In 10 years, if this NFL draft class will be remembered for anything, it will be for the running backs. This class is quite literally 15 or so players deep with guys who can run for a thousand yards right off the bat. This group of players brings guys of various sizes, abilities, and dynamics; all of which will make impacts in the right situations in the NFL. Ranking the players is so difficult because they are all so close together, and thus, it really comes down to nitpicking and preferences.
Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin, 6-1/213, First Round Grade
Gordon was the most electrifying running back in the country his last two years where he rushed for over four (four) thousand (thousand) yards at over 7.5 (SEVEN POINT FIVE) yards per carry. Obviously the numbers only say so much, but that shows insane levels of production and efficiency. Gordon has incredible burst and lateral agility that makes him the premier home run threat in this class. He does a great job of creating at the line of scrimmage and finding that big play opportunity. When Gordon gets into the open field, his size and quickness make him too much to bring down. He is not all boom or bust through. The Wisconsin back does a good job of working in between the tackles, and he has much better vision than given credit for. There are questions about his third down ability in the NFL, but when given the opportunity, he displayed pro ability as both a pass catcher and blocker. The issues with Gordon lie in the fact that he is too often looking for that big play, and sometimes misses those important four and five yard gains. I think the issue as a whole is overblown, but it is there. With Gordon though, it is important to realize that in a situation where he is getting 20+ carries a game, at least four or five of those will end up being explosive plays. That is an incredibly valuable dynamic to have on a team.
Pro Comparison: Bigger, “slower” Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs
Todd Gurley, Georgia, 6-1/226, First Round Grade
Ever since blowing up as a freshman, it was clear that Todd Gurley would be a special NFL running back. Unfortunately, injuries of all types have really stood in the way of him really being able to show off his full skill set in college. Those injuries, including a recent ACL tear, are going to be a big worry going forward, but I am just looking at Gurley from a talent perspective. Gurley is a powerful runner with immense strength, size and leg drive. He has the ability to bounce off of, run over and through defensive players at any level of the field. Even more impressive is the way he can move at almost 230 pounds. Gurley possesses incredible top end speed and good burst. He does a good job at moving laterally and is above average at creating for himself as a runner. He is also a very capable receiver who can stay on the field on every down. If he proves his health, it is arguable that he is less of a projection than Gordon. Regardless, Gurley is a supremely talented player and, healthy willing, will be an NFL star.
Pro Comparison: More Athletic Eddie Lacy, Green Bay Packers
Duke Johnson, Miami, 5-9/206, First Round Grade
Like Gurley, it has been clear since his freshman year that Johnson would be a star. Johnson is the type of the player who just does everything, to different degrees, very well. He is a very balanced runner with great leg drive and functional power. He has good vision at the line and the second level, plus he does a great job creating ‘something out of nothing’ on the field. His best attributes are his agility, burst and receiving ability. As a runner, Johnson is a pain in the ass to tackle in the open field due to how quickly he changes direction, and how unpredictable he is. As a receiver, the young back has soft hands and does a great job route running. He is not great in pass protection, but does enough where you will not take him off the field on third down. He is the jack of all trades and ace of a few more. There are prior injuries that are a bit concerning, but there is no denying his on field talent.
Pro Comparison: Brian Westbrook, Former Philadelphia Eagle
Mike Davis, South Carolina, 5-9/226, Second Round Grade
Mike Davis’ career as a Gamecock is a bit of a strange one. After a very impressive sophomore season, Davis’ utilization decreased in 2014 and he looked a half a step slower. That is a bit of a mystery considering his weight did not change noticeably and makes me think there is an injury there. However, the South Carolina running back has an incredibly intriguing skill set that, if healthy, makes him NFL ready right off the bat. Davis is very well built, and it translates to his running style. His low center of gravity and strength make for him to bounce off of defensive players on a rather consistent basis. Not only can he run over players, Davis has very quick feet for a bigger player, and he does a good job of making subtle cuts to make guys miss. It helps to also be a very good receiver, who runs good routes, and has very soft hands. My issue with Davis is that his vision is inconsistent on occasion and that his explosiveness dipped this past year. If he can get his burst back, he is going to surprise a lot of people in the NFL.
Pro Comparison: Doug Martin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska, 5-9/195, Second Round Grade
Abdullah is another player in this group that just does everything very, very well. He is a very quick-footed runner, who possesses superb lateral agility, and can change direction on a dime. Abdullah rarely is seen giving up on a run, and he constantly is creating more and more yardage for himself. Despite not having great size, and even though he can be brought down on first contact, the Nebraska prospect can just as well power for three or more yards or bounce off of a tackle due to how hard the he runs. Abdullah will not make a big impact as a blocker, but he is a phenomenal receiver. He runs great routes, does a great job creating yards after catch, and has solid hands. There are concerns about Abdullah’s size allowing him to be a full time back, but at the least, he will play a big part in a committee.
Pro Comparison: “Slower” Darren Sproles, Philadelphia Eagles