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2018 NFL Combine preview: 10 running backs to watch

The Lions have spent a ton of coaching resources to improve the run game already. Time to pull the trigger on a new back.

NFL Combine - Day 3 Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

The 2018 NFL Scouting Combine is about to start and one of the Detroit Lions’ most pressing positions is among the first to participate. The 2017 combine saw elite athletes like Christian McCaffrey and Leonard Fournette force teams’ hands early in the draft while ‘first round lock’ Dalvin Cook tanked his chances of being called Day 1 with a poor showing. This year’s crop looks just as much if not more impressive athletically, so we’re going to continue our combine preview with t10 of the backs you’re going to want to check out during the first few days of the combine.

Derrius Guice, RB, LSU

Mocked to the Lions more than any other individual player, Derrius Guice has been billed as the most likely Day 1 selection of your favorite Detroit football team. Though he was slowed somewhat by injuries in 2017, I didn’t see much in terms of athletic limitations on tape. Still, Guice measured out very poorly coming out of high school so the specter of concern that he’ll post a Dalvin Cook-like combine is looming.

Ronald Jones, RB, USC

A favorite of your friendly neighborhood MathBomb, Ronald Jones looks every bit the impressive athlete on tape and one of the few true burners in this class. With little question of his athletic ability, the real test for Jones is going to be one of his first. If he can weigh in above 205 pounds and maintain that level of athleticism, Jones could put himself in position to be the Lions’ Day 1 selection, or see him gone before they pick Day 2.

Rashaad Penny, RB, San Diego State

Rashaad Penny is a larger back, but an interesting one in that I’ve seen him projected both as an impressive athlete for his size and one who may struggle to measure out. Penny is one who could see his value cemented on the second day with a strong showing or give cause to doubt enough to push him into day three with a poor one.

Bo Scarbrough, RB, Alabama

Look, Scarbrough has been billed as a top athlete since the day he limped out of high school. With a list of injuries longer than the list of Lions running backs who can’t quite get to 4 YPC, combine medicals are going to be a huge part of whether Scarbrough hears his name called on Day 3 or finds his way into camp undrafted. If he measures, though, I expect him to light it up, so watch for that.

Sony Michel, RB, Georgia

Questions about his fumbling problems are going to be a big part of interviews for the former Bulldog, but I fully expect Michel to make mincemeat out of the measurements and position drills. His weigh in is going to be important as it’s very unlikely he fills out to his listed weight of 220.

Kalen Ballage, RB, Arizona State

Ballage is one of the better receiving backs in this draft class, and he should find himself into a rotation fairly early into his NFL career. With suspect vision and noticeably low production in college, Ballage’s billing as a top-tier athlete for his size is going to make the combine huge for his draft slotting. He’s not an early-round prospect, but he could find his way earlier in Day 3 with a strong showing.

Royce Freeman, RB, Oregon

A player I’ve mentioned as potentially struggling at the combine, Freeman was a very productive back in a favorable Oregon system who should find a role early in the NFL. If he wants to convince teams that will be a lead back in a rotation, he’ll have to show a lot more in Indy than he did in the Pac-12, so this is a big week for his draft status.

Jarvion Franklin, RB, Western Michigan

Franklin plays bigger than his size, which is already a respectable 6-foot, 225 pounds. He’s unlikely to get drafted in any round due to a very clear lack of measurable athletic ability. Franklin may contend for the worst explosion scores at the combine, but if he can muster enough training and ability to put himself in the ‘only a bit bad’ category instead of the ‘laughably terrible’ group, he could endear some team to him enough to be a late Day 3 selection.

John Kelly, RB, Tennessee

Kelly is being billed as a middling athlete, but has gotten some hype as a possible Day 2 selection of late, and he’s one worth keeping an eye on at the combine. His character needs to be highly vetted, so the interview portion of the combine is going to be important, but if he puts together a solid run time and interviews well he might be off the board early Day 3.

Mark Walton, RB, Miami

Every year, someone flies so low under the radar that it seems like nobody sees them coming at all. Mark Walton may be that guy in 2018, and a strong showing at the combine could see him called as early as Day 2 (though he’ll be called a reach by some). Walton missed most of the 2017 season due to injury, but his earlier tape and noticeable athletic ability on the field could see him flying up draft boards if he comes in at 200 pounds or more and measures how most expect him to.