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Ask Farrell: How much should NFL teams consider RB workload?

When five-star running back Kendall Milton’s father, Chris, saw that five-star Zachary Evans was considering Georgia, he was happy instead of upset that the Bulldogs might be taking two stars in the 2020 class.

Chris Milton’s rationale - and what he told college coaches across the country - is that he didn’t want his son to get worn down by being the only ball carrier for the coming years in Athens.

A lot of top prospects think this way, that sharing the load especially at running back, is crucial to keep tread on the tires and to stay fresh for a potential NFL future.

But a study of the last few highly-drafted running backs definitely shows a split between players who shared the load but many others who had a sizeable number of attempts in college and it didn’t necessarily scare off any NFL teams.

Alabama’s Josh Jacobs was the only running back taken in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft. In college, he had only 251 carries so tired legs was no issue at all.

But in the 2018 NFL Draft, Penn State’s Saquon Barkley was taken with the second overall pick and he had 671 carries with the Nittany Lions. San Diego State’s Rashaad Penny moved way up into the first round with the No. 27 pick after carrying the ball 488 times for the Aztecs and the New England Patriots took Georgia’s Sony Michel with the No. 31 selection after he touched it 590 times in Athens.

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Other big-time NFL running backs had a busy college career as well. LSU’s Leonard Fournette had 616 carries; Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey finished with 632 carries and Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott rushed the ball 592 times. They are now three of the best running backs in the league.

Which brings us to the 2020 draft class at running back.

Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor could be the first running back drafted even after having 926 carries with the Badgers, a tremendous workload. But Taylor ran a 4.39-second 40-yard dash at the combine and showed tremendous burst, so his college carries might not be as big a concern.

Other high-level running backs were busy in college as well as Georgia’s D’Andre Swift carried it 440 times, Ohio State’s J.K. Dobbins had 725 carries and Florida State’s Cam Akers touched it 586 times.


We ask Rivals National Recruiting Director Mike Farrell if college workload and “tread on the tires” is one of the more overly evaluated but least important factor when considering the draft prospects of running backs or whether it’s actually a concern that Taylor, Dobbins and others were so busy at their respective schools?

"It’s an overused term and doesn’t matter in the NFL. It’s an excuse used for when top picks flame out (e.g. Trent Richardson) but the bottom line is that the elite running backs in the game today were all workhorses in college except for maybe Jacobs.

"If anyone backs off Taylor or Dobbins because of the amount of carries and touches then they’d be missing out. I don’t like the thought process that backs should be sharing time in college or in high school. To me that’s ridiculous. Prove your durability like Derrick Henry and the others and be a star.”