In terms of the NFL Draft, running back is one of the hardest to project where a player is going to go in the draft. With running backs proving to be one of the most disposable positions in football, it is now very rare for them to go in the first round unless they are Adrian Peterson type talents. Teams also look for players that fit different styles of play. Like last year, two of the top backs in Eddie Lacy and Giovani Bernard have completely different playing styles. However, both played huge roles in their teams making the playoffs as they added dimensions their teams were lacking previously.
1. Bishop Sankey, Washington: For today’s pass centered NFL, Sankey seems to have almost all of the traits one could ask for out of a running back. At 5’9 209 pounds, he has the build to get 15 to 20 touches a game, but is also an above average receiver and a willing blocker. Along with that, Sankey also very good vision in terms of reading his blocks and can accelerate when he hits the hole. His role will depend on who drafts him, but I could easily see Sankey having an immediate impact similar to what Giovani Bernard had on the Bengals this past season
2. Carlos Hyde, Ohio State: Like it was mentioned earlier, running back selections more than other skill positions could be determined based on what type of sets they run. If you’re a team that wants to play a physical, run the ball 30 plus times type of game, Hyde is the running back for you. At 6’0 230 pounds, Hyde has the size to run down hill, but has deceptive quickness to get him into the second level of the defense. He is also the type of running back that gets better as the game goes on as his game this past year against Northwestern would attest to. The team drafting Hyde is one probably searching for their feature back. So while he’s not the top running back on my board, there is a very good chance he could end up with the offensive rookie of the year title.
3. Lache Seastrunk, Baylor: A highly heralded recruit coming out of high school, Seastrunk started off at Oregon where he didn’t play, sat out a year for transferring and then played for Baylor in 2012 and 2013. During those two years, it was tough to find a running back who was more efficient as in that span he averaged a whopping 7.6 yards a carry. At 5’9 201 pounds, Seastrunk runs low to the ground and has the strength to break through arm tackles but also the elusiveness to make defenders miss. On top of that, he plays faster than his 40 times would indicate and with only two years and 289 collegiate carries has less wear and tear than many of the other top backs in the class.
In terms of negatives, Seastrunk at times can be impatient trying to break the big play instead of what is given to him. Many would also point to the Baylor offense for inflating his production as on many of his runs he had huge holes to run through. One flaw that could be worked on with him is his receiving ability. In his two years combined, he only recorded nine receptions. It seems every year there at least a few “I just like them” running backs that I am higher on than the general consensus. In this case, Seastrunk is one of those players. To me, Seastrunk has many traits similar to Tre Mason minus the pedigree but most importantly, took less wear and tear through his collegiate career. If he goes to a team that implements a zone blocking scheme, he could be making a much larger immediate impact than many would have thought.
4. Tre Mason, Auburn: Mason burst onto the national scene this past year rushing for over 1,800 yards and 23 touchdowns. Checking in at 5’8 207 pounds, Mason runs bigger than his size indicates as he is willing to push the pile. One thing I really like out of Mason is how he is patient reading his blocks but when he finds his hole, hits it hard and at top speed. Despite his stature, Mason also has the ability to handle big time workloads carrying the ball a ridiculous 46 times against Missouri in the SEC Championship and 34 times against Florida State in the National Championship.
Like many of the running backs in this class, Mason was not really used as a receiver so he will need to improve those skills at the next level. Also like many others, some will say he benefitted from the unique Auburn offense even though he played against several extremely talented defenses in the SEC. The last two seasons, Mason fumbled the ball eight times but that is something that could be fixed at the next level. Overall, I really like Mason’s abilities and his overall skill-set, but his size and running style make me worry about how durable he could be. For his sake, it might be best off if he started his career as a change of pace back getting five to ten touches a game before a team eventually looks to him as a feature back.
5. Devonta Freeman, Florida State: With all the talk that surrounds skill position players around the draft, I’m very surprised Freeman hasn’t received more hype. At 5’8 206 pounds, he has a compact build and for his size runs with more power than you would expect. On top of that , Freeman has very good vision with the ability to create something out of nothing. He is an above average receiver with experience in pass protection that also proved to be highly durable.
While some may note that Freeman wasn’t that productive until this past year, it is worth noting that the Florida State backfield was loaded with talent these past few years. That could also benefit Freeman long term as that means he has less wear and tear on his body entering the league. While his 4.58 time in the 40 was disappointing, it is evident that Freeman plays much faster than that. Every year, there is a running back who has the potential to be a better pro than he was in college. This year that guy is Freeman and he could prove to be an excellent value sometime in day two or early in day three.
6. Jeremy Hill, LSU: At 6’1 233 pounds, Hill has great size and looks every bit the part as a power back at the next level. He’s nimble for a bigger back and unlike many in this class, has experience running in a pro style offense. On the other end of the spectrum, he doesn’t move the pile as much as you would think which could likely be a result of an upright running style. On top of that, Hill’s character will be under scrutiny as he had two arrests during his time at LSU. While I’m not as high on him as others, a team will see Hill for potential that he offers most likely selecting him sometime on the second day of the draft.
7. Ka’Deem Carey, Arizona: For the past two seasons, no running back in college football was more prolific than Carey. In that span, he ran for over 3,800 yards while rushing for 42 touchdowns. One thing that you notice about Carey is that he almost always falls forward when finishing runs. He is a solid receiver who is able to create yards after the catch and is also willing to block. The main question I have with Carey at the next level is his potential durability. At 5’9 207 pounds, he has taken a lot of hits already due to the 850 “free touches” he had the past three years. As an upright runner, he also leaves himself exposed to direct hits. On top of that, Carey has also had some off the field issues which along with possible durability questions could scare some teams away. Despite the negatives, Carey has a lot of positive traits that will make a team very happy. His competitiveness is evident in his running style and that could only grow depending on his experience throughout the draft. If the potential durability issues do not arise, there is a good chance Carey becomes one of the more productive backs in this class.
8. Dri Archer, Kent State: Every draft class has a guy without a position known as an “offensive weapon”. This year Archer is your guy. With 4.26 wheels, Archer has speed that only comes around once every five or six drafts. He has very good vision, is a more than adequate receiver, excellent creativity in the open field and has the potential to be an elite contributor on kick returns.
Standing at 5’8 173 pounds, Archer doesn’t run with much power and can go down easily with contact. Despite being one of my “I just like them” running backs of this class, it is tough to rank him much higher in terms of this draft class. A lot of how his career plays out will be determined by who selects him and the creativity of the coaching staff in ways they could incorporate him. That’s very important to evaluate as some teams such as the Saints or Eagles excel in this regard but other teams attempt to do this and fail (see the first few years of Dexter McCluster and Tavon Austin last year). Fortunately for these teams, Archer won’t come at the price tag of those players mentioned and for that reason his rare talents that can’t be taught are well worth the risk.
9. Isaiah Crowell, Alabama State: In terms of overall talent, Crowell could be the best back in this class. The SEC Freshman of the Year at Georgia in 2011, Crowell did not play another down for the Bulldogs after that. Before the 2012 season, Crowell was arrested on three weapons charges, two of which were felonies and he also failed a drug test during his time at Georgia. After that, he transferred to Alabama State where he had two very productive seasons to end his college career. Checking in at 5’11 224 pounds, Crowell has good vision, runs hard and show nice burst when bouncing runs outside. On top of that, he shows a lot of power in his running style
The talent is all there for Crowell but it all comes down to his character (which is the only reason he’s ranked this low) and if a team is convinced he is changed in his ways. Just in the past few years, teams have done this with running backs such as Christine Michael, Bryce Brown and LeGarrette Blount. While Michael hasn’t really gotten his chance, Brown and Blount of both shown flashes of excellence and why teams took a chance on them. The recent success of those players could make a team more willing to take a chance on Crowell and with the talent he possesses, the risk could very well be worth the reward.
10. Andre Williams, Boston College: Williams had one of the better rushing seasons in college football history last year running for 2,177 yards. He has the vision to find creases and also runs with urgency. On top of that, He has the ability to outrace defenders to the end zone and can run through contact. Playing all four years, Williams is also a smarter back and it shows in his abilities in pass protection and blitz pickups. As a whole, he isn’t a very creative runner in terms of making defenders miss but his instincts make up for that. Williams might be the closest this class has to a finished product at running back.
2014 class grade: B