Wednesday, March 29, 2017

2017 Running Back Rankings

**Regarding Joe Mixon: I did not include him in this write up because I am of the personal belief that he is an unapologetic, abuse piece of shit who doesn't deserve to be drafted. I have no doubt that some team will take him because the NFL is a business and at the end of the day teams have to do what will win them games. I just did not want to take the time out of my day to write up a report. However, I watched him play extensively at Oklahoma and if I did have to rate him, I would have him second behind Fournette and above Dalvin Cook.**

1) Leonard Fournette, LSU Tigers
Career Stats: 3830 Rushing Yards, 6.2 YPC, 40 TDs, 41 Receptions, 526 Yards, 1 TD
Height: 6'1          Weight: 240
40 Yard Dash: 4.51 Seconds
Bench: DNP

What is there to be said about Fournette that hasn't already been said? From the time that he was in high school in Louisiana, he has drawn comparisons to Adrian Peterson and his commitment to LSU brought lofty expectations. I'd say overall, Fournette met those expectations, especially during his sophomore year when he amassed more than 1800 yards on the ground. When watching him, the first thing that sticks out on tape is just how much of a physical specimen he is and that is reflected in his carrying weight and 40 time. Fournette shows a power that isn't seen as often in running backs these days. He isn't afraid of contact and will go over defenders if they get in his way, especially defensive backs in the open field. Despite his size, he runs with a good center of gravity and doesn't expose himself to too many unnecessary hits. Additionally, his speed is absolutely frightening for a guy with the mass that he has. He shows the ability to accelerate quickly and find his second gear to drive pass defenders. Once he gets into the open field, there aren't a lot of guys who are going to catch him from behind. And while he can run over you, he has the speed and deceptive agility to go around and hit the corner. There aren't too many weaknesses to his game, but I did find some after really picking through some film. One area he can struggle in is with his vision. I saw a few times in each game where he didn't read his block well and ended up losing yards. He also isn't a true three down back at this stage as he doesn't have much experience as a receiver or pass blocking. To stay on the field, he'll need to improve in these areas. But other than that, the only thing holding him back is his body. Fournette missed quite a few games in his career due to injury. This could make some teams hesitant to take him with a top ten selection.

Number to Know - 6: That is the number of games Fournette missed as a junior due to injury. It will be interesting to see if scouts downgrade him at all due to durability issues.

2) Dalvin Cook, Florida State Seminoles
Career Stats: 4464 Rushing Yards, 6.5 YPC, 46 TDs, 79 Receptions, 935 Yards, 2 TDs
Height: 5'10          Weight: 210
40 Yard Dash: 4.49 Seconds
Bench: 22 Reps

Possibly the most well rounded back entering the draft this year, Cook has teams salivating after putting together three tremendous seasons at FSU and capping it with a strong Combine. The trait that pops out to me the most when I watch Cook is his agility and lateral quickness. Cook is incredibly adept at forcing missed tackles by freezing defenders at the line of scrimmage and in the open field. His ability to get a defender going one way before cutting the other is truly impressive. This bodes well for him when combined with the patience he displays at the line. Cook waits for his blocks to set up but isn't afraid to bounce around if he sees an opening that wasn't his first option. When he picks his spot, he shows excellent burst through the line of scrimmage and gets upfield in a hurry. His feet also never stop moving when he is in traffic, which allows him to maintain balance and pick through the defenders to pick up extra yards and occasionally break a long run. As you can tell by his numbers, Cook was also a highly productive receiver coming out of the backfield. You didn't see him line up too often outside as a slot or wideout, but he runs nice routes from the backfield. This, combined with his open field abilities will make him a three down starter from day one. Cook isn't a perfect back though as he does need to improve his pass protection. This is usually a common critique of running backs though, so I don't think it will be too detrimental to his stock. Additionally, he isn't a real power back like some of the other guys on this list. He won't be the most reliable in short yardage or goal line situations. Most negatively, Cook has had some fumbles throughout his college career with several coming in critical moments. There is no quicker way to lose a coach's confidence than to turn the ball over, so improving ball security will be paramount for Cook.

Number to Know - 7.4: Cook's yards per carry his sophomore year, the year after Heisman winner and first overall pick Jameis Winston went pro. He had every defender keyed in on stopping him and still averaged that number.

3) Christian McCaffrey, Stanford Cardinal
Career Stats: 3922 Rushing Yards, 6.2 YPC, 21 TDs, 99 Receptions, 1206 Yards, 10 TDs
Height: 5'11           Weight: 202 
40 Yard Dash: 4.48 Seconds
Bench: 10 Reps

When you break the single season all purpose yards set by the legendary Barry Sanders, you know you got something special on your plate. McCaffrey is probably the most dynamic running back in this draft as he can run, catch, and return punts and kickoffs. Watching him move in the open field is a lot like watching Reggie Bush in his USC days. Simply put, he makes people look stupid in the open field. It is truly incredible to watch a defender start to backpedal trying to anticipate McCaffrey's move only to be put on skates and find themselves eating turf. Like Cook, McCaffrey shows a ton of patience behind the line of scrimmage and really allows his blocks to be established before planting his foot and driving to the next level. He never panics when he gets into traffic and always keeps his feet churning and his head on a swivel looking for an exit strategy. He has exceptional balance, able to take hits while staying on his feet and marching upfield. But his best attribute is undoubtedly his ability as a receiver. Not only can he line up and catch out of the backfield, he can be split out wide and is one of the few running backs I've seen come out of college able to run the full route tree. Hell, some receivers in college can't even do it as well as McCaffrey does. But while all this is good, he does show some limitations that makes me think he may need to be part of a rotation. As you can see from his bench total, his strength is pretty subpar and he isn't going to beat you with power. It worries me that he may struggle to break tackles at the line of scrimmage in the NFL. Additionally, while his 40 time is better than both Fournette and Cook, watching him on film makes him look more quick than fast. It'll be interesting to see if he improves functional speed at the next level. But with his ability to be a special teams ace, it is hard to envision him dropping out of the first round.

Number to Know - 3864: The total yards McCaffrey accounted for on his way to breaking Barry Sander's single season record....albeit in two more games.

4) D'onta Foreman, Texas Longhorns
Career Stats: 2774 Rushing Yards, 6.4 YPC, 20 TDs, 13 Receptions, 146 Yards, 0 TDs
Height: 6'0          Weight: 233
40 Yard Dash: 4.44
Bench: 18 reps

Foreman has watched his stock rise and decline through the year and offseason. I have seen him anywhere from late teens to early third round in mocks. I think that Foreman would be a good second round pick. This past season, he was one of the most dominant forces in football and often was the entire Longhorns' offense. As you can see by his metrics, Foreman is a bowling ball type running back that is difficult to bring down when he gets going north/south. He is nearly impossible to stop in goal line and short yardage situations as he maintains excellent balance and really drives through his pads into the thick of the defense. More so than that, he has a much better burst and is a bit faster than you would think for someone his size. He isn't quite as explosive as Fournette who has an inch and about ten pounds on him, but it is enough to catch defenders by surprise and pick up an extra ten yards. However, he isn't really a true home run threat like Cook or Fournette is either as he seems to top out pretty quickly. He also isn't that shifty either as he is pretty much a straight line runner. This can get him into trouble as his size necessitates that he has almost nothing short of a runway at the line of scrimmage. He can't make himself skinny like other backs can. But he does have good vision behind the line and can make up for his lack of lateral agility with his relentless ability to run through arm tackles. The only other area where he can really improve his game is in pass catching. As you can see from his total above, he really doesn't have much experience. To stay on the field, he'll have to get better.

Stat to Know - 2028: Rushing yards in his junior year, good for second in the FBS in 2016. Teams love a guy who can carry the ball 20+ times a game.

5) Alvin Kamara, Tennessee Volunteers
Career Stats: 1294 Rushing Yards, 6.2 YPC, 16 TDs, 74 Receptions, 683 Yards, 7 TDs
Height: 5'10          Weight: 214
40 Yard Dash: 4.56 Seconds
Bench: 15 Reps

I initially had Kamara above Foreman but dropped him just a smidge due to his mediocre 40 time. However, I cannot knock him too much for it as he still posted one of the better 40 times among running backs. Kamara looks like he can be a solid back in the NFL who kind of fits the mold of Dalvin Cook. He shows some very elusive moves in the open field and can be difficult to bring down in traffic because he is always moving his feet and just seems to pinball off of would be tacklers. Yet kind of like Cook, you won't see him winning a lot of match ups with his power. I saw quite a few plays where he was tasked with picking up just one or two yards and couldn't power his way through the line. It is somewhat concerning as I'm not sure how many tackles he'll be able to break in the NFL. However, he does show a nice burst at the line to get through traffic. He also displayed good vision and more frequently than not was able to find the right hole after reading and following his blocks. But more so than almost any other running back in the top five besides McCaffrey, he has probably the best hands and is the best route runner. I like his ability to pick up yards after the catch as it will keep him on the field a lot more than some other backs early on in his career. He can look lost in pass protection, but again this is mostly because he wasn't asked to do it that much at Tennessee.With proper coaching, he should hopefully be able to pick up a knack for it.

Stat to Know - 2: The number of schools that Kamara played at (Alabama and Tennessee). Somewhat concerning that Kamara was never the perceived to be the best player at two different schools.

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