Tuesday, April 12, 2016

2016 Running Back Rankings

1) Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio State Buckeyes
Career Stats: 3961 Rushing Yards, 6.7 YPC, 43 TDs; 58 Catches, 449 Yards, 7.7 YPC, 1 TD
Height: 5'11          Weight: 225 lbs.
40 Yard: 4.47 (1.58 10-Yard Split)

Despite the recent trends of the NFL, running backs can still provide great value in the first round. Todd Gurley went tenth overall last year despite coming off a torn ACL and performed above expectations. Elliott is far and away the most complete back in this draft and has a chance to be chosen in the top ten like Gurley. Watching Elliott play, what you initially see is the perfect combination of patience, vision, and burst behind the line of scrimmage. He is a patient runner who will wait for his blockers to get set and has the vision to take the first step the second before the block is set. His burst when driving through the line allowed him to pick up huge chunks of yards and made him a deadly weapon on third down and short. Against Oregon in the National Championship, the Ducks simply could not stop him when he needed three yards or less. Once through the hole, Zeke is still as dangerous. He has great lower body strength and can run through arm tackles. He has also showed to have the best balance of any prospect in this draft. You'll see multiple times in a game where he gets hit from the side and still manages to stay upright and gain more yards. While he is fast, Zeke doesn't have the same kind of top end speed like Gurley has. He had several touchdown runs of over 50 yards throughout his career, but a few times he was tracked down from behind. But really the best asset that Elliott will bring is his ability to stay on the field for all three downs. According to Pro Football Focus, he was almost perfect in pass protection and seems to relish in setting blocks on sweeps and screens. On top of that, he looks like a natural catcher out of the backfield. He may not blow you away with a lot of moves in the open field, but Zeke is a running back you can give the ball to 25 times a game. He is a true franchise running back.

2) Derrick Henry, Alabama Crimson Tide
Career Stats: 3591 Rushing Yards, 6.0 YPC, 42 TDs; 17 Catches, 285 Yards, 16.8 YPC, 3 TDs
Height: 6'2          Weight: 247 lbs.
40 Yard: 4.54 (1.61 10-Yard Split)

The reigning Heisman winner, Henry will try to be the next running back out of Alabama to prove that it isn't all the system that makes them great. There has been a ton of debate regarding Henry leading up to the draft, but I would be comfortable taking him towards the end of the first round. Henry would be able to make a bigger impact if he was drafted by a team that already has an established offensive line, but there is little doubt that he can be the focal point of an offense. Henry has the build that can carry a load of 30 carries a game over a season. But in terms of his actual ability, Henry's build makes him an absolute nightmare to tackle. He regularly bounces off of tackles and can break through arm tackles. Gang tackling is the only way to bring Henry down, and if he gets one on one with a corner or safety you can just forget about it. He is an old school running back who works best going between the tackles. Henry has a much better burst than you would think a man his size would have and has great acceleration when he gets through the hole. Watch some of his runs against Texas A&M and his first touchdown run against Clemson and you'll see what I'm talking about. He isn't an absolute burner, but his pure speed is something that needs to be respected. Henry isn't quite as patient at the line as Elliott is, but that doesn't mean he will dance around behind the line. He has a good ability of being able to understand when the defensive line has won the battle and will just take what his line is giving him. Rarely will you see Henry tackled for a loss. The debate on Henry really stems from how his size can negatively affect him. He runs upright way too much which opens him up to a lot of bigger hits and fumbles, something he struggled with at points throughout college. Additionally, Henry needs pretty much a freeway to get going downhill. He isn't able to make himself skinny like smaller backs and it does take away from some opportunities. He likely will not be seeing holes as big as he saw at Alabama. However, his athletic ability will be too tantalizing for a team to pass on late in the first round.

3) Alex Collins, Arkansas Razorbacks
Career Stats: 3703 Rushing Yards, 5.6 YPC, 36 TDs; 27 Catches, 167 Yards, 6.2 YPC, 0 TDs
Height: 5'10          Weight: 217 lbs.
40 Yard: 4.59 

After Henry and Elliott, there is a bit of a drop off in talent at running back. Collins is the next in these rankings after three incredibly productive at Arkansas, where he ran for at least one thousand yards in each of his three seasons. Collins was part of a rotation but still managed to produce great numbers in a pro style rush offense. Like Henry, Collins is more of a sturdier, power runner in between the tackles. He doesn't have quite enough speed to be able to bounce outside too often, but when he gets going downfield he can be a home run threat and very difficult to take down. His 40 time at the Combine was a bit underwhelming, but came through with some long runs throughout his time at Arkansas. Collins is a solid runner who could probably be able to shoulder the burden of 18-20 carries a game. He shows a penchant for running through tackles at the line and moves his feet very well in traffic. He has good open field moves and is always fighting for additional yards. Collins may not be a three down back yet for the NFL. He wasn't asked to block in pass protection all that often and looked confused at times when he was called upon. He also doesn't have a ton of experience as a receiver as evidenced by his nine catches per year. He is more of a work in progress as an all around back than the two guys above him, but there is tons of natural potential in Collins.

4) CJ Prosise, Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Career Stats: 1155 Rushing Yards, 6.9 YPC, 12 TDs; 62 Catches, 896 Yards, 14.5 YPC, 3 TDs
Height: 6'0          Weight: 220 lbs.
40 Yard: 4.48 (1.57 10-Yard Split)

Originally a safety when he arrived at Notre Dame, Brian Kelly switched Prosise to wide receiver and then to running back after his sophomore year and saw immediate results. Prosise didn't get a huge volume of carries like the three backs above but was absolutely instrumental to the offense. He is a shifty runner who has great acceleration through the line and an elusiveness to pick up yards against linebackers. Watching his game is kind of like a poor man's Reggie Bush with the way that he moves in the open field. He has very shifty feet to make moves in the open field and can get around defenders with just speed. Having him run under a 4.50 forty yard dash at the Combine was really instrumental to his draft stock, especially when he came in at over six feet tall and had good bulk. What really helps Prosise is his ability to get skinny at the line of scrimmage to take advantage of even the smallest of holes. Combined with his great acceleration, Prosise is able to rip of quick, large chunks of yards. And as you can see from his catch total, he has some pretty good hands. Only 26 catches from that total came as a running back, but that is more than any of the other running backs had in a season. Brian Kelly knew the importance of getting him in the open field with his abilities. However, Prosise will need some refinement as a pass blocker. Despite his size, he doesn't have great strength and can be overwhelmed by linebackers. Him choosing not to participate in the bench press at the Combine could show even he realizes this is an area he has been lacking. Additionally, Prosise has a tendency to try and run east/west when should just take what the line gave him. Doing this in the NFL will get him into trouble has he will be brought down behind the line more frequently. Lastly, teams will likely be weary of his production against the best teams Notre Dame played. He wasn't particularly outstanding against Ohio State, Clemson, or Stanford this year which you can expect scouts to dig into.

5) Kenneth Dixon, Louisiana Tech Bulldogs
Career Stats: 4483 Rushing Yards, 5.6 YPC, 72 TDs; 87 Catches, 969 Yards, 11.1 YPC, 15 TDs
Height: 5'10          Weight: 215 lbs.
40 Yard: 4.58 (1.56 10-Yard Split)

Dixon ended his career at Louisiana Tech as one of the most accomplished and decorated running backs in college football. While a huge majority of his production came against lower division schools, the Bulldogs played several Power 5 teams like Oklahoma and Kansas State where he was able to show that he is not a fluke. As is a common theme behind most of the running backs in this top five, Dixon has a very good burst through the line of scrimmage. He also has very shifty and active feet that help immensely to get lateral movement and avoid would-be tacklers behind the line of scrimmage. You really cannot overstate the importance of someone who knows how not to take negative plays. This also makes him a bigger threat in the open field as he was able to juke and spin past defenders before making a move upfield. And even though he has shown his elusiveness frequently, this doesn't restrict him from taking on contact. Despite not being the biggest running back, Dixon at times looked like he was relishing in trying to run over a defender. He possesses very good balance that allows him to go around or through defenders at his discretion. For the next level, he might not have as many opportunities as he doesn't have very great speed. His tape shows him able to outrun defenders, but his 40 time at the Combine is a bit worrisome and makes you wonder how effective he can be in the pros. Additionally, a lot of his yards picked up in college came from bouncing outside of the tackles. Some of it came from the design of the play, but there were other times when he just felt he could do more going east/west. As mentioned above for Prosise, you  have to wonder if he'll be able to adapt to having to try and pick up yards between the tackles and avoid the temptation to go horizontal. Overall, Dixon is probably a very good third down back who can get ten or so carries a game as part of a rotation.

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