Matt Waldman’s Rookie Scouting Portfolio revisits his pre-draft rankings of the NFL’s 2008 running back class.
This year’s running back class was one of the richest I’ve seen since writing the first RSP in 2006. Although Marshawn Lynch and Adrian Peterson are the best two backs I’ve seen from a single class, 2008’s crew had the greatest volume of talent. With more than a decade of football in the books, I don’t think 2008 subscribers will mind me sharing my rankings in retrospect.
For those of you new to the RSP, the publication has grown considerably since these early years. I provide extensive profiles on each player included in my rankings — and I cover a lot more than I did in the beginning.
Sharing this list is a fun way of looking back.
Greatest Disappointment (Jonathan Stewart): An amazing physical talent, it’s ironic that Stewart will serve as an aging mentor to Saquon Barkley because Stewart was a size-speed-agility freak of nature when he entered the league. He flashed that dominant skill in Carolina but he could not stay healthy and injuries robbed him of that elite athletic ability. He’s had a good career by NFL standards (from a player perspective, not fans), but if you remember him early on, you understand where I’m coming from. He was reminiscent of Barkley with more power.
Best Call (Ray Rice): It didn’t look this way after his first year. I had a conversation with Greg Cosell about Rice. He also liked what he saw of Rice at Rutgers but after a year in Baltimore, Cosell didn’t think Rice showed the explosive athletic ability that he needed to become the player he initially thought. Rice added muscle, gained quickness, and his year of acclimation also led to a mentally quicker player. It made all the difference. Many of you will find it hard to separate what Rice did on the field with his behavior off it. I’m here to analyze talent.
Worst Call (Chris Johnson): In hindsight, I didn’t see enough of Johnson as a running back to make a good assessment. He was fantastic early in his career and I whiffed on my assessment of him as an inside runner. I didn’t have the understanding of blocking scheme back then that I have now.
Sleeper Hit (Matt Forte): Forte and Ahmad Bradshaw (the year before) were evaluations instrumental in affirming my process should be rooted in the processes of the position and not the outcomes. Forte scored high in my evaluation despite playing for a Tulane team that only had one offensive lineman who could bench press the same weight as every starter on the LSU defense that faced him. Despite a poor statistical game, the things I study that are indicative of a talented running back were all there.
Overrated Hit (Darren McFadden): McFadden’s career helped me learn the fundamental importance of scheme fit and drove me to learn the details of blocking schemes. McFadden was a decent gap runner and his running style was a better fit for it than zone running. Even so, his power, balance, agility, and vision were overstated.
Favorite Commentary (Jamaal Charles): I think I nailed the Charles commentary even if he outplayed my ranking. And if you consider the commentary, I expected that possibility.