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NFL Combine winners and losers: The best/worst running backs from Friday’s workouts

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The NFL Combine has concluded for running backs and some helped push themselves further up draft boards.

NFL: Combine Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

The first major day of NFL Combine testing has concluded, and, as always, there were some that impressed (far more than expected) and others who fell short. The 2018 running back class is well thought of in comparison to recent years, and for the most part, they did not disappoint. Both the metrics portion of the Combine and the drills were full of talented backs that will not only find their way onto an NFL roster, but contribute meaningful snaps in the coming season for teams who want to inject some youth and talent into their run game.

We’re going to take a look at who helped their draft stock and who might have hurt it with their performance in Indianapolis. You’ll note that there’s no Saquon Barkley here. Despite obliterating the Combine, Barkley measured pretty much how everyone expected to, so he’s boring to talk about here. We will be using Relative Athletic Score cards to show how players did, with 20 and 10-yard splits projected based on historical averages, since we do not yet have those numbers.

Winner by crushing expectations: Royce Freeman, RB, Oregon

Yours truly is a noted critic of Freeman’s play, but it’s hard to argue with the results he put up with all eyes on him. Freeman cut weight coming into the Combine, having played over 230 and even being listed at 240 by some. This week, he measured in at only 227. Expectations weren’t high, but Freeman put up elite numbers for a running back in many categories, which is surely going to help his projection into the NFL. Projected in the mid rounds, Freeman answered enough questions about his athleticism to keep teams interested.

Loser by injury: Ronald Jones, RB, USC

Ronald Jones was a guy most expected to tear up the Combine. In fact, he was brought up several times on broadcast as one to watch and was hyped in the pre-pregame show by Peter Schrager for NFL Network. We will have to wait for his pro day, however, as Jones pulled up lame on his first 40-yard dash of the day and didn’t complete any other drills.

Listed with a right hamstring injury, Jones will now have to answer durability questions that were already going to be an issue because of his size, despite missing very little snaps in college. Though Jones measured in taller than expected and with better weight than projected at 205, his hands measured in smaller than most teams prefer. That’s normally a concern for ball control, though Jones had one of the best fumble rates in college football his entire tenure. In any event, barring a killer pro day, this is probably going to push Jones further into the second round.

Winner by incredible recovery: Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia

Nick Chubb’s injury a few seasons ago was a devastating one, and one that took some time to return from even once he started playing again. Though Chubb was one of the most highly touted pure athletes in the nation coming out of high school, many assumed there would be some kind of negative impact due to the injury that would show up once he started testing.

Not only did no noticeable drop of occur, but Chubb nailed the Combine and came out as second only to Saquon Barkley athletically. Though Chubb abstained from the agility drills, like Barkley and Guice, he measured out among the elite in nearly every other category. He was a little stiff during passing drills, which teams will have to consider, but he put health and athleticism concerns to sleep, possibly for good.

Loser by comparison: Sony Michel, RB, Georgia

Michel had very few questions coming into the Combine outside of his very high fumble rate, but teams will have a few more things to consider now. Billed as an elite athlete coming into the Combine, Michel saw the “thunder” (Nick Chubb) to his “lightning” run faster and put up better numbers than he did. The other players that many considered in the same tier or just below him put up great numbers as well.

In a strong RB class athletically, Michel did nothing to distance himself and passed on most of the drills after an alright but disappointing 4.54 in the 40-yard dash and only a decent 4.21 in the shuttle. Michel’s numbers were very good in his own right, even netting an elite RAS with the numbers he has so far, but very good isn’t enough to help your stock if people expect great and if others do better.

Winner by besting expectations: Rashaad Penny, RB, San Diego State

Rashaad Penny had athleticism concerns coming into the Combine, as well as questions about whether he’d be useful in the passing game. He managed to answer almost every question about his ability in Indianapolis, posting very good numbers all around and looking smooth and fluid in passing drills. He even put up one of the best 40 times of the night with a 4.46, answering the “he’s slow” critics handily. Penny will have to creatively answer the biggest concern to his game, his severe weakness as a pass protector, but his Combine should solidify his Day 2 status even more.

Loser by flea sized: Akrum Wadley, RB, Iowa

One thing to note about most teams and things like measurements is that they usually don’t have specific, high thresholds that they want guys to meet. Instead, they have lower thresholds they just want guys to not miss. It’s why I so often refer to metrics as simply checking boxes.

One such box is hand size for a running back. The threshold most consider good is 9 1/4”, though some go a little higher at 9 1/2”. Akrum Wadley came in at a tiny 8 1/4” for his hand size, a full inch shorter than most want. And he measured with arms shorter than 30”. For an already undersized back, you’re going to have to kill the drills to keep teams interested in your game, and Wadley simply failed to impress throughout the combine.

Winner by AGILE: Chase Edmonds, RB, Fordham

If you’re coming from Fordham and trying to work your way into the NFL, it’s already an uphill climb. Sure, you can put your name on the map with plus tape, letting teams guess if it’s just a level of competition thing but knowing that you dominate that lesser competition. You can also put on a show when teams look at your athletic potential, and that’s what Chase Edmonds did. Though he didn’t measure in the elites, Edmonds put up some of the best agility drills at the Combine, and also worked after the others in receiver drills, highlighting both versatility and team interest. Certainly enough to turn some heads.

Loser by false hope: Mark Walton, RB, Miami

Mark Walton gained a lot of hype coming into the Combine, with some having him push into the early Day 2 conversation. This was not the Combine I think many had imagined him having.

Walton isn’t very big, though I doubt many expected him to come in over what he measured in at, but a 4.60 40 and poor explosion numbers won’t help your case. Walton, like many other backs in this class, didn’t participate in agility drills, but they’re also an area I don’t think most expect him to blow out of the water either.