Friday at the 2019 NFL Scouting Combine produced predictable results, at least when it came to the running back position.
Consecutive remarkable running back classes the past two years had left the cupboard relatively bare and with Alabama’s Josh Jacobs – the only back I see as worthy of top 50 consideration – opting not to work out in Indianapolis due to a groin strain, there were not many eye-popping results to spark scouts’ optimism.
One back who did turn heads Friday was Oklahoma State’s Justice Hill, who led the position group with an electronically-timed 4.40 second time in his first attempt at the 40-yard dash as well as in the vertical jump (40”) and broad jump (10’8”), tying with Miami’s Travis Homer in the final category. Hill even posted impressive numbers in the bench press (21).
Unfortunately, his workout was cut short when he pulled up with hamstring strain during his second attempt at the forty.
The 5-10, 198 pound Hill checks in 10th on NFLDraftScout.com’s rankings of the top running backs in the 2019 NFL draft after rushing for 3,539 yards over three seasons in Stillwater. He enjoyed his best season in 2017 alongside future Pittsburgh Steelers Mason Rudolph and James Washington, whose production in the passing game helped create gaping holes in the notoriously leaky Big 12 defenses. Hill ran for 1,467 yards as a sophomore while catching a career-high 31 passes for 190 yards and the only receiving touchdown with the Cowboys but saw his numbers slip to 930 rushing yards and 13 catches for 68 yards in 10 games as a junior.
The only back also among NFLDraftScout.com’s top 10 at the position to finish with a sub 4.50 time in the 40-yard dash was Ohio State’s Mike Weber, who like Jacobs at Alabama, split carries throughout his career – forcing scouts to project him as a bell-cow at the next level.
Sub-4.50 times were also turned in by Temple’s Ryquell Armstead (4.45), Florida’s Jordan Scarlett (4.47), Homer (4.47), Memphis’ Darrell Henderson (4.49), Michigan’s Karan Higdon (4.49) and Penn State’s Miles Sanders, each of whom project as complementary backs rather than starters in the NFL, pushing them into the middle or later rounds.
Texas A&M’s Trayveon Williams (5-08, 206) finished just outside of the 4.50 threshold, clocking in at 4.51 seconds, the same time that Atlanta Falcons’ similarly-built star Devonta Freeman registered back in 2014.
More accomplished runners like Alabama’s “starter” Damien Harris (4.57), Washington’s Myles Gaskin (4.58) and Kentucky’s Benny Snell (4.66) failed to show ideal breakaway speed Friday, though each has demonstrated the vision, lateral agility and balance through contact that, frankly, are more important to duplicating their college success in the NFL, as recent NFL standout running backs Chris Carson (4.58), Jordan Howard (4.59), Kareem Hunt (4.62) and James Conner (4.65), among others, have proven.