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Top Five 2016 NFL Draft Prospects- Running Back
These guys will look to be the future work horses of NFL franchises. Today I rank the top five running back prospects in the upcoming NFL Draft.
1. Ezekiel Elliot, Ohio State
Bio: After serving as Carlos Hyde's backup as a freshman, Ezekiel Elliot became the Buckeye's starting running back in 2014. In the final three games of the season, Elliot rushed for 696 yards and was named Offensive MVP of the Big Ten Championship, the Sugar Bowl, and the National Championship. In his two years as a starter, he rushed 3,699 yards and 51 touchdowns. Elliot decided to forgo his final year of eligibility and enter the NFL draft.
Strengths: Elite combination of vision and instincts. Short strider with almost instant reaction time. Has a legitimate jump cut to elude tacklers in the backfield and enough burst to out run defenders when he bounces to the outside. Able to change directions with no hesitation and is always headed north. Has great feel for developing blocks in space and is excellent at setting blocks up and accelerating from behind them when blitzing linebackers are trapped. When it’s a cluster inside, finds yards on his own. Jacked up frame but still maintains loose hips for agility. Exceptional balance through contact and drags tacklers for more yards. Has an alpha dog mentality as a runner. Loves to end runs on his physical terms. Uses lead shoulder as a weapon, but plays with outstanding ball security. Looks to absolutely destroy defenders as a lead blocker. Able and willing receiver who adjusts to throws and can run with it after the catch.
Weaknesses: Dealt a heavy workload over last two seasons including over 600 touches. Defenders land big shots on him. Rather put himself in harms way than avoiding certain collisions. Understanding when to attack and when to elude may take time. Has room for improvement as a route runner. At the second level, gets on top of defenders before he has a chance to put himself into a position to evade tackles. Questions about his maturity after complaining about lack of carries and play calling in the loss to Michigan State.
Projected Round: 1
Possible landing spot: Indianapolis Colts
2. Derrick Henry, Alabama
Bio: After splitting time with T.J. Yeldon in 2014, Derrick Henry became Alabama's starting running back as a junior. Playing in all 15 games, he rushed for an SEC record 2,219 yards and 28 touchdowns on 395 carries. He was named the Heisman trophy winner as the top player in college football. He was also awarded the Doak Walker Award, the Walter Camp Award, and Maxwell Award. Henry decided to forgo his final season and enter the draft.
Strengths: As big a running back as you're going to find. Can be a violent runner without effort. Pummels tacklers with forward lean and dynamite behind his pads. Gives run support cornerbacks nightmares. Rare top end speed for a running back his size. Long strides from second to third level cuts reaction time for safeties. Effective in just about every offensive scheme. Incredible stamina and wears down defenses as game goes on. Makes consistent reads as a zone runner. Led nation with 60 forced missed tackles. Uses subtle change of direction on the second level while keeping runs forward. Used as an enforcer in short yardage situations and when Alabama wanted to impose their will.
Weaknesses: With nearly 400 touches this past year, there are concerns about his workload. Averaged almost 32 carries against SEC opponents, including 90 carries over his final two regular season games. Tall, long strider who takes time to build up his speed. Average at best foot quickness can lead to tackles for losses if he gets too caught in the backfield. Needs to improve his second read as a zone runner. A non-factor in passing game with below average hands. Narrow based running style allows defenders to trip him up. More run-finisher than tackle breaker with just seven broken tackles to LSU's Leonard Fournette’s 22. Slow cutback ability once he’s outside the tackle box.
Projected Round: 1-2
Possible landing spot: Tennessee Titans
3. Devontae Booker, Utah
Bio: After spending three years in junior college, Devontae Booker transferred to Utah in 2014. After initially splitting time with Bubba Poole, Booker eventually became the Ute's feature back. In his two years at Utah, he rushed for 2,773 yards and scored 21 touchdowns.
Strengths: Patient runner but decisive when he sees an opening. Hits it through the crease with determination. Flashes above average feel for the way running lanes shift and he flows with it making the smart choices to avoid tacklers and extend plays. Excellent vision. Doesn’t get caught dancing in the backfield and usually ends the run on his terms by lowering his pads. Can maintain play speed when changing direction. Crisp footwork when approaching the line of scrimmage and can dodge around penetration to create big play opportunities. Elusive second level runner. Effective pass catcher with soft hands. Every down running back. Dependable short yardage back in college. Willing to step up and do his part in pass blocking.
Weaknesses: Doesn’t have the top end speed to be a chunk yardage runner. Fulltime running back in college, but on the borderline of size NFL teams look for from an every down back. May not be able to add more weight onto his thin frame without compromising quickness and speed. Was able to cut down on his fumbles this season, but had six last year which could be a potential concern on the pro level. His 12-yard runs could become four yard runs thanks to average at best getaway speed.
Projected Round: 2
Possible landing spot: Dallas Cowboys
4. Kenneth Dixon, Louisiana Tech
Bio: As a freshman at Louisiana Tech, Kenneth Dixon rushed for 1,194 yards and set an NCAA freshman record with 27 rushing touchdowns and 28 total touchdowns. During his junior year in 2014, he became Louisiana Tech's all time leader in rushing yards, rushing touchdowns and total touchdowns. Dixon finished his college career with an NCAA record 87 career total touchdowns, however the record was later broken that same season by Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds.
Strengths: Determined runner who almost never gives up on a play. Light on his feet using outstanding jump cuts and lateral quickness to sidestep defenders in the backfield and create a positive play. Elusiveness on second level and often leaves tacklers grasping at his feet. Able to string moves together and hit the big play. Despite being the focus of defenses each week, he still creates yardage for himself. Hungry and competitive. Accelerates through initial contact and squeezes run for all its worth. Averaged almost twice as many yards per carry after first contact. Greedy when endzone in his sights with 41 rushing touchdowns over the last two years. Quick recognition of the flow of a defense and adjusts running lanes accordingly. Decisive runner with above average burst and ability to charge it up to his top speed quickly. Great feel for running lanes and is able to navigate without much wasted movement. Violent finisher for his size and enjoys trucking over defensive backs. Reliable receiver who can hurt teams out of the backfield.
Weaknesses: Average thickness through lower body. Documented injury history in college, primarily ankle and knee injuries.. Power running style could lead to durability issues. Wasn't as dominant against stiffer competition. More of a slasher than home run back thanks to average speed. Tries to do too much at times. Base narrows in space, making him susceptible to shoestring tackles. Aggression and competitiveness as a runner doesn't really translate in pass protection. Must improve on ball security as he has fumbled 13 times over last three seasons.
Projected Round: 2
Possible landing spot: Chicago Bears
5. Alex Collins, Arkansas
Bio: Joining Arkansas in 2013, Alex Collins became the first true freshman in SEC history to rush for 300 yards in his first three games and was named the SEC freshman of the year. After spending his first two seasons splitting time with Jonathan Williams, Collins became the feature back his junior year and became only the third running back in SEC history to rush for 1,000 yards in three straight seasons. His junior year, he rushed for 1,577 yards and set a school record for touchdowns in a season with 20.
Strengths: Explosive lower body that can rip through defenses. Runs low to the ground with balance to break tackles and gain yards after contact. Will plow through defensive backs like they're nothing. Ideal short yardage running back. Showed he could carry the load as a feature back. Right up there with Derrick Henry in terms of running style.
Weaknesses: Must be more than just a runner. Unproven as a pass catcher with only three receptions in 2015. Skills in pass protection are suspect. Lacks break away speed from second to third level. Played behind a great Razorback offensive line that is built to open up huge running lanes. Struggled against stiffer SEC defenses.
Projected Round: 2-3
Possible landing spot: Baltimore Ravens