The Green Bay Packers’ off-season will surely be focused on beefing up the defense. The Packers biggest holes are at outside linebacker and cornerback. The offensive side of the ball has a few holes in its own right, with tight end topping that list (obviously the signing of Jimmy Graham helps in the short term, but the Packers have no clear prospects moving forward).
After the successful rookie debut of Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams in 2017, running back certainly does not seem to be a major need. Add in the fact that the Packers still have swiss army knife Ty Montgomery, and one might be tempted to think that Green Bay is more or less ready to stand pat at the position as they move into 2018.
However, the Packers currently have 12 draft picks, and depth is always important, especially with a relatively young and inexperienced group of backs. As such, it shouldn’t be surprising if the Packers decide to take another back in the middle to late rounds of the upcoming draft. Gutekunst recently stated as much, commenting that, while he loves the guys that they currently have, they won’t pass up taking another running back if they have the opportunity to take someone that they view as a “difference maker.”
Moreover, with Jordy Nelson gone, the Packers will need to utilize Montgomery all over the field, including out wide as a receiver. Beefing up the depth behind Jones and Williams doesn’t seem to be out of the question.
It is probably safe to assume that the Packers will not take a running back in the first three rounds. That probably takes at least the following backs off the board: Saquon Barkley, Derrius Guice, Ronald Jones, Sony Michel, Rashaad Penny, and Kerryon Johnson.
Below is a ranking of backs that may entice the Packers with picks in the fourth round or later.
Nick Chubb – Georgia (5’11, 228)
It’s quite likely that Chubb will be gone long before the fourth round, but some mocks have him falling into the fourth. Chubb may be the most NFL-ready back on this list, someone who Gutekunst could prize as a future three-down runner. He put up an impressive 29 reps at the combine on the bench. Chubb pairs that strength with a 4.52 40 time, an impressive time for a 228 pound back.
He has good vision. While he’s not nearly as shifty or elusive as Barkley or Johnson, he will run through arm tackles with good strength and balance. For his size, he has a very nice burst to hit holes quickly. He has no problem taking the ball to the house, and looked extremely impressive against the Georgia defense in the Rose Bowl. Chubb is a 3 down player whose stats and carries have been limited by sharing carries with Sony Michel.
However, Chubb is not amazing in any one aspect of his game. Though a strong runner, he’s not a prototypical bruiser who can create yardage for himself. He had only two receptions in 2017.
Royce Freeman – Oregon (5’11, 234)
I think that Freeman is one of the more underrated running backs in this year’s draft. It’s not unthinkable that he may available in the fourth round (though more recent mocks have him climbing the board). Freeman has a larger frame than Chubb and yet still ran a 4.54 40.
On tape, it’s clear that Freeman does not play as fast and agile as Chubb, but he also shows a greater ability to run into contact and push defenders backward. He looks to be better in pass-protection than a lot of backs coming out of college, something which is important to Mike McCarthy. The Packers could certainly use his size in short yardage situations where he’d play a nice complementary role to Jones and Williams.
Still, Freeman is a north-south runner. He’s not going to make defenders miss in the open field and he doesn’t have the quickness to get to the edge. He sometimes runs too upright, wasting his size. While he can play with strength, he’s not a punisher who is going to run through guys often.
Bo Scarbrough – Alabama (6’1, 232)
Another bigger back who plays a bit like an amalgam of Chubb and Freeman. Scarbrough looks a little less wooden than Freeman but is also able to bounce off of smaller defenders and fall forward to gain that extra yard. He’s impressive as a blocker in pass protection, and certainly the best blocker on this list.
Scarbrough tends to run upright as well. His height and running style tend to hamper his ability to make full use of his build. He’s often compared to former Alabama back Derrick Henry, though I’d rather say that he’s a Derrick Henry-lite. Like Freeman, he may not be a feature back in the NFL, but he can become an important “big man” piece of a rotation.
John Kelly – Tennessee (5’9, 205)
Short and well balanced, Kelly bounces off of defenders. He’s not overly fast or shifty, but relies upon a pretty basic skill set. He has a low center of gravity and lowers a shoulder when he sees contact coming his way.
I’d like to see Kelly put another 5 or 10 pounds on his frame. The big knocks on Kelly are that he is undersized and slow relative to that diminutive stature. He doesn’t figure to ever be a major play-maker but he should have a future in the NFL as a depth runner.
Mark Walton – Miami (5’10, 188)
A small but tough back, Walton isn’t afraid of contact. Quick burst and a nice jump cut help him to change direction and get up field in a hurry. That element of his game actually reminds me a bit of Aaron Jones.
Still, Walton probably needs to bulk up a bit to play in the NFL. He tends to dance around and overly rely upon trying to get outside. It’s unclear how successful he could be against faster defenses in the NFL. Walton figures to be a little bit of a project, but definitely one with a higher ceiling than you often find in the middle rounds. He’ll probably never be a three-down back in the NFL. At best, he’s an explosive change of pace back who will mirror some of the traits that the Packers already have.
Kalen Ballage – Arizona St. (6’3, 227)
A lot has been made about Ballage’s mix of size and quickness, but the truth is that he’s is a hard player to get a read on. At 6’3, he is incredibly tall for a running back and it shows on his tape. He can lower his pads when making contact, but he doesn’t look like a natural runner for the NFL, even though he possess noticeable speed and burst (running a 4.46 40 and a 6.91 3 cone).
Accordingly, some may want to transition him to receiver, tight end, or even a joker role. However, Ballage’s best trait seems to be his vision as an interior runner. He can quickly pick up a good chunk of yards up the middle but he doesn’t create a lot of yards. His height actually works against him. Ballage has a high center of gravity. He’s easy to topple over even though he runs around 230 pounds.
He lacks the quickness necessary to get around the edge. Sometimes he looks quite wooden as a runner in the open field, or when running routes as a receiver. That being said, Ballage was often used out wide at Arizona State where he amassed an impressive 44 receptions in 2016. Those numbers dropped off considerably in 2017, however he’s clearly surprisingly adept as a receiver given his size. Has the size to block down the field, but sometimes appears unwilling to take on big defenders in pass protection.
Ballage might have a difficult time fitting into an NFL offense even though he has the raw tools to be a weapon. His best option might be to attempt to increase weight and play as a TE/runner-receiver FB hybrid.
Akrum Wadley – Iowa (5’10, 191)
Wadley is a shifty, patient runner who relies almost entirely upon shimmying and shaking past defenders in the open field. He has the ability to be a weapon in the receiving game. However, he lacks consistent vision to match his patience. He’s small and a bit of a one-tricky pony, so he’ll certainly need to carve out a certain role among a committee.
While he can be electric, he seemingly lacks the speed to be a home-run hitter like LeSean McCoy or Darren Sproles. Still, he could be a quality wrinkle in an offense as a receiver and third down back. He’ll need to prove that he won’t be overwhelmed with pass pro duties in the NFL, however.
Nyheim Hines – N.C. State (5’8, 197)
Hines reminds me of Kenjon Barner minus the polished ability to catch passes out of the backfield. Running a 4.38 40, Hines has electric speed. However, he looks more like a track athlete than a running back (think Jahvid Best).
Size is a real issue for Hines. It’s unclear how he could become a consistent offensive threat. He will likely be drafted as more of a special teams returner.
Taylor O\'Neill is a Packer fan born and raised in Oshkosh, WI. He currently lives in Florida and is pursuing his PhD. Taylor is a writer with PackersTalk.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @TaylorONeill87 for more Packer news.