CFN 2017 NFL Draft Analysis & Rankings: Running Backs

CFN 2017 NFL Draft Analysis & Rankings: Running Backs

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CFN 2017 NFL Draft Analysis & Rankings: Running Backs

CFN 2017 NFL Draft Analysis & Rankings: Running Backs


From the college football perspective, who are the top running backs in the 2017 NFL Draft?


Contact @PeteFiutak

Ezekiel Elliott made picking running backs high cool again.

Of course, he had the best O line in the NFL to run behind, and it’s not like the success translated to anything in the playoffs, but his emergence as a rookie has made teams want that instant fix.

There are a few stars up top who are supposed to be franchise-makers, but there are also the normal array of talents who’ll be taken late – or not at all – who’ll be every bit as strong as the high-priced draft pick.

So what’s the college football analysis and take on the 2017 NFL Draft running backs class? Who can play, and who can’t? It’s this simple – who are the ones who matter, and who are the ones who are just guys who’ll make it if someone gets lucky?

After seeing and covering these guys from recruiting until completion, from the college football perspective …

2017 NFL Draft: Running Backs

1. Leonard Fournette, LSU

It’s a shame he couldn’t have come out for the NFL last year. Would he have been a Cowboy instead of Zeke? Maybe not – Ezekiel Elliott is a special talent – but he would’ve been in the discussion.

The only real knocks are 1) whether or not he can hold up based on 2) his running style. He might have a short shelf life considering the blasting he’ll take.

He doesn’t have Adrian Peterson speed or quickness to be a sure thing to last for over a decade – Peterson has been freakishly durable – but as long as he’s at his peak, he’s going to be special.

He’s going to be a workhorse of workhorses who carries and attack by himself, and he’s ready. He’s been ready to be a next-level franchise back since high school, and now he’s about to become the next running back superstar.

Where He’ll Be Drafted: 1st Round

2. Joe Mixon, Oklahoma

Obviously, there’s a massive and rightful concern about his character and the video that’s still fresh – this is all based solely on what he can do on the field and his NFL talent. He’s not being barred from the league, so just like teams are still employing Adrian Peterson, Tyreek Hill, and Ben Roethlisberger, Mixon is going to play.

Do you want a star running back, or not? Totally understandable if teams don’t. Again, this is only about his talent – still not taking the more important aspects out of the equation.

With good size, sub-4.5 speed, and plenty of tread on the tires after being the No. 2 guy in the rushing rotation behind Samaje Perine – and after missing a year – the NFL is getting a rarity in a fresh back. He can catch, he can blast through a hole, and he can run inside and out.

While he might need the hole to be blocked for him, when he gets there, he’s always cranking out big numbers. Any patience concerns will go away with a little bit of time – he needs more runs and should be coached into what a team needs.

Where He’ll Be Drafted: 3rd Round

3. Dalvin Cook, Florida State

Very fast, very strong, and very productive, he might not have the power of a Fournette or Elliott, but he’s right there in the mix among potential franchise backs who can be everything an offense can revolve behind.

Granted, there have been a slew of off-the-field question marks, but no one around the team has a complaint. As long as he doesn’t have to hit anyone on a regular basis, and as long as his fumbling problems are solved, he’ll be a statistical superstar. In the right offense, create a little daylight and watch him dominate.

Where He’ll Be Drafted: 1st Round

4. Christian McCaffrey, Stanford

The do-it-all back will be used in every way possible. He’s fast, explosive, and lightning quick with Reggie Bush-style abilities who’ll be more of a No. 1 back than some might see him. No, he’s not going to be an NFL return guy or just a third-down return man – he’s going to be way too good.

The only big concern might be how many more shots he can take. He’s a workhorse who handled the ball a TON for the Cardinal, and he might not have as much tread on him as some might hope for. But for a while, he’s going to be a Pro Bowl-caliber performer who’ll be a total yardage machine.

Where He’ll Be Drafted: 1st Round

5. Jeremy McNichols, Boise State

Yet another good Boise State back who’ll probably be underdrafted, A short, stocky workhorse, he’s hiccup-quick with good enough hands to be a real, live factor in the passing game, he was a dominant force for the Broncos. Add in the home run hitting speed, and – while this never works out this way – the way Jay Ajayi has turned out to be the real deal, go for it. He’s an easy chance worth taking after the second round.

Where He’ll Be Drafted: 4th Round

6. D’Onta Foreman, Texas

All about the power, he put together an all-timer of a rushing season for a Texas team that didn’t take advantage of his 2,000-yard campaign. While he can’t really block as well as he needs to for a guy with 235-pound size, he’s a quick back with big pop – he’s already moving forward and producing. He’ll be ready to go from Day One.

Where He’ll Be Drafted: 3rd Round

7. Alvin Kamara, Tennessee

While he’s to a blazer, and he’s been banged up too much considering his lack of work, he’s football fast with the fun speed and quickness to put up big yards in chunks. A compact runner with a little bit of power, he’ll be fantastic around the goal line and should be better running inside. With decent hands, he can be a third down back, too.

Where He’ll Be Drafted: 3rd Round

8. Wayne Gallman, Clemson

Tall, thin, quick and slippery, the 6-0, 215-pounder who isn’t afraid to grind out the tough yards, and has the quickness to get outside and be part of a passing game, too. He’s not built to take an NFL pounding as a workhorse, but at worst, he might be able to create a niche for himself as a devastating goal line runner in a Marcus Allen sort of way.

Where He’ll Be Drafted: 4th Round

NFL Draft: Dumb Luck If Any Of These Running Backs Are NFL-Good Starters

9. Marlon Mack, South Florida

Explosive with the quickness to potentially be devastating in a zone-blocking scheme, he’s a gamebreaker with the upside to be a fantastic value starter after the third round. He’s got the body to blast, but he doesn’t do it, and he’s going to need a hole to run through, but a smart offensive coordinator will figure him out.

Where He’ll Be Drafted: 4th Round

10. Samaje Perine, Oklahoma

Phenomenally strong and with the short-range quickness, he’s a tough guy runner who can grow into a workhorse back for long stretches. He doesn’t have the deep speed, and there’s little wiggle in his game – he’s going to take some massive shots – but he’ll always give a great effort and be everything a coaching staff wants. There might just be a short shelf life, though.

Where He’ll Be Drafted: 3rd Round

11. Joe Williams, Utah

Really fast, really quick, and with the toughness to handle the ball as many times you want to give it to him, he’ll produce big yards the more you give him the work. He benefitted from working behind a great line, and the retirement hiatus he took is going to be a big concern for those who question his long-term commitment, but he’s an NFL runner – as long as the off-the-field concerns don’t matter.

Where He’ll Be Drafted: 6th Round

12. Matthew Dayes, NC State

An ultra-productive, smallish runner who moves well and can be a sneaky-good workhorse for a stretch. He’s not going to be a franchise back, and he might not have special NFL skills, but he’s got the talent to grow into a good, ultra-productive part of a rotation who can do just about everything right.
Where He’ll Be Drafted: 5th Round

13. Corey Clement, Wisconsin

While he’s not fast enough and doesn’t have the breakaway wheels to turn short runs into medium gains, he’s a quick, productive power back who can get in and out of cuts without a hesitation. Can he stay healthy? can he get past the worry that he’s not quite good enough to match the attitude? He’ll be a late pick who’ll bounce around the league, but he’ll eventually make a roster.

Where He’ll Be Drafted: 5th Round

14. Kareem Hunt, Toledo

A powerful 5-10, 216-pounder, he’s an ultra-productive back in the open field who knows how to make guys miss. While he might be put into the just-a-guy category by some, he has the bounce and the forward push to be productive whenever he gets the shot. He needs to be in the right system, and it might take a few teams to find it, but he’ll get a starting call at some point.

Where He’ll Be Drafted: 4th Round

15. Jamaal Williams, BYU

It only seems like he was at BYU for 15 years. He’s a big, productive back who can grind out yards and do just fine in the open field. There’s nothing special about his game, though, other than that he produces. He has to grow into a consistent blocker and pass catcher to see the field.

Where He’ll Be Drafted: 4th Round

16. Brian Hill, Wyoming

Granted, he was a part of the system, but he busted out huge run after huge run in the body of a big back. He’ll hit the hole hard, and crank out the production whenever he gets into the open field. Even at 220 pounds, he’s not going to provide any power, but there’s a chance he turns into a big-time producer in the right system. He’s a mid-round chance worth taking.

Where He’ll Be Drafted: 5th Round

17. Donnel Pumphrey, San Diego State

No, he’s not the NCAA’s all-time leading rusher like many will have you believe, but he’s close to it – Ron Dayne ran for more yards – with toughness for his size and ultra-quickness who should be a dangerous part of a rotation. You’re bigger than he is, but the 5-8, 176-pounder will find a Darren Sproles-like niche.

Where He’ll Be Drafted: 4th Round

NFL Draft: Draft Them. Don’t. Whatever.

18. Elijah Hood, North Carolina

With excellent 5-11, 232-pound size, he’s a pounding back who can balance out an attack. He could make a roster as a blocker and a goal line back who can catch just enough to get by. There’s no deep wheels and he’s not going to miss a tackler, but he might just be tough enough to find a role.

Where He’ll Be Drafted: Free Agent

19. James Conner, Pitt

A great story, he was among the most productive backs in college football, overcame a torn up knee, suffered a hip problem, and fought through Hodgkin’s lymphoma to become one of the best backs in college football again. He’s a pure power runner with no wiggle, and – to be brutally harsh – his body has been through a lot. With his style, he’s going to take a pounding.

Where He’ll Be Drafted: 5th Round

20. Justin Davis, USC

Always a bit dinged up, he’s a potentially strong late pick/free agent with great speed and the skills to create his own niche. he has to be a return man or a third down back, but he’s a talented enough runner to find a role for.

Where He’ll Be Drafted: Free Agent

21. De’Angelo Henderson, Coastal Carolina

Small, but ultra-productive and fast, he’s a 5-7 runner with sub 4.5 speed and surprising power in his compact frame. He’s not going to be anyone’s workhorse, but he could be the type of back who has a great six-game burst as a key fill-in for a No. 1 runner. He’ll always give a big effort.

Where He’ll Be Drafted: 6th Round

22. Dare Ogunbowale, Wisconsin

Third down back, third down back, third down back. The highest of character guys, he’ll do what’s needed for a team on special teams or as a fill-in runner, but he’ll make money on third downs as a receiver coming out of the backfield. That’s it – don’t expect any 20 carry games.

Where He’ll Be Drafted: Free Agent

23. Devine Redding, Indiana

While he was ultra-productive for a few years in the Indiana system, he’s not nearly the prospect Tevin Coleman is/was. Hovering around the 4.8 40 mark in a 205-pound body makes him a free agent flier, but he might shine if he gets a hole to run through.

Where He’ll Be Drafted: Free Agent

24. Marcus Cox, Appalachian State

Hugely productive for a four-year career, he doesn’t have any wiggle and he’s not going to bust out any home runs, but he’s a good football player beyond the lack of measureables. He’ll be a quick camp cut, but he’s tough enough to be worth a look.

Where He’ll Be Drafted: Free Agent

25. Brandon Wilson, Houston

Really, really, really fast, he’s got sub-4.4 wheels with the explosiveness and athleticism to find a role somewhere. He’s not going to be a regular running back, but there might be a few packages for him and he should become a whale of a kick returner. But he’s a specialist, not a regular back.

Where He’ll Be Drafted: 5th Round

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