow him to be a riser at the draft.

Rashaad Penny, San Diego State, 5’11”, 220 lbs.

Penny is a true senior who sat behind Donnell Pumphrey for the past 3 seasons. As a backup in 2016 he still managed a 1,000-yard season, and did so on limited carries. When he got his chance to start, he exploded onto the national scene, leading the nation in rushing with 2,248 yards, 23 TD’s, and finished 5th in Heisman voting. Penny has good size for a running back, coming in at 220 pounds, and good AA with the speed to match, which has him rising up draft boards.

Penny shows great potential to be 3 down back at the next level. He is excellent in the zone run game, showing high mental processing to make the correct read and find the lane. He also does a great job of letting blocks develop before bursting through hole. He is very elusive in the open field, using jukes to make LBs and DBs miss in the open field, as well as being physical, and fighting through blocks. In the passing game, he has good hands, runs solid routes, and can be split out wide against LB’s.

Penny’s main weakness is his pass blocking skills. He showed to be a liability in the passing game when asked to pick up stunts and extra blitzes. He doesn’t show a real willingness to block at all, allowing free rushers frequently. He will be in 1-on-1 drills in Mobile in pass blocking situation against LB’s. This might expose Penny in the area, or he will step up and show a different player than what is on tape.

Royce Freeman, Oregon, 5’11”, 231 lbs.

Royce Freeman is a true senior who has been the starter at Oregon for the past 4 seasons. He dealt with injuries in 2016, but bounced back in 2017, rushing for 1,475 yards, and 16 TD’s. He finished his career as the all-time leading rusher in Oregon football history with 5,131 yards. Freeman is a big back, coming in at 231 pounds, with thick legs, and good AA.

Freeman’s best attribute is his vision. He is very patient waiting for the hole to develop, which makes him a great fit for a zone run scheme. When he finds the hole, he hits it hard, displaying really good burst and accelerating quickly. He displays good power running through contact, keeping his feet moving to generate YAC, making him tough to bring down.

Freeman isn’t very elusive in the open field. He rarely makes defenders miss with his athletic ability, and has to depend on running people over to create YAC. He also wasn’t used very much in the passing game or in pass pro. He will have to show in Mobile that he can excel in these areas to impress NFL evaluators.

Akrum Wadley, Iowa 5’11”, 191 lbs.

Akrum Wadley is redshirt senior who has started the last two years for Iowa. He rushed for 1,109 yards and scored 13 TD’s in his final year for the Hawkeyes. Wadley is a little undersized for the position, coming in at only 191 pounds, but he showed in college he is able to handle a high volume of touches.

Wadley displays good vision in the zone run game with the mental processing to find the correct lane. He displays good burst to be able to accelerate through holes at top speed, and is able to separate from LBs and DBs in the open field. He is very elusive in the open field, using jukes to make LBs and DBs miss to extend runs, and create big plays. He also displays good hands and good routes out of the backfield, making him a good call for a third down back.

Lack of size and play strength doesn’t allow him to hold ground vs rushers and blitzes, even when he uses good mental processing in the right position. He will be on display in the 1-on-1 drills to show he can be a good 3rd down back at the next level. He also had serious ball security issues, with 8 career fumbles during his time at Iowa.

Ito Smith, Southern Miss 5’9”, 195 lbs.

Ito Smith is a true senior who has started 3 straight seasons for Southern Miss. He has been an extremely productive back the last two years rushing 1,400 yards, and 10 plus TD’s each season. He has also has been productive out of the back field in the passing game with 40 catches the past two seasons. Smith was a smaller back, but has added weight every year of his eligibility. He has great AA as well, with elite balance, agility, and great COD.

Smith is very explosive in the open field, and is hard to bring down. He displays a lot of power for his size, being able to run through arm tackles. His elusiveness is his trademark, as their aren’t many LBs or DBs who are able to take him down 1-on-1, creating highlight reel runs that can be uploaded to Twitter. He also runs good routes in the passing game, with good hands that make him a threat on third down.

With him gaining weight, he has answered some of his size questions, but he still struggled to pass block and help protect the QB. His play strength comes into question when he attempts to pick up blitzes, as he was easily pushed back into the pocket. 1-on-1’s will be a big day for him to make some money, and show he can hold up to be a third down back at the next level.

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