In 2012 we saw three running backs drafted in the first round. No running backs were selected in the first round in 2013, but five running backs were selected in the second round. Historically, there is value in the running back position later in the draft. In 2012, Alfred Morris went from an unheralded sixth- round selection to a member of the 1,000 yard rushing club. Eddie Lacy rushed for 1,178 yards on 284 carries in the 2013 season. The Packers have been looking for a workhorse tailback and it seems they have found one in Lacy. Most franchises have gone away from having just one main running back and have evolved into running a tailback by committee approach. There are a handful of backs in this year's class who can step in and become a dynamic playmaker on day one.
1) Ka'Deem Carey (Arizona): Speed and acceleration are good attributes to have as a runner but sometimes the ability to break through tackles is a skill needed to be a top running back in the NFL. Carey is a power back who won't go down at first contact and a runner who continues to drive his legs and pick up extra yards. At 5'9” and 207 pounds, Carey is of compact stature and has a low center of gravity which allows him to bounce off tacklers.
Carey was the focal point of the Arizona offense for a few seasons. He is an experienced runner who should be able to step up and be the main back for an NFL team rushing attack. He had 743 career rushing attempts for 4,239 rushing yards, an impressive average of 5.7 YPC for his college career. Carey also earned 48 rushing touchdowns and 210 first downs.
A threat out of the backfield, Carey has 77 career receptions for 679 yards and four touchdowns. While he wasn't asked to run a number of complex route combinations, he routinely made himself open and in the line of sight for his quarterback on checkdowns.
He averaged a touchdown once every 16.3 carries. He recorded a touchdown or a first down 34 percent of the time he touched the football in college.
The value of a running back can hinge on how successful they are on third and short. Can they pick up the key yards needed in a short yardage situation to keep a drive alive? In third and short (three yards or less), Carey had 30 rushing attempts this past season, which resulted in a first or touchdown 25 times, a success rate of 83 percent.
While Carey is not going to be the next Reggie Bush, he can be a consistent tailback and one that protects the football and is able to run in between the tackles and move the chains. From a statistical and scouting standpoint, he compares to Matt Forte of the Chicago Bears.
2) Bishop Sankey (Washington): Sankey set the single-season rushing record with 1,870 yards in 2013 and the career rushing touchdown record of 37. For his career, he had 644 carries for 3,496 yards.
Sankey has been a consistent back over the past two seasons. He rushed for over 1,400 yards the past two seasons and took the lead spot on the Huskies' depth chart. He is more effective as an interior runner where he can utilize his vision and his ability to quickly make a jump cut and get upfield.
An impressive runner on third and short situations, he had 30 rushes resulting in a first down or touchdown in 33 attempts, giving him a 91 percent success rate this season.
Sankey is an effective pass catcher out of the backfield and does a nice job tracking the ball. He routinely ran a number of wheel routes down the sideline and finished his career with 67 receptions for 567 yards and one touchdown.
His lack of speed is apparent as he was caught from behind on a few occasions. While he is still able to gain separation, he won't be the homerun hitter like a Giovani Bernard. Sankey averaged a touchdown once every 18.9 touches.
He excelled this past season in a zone-read system, which allowed him to showcase his vision and patience as a runner and his ability to make one cut and get upfield quickly. For his career, Sankey averaged 5.4 yards-per-carry.
Overall, Sankey is a complete back who can handle pass protection duties and be a team's primary tailback if called upon next season. He doesn't possess off the chart abilities in any one specific category but he is a quality, well-rounded running back. From a statistical and scouting standpoint, he compares to Deuce McAllister.
3) Tre Mason (Auburn): This lightning-quick, elusive running back for the Auburn Tigers ran his way into the single game record books with his performance against Missouri in the SEC Championship game. Mason leaves Auburn after rushing for more than 1,000 yards during each of the previous two seasons. This past year he rushed for 1,816 yards and broke the single season Auburn rushing mark previously held by Bo Jackson.
Mason's slight frame and lack of bulk at only 5'9” and 205 lbs, means he isn't built for the traditional workhorse running back role in an NFL offense. Against Missouri, while he totaled 304 rushing yards, only 81 of those yards came from yards-after-contact, an average of just 1.8 yards per carry. He can cut, spin and jump-stop better than any running back in college, but the ability to break away from tackles and grind away key extra yards are what separate average from great running backs in the NFL.
He is perfectly suited to play in a zone-blocking scheme where he can utilize his vision and acceleration, hit the correct gap, and get to the next level. He will add additional value as a kick returner. During his career he has had 42 kickoff returns for 1107 yards, an average of 26.4 YPR, which ranks him second amongst this year's running back class.
During his career Mason had a total of 35 touchdowns and 155 first downs. He averaged a touchdown once every 16 times he touched the football and he was able to pick up a first down or touchdown 33 percent of the time he touched the football.
Mason was not used prominently as a receiver in Auburn's offense, he only had 19 receptions for 249 yards and one touchdown for his career. Auburn only attempted 285 pass attempts last season, the lowest in the SEC.
If he can prove to scouts that he is a capable receiver out of the backfield, look for Mason to have a rookie campaign similar to current Arizona Cardinal running back Andre Ellington.
4) Carlos Hyde (Ohio State): The big, bruising tailback for the Ohio State Buckeyes became the first running back in head coach Urban Meyer's career to rush for over a thousand yards in a single season. Hyde rushed for 1521 yards this past season. One of the more impressive feats is that he only had three rushing attempts go for negative yardage last season (-6).
Listed at 6'0” and 230 lbs, Hyde is an imposing tailback who won't be taken down by just one defender; it takes a pack of players to bring him down. Against Illinois, he showed the total package of power and speed, running over and running away from defenders. Hyde had 24 carries for 246 yards and four touchdowns. His ability to pick up extra yards-after-contact is what will help him succeed in the NFL, and against Illinois he had 133 yards-after-contact.
Hyde's ability to break tackles and push the pile are just a few of the attributes that scouts seem to be drooling over. There is no denying the fact that he can be a beast to bring down, he averaged 4.3yards-after-contact this season. Hyde isn't looking to bounce outside, he prefers to stay in between the tackles, which is evident in that over 60 percent of his runs this past season came in this area.
A three-down back, Hyde consistently stonewalled blitzing linebackers by not giving up ground. Hyde met each defender head on, stayed low, and was able to absorb the impact and stay upright.
There are some off the field concerns with Hyde; he was suspended three games in 2013 following an off- field incident. Being a bigger back, he will need to watch his weight. If his size increases, he might be converted to a fullback.
Hyde is the classic tailback. He averaged a touchdown once every 13.6 times he touched the football and 37 percent of his career touches resulted in either a first down or a touchdown.
While Hyde has a limited sample size to study, he had 14 third and short opportunities this past season, resulting in 11 touchdowns or first downs, a success rate of only 79 percent.
5) James White (Wisconsin): There are some prospects that are good because of their natural abilities such as Adrian Peterson or Darren Sproles. Yet for some running backs coming from college, it is the system in which they played that makes them seem better than they really are (such as every Alabama running back not named Eddie Lacy). Wisconsin has produced some of the nation's top offensive lineman prospects who have shown the ability to make running lanes the size of interstates.
I believe that James White, while surrounded by exceptional talent, has the skill set to be a difference-maker in the NFL. He has phenomenal speed and the ability to quickly get to the corner and up field into the second level.
He finished career ranked fourth all-time at Wisconsin with 4015 rushing yards on 643 carries, an average of 6.2 YPC, and 45 rushing touchdowns. White's smaller stature, at 5'9” and 204 pounds, allows him to hide behind his line making it difficult for defenders to find him.
A shifty runner, he is capable of making a couple of moves in the open field. He has a nice cutback move that he uses to his advantage to pick up extra yards. A quality pass catcher out of the backfield, White had 73 career receptions for 670 yards and three touchdowns. He is a weapon in open space with his speed. Watch for a team to build a few special screen plays to get him some early playing next season.
While White shared the tailback duties in college first with Montee Ball and last season with Melvin Gordon, White was a consistent producer himself starting and finishing his career rushing for over 1,000 yards. Scouts have doubts as to whether he can be a starting tailback or merely a third down back who also contributes on special teams.
He will need to work on his pass protection as his slight frame caused him to be a speed bump in some situations last season. White will also need to get stronger. On occasion, he failed to execute a stiff arm that would have allowed him to get outside and up field.
More than likely White will be a late round selection, but a team could be finding themselves a diamond in the rough. A third down back to start, White should see instant playing time on special teams as a returner.
This year's running back class was a difficult one to rank. Below is just a quick list of the next five guys that barely missed the top of my draft board.
6) Charles Sims (West Virginia): A bigger back at 6'0” and 214 pounds, Sims had an impressive 3,460 career rushing yards. A weapon out of the backfield, look for a team to motion him out to the slot and use him as a receiver in some situations. He led all running backs in this class with 203 receptions for his career.
7) Terrance West (Towson): Everyone seems to love a small school prospect. West isn't just a diamond in the rough, he is a phenomenal talent who dominates at the FCS level. In 37 career games, West had 802 rushing attempts for 4,854 yards, an average of 6.1 YPC, and 84 rushing touchdowns. To put those 84 rushing touchdowns into perspective, he scored once every 9.7 rushing attempts.
8) Andre Williams (Boston College): Until last year, Williams had never rushed for more than 584 rushing yards in a single season. Last year he led all FBS rushers with 2,177 rushing yards. Is he a one year wonder or has he just begun to scratch the surface of his potential?
9) Lache Seastrunk (Baylor): The NFL has morphed into a game of speed. Teams like Philadelphia, Denver, or New England would be a perfect landing spot for this quick-twitch athlete. With an average 7.6 YPC while he played in a spread offense, his speed and athletic abilities will translate to the NFL.
10) Dri Archer (Kent State): Whether he ends up as a third down back or a slot receiver, a team will find a position to use his agility and speed. While only 5'7” and 175 pounds, he averaged 7.2 YPC to go along with 99 receptions for 1.194 receiving yards. Archer scored a touchdown once every 12.1 touches
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