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Move The Sticks notes: Vikings among 9 most RB-needy teams

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  • By Daniel Jeremiah and Bucky Brooks
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Editor's note: NFL.com analysts and former NFL scouts Daniel Jeremiah and Bucky Brooks of the Move The Sticks Podcast share some of their college-scouting notes heading into Week 11 of the college football season, including:

» Why scouts are excited about the top CBs in college football.
» A small-school RB who draws a comp to Darren Sproles.
» Two must-see matchups for scouts on Saturday.

But first, we kick off this week's notebook with Jeremiah's take on the potential depth of the 2017 running back class, and the teams in greatest need of help at the position.

The 2017 NFL Draft has the potential to offer one of the best running back groups we've seen in the last decade. We discussed last week the value of the position and how it will (or won't) be affected by the success of Ezekiel Elliott. As we look ahead, here's are some teams that will be in the market for a marquee player at the position if they don't address the need in free agency:

» Browns: Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson are both solid players, but I expect there to be better options in this draft class.

» Colts: Frank Gore is playing great, but he's 33 years old and can't play forever.

» Eagles: Darren Sproles still has plenty left in the tank, but they need a reliable bell-cow runner to pair with him.

» Giants: They're currently last in the NFL rushing yards, averaging only 68.2 per game.

» Lions: Theo Riddick has been really good, but they could use a bigger back to complement him.

» Packers: Eddie Lacy is injured and is due to be a free agent this offseason. His weigh and lack of durability should force Green Bay into the running back market this spring.

» Panthers: Jonathan Stewart is getting older and they could find a quality back in the middle rounds.

» Redskins: A dynamic runner would take some pressure off Kirk Cousins.

» Vikings: I don't believe they can rely on an aging, injured Adrian Peterson. They are currently 31st in rushing yards per game.

These is a pretty deep list (9 teams), but when you consider how many teams use a committee at RB, there could be several more than 9 that spend a pick on a back this spring.

Waiting to pick a back could be an attractive strategy for some teams in 2017. Clubs might be able to get a traditional second-round talent in the fourth round because of the depth at the position.

Then again, there potentially will be some elite talents at RB that would be worth trading up to get in the first round. Stay tuned. -- Daniel Jeremiah

* * *

Taking a peek around the corners: There is a lot of excitement about the talent and athleticism that could be available in the 2017 cornerback class. Scouts are smitten with the size, length and agility of some of the underclassmen that could apply for early eligibility into the 2017 draft. An AFC personnel director recently told me that Alabama's Marlon Humphrey, Florida's Quincy Wilson and Washington's Sidney Jones have the "tools" to be special players as pros. When I asked the scout to give me his top guy based on their pro potential, he listed Humphrey as his top guy but he raved about what he has seen from Wilson this season.

"(Wilson is) big, fast and physical," said the scout. "I know (Florida CB Teez Tabor) received most of the preseason hype but Wilson has everything that you're looking for."

When I asked the scout what separated Humphrey from Wilson, he pointed out that the Alabama standout is a little "smoother" and more refined in coverage. As for Jones, he liked his skills and versatility, but expressed some concerns over his slender frame (6-foot-1, 175 pounds) and whether he could hold up against big-bodied receivers down the field. Despite those concerns, he remains a top prospect and could challenge Humphrey and Wilson as the top cover corner in college football. -- Bucky Brooks

* * *

Small-school prospects to watch

The 2017 running back class could be loaded with a number of big-name underclassmen prospects, but scouts shouldn't overlook a dynamic small-school runner putting up big numbers in the MEAC. North Carolina A&T's Tarik Cohen is the 10th FCS runner to tally four straight 1,000-yard seasons and he will finish his career with well over 5,000 rushing yards. If the diminutive playmaker posted that kind of production at the highest level, he would be celebrated as a top prospect at the position despite his pint-sized dimensions (Cohen is listed at 5-6, 179).

"Small-school standouts must put up big numbers to get a serious look from scouts," said an NFC scout. "They also need to play well in games against top competition."

Considering how evaluators view small-school standouts, I thought it was important to study Cohen's tape against top schools to see if he really has the potential to become an impact player at the next level. Against Kent State (from the MAC), Cohen certainly showed scouts that he could deliver splash plays as a runner-receiver out of the backfield. He finished the night with 258 scrimmage yards (133 rushing; 125 receiving) on 33 touches (24 rushes; nine catches) while displaying an outstanding combination of start-stop quickness, balance and body control. Cohen slips in and out of creases with a nifty jump cut that makes him a nightmare to corral in the hole. In addition, he flashes sneaky power and explosiveness when he runs through arm tackles on the second level.

As a receiver, Cohen is one of the most natural pass-catchers that I've seen at his position. He runs routes like a polished receiver, exhibiting terrific route-running ability and hands. Cohen can run every route in the book from a slot or outside alignment but is also effective on screens and circle routes out of the backfield. After watching him torch MEAC competition for four seasons as a multi-purpose back, I thought he reminded me of a young Darren Sproles. Although the three-time All-Pro kick returner blitzed Big 12 competition as a collegian, he was also an undersized prospect (5-6, 190) pegged as a return specialist at the next level. If Cohen can put on a spectacular showing during the postseason all-star game circuit, I believe those comparisons could make him a Day 3 (Rounds 4-7) candidate when the draft rolls around. -- Bucky Brooks

* * *

As I mentioned in a notebook last month, the offensive tackle position in college football is lacking in top-tier talent as well as depth. With that in mind, NFL personnel departments are searching high and low to find small-school players with upside at the position. Jordan Morgan (Kutztown State) is one player who's gaining some traction. He's slightly undersized (6-4 300), but evaluators believe he has an intriguing skill set. I'm looking forward to studying him this spring. -- Daniel Jeremiah

* * *

Two must-see matchups for scouts in Week 11

Washington WR John Ross vs USC CB Adoree' Jackson: There are two great wide receiver/cornerback matchups in Saturday's USC-Washington game. Trojans WR JuJu Smith-Schuster vs. Huskies CB Sidney Jones will be fun to follow, but I'm more excited about the Ross/Jackson battle. Both are very explosive, as evidenced by their success on the track. Both are also enjoying tremendous seasons. Ross has really blossomed as a route runner, while Jackson's focus on defense (his offensive reps are way down) has greatly improved his technique. Jackson held up very well against Calvin Ridley in the opener against Alabama, and a strong performance against Ross would give him an impressive 2016 resume. -- Daniel Jeremiah

* * *

Arkansas TE Jeremy Sprinkle vs. LSU safety Jamal Adams: Adams has already cemented his place as one of the top safeties in college football, but he could separate himself from the pack with a strong performance against Arkansas and Sprinkle on Saturday. The Razorbacks' big-bodied pass catcher could test Adams' athleticism, physicality and cover skills in one-on-one battles. The rugged tight end is a terrific blocker capable of throwing smaller defenders around at the point of attack. Although Adams has aced every test that's been thrown in his direction the past two seasons, scouts will pay close attention to how he responds to this challenge after suffering through an emotional loss against Alabama. If he holds his own against a talented tight end for the second week in a row (faced O.J. Howard last week), Adams can punch his ticket as the No. 1 safety in college football. -- Bucky Brooks

Follow Daniel Jeremiah on Twitter @MoveTheSticks.

Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.

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