NFL Draft Position Rankings 1.0: Running Backs
By Jim Johnson
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Ranking the ACC, SEC, Sun Belt, and SoCon 2017 NFL Draft prospects.
The 2017 NFL Draft is just a couple of months away and, as always, the bulk of the top talent is coming out of our coverage area -- the ACC and SEC (with some Sun Belt and SoCon players as well) -- so I will be releasing fluid position rankings throughout the run-up to April 27th. This ranking only includes players from teams that we cover, meaning some of the major players from the other conferences will not be included. Curiously, the rankings wouldn't look much different even if they were, though.
1. Dalvin Cook, Florida State
If a would-be tackler makes even one miniscule mistake -- a millisecond hesitation, an early gap commitment, a single misstep -- Cook will make them pay. Lateral agility and change of direction ability is off the charts. Hits homeruns, but is far from boom or bust. Excellent pass catcher out of the backfield. Scary speed. Some injury issues at Florida State and occasionally looks to bounce outside earlier than he should, but Cook is the ultimate modern NFL running back.
2. Leonard Fournette, LSU
Built like a linebacker, runs like a defensive back. Gets to top speed in no time, unlike most backs of his size. Seemingly looks for safeties in the open field and proceeds to add them to a seemingly endless highlight reel of punishing stiff arms and 'truck sticks'. Adequate hands, but doesn't blow you away as an option in the passing game. Not very elusive, although, in fairness, he's never needed to be. Running style could lead to injury concerns.
3. Alvin Kamara, Tennessee
Diet Dalvin Cook. Extreme burst and acceleration. Great balance allows him to pick up yards after contact. Combined with his agility and flexibility, Kamara always seems to get a little more than he should. Great hands, lined up in the slot some at Tennessee. Has never had an opportunity to prove himself as an every down back. Never had more than 20 carries in a single game in college. Uses the same left cut in the open field -- predictable.
4. James Conner, Pittsburgh
Obviously, superhuman resilience off the field, but as a runner as well. Hard to see under the facemask, but probably laughs at arm tackles. Runs behind his pads, lowers his shoulder to deliver powerful hits to potential tacklers. Elite stiff arm. Scoring machine. Not going to make anyone miss. Not a natural, smooth pass catcher. Bare minimum, will be an asset in third-and-short and goalline situations.
5. Wayne Gallman, Clemson
Tough, high-effort runner that seemingly always made the most of sometimes limited opportunities at Clemson. Beats contain with hard in-cuts. Runs like he means it near the goalline, making sure to finish the drive, often with a second or even third-effort. Got away with toughness and brute force between the tackles, in college, but doesn't have great instincts in a crowd. Could help out as part of a committee, right away.
6. Matt Dayes, NC State
Patient runner with upper echelon vision. Great feel for peripheral defenders and body control when running between the tackles. Can be brought down by arm tackles. Not very elusive for someone his size. Good on outside runs when he can cut back. Needs to be in the right system.
7. Elijah McGuire, Louisiana
Superior athlete with a very high ceiling. Puts his foot in the ground on cuts. Runs by pursuit angles with uncanny acceleration. One of the best pass catching running backs in this class. Has to get better in pass protection. Vision could stand to improve. Was significantly impacted by a foot injury last year.
8. Elijah Hood, North Carolina
Powerful downhill running back. Decisive runner, trusts his instincts and bulldozes through tackles. Big and strong, an asset in pass protection. Serviceable receiver skills. Not very fast. Struggles to make people miss. Can't turn lemons to lemonade if the offensive line doesn't get a push. Could be useful in short-yardage situations.
9. Joseph Yearby, Miami
A couple productive seasons at Miami, aside from last year, are reason to give Yearby a shot. Still, it seems like a questionable decision for him to leave early. Great vision and hands. Not a burner, or a good blocker. Undersized.
10. De'Angelo Henderson, Coastal Carolina
Potential riser as the draft nears. Small, but powerful. Good speed and acceleration allows him to turn the corner. A nightmare to bring down in the open field. Impatient at times. Great effort, but his size leaves him with obvious limitations in protection and short-yardage scenarios.