With the 2016 NFL Draft just 21 days from now, I decided to list my top ten ranked player at each position and give an evaluation for all of them. Today I’m starting with the group of running backs. But make sure to check in throughout the next three weeks as I will publish the other top ten lists leading up to draft day.
1. Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio State
He’s the complete package when it comes to ball carriers. He has ideal size, runs with great forward lean, footwork, balance and break-away speed. The two things I like most about him though are his outstanding vision and competitiveness. By that I mean the little things that help his team win – always fighting for every inch and consistently knocking down blitzers in protection. With just four fumbles on almost 600 rushing attempts ball security doesn’t seem to be an issue here either. The only thing he hasn’t shown quite yet is his contribution as a pass-catcher, but his hands looked more than good at his pro day. I watched him completely take over games with the coaches putting the ball in his hands each and every play. He can carry a whole team.
2. Derrick Henry, Alabama
This is one big dude. At 6’3’’, 250 pounds the Heisman Trophy winner was a nightmare for defenses around the country with his punishing running style. He is an extremely powerful back with great instincts and much better speed than you’d expect. He lets his offensive line open up holes and when he sees a lane he can stick his foot in the ground as good as anybody and then he goes downfield without any fear what might be ahead because he feels like he can run over anybody in the process. He takes tremendous care of the football and has improved his blocking and receiving skills, even though the Crimson Tide didn’t ask him to do much in the passing game. While there certainly are concerns about his huge frame, the enormous workload he received (395 carries in 2015) and the ability to make things happen without space, I think he’ll be a monster in a zone-scheme with a good offensive line in front of him.
3. Devontae Booker, Utah
In his junior season Booker burst onto the scene with over 1500 yards rushing and 10 scores even though he didn’t even start the first three games that year. He continued his dominance in his senior year before tearing his meniscus in the tenth game of the season. He has a powerful and well-built body and runs even harder. His low center of gravity and leg drive make him a tackle-breaking machine. Despite his heavy running style he has light feet and good balance. Even though his impact as a pass-catcher was limited to checkdown throws and screen plays he has natural hands and can turn up the field quickly. The concerns with him are his ball security and his liability in pass protection. And even though he might not have the end-speed to run away from whole defenses, he kind of reminds me of Marshawn Lynch and that’s exciting.
4. C.J. Prosise, Notre Dame
Playmaker. He’s very patient, but can hit the gap with burst if it’s open. The former slot receiver is a great dancer in the open field with lots of shake, although sometimes I’d like to see him go more north and south. His value on checkdown routes is much higher than in protection. He’s hard to bring down, because he always keeps his leg moving, although he could finish runs more physical. He’ll have to learn to be more aggressive and physical with blitzers. This kid is an awesome stretch-runner with a lot of value as a receiver, who has break-away speed. I really like him as a prospect simply because he only played one year as a running back and still was huge for the Irish. If he figures out the details of his position – Look out!
5. Kenyan Drake, Alabama
As Phil Savage, the executive director of the Senior Bowl, said – this kid is a swiss army knife. He can make plays in the run, pass and return game. He had a horrific knee injury in 2014 and wasn’t in the national spotlight because the Heisman trophy winner got the rock 30+ times a game. But I think he could be a Darren Sproles – like player because of his explosiveness, speed, the ability to elude defenders and what I like most about him – the aggressiveness when he finishes runs. Because of his resume as a return man, punt rusher and gunner he could have a lot of value as a special teams contributor early on before he finds his way into the backfield rotation.
6. Kenneth Dixon, Louisiana Tech
First of all – he had an inexperienced O-line in front of him and he still made things happen when there’s nothing was there. Part of it is his ability to spin and twist away from tacklers. He is a mismatch against linebackers on routes over the middle and to the outside. The great balance and power he displays make him an intriguing prospect. He has nice versatility as he can the flexed out, especially in the slot. His consistent productiveness in college with an average of 5.6 yards per run is impressive, but I don’t think he has quite the athletic body to become an elite player at his position at the next level. But if he can learn to get rid of some of the wasted movement when dancing in the open field, work on his protection skills and get rid of the fumbles he could become a valuable piece to a backfield committee.
7. Jonathan Williams, Arkansas
I feel really bad for this kid as he missed the entire 2015 season. He has tons of shake-and-bake and gets away from traffic a lot. He doesn’t mind running through contact either. I’m not sure how good his hands are, since this wasn’t a big part of the Arkansas offense and he tends to run a little upright, but I really like him as a prospect and he had a good pro day workout to show scouts he is ready for the field again. I would choose him over his teammate, who is coming up next.
8. Jordan Howard, Indiana
This kid looks and plays very powerful. He can really put his foot in the ground and go and he always falls forward. He can shake and push off tacklers downfield as well as picking up the tough yards through the middle, but he can also bounce outside and get away from the defense. I like how he always keeps his feet moving and drives with his linemen down the field. I would like to see more of him as a pass catcher, better strength in protection and a clearer medical report though to move him any higher as this point.
9. Paul Perkins, UCLA
At 210 pounds soaking wet, Perkins might not have the size to look like an NFL back, but he is a shifty and slashing runner who can fit through tight spaces and create on his own. His patience and natural running style combines very well with his ability to make people miss in the open field. He also has great balance and an ability to track the ball in the air. He works hard on his protection skills and is willing to give up his body, but he won’t be able to fully take away those 250+ linebackers in the league. Still, he has shown he can be a valuable asset in the passing game as a receiver.
10. Alex Collins, Arkansas
The Razorback’s No. 2 all-time rusher (only behind Darren McFadden) finished his junior year with almost 1600 yards and 20 touchdowns after reaching the 1000 yard mark the previous two seasons as well. He looks and plays much bigger than his 217 pounds would let you think. His frame should be no concern for NFL teams and neither should be his foot quickness in the backfield to burst through the holes, but his bad ball security (16 total fumbles at Arkansas) and his ability to really get away from tacklers should be. I’m not sure about his decision making because of the penetration of defensive lines in the league and his tendency to take too long to hit the second level. I think there’s a reason Jonathan Williams beat him out on the depth chart in 2014.