Yesterday we took a pre-combine look at this year’s crop of receivers. Today we’ll tackle the running backs. I still have plenty of film to watch on this year’s class, and I suspect that I’ll be adjusting and tightening these rankings over the next two months as we move towards the draft. Still, I wanted to give a feel for the position before the backs workout.
One thing I want to make very clear, is this year’s running back class is outstanding. A player does not need to be ranked in the top two tiers to have starter potential at the next level. In fact, almost every back on this list has the ability to carry the ball in the NFL. This is obviously good news for a team like the Patriots, who can play hardball with a lot of their current runners, knowing full well that they can supplement their backfield and not even need a premium pick to do so. As a side note, it’s also worth remembering that the Patriots stole a quality prospect from the Panthers last season.
Check out my 2014 scouting report on Tyler Gaffney if you don’t know his story. He could be the next low profile Patriot skill player to make a splash in the league. I’ll be posting reports of all the backs listed below in the coming weeks. In addition to the scouting reports, Jim Hackett and I will be breaking down all the skill players on the Fantasy Football Podcast, sponsored by our friends at DraftKings.
Alright, let’s break down the backs. The top twenty players are grouped into four tiers. I’ve included film for most of the backs. Just click on their name to view.
Todd Gurley, Georgia
At the top we have Gurley all by himself just to underscore his upside as a potential franchise back. He’ll be a very limited participant this weekend, but his film tells the only story you need to know. Gurley is such a potential monster that I will refrain from any of the obvious Hans and Franz jokes out of respect. If not for his recent ACL injury, I’d bet money that he’d be a first round draft pick. Maybe he’ll still sneak in there anyway, but the depth of the position, both in this draft and in the NFL, will work against him and all the other backs as well. This is the new reality in the NFL.
Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin
Duke Johnson, Miami
Mike Davis, South Carolina
TJ Yeldon, Alabama
Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska
Jay Ajayi, Boise State
Tevin Coleman, Indiana
Tier two is a magnificent seven. Gordon has the buzz, and it’s well deserved. He has the potential to be a three-down guy at the next level. Johnson is Rotobahn’s favorite back in this year’s class, but at 206 pounds, he has some things to prove in terms of durability. Davis is the sleeper of this group, but at Rotobahn we love the diversity of his game, and it comes in a large 220 plus pound package. Yeldon has that size and speed thing and he’s also an underrated receiver. He may surprise some people with his combine performance. The Alabama star looks plenty fast on film.
Abdullah is a tremendous all-around player. The only thing keeping him from being the best in this class is his lack of size. Having said that, I expect an impressive overall combine performance from the former Nebraska captain. Ajayi may not be all that well known, but he has an NFL skill set and the kind of receiving ability that will make PPR-leaguers salivate. Coleman’s inclusion is honorary as he will not participate in drills this week due to a foot injury. The ex-Hoosier star is a good fit for a team who runs a lot of zone or stretch and we expect him to participate in Indiana’s pro day.
David Cobb, Minnesota
David Johnson, Northern Iowa
Cobb is just a bit below the tier two options, but he’s an NFL back based on his film. Johnson is a small school guy, but we’ve seen plenty of talent come out of Northern Iowa in the past, so take him seriously. The thing we love about Johnson is his receiving ability, and that includes routes and quick feet. He had a good week at the Senior Bowl and he’ll be a hot name if he performs well in Indianapolis. Fantasy players in PPR leagues need to know about this guy. He reminds me of Theo Riddick, but in a bigger frame.
Javorius Allen, USC
Zach Zenner, South Dakota State
Josh Robinson, Mississippi State
Jahwan Edwards, Ball State
Malcolm Brown, Texas
Jeremy Langford, Michigan State
Cameron Artis-Payne, Auburn
Karlos Williams, Florida State
Dominique Brown, Louisville
Matt Jones, Florida
Allen, also known as ‘Buck’, might stand out in a typical draft class. He’s multi-skilled and he proved that he can carry the load last season with 276 carries. Zenner, while being little known, has big ability to go with a big 220-plus pound frame. Robinson must answer questions about his speed on Saturday, but his game tape is reminiscent of Maurice Jones-Drew. He makes outstanding cuts and is very hard to get to the ground. Edwards ran very well for Ball State over a four year span, and is one of the more underrated talents at the position. I’m ready to move him up if he tests well. Brown lacks buzz right now and that’s understandable after a disappointing senior year, but his game film shows a back with NFL ability. Langford is smaller than the rest of the tier, but he had a strong senior season while proving he can be a workhorse when needed.
Artis-Payne was finally given a chance to shine and shine he did — carrying the rock 303 times as a senior after sitting behind Tre Mason as a junior. Williams is a massive talent with off the field baggage. He needs to impress in the interview room and in his individual meeting with teams. He has the potential to be a versatile weapon at the next level if he can mature and find the right situation. Brown and Jones are both huge backs. Jones is the more game-ready of the two, but Brown has intriguing athleticism for a man his size. Both men are expected to weigh in at 230 pounds or more.
All the players in this group have a chance to move up. I’m still watching and looking for more film on this group, but I like what I see so far. The combine is a great place for all of these backs to separate themselves from a talented pack. None of these players can afford to run slow or post a dreadful agility score. This class is simply too deep and competitive. The pressure is most certainly on.