Leading up to the 2018 NFL Draft, which runs from April 26-28, NESN.com will do a New England Patriots draft fits series. We’ll continue it with running backs.
There are so many factors to consider when identifying potential running back fits for the New England Patriots in the NFL draft it can be a little exhausting.
A Patriots running back draft pick, historically, must post above-average agility testing numbers at the NFL Scouting Combine or a pro day. He also has to display above average ball security and pass protection. It’s difficult for a player to check every box the Patriots typically require.
With all of those elements in mind, here’s a running back the Patriots could select with each of their eight picks in the 2018 NFL Draft.
Round 1, 23rd Overall Pick: Derrius Guice, LSU
The Patriots reportedly hosted Guice on a pre-draft visit, and he fits what New England usually looks for in size, 40-yard dash time and 10-yard split. He fumbled once every 106.8 touches in college, which is good, and he fumbled just once on 255 touches in 2017, which is great.
Guice, who’s 5-foot-11, 224 pounds, only was average in pass protection, and he didn’t run a 3-cone or 20-yard shuttle, which are important drills when narrowing down potential Patriots draft picks.
Round 1, 31st Overall Pick: Ronald Jones II, USC
The Patriots also reportedly hosted Jones on a pre-draft visit. Jones, who’s 5-foot-11, 205 pounds, injured his hamstring at the NFL Scouting Combine, and he still was only 85 to 90 percent, based on his own evaluation, when he performed in a makeup pro day earlier this month. Looking at his testing numbers, he only checks the Patriots’ boxes with his vertical leap, 40-yard dash and 10-yard split. Those numbers might have been better at full health, however.
His 7.14-second 3-cone would be the slowest recorded time posted by a Patriots running back draft pick. But he was running it on a bum hamstring.
Jones only fumbled twice in college, which is phenomenal, but he was below average in pass protection.
Round 2, 43rd Overall Pick: Kerryon Johnson, Auburn
It’s tough to find running backs at the top of the draft who fit the Patriots in agility scores. Johnson’s 7.07-second 3-cone and 4.29-second short shuttle were below average, but he’s a fit based on his size, vertical leap, broad jump, 10-yard split and 40 time.
Johnson, who’s 6 feet, 213 pounds, only fumbled three times on 600 career touches and was above average in pass protection.
Round 2, 63rd Overall Pick: Jaylen Samuels, N.C. State
Samuels is the first back on this list to run a sub-7-second 3-cone, which is exactly what the Patriots typically look for. He fumbled just four times in college and played all over the field at running back, slot receiver and tight end, showing solid pass blocking. He actually was a short-yardage back/slot receiver in 2017 at 6 feet, 225 pounds.
He’s one of the Patriots’ best running back fits in the draft.
Round 3, 95th Overall Pick: Royce Freeman, Oregon
Freeman’s 6.9-second 3-cone and 4.16-second short shuttle both were classic Patriots running back marks. It’s even more impressive that he recorded them at 6 feet, 229 pounds. He fumbled nine times in college, but those came on over 1,000 touches. He was below average in pass protection.
Round 6, 198th Overall Pick: Kalen Ballage, Arizona State
Based on size, 6-foot-2, 228 pounds, and measurables, Ballage checked almost every box for a Patriots running back. His 15 bench press reps were the only mark he didn’t hit.
Ballage’s career fumble rate was below average, but he coughed up the ball just once in 198 touches in 2017. He was average in pass protection.
We also considered Northwestern’s Justin Jackson in this spot.
Round 6, 210th Overall Pick: Chris Warren, Texas
Warren is perhaps the best Patriots fit among draft-eligible running backs. At 6-foot-2, 250 pounds, he ran a 4.51-second 40-yard dash with a 1.59-second 10-yard split, 6.98-second 3-cone, 4.18-second short shuttle and 10-foot, 1-inch broad jump. He fumbled just twice on 227 career touches and was above average in pass protection.
He also has plenty of experience catching the ball.
Round 7, 219th Overall Pick: Ryan Nall, Oregon State
Nall, who’s 6-foot-2, 232 pounds, is the best pass protector on this list. He fumbled slightly more than the Patriots usually like, but he’s almost a perfect fit athletically.
Trade-up option: None
The only back expected to be taken earlier than Guice is Penn State’s Saquon Barkley. We can’t see the Patriots moving up for him.
Mid-round option: Josh Adams, Notre Dame
The Patriots don’t have any picks in the fourth or fifth rounds, which is where Adams is projected to go. His 6.78-second 3-cone was the top mark among draftable running backs, and he did it at 6-foot-2, 213 pounds. He fumbled just three times in college but was only average as a pass protector.
Adams ranked high in Pro Football Focus’ elusive rating, forcing 47 missed tackles on 219 touches with 4.95 average yards after contact.
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