Positional Overviews  

 

2015 NFL Draft: The skinny on this year's running backs

Print

Positional overviews: QBs | RBs | Interior DLs


We continue our quick-hit position overviews for the 2015 NFL Draft with running back -- you know, the position that has lost luster in the draft, but not on the field on Sundays.

No running back has been taken in the first round in either of the past two drafts; that's the first time that has happened in draft history. But that "streak" should come to an end this year, with Georgia's Todd Gurley and Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon expected to be first-round selections.

Top five running backs in 2015 NFL Draft
Rk Player School Grade*
1 Todd Gurley Georgia 6.3
Gurley has the talent to be a top-five NFL running back, but the ACL tear clouds the short-term picture. More ...
2 Melvin Gordon Wisconsin 6.24
Angular, talented open-field runner who combines outstanding burst with a long stride to gain separation and hit the home run. More ...
3 Tevin Coleman Indiana 5.86
His violent running style is a joy to watch, but might have to be tempered to extend his career. More ...
4 Jay Ajayi Boise State 5.79
Ajayi has the ability to play all three downs while mashing in short yardage and near the goal line. More ...
5 T.J. Yeldon Alabama 5.78
Yeldon is a versatile, rotational back with the ability to step in and step up. More ...
* According to NFL Media draft analyst Lance Zierlein
» Draft Tracker: All running back prospects

In addition, as many as six more backs conceivably could go by the end of the second round. And there are probably eight or so more who will go in the middle rounds. In short, this is a deep draft class for running backs. That sets up some interesting thought processes for a few teams: Do they try to grab a back early, or roll the dice and wait a round or two?

Here's a quick look at running backs in this draft.

Teams with greatest need (listed in draft order): Jacksonville Jaguars (first-round selection: Third), Oakland Raiders (fourth), San Diego Chargers (17th), Arizona Cardinals (24th), Baltimore Ravens (26th), Dallas Cowboys (27th) and Indianapolis Colts (29th).

Mike Mayock's top 5 at the position: 1. Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon; 2. Georgia's Todd Gurley; 3. Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah; 4. Miami's Duke Johnson; 5. Indiana's Tevin Coleman.

Biggest upside: Georgia's Todd Gurley. He suffered a torn ACL in late November and still is seen as a lock to go in the first round. That should say it all about his perceived abilities. He has good size (6-foot-1, 222 pounds) and excellent speed and agility; he was a nationally ranked hurdler in high school. In addition to his speed, he runs with power -- violence, even. He is able to both turn the corner and run through contact. Gurley also is a good receiver with soft hands. In short, he has it all. He might not be 100 percent on his first day of camp, but assuming he does return to full health, he has All-Pro talent, not just Pro Bowl talent.

Most underrated: South Carolina's Mike Davis. Davis went into the 2014 season highly hyped. But he had a somewhat disappointing year (982 yards), and it's almost as if he is an afterthought now. At his best, he is both physical and fast, and he's also a good receiver and pass protector. In addition, he is a north-south runner who doesn't waste time. He didn't seem to be in peak condition in 2014, and that is a concern. Still, there is a definite upside, and he has the skill set to be an NFL starter -- and one who very easily could be available for the taking in the middle rounds.

Most overrated: Alabama's T.J. Yeldon. He was a two-time 1,000-yard rusher for the Tide (though not in 2014) and has good size (6-1, 226). Still, it's not hard to wonder if, as with some other recent Alabama alums, he already is maxed out. Plus, he lacks top-end speed, isn't as physical as you'd think for a guy of his size, is an upright runner and hasn't shown much as a pass protector. There are some fumbling concerns, too. At the same time, he has good quickness for a guy who weighs almost 230 pounds, moves well laterally and is a solid receiver.

Biggest sleeper: Michigan State's Jeremy Langford. Lost in all the hoopla surrounding Big Ten brethren Gordon, Coleman and Abdullah during the regular season and Ohio State's Ezekiel Elliott in the postseason is that Langford quietly put together a second consecutive season with 1,400-plus yards. He rushed for a combined 2,944 yards and 40 TDs in 2013 and 2014. His speed was supposed to be a concern -- then he busted a 4.48 clocking in the 40 at the NFL Scouting Combine. Langford (6-0, 208) played some wide receiver (and corner, too) at Michigan State, and was an effective receiver out of the backfield in 2013. At the least, he could be an interesting third-down back.

Better pro than college player: Florida State's Karlos Williams. Williams was a national top-10 prospect as a safety in the 2011 recruiting class and played that position in his two first seasons with the Seminoles. But he seemed to lack the necessary instincts, so he was moved to tailback early in the 2013 season. Williams (6-1, 230) was a backup to Devonta Freeman in 2013 and began 2014 as the starter before losing his job late in the season. He has good speed (4.48 in the 40 at the combine) and runs hard; he also can catch and is an effective blocker. His all-around skills might actually pay off more at the next level than those did in college. He also can play special teams, and showed good return ability early in his career.

Top small-school prospect: Northern Iowa's David Johnson. Johnson was a three-year starter for the FCS-level Panthers after being a part-time starter as a redshirt freshman in 2011. Johnson (6-1, 224) has a nice size/speed combo (4.5 in the 40) and ran for 4,687 yards and 49 TDs in his career. He also is a good receiver, finishing with 141 receptions and 14 TDs. He could go in the second round and seems likely to be off the board by the end of the third round. Keep an eye on Southern Illinois' Malcolm Agnew, who spent his first two seasons at Oregon State; he is another FCS player who is a solid prospect.

First-round grades: Gurley and Gordon.

Mike Huguenin can be reached at mike.huguenin@nfl.com. You also can follow him on Twitter @MikeHuguenin.

Print

Headlines

The previous element was an advertisement.

NFL Shop