As you all know, we haven’t see a running back selected in the first round in the last two drafts.
That should change this year as one, possibly two running backs should hear their name called on the opening night of this year’s draft. Without question, there are six to eight backs in this draft who are capable of coming in and starting as rookies or at worst, be a major part of the running back rotation. My top five….
1) Tevin Coleman – Indiana
I know the majority of you will have Melvin Gordon in this slot. I have Gordon as my number two. My thinking is that if Coleman played behind the Wisconsin line he may have run for over 2500 yards. As it was, he ran for 2036 yards, a 7.5 average per carry, 15 touchdowns and 25 receptions.
Coleman has a complete game. He can run with power between the tackles, is creative, and consistently gets yards after contact. He has the speed to turn the corner and is elusive in the open field. As a receiver, he is very reliable, runs good routes and has very good hands. Add to that the fact that he can already pass protect and is a dangerous kickoff returner. Coleman did not workout at the Combine, but when he does, he can solidify his status as the draft’s top running back.
2) Melvin Gordon – Wisconsin
Gordon had as good a season as any running back has in years…maybe ever! He ran for 2587 yards, a 7.5 average per carry, and a whopping 29 touchdowns. He got a bit more involved in the passing game this year with 19 receptions.
While Gordon only ran a 4.52 at Indy, he plays like a 4.40 guy. He has a great burst, and once he gets in the open field, he’s gone. He is quick and elusive and can make the first and sometimes the second man miss. He has top instincts and is a good decision maker.
While he runs with power in space, I don’t always see that power inside. While he is good, he is not a great after contact runner. We saw that in the Big Ten Championship game and also in the Western Illinois game where an FCS school held Gordon to 2.9 yards per carry.
I had questions about Gordon’s hands, but he showed at the Combine that he can catch the ball cleanly. The other area where there are questions is in pass protection. On tape, he is not only a very average blocker, but also lacks technique. Without question, Gordon will be the first or second back selected this year.
3) Todd Gurley – Georgia
Had Gurley not torn an ACL, there is no question as to who the best back would be in this draft. Before he got hurt, Gurley showed that he was head and shoulders ahead of the rest of the class. He has both size and speed and top run instincts. He can run inside and out and run with power.
Once in the open field, he is without question the toughest back in this class to bring down. As a receiver, he has great hands, can adjust to the ball, and consistently gets yards after the catch. He also is a very accomplished kick returner.
Because of his injury, Gurley is a “wild card” pick. He wouldn’t let team physicians examine him, and because of that, no doctor outside of the one who performed his surgery has any idea as to the seriousness of the injury and how well the surgery was performed. Until those questions are answered, I have no idea where Gurley goes in this draft. There are many teams who are wondering if he will be able to play this year.
4) Ameer Abdullah – Nebraska
Abdullah is one of my favorite players in this draft. He may lack ideal NFL size, but he is all football player. In 2014, he ran for over 1600 yards and 19 touchdowns. He also had 22 receptions and another three touchdowns. While not a burner, he is very quick and explosive and gets a number of long runs. Not many are quicker for 20 yards.
He is tough and explosive and is able to get yards after contact. He is proficient both inside and out and has top instincts. Despite his size, he is more than an adequate as a blocker. He has issues with ball security. He put the ball on the ground too much this past season.
As I have said before, Abdullah reminds me of Thurman Thomas and Joe Cribbs two former Buffalo Bill backs. They all have similar size and quickness. It remains to be seen if he will have the same type of production in the NFL.
5) Jay Ajayi – Boise State
If you want a complete back, Ajayi just may be your guy. In 2014, he ran for over 1800 yards and had 50 receptions. He also scored 32 touchdowns. That’s production! At 6000 – 221, he has size to go along with adequate speed (4.57). While he may not be a burner, he is very quick with excellent change of direction and body control.
He is productive both inside and out and is able to get yards after contact. He has good vision and is a good jump cutter and cutback runner. As a receiver, he has soft hands and does a good job getting open. Like many college backs, he has to improve his blocking skills.
I can see Ajayi becoming a starter early in his career and becoming a productive NFL back.