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2015 Running Back Rankings

April 9, 2015
Teaming Gurley up with the best OL in football would be scary.

Teaming Gurley up with the best OL in football would be scary.

Prototype in the NFL: Adrian Peterson

Best In Class

Best Pure Speed: Melvin Gordon                    Best Inside Runner: Todd Gurley

Best Pass Blocker: Jay Ajayi                           Best Open Field Runner: Melvin Gordon

Best Pass Catcher: Duke Johnson                   Best Vision: TJ Yeldon

Best Burst: Duke Johnson                                 Best Goal Line Runner: Todd Gurley

 

  1. Todd Gurley Georgia 6’0 5/8 222 Jr.

Comparison: Adrian Peterson

Stats: SEC

Year Yards Avg TD Rec Yards TD
2014 911 7.4 9 12 57 0
2013 989 6.0 10 37 441 6
2012 1385 6.2 17 16 117 0

Combine: He didn’t workout due to the ACL injury.

HGT WGT Arms Hands 40 Reps Vert Broad Shuttle 3 Cone
6005 222 32.5 10

Strengths: SEC Freshman of the Year in 2012. 2nd Team SEC in 2013. He has an elite burst for a player his size, he’s extremely physical and brings an attitude to a running game, is willing to lower his shoulder and plow through a defender for tough yards, looks to have low 4.5 type speed and occasionally can break the long TD run (75 yd TD vs. Clemson in 2013, 73 yd TD on catch and run vs. Florida in 2013). He looked much faster in 2014 when he had 4 TDs (including a 100 yd KR) on a 13.2 ypc average! His +220 lbs is about as lean as you will find on a RB. He is an efficient runner with a 6.2, 6.0 and 7.4 yard per carry average in 2012-2014 respectively. He has big hands at ’10 (6th out of 36 RBs at Combine) and never had a fumbling problem in his 3 years.

Weaknesses: He’s a bit injury prone and struggled with nagging injuries in 2013 (missed 3 games with a high ankle sprain). That was before he tore his ACL in 2014 and the injury prone label on him as gone from a legitimate concern to a huge red flag. He seems to have issues with cramping and to negate this he is constantly stretching on the sidelines. It might not be an issue but I’ve never seen a RB stretch more than he does and I think it points to an overall issue with his body. After his first two seasons his career high was “only” 166 yards rushing and he never had a monster season (career high was as a freshman with 1,385 yds). He seems to be a bit emotional and has had his share off on field “antics” (head butt and a few seconds later a semi-punch to the head of a circle of defenders vs. South Carolina in 2013).

Overall: From the moment Todd burst onto the scene, as a freshman in 2012, he looked like a future Top 10 selection. His combination of size and speed is really only comparable to one guy that I’ve ever scouted, Adrian Peterson. His style isn’t very similar as Peterson is a more aggressive runner with a high, Eric Dickerson like gait, while Gurley is shiftier, has better vision but is a little less explosive. Nonetheless Gurley gets the coveted comparison as both just are physical freaks for the position and have a ceiling on their potential that is almost historic. Unfortunately, though, the comparison doesn’t end there as both had injury riddled college careers with their freshman seasons being arguably their best. Going into the 2014 season I had the injury prone label on Gurley as he always seemed to be nicked up and at less than 100%. Then he tore his ACL midway through the year and now I’m left wondering what to do with Gurley as on one hand he is the most talented runner I’ve graded in years and on the other hand he seemed to be a bit cursed. Stylistically as a runner he reminds me a bit of Ricky Williams and overall as a prospect he reminds me of Adrian Peterson. Those are two of probably the ten best running backs of the past 20 years, Peterson to me is already one of the 5 best of all time, and shows the ceiling he has but at what point in the draft do you roll the dice on this injury prone potential Hall of Famer? ACLs are notoriously flukey injuries as Willis McGahee, Frank Gore, Adrian Peterson, Jamaal Lewis and numerous other runners tore their ACL in college or pro and went on to have long careers as workhorse type runners so I’m not that worried about his 2014 injury. His continual cramping and ease at being nicked up does worry me though and drops his grade a bit in the end. From 2012-2014 the question was always whether he’d be a Top 5 or Top 10 pick but in the end his injury history forces me to keep him just outside my Top 10. Gurley is an elite, borderline Top 5 type talent who has the potential to be a Hall of Famer when his career is complete. He has the power to run inside, the speed to break the long run, underrated vision and lateral quickness and appears to have good enough hands and speed to be a 3 down back. His only question mark is his injury history and as such, he barely misses a Top 10 grade. Top 15 4/5/15.

  1. Melvin Gordon Wisconsin 6’0 5/8 215 Jr.

Comparison: Jamaal Charles

Stats: Big Ten

Year Yards Avg TD Rec Yards TD
2014 2587 7.54 29 19 153 3
2013 1609 7.81 12 1 10 0
2012 621 10.02 3 2 65 1

Combine: He had a good 40 for a normal back but he’s a speed back expected to go in the 1st round so I expected a bit better than 4.52. His vertical, broad and reps were all above average and his shuttle was elite at 4.07 showing that quickness and agility which is so evident on tape.

HGT WGT Arms Hands 40 Reps Vert Broad Shuttle 3 Cone
6005 215 32.38 9.75 4.52 19 35 1006 4.07 7.04

Strengths: He is the most dangerous runner in the open field in this draft. He has Jamaal Charles type of acceleration and has underrated size and strength for a “speed back.” He was the most productive runner in this draft class and is coming off one of the 5 best seasons in NCAA History. He set the record for the most rushing yards in a single game (408 yards-in just 3 quarters!). He has to have a hurdlers background in track as he has the rare ability to leap off either leg and angle his body in a way that avoids low tackles without losing speed. He is the best outside runner in this draft and should “add yards” consistently in this capacity once in the NFL. He was Wisconsin’s workhorse, had +300 carries last season and didn’t wear down. His numbers are probably inflated due to the Big Ten defenses he saw and the system he was in but he did put up good numbers vs. the SEC as well, especially in his last game against Auburn (251 yds, 7.38 ypc, 3 TD).

Weaknesses: Gordon reminds me of Charles yet his 40 wasn’t on the same level as he ran a 4.52 while Charles ran a 4.36. It worries me a bit as Gordon is a homerun hitter type yet 4.52 isn’t cutting it for that role. His game speed appears to be faster than that though so it isn’t a huge concern but something to be aware of. Another small concern is the fact that Montee Ball has been a bust as an NFL player. They are different people, Ball never showed the athleticism Gordon has AND Gordon has been much more productive but it is still worrisome as Ball had two +1800 yard seasons at Wisconsin which will continue to make scouts worry that Gordon is somewhat a product of the system. Gordon is tough and can run inside but he won’t “add yards” to inside runs so a 1 yard run will be a 1 yard run with him. He only has 22 career receptions which is rather low for a speed back who played 3 seasons. Redshirted in 2011 so is a bit older for an underclassman.

Overall: It is rare to see a player remind me of another player as much as Gordon does to Charles. Gordon’s tall/slight build, long strides, impressive speed and underrated toughness all are carbon copies of Charles. Considering Charles has been one of the five best running backs the past half decade it is no surprise that many scouts consider him the #1 RB in this draft. I do not as Gurley has a power on inside runs that Gordon and Charles will never have. I also have slight reservations about Gordon’s 40 time and the system and level of competition he faced with the 52-0 Ohio State drubbing not helping matters. Yet if drafted by a team with an elite offensive line Gordon could put up prolific numbers in the NFL just like he did in college. He would fit best in a zone scheme that traps and pulls their OL so he has space to operate as his outside runs are elite and even a play that is only somewhat blocked can net him 5-6 yards due to his speed, vision and shiftiness. In that area he is an elite talent and one of the best to come into the NFL in a long time yet he still doesn’t surpass Gurley due to the small question marks I have on his collegiate career as well the fact that his upside will never be as great as Todd’s. Mid 1st as a potential Pro Bowl caliber player 4/5/15.

  1. Duke Johnson Miami 5’9 1/8 207 Jr.

Comparison: A slower David Wilson

Stats: ACC

Year Yards Avg TD Rec Yards TD
2014 1652 6.8 10 38 421 3
2013 920 6.3 6 4 77 0
2012 947 6.8 10 27 221 1

Combine: His Combine was surprisingly mediocre as he was average to above average across the board. He did come in comfortably over 200 lbs which was a must in my opinion.

HGT WGT Arms Hands 40 Reps Vert Broad Shuttle 3 Cone
5091 207 30.38 9.25 4.54 33.5 1001

Strengths: 1st team ACC in 2013 and 2014. He has rare burst and has one of the quickest first 3 steps I’ve ever scouted. He gained 20 lbs of muscle and went from 195 (2012) to 215 (2013). He has been a kick returner and has been successful at it with TD returns. He is a weapon as a pass catcher and was prolific in this area in 2014 (38 421). He has great vision and really knows how to setup blocks in the open field.

Weaknesses: He runs upright and doesn’t have good pad level, he rarely breaks tackles and isn’t the most elusive back as his MO is pure speed. By the end of 2013 they were listing him at 195. I’m unsure if that was just not updated or if he actually lost his 20 additional lbs throughout the season. He ran a 4.54 40 which shocked me initially but going back to the tape you can see that he is quicker than fast as he is regularly caught from behind. He almost never gains yards after contact on inside runs and will struggle in that area.

Overall: Everyone is obsessed with two backs in this draft but I consider this a three back draft as Duke Johnson is inferior to Gurley and Gordon but is very much worthy of an early round selection and would be my #1 RB in quite a few drafts of recent years. The thing that sets him apart is his elite burst. He can get from 0-60 about as fast as any RB I’ve ever graded not named De’Anthony Thomas. He has kick return skills, should be tried out as a punt returner due to his quickness and vision, has impressive hands and experience to make him a weapon in the passing game and of course is a prolific runner. There were quite a few elite yardage totals this past year by running backs so his 2014 season isn’t getting the hype it probably deserves as nearly 1,700 yards at nearly 7ypc in the ACC is quite an accomplishment. Add to it his 38 catches for 421 yards and you have a +2,000 total yards player yet everyone seems to be focused in on the Big Ten rushers this year when discussing elite productivity. Johnson isn’t a good inside runner and it will be a hindrance so he might become stuck in a time share situation with a bigger back which will limit his upside but there are few players with a better burst, vision or ability as a receiver than Johnson. Most have him as a Top 5 back but behind a few other guys not named Gurley/Gordon. I think he is the clear cut choice as the #3 RB and is deserving of an early 2nd round pick as he has Pro Bowl potential 4/5/15.

  1. Tevin Coleman Indiana 5’11 206 Jr. Tied with Abdullah for the smallest hands of any RB at the Combine. Tevin was a human highlight reel in 2014 with 2,036 yards rushing. It seems like all he did was break long runs and the Indiana OL was nothing special so it makes his 7.54 ypc (Gordon had a 7.54 ypc as well in 2014 while facing a very similar schedule and playing behind a much better OL) that much more impressive. Also he ran with a slight break in his foot for more than half the season! The worry I have about Coleman is that he doesn’t seem to have as good of a burst as Gordon, Abdullah or Johnson while having similar size issues. He also runs more upright than any RB in this draft other than Yeldon who outweighs him by +20 lbs. I worry if Coleman will be injury prone at the next level due to this poor pad level. He missed 3 games in 2013 but none in 2014 while getting 270 carries and had elite performances against top notch defenses like Missouri (132 yds 6.95 ypc), Iowa (219 yds 14.6 ypc) and Ohio State (228 yds 8.44 ypc). Coleman is tough to grade as at times I think he might be the sleeper in this RB class and at other times I think he just feasted on some poor Big Ten defenses. He definitely is a boom or bust type runner as he gets a lot of negative or no gain runs but then busts out with a 40-60 yarder. In style he’s a little like Lamar Miller as a finesse runner with similar height (5’11 vs. 5’10 ¾) and weight (206 vs. 212) yet he seems to be a rich man’s version of Miller as Tevin is more agile and a little tougher. In the end I’m a bit confused by Coleman but see enough to think he’ll be another quality starter from this draft class and the #4 RB as a mid 2nd rounder since he has a higher upside than Yeldon and is less risky than Abdullah 4/8/15.
  1. Ameer Abdullah Nebraska 5’8 ¾ 205 His ’42 ½ vertical and 10’10 broad were both #1 among the 36 RBs but his 4.60 40 was pretty poor considering he’s undersized and is a speed back. He was the Senior Bowl MVP. I like Abdullah’s tape a lot as his burst is impressive and he has underrated strength as an insider runner but he put the ball on the ground more than any other back, by far, and that is a huge red flag to me. Considering his hands (8 5/8) were the smallest at the Combine I have major concerns that the issues will continue at the next level. His productivity though is elite (3 straight +1,000 yard seasons, 2 straight +1,600 yard seasons) and again I really like his tape as he has a little Duke Johnson in him in terms of burst and vision, though Johnson is superior in both categories and doesn’t fumble. He drops due to his red flag but if it is correctable a team will have a legit starter on their hands so he can rightly be classified as a boom/bust type pick. Late 2nd round 4/5/15.
  2. Jay Ajayi Boise State 5’11 ¾ 221 Jr. A few years ago I had the same argument about Doug Martin that I’m about to give you about Ajayi. “Martin is a guy who can do everything well yet nothing great and should be a good, dependable starter in the NFL for a long time. That being said I don’t see Pro Bowl potential in him and think his ceiling is a bit limited so he settles in as an early 3rd rounder as my #8 RB who was underrated the past two years but is eerily close to now being overrated by many scouts 4/5/12.” I wrote that review 3 years ago to the day and I think I’ve been proven right. Jay is the same kind of back and I think will face the same fate. If you are a fan of Ajayi your logic goes like this, “Jay can do a little of everything. He is the best pass blocking back in this draft. He is one of 2-3 most prolific pass catchers in this draft. He has good size (221), he has strength on inside runs, he breaks tackles, he is consistent (back to back +1,400 yard seasons) and he has shown he can be a work horse (596 carries the past two years).” If you aren’t a fan of Ajayi the logic goes like this, “Jay is good at everything, great at nothing. In today’s NFL where you can draft RBs in the mid to late rounds that are great at one thing it isn’t necessarily worth drafting a back early just because he is a complete back. The era of the 3 down, workhorse back is over and putting Ajayi in a timeshare would negate his one big advantage. His ypc (sub 6.0 each of his two prolific years) was mediocre, the competition he faced was mediocre, his 40 time (4.57) was mediocre, his burst is mediocre. Are you seeing a trend? Draft Ajayi ahead of Duke Johnson or Tevin Coleman and wonder why you have a back with nothing special about him. The Bucs are currently doing the same thing with Doug ‘I have no weaknesses but no strengths’ Martin.” I like Ajayi as a 3 down back with no weaknesses but you don’t draft guys in the 1st or early 2nd round who can’t be elite when handed the ball and I don’t see Ajayi having elite running skills. He settles in a little higher than Doug Martin as he is more athletic. Late 2nd round as my #6 RB 4/5/15.
  3. TJ Yeldon Alabama 6’0 ¼ 226 Jr. He has a very unique running style as he runs upright but also with good pad level due to running on the toes of his feet which give the impression that he’s always leaning forward and about to fall down. He has great vision and is without a doubt the most patient runner in this draft as he has a real feel for setting up blocks. He is adept at running in between the tackles but has enough speed to run off tackle, though he will not break the long runs in the pros. At one time I had Yeldon on par with Gurley yet that was after a freshman season which saw him have 1,108 yards rushing on 6.33 ypc. Never again did he average +6 ypc and surprisingly that freshman season was only 127 yards away from being his collegiate career high. I agree with the scouts that think he gained weight and lost some explosiveness (he began his career at 216 yet looked sluggish in 2014 in the 230’s and cut weight to 226 for the Combine) yet also think he’s another overrated Alabama prospect. Eddie Lacy has worked out and Mark Ingram has resurrected his career a bit but Trent Richardson was a terrific bust and Ingram still looks to have been a bust as a first rounder. Yeldon just isn’t powerful enough or athletic enough to be considered a sure fire impact back at the next level. At times I’m wowed by his patience, vision and penchant for always falling forward but at other times I see a true athlete come onto the field like Kenyan Drake and instantly see the athleticism that Yeldon is missing. He looks like a potential platoon guy who is the consistent, steady runner to a more flashy Jerick McKinnon, Shane Vereen type. There is the potential that Yeldon was nicked up or played at an improper weight and a team will get a steal but I suspect the freshman Yeldon was simply a mirage and whoever drafts him will get a solid, unspectacular starter. Early 3rd round 4/8/15.
  4. Mike Davis South Carolina 5’9 1/8 217 Jr. He had a better 2013 than 2014 as he never seemed full healthy or in shape this past year. It affected his overall productivity (201 yd decline YOY) as well as his efficiency (5.83 to 4.93 ypc). That being said I think he could become one of the steals of this year’s draft as the 2015 RB Class is insanely deep, he doesn’t have great athleticism (read: poor Combine performance) and is coming off a bad season. The talent is there though and true scouts will see it as he adds yards on inside runs and his 2013 tape showed underrated speed in the open field. Watch his 2013 Georgia tape and you’ll think he’s a 2nd round back, watch some of his 2014 tape and you’ll think he’s a free agent. He’s a wild card for sure but I see a low end starter or high end #2 RB for an NFL team that can see the big picture. 3rd round as one of the sleepers in this draft 4/5/15.
  5. David Cobb Minnesota 5’10 7/8 229 Sr. A mixed bag performance at the Combine with a terrible 40 (4.81) but elite explosion drills (’38 vertical and 10’1 broad jump). Cobb is a mix of Marion Barber and Ray Rice as he’s a thickly built, powerful back with very good quickness but poor long speed. His tape is pretty fun to watch after putting on the small backs like Gordon, Abdullah, Johnson and Coleman as he lowers his shoulder and excels at yards after contact. His style should make him a perfect candidate for a time share situation with a smaller, more athletic back and his overall talent level makes this the likely scenario for him as he isn’t all that talented as seen by his 5.17 and 5.07 ypc the past two years and his terrible 40 time of 4.81. There should be a place for him though as a quality #2 RB for some team as their “thunder” to a more talented “lightning.” Late 3rd round 4/8/15.
  6. Terrence Magee LSU 5’8 213 Sr. He faced intense competition during his time at LSU with Jeremy Hill, Leonard Foursette, Kenny Hilliard and Alfred Blue yet at times Magee looked like the best back for them. He has great intensity and aggressiveness to his running style as well as a good burst to his small, compact frame which makes me think he will settle in as a quality #2 RB for someone. I really like him and think he’s a sleeper. 4th round 4/5/15.
  7. Jeremy Langford Michigan State 5’11 5/8 208 Sr. He had the best 40 of any of the 36 RBs at the Combine (4.42) which at 208 lbs is impressive as most times this low are made by sub 200 lb backs. He began his career at CB in 2011 before being switched to RB in 2012. His ypc have been bad to abysmal throughout his career (2.56, 4.87, 5.51) which is an even bigger red flag considering he played in the Big Ten, other RBs like Coleman, Abdullah and Gordon faced the same defenses regularly with much better success, and Langford played with a very competent QB his final two seasons. He’s a work horse runner with 292 and 276 carries the past two seasons but his game tape shows nothing special. I don’t see a 4.4 runner on film and his stats continue the theme of him being “just another guy.” He has elite measurables and a very good frame so a team that is spreadsheet oriented will grade him pretty high but I’m not a fan. He “adds yards” so he’s ahead of the 7th round plodder types (Malcolm Brown, Matt Jones, etc.) but I think he’s severely overhyped. Early 5th round 4/5/15.
  8. David Johnson Northern Iowa 6’0 5/8 224 Sr. He had one of the best performances of any RB at the Combine which is important since he’s coming from Northern Iowa. He has elite size/speed and will be a well liked by the one cut teams. He is a redshirt senior so he’s an older prospect and might not contribute immediately due to the huge upgrade in talent. He also was used a ton as he had +30 receptions 4 straight seasons and +6,000 total yards for his career so he is an older prospect AND has a lot of tread on the tires, so assume with him that there won’t be a second contract. I really don’t know what to make of him as he is tall, runs with terrible pad level and his game film looks more like a wide receiver’s than a running back’s (he was a WR in HS). Interestingly enough the one guy he does remind me of is the guy he could be playing next to in 2015, Darren McFadden. I’m intrigued by Johnson as a mid round, flier type due to his elite measurables but I am clearly lower on him than most due to how raw he looks. Early 5th round 4/5/15.
  9. Cameron Artis-Payne Auburn 5’9 ¾ 212 Sr. He was a JUCO kid in 2011-2012. He is a bit of a one year wonder as he was a JUCO kid in 2011-2012 and then only had 610 yards in 2013 before blowing up for 1608 in 2014. His ypc (5.31) is rather poor especially considering the Auburn system has given inflated numbers to many other guys the past few years (Tre Mason, Corey Grant, Nick Marshall). He has good shiftiness and was impressive numbers wise at the Combine but he shows no power when he runs and I just don’t see any potential of him ever becoming a starter. His ceiling looks like an above average change of pace type back. 5th round 4/5/15.
  10. Kenny Hilliard RB LSU Early 6th round
  11. Karlos Williams RB FSU 6’0 ¾ 230 Jr. 6th round
  12. Trey Williams RB Texas A&M Late 6th round
  13. Marlin Lane RB Tennessee 7th round
  14. Javorius Allen USC 6’0 5/8 221 Jr. He had a mediocre Combine, he never had a +6.0 ypc season despite playing against some mediocre competition at times in the Pac-12 and I hated his game tape as he showed no burst, often ran backwards resulting in negative runs and looked like a mediocre collegiate back who will bounce around rosters as a #3 RB at best. 7th round and highly overrated 4/5/15.
  15. Malcolm Brown RB Texas 7th round
  16. Matt Jones RB Florida Priority Free Agent
  17. Josh Robinson RB Mississippi St. Priority Free Agent
  18. Dee Hart RB Colorado St. Free Agent
  19. Michael Dyer RB Louisville Free Agent
  20. Corey Grant RB Auburn Free Agent
  21. John Crockett RB North Dakota St. Camp Invite
  22. Dominique Brown RB Louisville Camp Invite
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