For years us fantasy football players have known that running backs are basically disposal at the NFL level. There are very few RB’s that are true difference makers that can make an impact in any style of offense. You see, RB’s are very similar creatures. They are strong, fast, elusive and powerful. Even Trent Richardson is in the top 1% of athletes in the world. But there are certain characteristics that set certain RB’s apart.
For starters, the best runners will be between 5’9 and 5’11” tall and weigh between 210-225 lbs. Then they need to be fast not just in straight ahead speed but also laterally. This helps them not just run past defenders but also around them. After these basic skills it comes down to leg drive, hip swirl and balance. The RB’s who make it at the NFL have these skills and also fit into the systems in which they play for. Let’s take a look at this years crop of young RB’s and see which ones fit into which NFL system.
Top 5 In Need
1) San Diego Chargers – The Chargers lost Ryan Mathews to free agency and only have the undersized Danny Woodhead, who is coming off ACL surgery and the even smaller Branden Oliver. Donald Brown proved last year that he is pedestrian away from the Colts and Andrew Luck. This team must draft a difference maker at the RB position.
3) Oakland Raiders – Is there really a position that the Raiders don’t need? I like Latavius Murray but he is also very oversized and not incredibly fast. The Trent Richardson signing is so funny that I crapped my pants during my laugh attack.
4) New York Jets – The Jets added a ton of WR help over the past two seasons but have not been able to find a steady runner to guide the offense. There is no doubt that they will draft at least one runner in this class.
5) New England Patriots – The Pats let both Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley go free this offseason. LeGarrette Blount will probably be back but he is not capable of being the full time lead back. The Pats will use a late round selection to draft a pass catching RB to replace Vereen. That RB will immediately have a ton of fantasy value.
Other In Need
Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Arizona Cardinals, St. Louis Rams, Cleveland Browns & Minnesota Vikings.
Before we see what they can do on the field it is important to understand just what physical and mental skills these players are working with. For RB’s we are looking for a few attributes above all else. First, we need someone with proper height and weight. As I mentioned above, the prototype RB is between 5’9” and 5’11” tall and between 210-225 lbs. We will also check out how these players did in the 40 yard dash, shuttle run and cone drill.
Let’s take a look at the top RB performers from the 2015 NFL Scouting Combine:
|Jeremy Langford||RB||Michigan State||4.42|
|Karlos Williams||RB||Florida State||4.48|
|Trey Williams||RB||Texas A&M||4.49|
|David Johnson||RB||Northern Iowa||4.50|
|Jay Ajayi||RB||Boise State||4.57|
|Mike Davis||RB||South Carolina||4.61|
3 CONE DRILL
|David Johnson||RB||Northern Iowa||6.82|
|Trey Williams||RB||Texas A&M||6.84|
|Mike Davis||RB||South Carolina||7.00|
|Zach Zenner||RB||South Dakota State||7.08|
|Gus Johnson||RB||Stephen F. Austin||7.09|
|Jay Ajayi||RB||Boise State||7.10|
|John Crockett||RB||North Dakota State||7.15|
|Gus Johnson||RB||Stephen F. Austin||26|
|David Johnson||RB||Northern Iowa||25|
|Zach Zenner||RB||South Dakota State||25|
|Josh Robinson||RB||Mississippi State||21|
1. Tevin Coleman, Indiana, 5’11”, 208 lbs – It may come as a shock to some but Coleman is the best running back in this draft. Not only does he have the perfect blend of size and speed but he’s also a game-changing runner that plays hungry. He would fit real well in a one cut type of system as he’s got that exceptional lateral quickness and start-stop ability that plays well at the next level. He hurt his foot in December and hasn’t been able to participate in any workouts since so that is definitely a little concerning. Assuming he runs in the low 4.5’s or better, he will be the RB to beat on my board in 2015.
Coleman did not catch a lot of passes while at Indiana. Part of this was a function of the offense but they also didn’t seem to trust him much after a couple early season losses on screens. He’ll have a lot to prove both catching the football and in pass protection. He is scheduled to run on April 15th and that will tell NFL teams everything they need to make a final determination on this immense talent.
2. Duke Johnson, Miami, 5’9”, 207 lbs – He is another RB who fits better in a one cut or zone blocking system. Duke Johnson is smaller than ideal NFL RB’s but he plays much bigger. I was extremely impressed with his vision and patience in the film that I have seen on him. Most college runners are just sprinters who simply run into the hole and hope for the best. Johnson cuts on a dime and is able to start and stop rapidly. Although undersized, Johnson doesn’t shy away from contact. He will likely need to bulk up to be able to endure a full complement of carries at the next level.
Duke Johnson has had a variety of small injuries that has kept him out of games the past two seasons. He has to get tougher if he is to make it through a full NFL season. Like most college RB’s, Johnson is lacking at pass protection. He is both unable and sometimes unwilling to just stay in and block in obvious passing situations. I’d be interested to see how he would do in a power running system. Although I wouldn’t be as confident in him, I believe that he’s got that natural RB instinct to make him successful no matter where he runs.
3. Melvin Gordon, III, Wisconsin, 6’0”, 215 lbs – There is no denying what Gordon did at Wisconsin over the past four years. He finished 2014 with the second most rushing yards ever with 2,587 yards. Gordon was a man amongst boys in college, often running around and through would be defenders. He has good enough hands though that wasn’t a focal point of the offense at Wisconsin.
Gordon is too upright of a runner for my taste. He presents a big target and seems ripe for having ball security issues at the next level. He benefitted from an outstanding offensive line at Wisconsin which often shielded him from contact. When you watch him run you realize that he is not a decisive runner whatsoever. Gordon was held to zero or negative yards on almost 20% of his carries which is horrifying. He has the skills to be a great running back but it is still unclear whether or not he’ll be willing and able to make the adjustments to the NFL. Football has been real easy for Melvin Gordon for a real long time.
4. Todd Gurley, Georgia, 6’1”, 222 lbs – There are some that believe Gurley is the most talented player in this entire draft class. As impressive as he is, I do not believe that to be true. Gurley ran behind a tremendous offensive line at Georgia and was actually outproduced by his replacement Nick Chubb. Gurley is an imposing runner that has extreme power that generates from his lower body. He stays balanced upon contact very well and isn’t slowed by arm tackles. He’s got above average hands out of the backfield and transfers the ball quite well upon reception.
The obvious problem with Todd Gurley is the torn ACL he suffered late last season. He was well on his way to being the first RB drafted in the first round since 2012 before the injury. But he really was a man amongst boys at the college level. Being a bigger back, Gurley presents a large target for would be tacklers. I don’t find him particularly fast either. My estimation would be a mid 4.5’s for the 40 yard dash. He is an inexperienced pass protector as well which is another reason to slow the hype here on Gurley.
5. Thomas Rawls, Central Michigan, 5’9”, 215 lbs – You are not going to hear much about Rawls because he is basically toxic to media and those player personnel folks that put a lot of trust in character and makeup. Rawls originally attended the University of Michigan where he played two years before transferring to Central Michigan. He was arrested on three counts of felony theft last season which led to a two game suspension. He won’t be drafted in the early rounds but this kid can seriously play. I had honestly not seen him play before watching some tape but I am quite impressed. He is very powerful and patient runner that has deceptive speed. He ran a 4.42 40-yard dash at his pro day which was much better than the 4.65 he ran at the combine. Rawls makes beautiful cuts and seems to have an edge about him that makes him dangerous. He reminds me a lot of Marshawn Lynch.
The story of him stealing the 62 year old lady’s purse and trying to steal her identity is absolutely awful. He obviously has some personality issues and thus won’t be high on any teams wish list. But there is some serious talent here as well. Other negatives in his game include taking on too much contact which will really hurt him at the NFL level. He also tends to put the ball on the ground. He fumbled three times in his brief time at Michigan and then another five times at Central Michigan. Rawls will have to land in the right atmosphere (Patriots?) to have any significant fantasy impact right away.
6. Jay Ajayi, Boise State, 6’0”, 221 lbs – It is really hard not to like Jay Ajayi’s game. The kid is a pleasure to watch run as there is almost an art to his runs. He is the type of player that can shatter linebacker’s knees in the open field with his fluid moves and speed. He is perfectly equipped for the modern NFL as he’s an exceptional pass catcher out of the backfield. Ajayi is the only RB in subdivision history to have over 1800 yards rushing and 500 yards receiving in a single season. He is rapidly rising up the boards and could wind up being a second round pick this May.
Ajayi has some character issues as well. He was arrested back in 2011 for stealing sweatpants from a local department store. His vision is below average and has a tendency to run into contact. His 11 fumbles over his last 597 carries is a big concern as well.
7. T.J. Yeldon, Alabama, 6’1”, 226 lbs – Grading Alabama runningbacks is a difficult task. The offensive lines they have create so much running room that everybody who touches the ball looks impressive. But in a vacuum I like what I see in Yeldon. He moves real well laterally for a bigger type RB and is quick with redirection. He is a big game player who doesn’t like to come out of the game. His pass catching is average though he (like most Alabama RB’s) wasn’t used much in that capacity.
Yeldon just doesn’t seem as forceful as previous Alabama RB’s have been. He presents quite a large target and yet doesn’t punish would be tacklers the way that he should. Although he is deceptively quick, he isn’t much of a perimeter threat. I don’t think he becomes a regular starter at the NFL level though he will have a longer than average career as a backup.
8. Cameron Artis-Payne, Auburn, 5’10”, 212 lbs – There is some real good tape out there on Artis-Payne. He is a raw talent who doesn’t have much experience at the RB position. He demonstrates nice hip wiggle and gets square to head up field very quickly. He is somewhat of an unknown who did run behind a good line at Auburn. He is the kind of player that will impress the coaching staff during training camp and work his way up the depth chart. Be aware of him wherever he winds up this spring.
9. Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska, 5’9”, 205 lbs – Others like Abdullah much more than I do. He is too small and weak to be a feature back at the NFL level. The speed is great and he is able to cut and turn on a dime. Coaches absolutely love him as he is very mature and professional about his work. Abdullah has outstanding speed and big run ability. If he performed better catching the football I would say that he could carve out a role as a third down back at the next level. Instead, I think his calling will be as a return man long term.
10. David Johnson, Northern Iowa, 6’1”, 224 lbs – Fast rising RB that is a very impressive athlete. He runs with nice speed and exceptional power. Despite his size he gets low to take on contact. You have to love his pass catching ability as well as he legitimately could be a WR prospect at the next level. The problem with Johnson is that he doesn’t have multiple gears. If the hole is open he can deliver but it takes him awhile to stop and start again. Some reports say that his pass protection needs improvement as well.
Other RB’s Of Note
Jeremy Langford, Michigan State, 6’0”, 208 lbs – Langford is a very raw RB who played WR & CB while at Michigan State.
John Crockett, North Dakota State, 6’0”, 217 lbs – Crockett has been a winner everywhere he has been.
Josh Robinson, Mississippi State, 5’8”, 217 lbs – I love this kids backstory. He is an inspiring young man with a high level tenacity.
David Cobb, Minnesota, 5’11”, 229 lbs – Very average RB who just doesn’t jump off the page but does nothing wrong either.