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2016 NFL Draft: Running Backs

By: Robert Davis

In recent years, the running back position has been devalued a bit. Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon were taken in the first round last year, the first backs in three years to earn that distinction. Even though teams are reluctant to use premium resources on the position, the position and role are still vital to success at the NFL level. You have to be able to run the ball to win games, so teams will be looking to add young talent at the position in the 2016 draft.

Ohio State's Ezekiel Elliott stands out above the pack this year. His blend of power and big play ability is special. He is well built at 6' 225lbs and plays even bigger, because of his aggressive and relentless running style. He will battle for extra yards and almost always falls forward at the end of the run. He's an excellent short yardage and goal line back because of his power and ability to run through contact. What really makes Elliott special is his quick feet and balance at his size. He isn't going to shake defenders with multiple moves, but he makes very sharp cuts and can change direction very well. He then accelerates quickly, getting up field and picking up big chunks of yardage. Elliott is a true workhorse back that can handle 20 carries a game, can pick up tough yardage, but also make big plays. Elliott should be the first back off the board and a first round pick in April.

  1. Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio St.
  2. Derrick Henry, Alabama
  3. Devontae Booker, Utah
  4. Jordan Howard, Indiana
  5. Kenneth Dixon, Lousiana Tech
  6. CJ Prosise, Notre Dame
  7. Alex Collins, Arkansas
  8. Jonathan Williams, Arkansas
  9. Kenyan Drake, Alabama
  10. Paul Perkins, UCLA

Derrick Henry for Alabama is an absolute load. At 6'3 242lbs, he's bigger than many NFL linebackers already. And he runs with authority like a linebacker. He craves contact and is looking to overpower defenders and run through them on his way to the end zone. The first defender isn't going to bring him down and it's tough for one defender to bring him down. He's not just pure power though. Henry is a very good athlete and has very good speed for such a large back. He can hit the corner and run away from defenders if given a crease. While his size aids him and his bruising style, it may also give him some trouble at times at the next level. He's a big target for NFL defenders to hit, and his height can make it hard enough for him to get low enough to move the pile at times. He's also untested as a receiver and will need to show he can catch the ball well enough to stay on the field on third downs. Henry will be a great addition to a team looking for a physical runner, and he'll bring some big play ability along with it. How high he goes may ultimately be decided by how well he tests out, but he's got a bright future on Sunday's and he won't last long on day two if he falls there.

Utah's Devontae Booker may not have the physical package Henry and Elliott have, but he's got the same aggressive demeanor in how he runs the football. He has only average size at 5'11 212, but Booker plays bigger because of his physicality. He is not afraid of contact, and his shorter stature makes him harder to get a hold of. He also has very quick feet to make the first guy miss and he accelerates quickly upfield. He's also got a very good set of hands. He's a real factor as a pass catcher, hauling in 80 receptions the last two years. He's been the focal point of the Ute offense for two years and teams still can't stop him. Booker does have some question marks in his game, however. The average size and his running style may give him some durability concerns at the next level. His college career is already over because of a torn meniscus, but he'll be fine for his rookie season. There is also some concern over his long range speed. Booker can make some big plays, but he doesn't appear to have great speed, which may hinder his big play ability at the next level. Booker is a better back than his physical skills may suggest, and his quick feet, toughness and receiving ability should make him a very solid weapon in the NFL.

Despite sharing the carries in Arkansas' attack, Alex Collins ran for 1,000 yards each of his first two seasons. An injury to Jonathan Williams gave him the lead job, and he has posted career highs across the board this year, again topping the 1,000 yard mark. Collins has solid physical tools across the board. He's got a sturdy build at 5'11 215lbs and he runs hard. He's got good quickness and speed, with the ability to turn the corner and break off big runs. The issues with Collins on the field are ball security and his receiving ability. In today's NFL, catching the ball is a must to maximize your ability. He shown soft hands at times, but he just hasn't been asked to do it very often with just 27 career receptions.There is also a lot of talk about how unmovitated Collins is. That's a lot of speculation but he has had some small run ins with the staff at times, and it's something that could hinder him as the draft approaches. There is definite day two talent and the upside to even outplay that draft position.

Louisiana Tech's Kenneth Dixon has been a very productive back as a runner and receiver over his career. He's a slasher at 5'10 215, showing the quick feet to make defenders miss and the speed to hit the corner. Dixon plays with impressive balance, with the ability to make plays without much visible space. He's also a proven playmaker as a receiver. Dixon relishes contact and loves to deliver a blow at the end of runs. He will battle for extra yards, and the authority in which he runs, allows him to break tackles with regularity. Dixon does have some shortcomings, however. He doesn't have blazing speed and isn't going to run away from defenders. He has a strong build, but may be maxed out, and at 215lbs, he could wear down with the aggressive running style he plays with. He also has almost 900 career touches, so he brings considerable wear on his tires entering the NFL. Dixon may not be a true big play back, but he's a player that you do not need to take off the field, and he will consistently pick up yardage. He has the look of a third or fourth rounder that could make an impact early in the NFL.

Jordan Howard was a standout at UAB before they dropped the program and he transferred to Indiana. He took his game to a new level as a Hoosier in 2015. He's a big bodied back that knows how to use it. At 6'1 230lbs, he is a load between the tackles and he doesn't waste time getting north and south. Howard will run through arm tackles, and has the strength to run people over at times as well. He's a tough short yardage runner, and will pick up the tough yardage. He also shows solid patience and the ability to find an open running lane. While he isn't going to juke many defenders, he does show the ability to run through initial contact and get to the hole. Howard lacks the speed to be a big play back and run by defenders, but he does reach top speed quickly, which allows him to get to the perimeter at times, and allows him to hit the hole quick enough to get to the second level of the defense. There are some durability concerns in Howard's game. He does not shy away from contact and that has seemed to leave him banged up at times. That is a concern at the next level. Howard is a true workhorse type of back that excels between the tackles. Even with some durability concerns, he would be an excellent fit for a team looking to add a physical element to their running game.

One of the more unheralded players at the position, Illinois' Josh Ferguson is the type of all purpose threat NFL teams crave nowadays. He's 5'10 200lbs, and can beat you in a variety of ways. Ferguson has the quickness, speed, and elusiveness to make big plays in a variety of ways, and may blossom in the NFL with more talent around him. He's got great hands and has over 160 career receptions. He also has experience on special teams, adding to his value. Ferguson is a willing runner between the tackles, but he doesn't always run aggressively. His slight frame doesn't give him much value in short yardage situations, and raises some durability concerns. He's missed three games this year with a shoulder injury, only further solidifying that concern. Ferguson is a name to watch, because he is an exciting weapon that hasn't gotten much press. Good workouts could make him a day two selection. He will add a lot of versatility to some teams offense next season.

TCU's Aaron Green originally began his career at Nebraska, before transferring after a season. He's emerged as a big play threat while TCU has become one of the better programs in the country. Geen's game is built around his shiftiness and ability to make people miss. He has tremendous feet and start/stop ability. He changes direction with ease and can really make defenders look bad in the process. Green's ability to make people miss give him the ability to make a big play any time he touches the football. He's probably best suited as a change of pace back at the next level. He's barely 200lbs and doesn't have the power to move the pile. As a change of pace guy, he's going to have to continue to improve his receiving ability. He won't see the field much if he isn't a weapon as a receiver. Green is a talented back that is a big play waiting to happen, but his overall upside is limited. The ideal role for Green will be as a change up to a more physical back in the NFL.

Kenyan Drake of Alabama has excelled as a change of pace back at the college level, and it's the type of role he projects at in the NFL as well. He's battled his way back from a nasty broken leg last year, showcasing his pre injury form as a versatile weapon in the Tide offense. He's a lean 210lbs, but has very good speed and cutting ability. He attacks the line of scrimmage and isn't afraid of contact, but there isn't a whole lot of power to his game. He wants to make a big play, and he's got the skills to do it. Once he gets to the edge or into space, he's going to be hard to catch. Drake is a proven threat as a receiver, which will help him get on the field and use his big play ability. A broken arm has caused him to miss some time this year, and he has dealt with other injuries at Alabama, which sort of puts him in that change of pace role. There may be some untapped potential if he can bulk up a bit and stay healthy, but he's got the speed and versatility to be a real weapon even as part of a committee.

Other players to watch: CJ Prosise(Notre Dame), Paul Perkins(UCLA), Kelvin Taylor(Florida), and Wendell Smallwood(West Virginia).

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