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Ezekiel Elliott leads 2016 NFL Draft's safest picks among RBs

With the 2016 NFL Scouting Combine in full swing, I'll be unveiling my picks for the safest prospects at each position.

When identifying safe picks at the running back position, I don't just look at statistics and workout times. Successful NFL backs must responsibly carry the ball, effectively catch the ball out of the backfield, as well as be strong enough to handle pass-protection duties. Not every back gets the chance to display all of these talents in college, so a judgement has to be made on his likelihood of success against professional-level defenders.

These three running backs are my safe bets to become lead ball carriers in the 2016 draft class. As with every position group in this series, there is a mix of top-rated prospects and others for whom I project a long NFL career without the early-round hype.

1. Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio State: He runs hard, runs fast, possesses quickness and elusiveness, catches the ball well, and is an outstanding blocker. What more could you want in a bell-cow back? Because Elliott can do all of those things, he doesn't have to be taken out in third-and-medium situations. That really opens up the playbook, putting his teammates in a better position to succeed.

2. Jordan Howard, Indiana: In most cases, NFL teams are looking for a solid combination of pure speed and brutish power in their No. 1 back. Howard's been a bit under the radar playing for UAB and Indiana, and his game isn't as flashy as others in the class. However, his steady (one fumble in 196 attempts this year), powerful, and sneaky-fast running gives him a real chance to be a team's No. 1 option early in his career.

3. Kenneth Dixon, Louisiana Tech: You could say that Dixon's 801 career carries for the Bulldogs are a curse, not a blessing, when it comes to his NFL future. But I view his "high mileage" as a sign he's a reliable back willing to take the load. Dixon also possesses very good receiving skills (88-972, 15 TDs in four years) and a sturdy frame. He's willing to stand in and take a hit in pass pro.

Follow Chad Reuter on Twitter _@chadreuter_.

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