In last year's draft, Todd Gurley broke through and became the first top-10 pick at the running back position in a few seasons. In the 2016 NFL Draft, Ezekiel Elliott of Ohio State should get a streak going.
Elliott's game isn't flawless, but it's close. He can use speed. He has power. There's enough shiftiness to his game. He's sudden in his movement. Here's the thing about Elliott: Some running backs can only utilize one or two of those skills at a time. Elliott combines them all routinely. Oh, and he's the draft's best pass blocker and is useful as a pass catcher. Can I also mention that he rarely fumbles, landed on the Big Ten's All-Academic team and averaged seven yards per carry for Ohio State? If you want to find a small quibble in Elliott's game, it's that he will sometimes take a slow first move before all of those skills take over. In the NFL, one slow or false step can hurt a running back, but otherwise he's a running back prospect with no issues on the field.
Derrick Henry of Alabama is a Heisman Trophy-winning, freaky talent. Most running backs don't have Henry's combination of size and speed. If defenders don't use proper technique on tackles, he has the strength push them away. If he gets to the second level, he has the speed to break deep runs. Henry excels when he has to make one cut and move. Where he lacks is change of direction. Because he's so big, he seems to labor a little more to wiggle, but in college his strength made that a non-issue. He is also more of a buildup speed runner, but once he hits second gear, look out. Surprisingly, he's good at hitting a small crease in the blocking. From there his power can take over and allows him to squirt out the other side for a good gain.
Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams will forever be linked as members of the 2016 class who split carries at Arkansas. Teams have to hope they're not simply products of a good blocking and run-calling scheme with the Razorbacks. Collins is a graceful runner who can wiggle around the trash and find an open hole. He initiates contact, and more often than not came out on the winning side – he ran for 1,000 or more yards three straight years even though he started just a season.
Williams is a classic running back prospect. He runs with good power and vision and gets up to speed quickly. His deep speed isn't elite, but it's good enough. As a blocker he's not far behind Elliott. He's pushed down in the rankings mostly because of a foot injury that slowed his senior season at Arkansas.
Kenneth Dixon of Louisiana Tech is another do-everything runner. If a team is looking for this year's version of David Johnson, Dixon is the best bet. He's a natural receiver and is advanced as a route runner for the position. Dixon was wildly productive at Tech, with 4,480 rushing yards and 87 total touchdowns. He's adept at gaining short yardage, but has just enough speed to get to the outside and break big runs.
Paul Perkins of UCLA may not have imposing size, but not many rushers in this class possess his balance. Perkins can make defenders miss with his shiftiness and light contact doesn't redirect him. Perkins doesn't quite have LeSean McCoy's burst, but they're similar in style.
The best receiving back in this year's class may be C.J. Prosise of Notre Dame. He's a former wide receiver, so his route running is crisper than most backs and his hands are good. Prosise has good size for a back and surprising speed. If he can run a little lower and protect the ball better, some team could get a real steal in the third round. Devontae Booker of Utah isn't far behind him as a receiver. He had 79 receptions in two seasons at Utah to go along with 2,773 yards rushing. Booker runs with solid technique, staying low through traffic to create positive yards.
This class also features some solid power options like Jordan Howard of Indiana and Devon Johnson of Marshall. Howard may not make a lot of people miss, but he can power through arm tackles.
Day-Three Gem: Kenyan Drake of Alabama got buried behind several top-flight backs with the Crimson Tide, but he has a nice combination of size and speed. His issues in college were ball security and injuries. If he can get those worked out, a team could get a big-time contributor in the NFL.
Overall position grade: C+
After Elliott and Henry, there's not a lot to really get excited about at running back in this year's draft. It seems like we're in a waiting pattern for 2017 when Leonard Fournette of LSU and Dalvin Cook of Florida State will be eligible. This group is heavy on solid players who will need to be in the right situations to excel. Because of that, they could come off the board in any order after the top two.
|1. Ezekiel Elliott, 5'11 3/4, 225 pounds, RB, Ohio State|
|2. Derrick Henry, 6’2 5/8, 247 pounds, RB, Alabama|
|3. Alex Collins, 5’10, 217 pounds, RB, Arkansas|
|4. Paul Perkins, 5’10 3/8, 208 pounds, RB, UCLA|
|5. Kenneth Dixon, 5’10, 215 pounds, RB, Louisiana Tech|
|6. Jonathan Williams, 5'10 3/4, 220 pounds, RB, Arkansas|
|7. Devontae Booker, 5’11, 212 pounds, RB, Utah|
|8. C.J. Prosise, 6’0 1/2, 220 pounds, RB, Notre Dame|
|9. Jordan Howard, 6’1, 230 pounds, RB, Indiana|
|10. Kenyan Drake, 6’1, 210 pounds, RB, Alabama|
|11. Keith Marshall, 5’11, 219 pounds, RB, Georgia|
|12. Keenan Reynolds, 5’11, 205 pounds, RB, Navy|
|13. Tyler Ervin, 5’10, 192 pounds, RB, San Jose State|
|14. Kelvin Taylor, 5’10 1/8, 207 pounds, RB, Florida|
|15. Josh Ferguson, 5’10, 185 pounds, RB, Illinois|
|16. Peyton Barber, 5’11, 225 pounds, RB, Auburn|
|17. Devon Johnson, 6’1, 244 pounds, RB, Marshall|
|18. Marshaun Coprich, 5’8, 207 pounds, RB, Illinois State|
|19. Aaron Green, 5’11, 206 pounds, RB, TCU|
|20. Daniel Lasco, 6’0 1/8, 209 pounds, RB, California|
|21. Jordan Canzeri, 5’9, 192 pounds, RB, Iowa|
|22. Tre Madden, 6’1, 225 pounds, RB, Southern California|
|23. Dwayne Washington, 6’1, 221 pounds, RB, Washington|
|24. Wendell Smallwood, 5’11, 201 pounds, RB, West Virginia|