With the season over it is time for teams to turn to the NFL Draft to bring in the next crop of young talent. Last season `we saw a solid group of young running backs take the league by storm. Some of those players were Todd Gurley, David Johnson, Thomas Rawls, Jay Ajayi, Karlos Williams, Buck Allen, Jeremy Langford, and many more. This year will feature a whole new crop of young backs. So let’s get right to it.
EZEKIEL ELLIOT, 6′, 225 LB., OHIO ST.
It’s hard to find anything Ezekiel Elliot isn’t good at. He runs with power and has the speed (4.46) to break off big chunks of yardage. Generally most running backs entering the league struggle with pass blocking but Elliot is exempt from that kind of tag. Before I ever watched any tape on him I already had the preconceived notion that Elliot was an excellent back but after turning on the tape you realize just how good he really is. He’s a fluid runner and has excellent footwork, everything he does is done with a purpose. For me, he’s the best running back in this class and has the ability to be one of the best backs in the league.
Draft Grade: Top 20 pick
Possible landing Spots: Giants, Cowboys, Colts, and Jets,
Giants – The Giants have a serious need at the running back position heading into 2016. They finished 18th in the league in rushing averaging 100.6 yards per game. The Andre Williams experiment just didn’t work out and Rashad Jennings is 30 years old. This team certainly could use a pass rusher as well but passing up on a running back like Elliot could be too much to resist.
Cowboys – They hold the number four pick in the draft but they aren’t a team with tons of glaring holes. The definitely could use a running back with Elliot’s skill set. Last season they cut Joseph Randle and leaned on Darren McFadden which isn’t something they will continue to do in 2016. They finished 9th in the league in rushing averaging 118 yards a game. They could easily fill this hole in free agency with a running back like Lamar Miller, Matt Forte, or Doug Martin but if they don’t then taking a player like Elliot could pay huge dividends early.
Colts – The Colts had a very forgettable 2015 season with injuries to Andrew Luck and just overall terrible play. They will look to rebound in 2016 and adding a player like Elliot would be very intriguing. They finished last season with the 29th ranked rushing game and it’s hard to imagine them bringing back Frank Gore as the team’s lead-back. They certainly have other needs such as OL, pass rusher, and DB but improving their run game is a must if they want to return as the team to beat in the AFC South.
Jets – The Jets played way above expectations in 2015 with Ryan Fitzpatrick under center and had a solid run game with Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell in the backfield. Chris Ivory will likely sign elsewhere leaving a big hole in their run game which is why taking Elliot would be a logical choice. The question will be if he falls to them at 20.
DEVONTAE BOOKER, 5-11, 203, UTAH
Devontae Booker had himself a solid season rushing for 1,261 yards and 11 touchdowns in only 10 games. His season was cut short after suffering a torn meniscus. Booker has plenty of positives going for him such as his vision and elusiveness. He isn’t the type of back who will dance around before making a decision and hitting the hole. He has the cutting ability to extend plays and get himself out of negative situations.
One major red flag for him is his ball security issues. He coughed up six fumbles last season which is something he’s going to have to clean up if he wants to be an every down back. He may not be able to add more weight due to the possibility of hurting his quickness that’s already a bit suspect.
He certainly has a bright future in the NFL but he will need to figure out his ball security issues with a quickness. NFL team’s will not tolerate him and his butterfingers. If he gets that under control then he can be a solid NFL back in the mold of a Jeremy Langford. He has enough quickness and speed to be a three-down back in this league and it helps that he is familiar with a pro-style system.
Draft Grade: 2nd or 3rd round pick.
Possible fit: New York Giants – If the Giants decide to pass up on Elliot in the first round then they will undoubtedly be looking for one later and Booker is a great fit for their system and would fill one of their bigger needs this offseason.
DERRICK HENRY, 6-3, 241, ALABAMA
This kid is a bulldozer who has runs with power and finishes his runs with authority. Henry won the Heisman trophy last year after running for 2,061 yards on a whopping 395 carries and 25 touchdowns for the Crimson Tide. He had himself a solid showing at the combine after running a solid forty (4.54) and showed his explosiveness with vertical of 37 inches and a broad jump of 130 inches.
As for what he brings to the table for any team looking to draft him, he fits the mold of a Brandon Jacobs. He is the ultimate power back and has surprisingly good speed for a man his size. Some issues with him at the next level will be his size. At 6-3 and 242 pounds, he isn’t a guy who is going to shake any defender with fancy juke moves. He runs tall and fails to get low to run behind his pads. He is a downhill runner and is one-cut and go.
His best fit will be in a zone-blocking scheme where it will highlight his ability pick a hole and go. It’s really hard to predict where he will go in the draft due to his size and the fact that you just don’t see a ton of backs like him. Another thing that could scare off potential teams is the fact that he rushed the ball 395 times last season which is insanely high. So, there will likely be durability issues with him even though he has never shown to be injury prone. His draft status seems to be anywhere from a late first round grade and as low as a 3rd-round pick.
Draft Grade: 1st or 2nd round pick
Possible Fit: Tennessee Titans – The Titans finished 2015 with the 25th worst rushing attack. and averaged 92.8 yards per game behind Bishop Sankey, Antonio Andrews, David Cobb. With the likelihood of the Titans taking Laremy Tunsil with the first pick, they could do themselves a favor by taking a punishing back like Derrick Henry.
KENNETH DIXON, 5-10, 215 LBS, Louisiana Tech
Kenneth Dixon has been slowly moving up draft boards over the last month. He wasn’t a known commodity due in large part because he didn’t play for a power five conference. Things have now changed as the spotlight is starting to shine on Dixon and his draft stock. Dixon is a shifty runner who can make defenders look silly with outstanding jump cuts. He is a tough runner and never quits which will lead to extra yardage at the next level. Possesses a strong burst and can stop and go on a dime. Another positive is his excellent vision and can get up to his top speed instantly.
As great as Dixon looks to be he has his issues. There are some durability concerns with him after missing time and struggling with a knee injury in 2013 and missed two games in 2015 with an ankle injury. He will need to work on ball security issues as he fumbled 13 times since 2013. He will also need to improve his pass blocking ability to be an every-down back on the next level.
Overall, he’s should be viewed as a late second or early third round pick. He has the skill-set to be an every down back if he can learn to protect the football and get past his durability concerns.
Possible Fit – Houston Texans – The Texans have a big need for a running back. With the oft-injured Arian Foster starring at getting the ax and the overall lack of depth at the position they will need to find a young replacement. They could opt to sign a veteran like Chris Ivory or Doug Martin but going with a rookie runner makes far more sense than going with a veteran that’s going to command far more money.
C.J. PROSISE, 6-1, 220 LBS, NOTRE DAME
This kid certainly made a name for himself last season at Notre Dame when he made the switch from wide receiver to running back. In his first year at running back, he rushed for 1,029 yards and 11 touchdowns in just 10 games and hauled in 26 passes for 308 yards and a touchdown. He was slowed by some injuries this year but when he was on the field he was certainly productive.
He’s going to be one of the more difficult players to project due to the fact that last season was his first year at the position and he’s a bit raw. He has the frame of an NFL running back at 6′ and 220 pounds. If I was going to try and compare him to a running back in the league now it would probably David Johnson. David Johnson was a beast in his first year in the league and also switched from WR to RB in college.
At the next level, he will need to work on his technique and will also have to cut down on the dancing behind the line of scrimmage. He will also need to work on his pass protection but that’s something most rookie running backs tend to struggle with.
Overall, he has the ability to be a steal in this draft and it’s truly amazing what he’s been able to accomplish after only one season at the position. He certainly has a learning curve but if you watch his tape you will see his natural ability.
Draft Grade: Late 2nd-3rd round pick.
Possible Fit: Miami Dolphins – Lamar Miller is likely out the door in South Beach which means they will need to take a look at their running backs. Yes, they have Jay Ajayi but in today’s NFL where the committee approach seems like the norm. Prosise would be a great fit to be the lightning to Ajayi’s thunder.
PAUL PERKINS, 5-11, 210 LB, UCLA
Paul Perkins had himself quite the year this past season with the UCLA Bruins. He rushed for 1,341 yards (5.7 YPC) and 14 touchdowns. Perkins showed last season why he should be viewed as one of the top backs in this class with his ability to shake defenders and the patience to let blockers do their job to get out in front and open up holes.
Perkins isn’t the biggest back in the world but that doesn’t stop him from running with balance and power. The one thing he does lack is the elite speed which won’t allow him to break off long runs. He’s like a bowling ball and fits the mold of a Ray Rice. He runs with power and balance and has the shiftiness to extend plays by making tacklers miss.
Perkins should be viewed as a 2nd-round pick and could climb into the first if he shows well at the Combine and at his Pro Day.
Draft Grade: Late 1st or 2nd round pick.
Possible Fit: Titans – The Titans are still in the market for a running back unless you think David Cobb is the answer to their prayers. As long as the Titans take Laremy Tunsil with their first pick, then it should be a no-brainer to take a running back in the 2nd or 3rd round.
Players to keep an eye on:
Alex Collins, Arkansas: He seems to fly under the radar but he certainly has the vision skill set to be a reliable NFL back. He’s more of a down hill runner but is light on his feet and has excellent vision.
Jordan Howard, Indiana: Has the ability to be work-horse back. Has some injury concerns after missing a total of seven games the last two seasons with knee and ankle injuries. He rushed for at least 145 yards in every game played, although it was lilited action. He possesses elite level vision which teams covet in a running back. Has the power to run through tackles and has enough shiftiness to make defenders miss. He looks like a late second or third round pick.