Rookie Draft Preview: Running Backs

Updated: April 22nd 2014

The NFL Draft is only two weeks away! I have analyzed the tape, scouting reports and combine performances, and over the next two weeks, I am going to provide you all the information you need to know about the incoming crop of rookies so that you can get the best bang for your buck in your RSO Rookie Draft. Below I start with my list of impactful players out of the incoming class of Running Backs, but be on the look out for analysis of rookies at other positions and a list of the overall top 60 rookies in the coming days. After the NFL Draft, I will provide updated analysis based on which NFL teams draft each rookie.

1. Jeremy Hill, LSU

The RB position certainly has been devalued at the top of recent drafts, but Jeremy Hill is ready to come in and help an NFL team right away. Major talent outweighs minor concerns in this case, so a pair of off the field incidents should not influence your RSO draft boards. The 235-pound Hill is the definition of a grinder, but for a big man he has quick feet through narrow space. Former NFL head coach Cam Cameron, who coached LSU’s offense in 2013, believes the RB is one of the best he has coached. Cameron specifically praised Hill’s tenacity as a runner and pass protector, and the back’s soft hands as a receiver. Lastly, Hill has hardly any tread on his tires, entering the NFL after only two years as a primary back at LSU and without any serious injury history. Hill is an immediate red zone option, and RSO owners in need of a RB3/RB4 should take a hard look.

2. Tre Mason, Auburn

Not often do you hear an athlete’s name mentioned with Bo Jackson’s. Tre Mason had a monster junior campaign, breaking multiple single-season records previously held by Jackson. He smartly declared for the draft, taking advantage of a colossal postseason in the national spotlight. The only knocks on Mason are his size and hypothetical durability concerns. However, every-down backs are nearly extinct, so Mason’s physical shortcomings should not be overanalyzed. It’s difficult not to love this decisive runner who sliced up SEC defenses and rarely takes a false step in the backfield. Mason was blessed with a low center of gravity and tremendous vision, priming him for a longer than expected NFL career.

3. Ka’Deem Carey, Arizona

Arizona’s workhorse padded his resume for scouts in 2013, averaging 156 yards per game (2nd in FBS). He displayed a physical streak when both cradling the ball and in space as a blocker. However, media sirens went off in February when Carey ran a pedestrian 4.62 forty at the combine. Two factors compensate for his lack of breakaway speed.
• Professional defenses seldom allow backs to escape the second level. Only five backs (Forte, Spiller, McCoy, Murray, Peterson) had more than two (2) rushes of 40+ yards last year. Not one of those top backs eclipsed four (4) such runs.
• Carey possesses one of the more underappreciated RB traits. He falls forward at the end of runs habitually with exceptional leg drive.
On the contrary, the Wildcat’s off-field history raises red flags. Since being crowned NCAA rushing champion in 2012, Carey has had three run-ins with the law. Notwithstanding, his willingness to pass protect and his ferocious style with the rock makes him a strong candidate to immediately contribute on the next level.

4. Bishop Sankey, Washington

He has a similar skill set to Giovanni Bernard, the first RB selected in the 2013 draft, and Sankey’s combine performance slightly topped Bernard’s in every category. The Washington product forced scouts to go back to the tape after benching 225 pounds twenty-six times (second most among RBs at combine). However, that strength does not discernably present itself on tape. Sankey often struggles to run through arm tackles and finish runs. On the other hand, his best attributes pop on tape – evidence of above average patience, vision and durability. Like Bernard did, Sankey will bring an excellent pair of mitts to the league and projects as a decent 3rd down option for his team.

5. Carlos Hyde, Ohio State

Hyde has a great sense for where the first down chains are, and his career average of 6.1 yards per carry proves it. Given most GMs and coaches are leaning toward not investing high in the running back position, they still are drawn to physical backs who can dish out punishment. He and Eddie Lacy entered the league with practically identical measurables and each runs with a chip on his shoulder. Conversely, Hyde is far more inconsistent than the top 2013 offensive rookie and does not possess the nimble feet Lacy boasts. Hyde should see goal-line work, which will boost his fantasy production, but his value really hinges on where he lands.

6. Lache Seastrunk, Baylor

This speedy back could not break into Oregon’s 2010 rotation, as he sat behind LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner on the depth chart. Two years later, Lache Seatrunk finally erupted in Baylor’s dynamic offense. He got his first collegiate start midway through 2012, following his team’s fourth straight loss. The Bears went on to win 12 of their next 13 games. Seastrunk averaged a crazy 9.9 yards per carry over that span and scored three touchdowns in the sole loss. The Oregon transfer has breakaway speed and rare elusiveness, but also has an uphill battle to see game action at the next level. He didn’t catch a pass all season and is limited in pass protection, two qualities necessary to gain NFL coaches’ trust.

7. Storm Johnson, UCF

A popular sleeper pick, Storm Johnson ended his collegiate career in the shadow of his UCF teammate QB Blake Bortles. Yet, when watching him run, it’s evident why Johnson was a top recruit of the Miami Hurricanes a few years ago. Although unique in running style and stature, he stays low to the ground, he’s a physical runner, and his vision and anticipation in the open field nicely complement his change of direction skill, especially for a big back (6’0”, 215 lbs.). When at UCF, defenders seemed to bounce off Johnson in space, but his rawness presented itself when in tight space. He missed gaping holes and bounced runs outside too frequently, was prone to fumbling and was exposed in pass protection. His dual-threat success at the college level should serve him well as he attempts to carve a role in the NFL. He is not a burner, but Johnson projects as a top second-tier back in this class.

8. Andre Williams, Boston College

Williams may have difficulty facing faster and smarter defensive fronts. He acquired four years of experience at Boston College and has a clean record off the field. His production and intelligence lowers his risk as a prospect, but the nation’s 2013 rushing champion (2,177 yards) must show he can be a more dependable pass catcher and tighten up his footwork behind the line of scrimmage.

9. Terrance West, Towson

West has prototypical size for the position, and he plays closer to 6’0” than his 5’9” build lets on. That must be taken with a grain of salt though, since physicality is difficult to gauge at such a low level of competition, and because he didn’t necessarily open eyes at combine testing. That said, West made things look easy on the lower FCS level, as evidenced by his stellar career numbers (punctuated by his 2509 yards and 41 TDs in 2013), and his stock will definitely rise if drafted by a zone blocking team or by one who feeds off power runners. The Towson product will undoubtedly bring an all-business attitude to whichever franchise takes a shot on him, and thus, his value is tied to what kind of grooming he receives early in his career. He’ll have to learn a lot very quickly in the passing game – both as a receiver and pass protector. West is a project who may sit at #3 on an NFL depth chart in 2014, but is a name RSO owners should know.

10. Charles Sims, West Virginia

Sims’s size and catching ability project well to the NFL. It is still a mystery why Sims transferred from the University of Houston with one year of eligibility remaining, but consistency against stronger Big 12 competition boosts his stock. The fifth-year senior doesn’t excel or lack in any given area, but his ball security and willingness to play through nagging injuries has been questioned.

11. Marion Grice, Arizona State

This junior college transfer may have had the softest hands in college football last year and, over two seasons at Arizona State, demonstrated a knack for finding the end zone. His potential to become a top multi-threat in this draft class has been underreported. Although there is opportunity in today’s NFL to make a career as a shifty pass catcher out of the backfield, Grice is taller and less explosive than a Sproles, Woodhead or Vereen. The former Sun Devil runs at 6’0” and a lean 208 pounds and I don’t foresee development as a north-south yardage eater. It’d be harsh to call Grice soft, but if called upon to soon, he will be overpowered by NFL fronts. Production out of a third down-utility role, in all likelihood, represents Grice’s ceiling. Still, keep an eye on the system he ends up in. If penciled into such a role with the Saints, Packers or Steelers, he could make for an intriguing RSO bench option.

12. Henry Josey, Missouri

Regardless of where he lands in the draft, Henry Josey is one underclassman safe from criticism for leaving school too early. Josey took a medical redshirt in 2012 to recover from a significant knee injury suffered in the late stages of the previous season – a knee injury the team doctor called “a tragic fluke, a one-in-a-million type.” Nevertheless, the kid overcame the psychological and (obvious) physical components of his recovery brilliantly, piling up 1,166 yards and 16 TDs on the ground in his final season. If that comeback season was not enough of an indication, Josey’s 4.43 forty-time (third fastest) at the combine confirmed he is healthy. However, Josey does expose himself too often and must learn to protect himself a la Wes Welker. No other red flags here, but Josey must prove his worth as a 5’8” speed back in a league that’s getting bigger and stronger by the day. RSO watch list nominee.

13. Devonta Freeman, Florida State

Freeman is a hot name at the RB position right now. He was the most consistent back in the BCS Champions’ crowded, talented backfield, leading it in rushing yards and TDs. Additionally, the power he displayed last year as a true junior makes one think he could see some snaps in 2014. However, I can envision Freeman flashing briefly as a rookie, only to then disappoint overzealous RSO owners. The combination of his soft hands in the passing game and aforementioned consistency could yield long-term production. At this point, though, don’t jump the gun and take a wait-and-see approach on Freeman.

14. De’Anthony Thomas, Oregon

The most electric (and smallest statured) player on the big board has very little short-term upside in fantasy. His production and durability dropped each of his three seasons at Oregon, cementing his ceiling as a complementary NFL player.

15. Isaiah Crowell, Alabama State

Small school guys rarely get second opportunities in the NFL, meaning it’s essential for Isaiah Crowell to make the most of his first. Come May, one NFL team will take a shot on this RB, in spite of several red flags he bears. Issues regarding his coachability, or lack thereof, first cropped up in his initial collegiate stint at the University of Georgia. Crowell did little to repair that image at Alabama State, as problems involving work ethic and mental toughness persisted. Moreover, he failed to consistently dominate inferior competition, a usual prerequisite for draftable prospects (especially those with red flags) out of small schools. Onto a few positives – Crowell often makes the first defender miss and habitually racks up yards after that first contact. Additionally, one will be impressed when watching his lateral movement on tape. On the other hand, a few of those red flags are noticeable on the field. At times he displays horrible body language and seemingly is out there just going through the motions. Crowell makes this list based on pure raw talent, since he did show flashes of brilliance against SEC defenses in 2011.

16. Dri Archer, Kent State

Not only did he run a blazing 4.26 forty at the combine, falling just short of Chris Johnson’s 4.24 effort in 2008, but the Kent St. product also measured like a track star in Indy. In fact, he was the smallest running back there at 5’7” and 173 pounds. Bearing that in mind, it seems curious that some scouts have Archer ranked as a wide receiver. The speedster will have to dramatically improve his ball skills to be a dual threat whom a team can move around. Based on his special teams value, he could be a Day 2 surprise pick. For RSO purposes though, Archer probably won’t get a look unless injuries stack up.

Others To Watch: Rajion Neal, Tennessee; Jerick McKinnon, GA Southern; Kapri Bibbs, CO State

More Analysis by Stephen Wendell

2014 NFL Mock Draft

Updated: April 3rd 2014

As we all know, NFL mock drafts are crapshoots. Still, it’s a helluva lot of fun trying to predict what GMs are going to do on draft day, and every fan has his wishes and thoughts on what his favorite team should do.

Every year, experts and amateur fans alike try their hands at creating NFL mock drafts, and, like with NCAA tournament brackets, no ever gets every pick right. In fact, we wouldn’t be surprised if Warren Buffett offered up $10 billion to someone who can get all 32 picks correct in this year’s NFL draft.

Regardless of the odds, we think it’s worth at least giving an NFL mock draft a shot. Things will most certainly change (e.g. we don’t predict trades), and we’re sure our NFL mock draft will be totally busted come draft day, but below is our best guess at this point. Let us know what you think in the comments!

1. Houston Texans – Jadeveon Clowney (DE – South Carolina)

The Texans need a QB, but Clowney is a once-in-a-decade type talent and we know how the Texans like to roll (see Mario Williams). They take the sure thing and will grab a QB later.

2. St. Louis Rams – Greg Robinson (OT – Auburn)

The Rams need to protect Bradford in order to allow him to live up to his potential. Robinson is a potential All Pro tackle or guard.

3. Jacksonville Jaguars – Blake Bortles (QB – Central Florida)

Bortles, who played down the road from Jacksonville, has shown that he has the skills and size to be a franchise QB. Could he be the second coming of Roethlisberger for the Jags?

4. Cleveland Browns – Johnny Manziel (QB – Texas A&M)

The Browns need to add some excitement to their franchise, and who better to do that with than Johnny Football? The fan base will be happy, and so will the Browns players.

5. Oakland Raiders – Sammy Watkins (WR – Clemson)

As we all know, the Raiders and Al Davis love speedy athletes, especially at the WR position. Sammy Watkins is exactly that and will be their #1 guy right away.

6. Atlanta Falcons – Jake Matthews (OT – Texas A&M)

The Falcons play it relatively safe and take Matthews, an almost sure thing and a legacy NFL tackle who will hold down the line and protect Matt Ryan for years.

7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Khalil Mack (OLB – Buffalo)

Mack is one our favorite players in the draft, and the Bucs are lucky that he slips this far. An absolute steal at #7, and a potential game-changer on D.

8. Minnesota Vikings – Teddy Bridgewater (QB – Louisville)

The Vikings sit pretty and take Bridgewater, who will be the perfect compliment to Adrian Peterson on offense. Teddy will step in right away and take over QB for the Vikes.

9. Buffalo Bills – Mike Evans (WR – Texas A&M)

The Bills ranked 28th last year in passing yards per game (only 194 yds/game), so they need to upgrade that aspect of their team in order to compete in today’s NFL.

10. Detroit Lions – Darqueze Dennard (CB – Michigan State)

The Lions get the best all-around, physical CB in the draft and a local guy who they should know very well. He fits a big need in a big way.

11. Tennessee Titans – Anthony Barr (DE/OLB – UCLA)

Barr has top 10 skills and came with a lot hype coming into the draft process, but has slipped just a little bit with apparent weak tape. A good fit and pick here for Titans.

12. New York Giants – Eric Ebron (TE – North Carolina)

Eli Manning needs more explosive options, and Ebron is by far the most dynamic TE in the draft. He fills a big void after the Giants lost their starter in Free Agency.

13. St. Louis Rams – Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (S – Alabama)

The Rams need another WR, but go for the top player at a need D position here, anticipating that the deeper WR class will allow them to reap the benefits later on.

14. Chicago Bears – Aaron Donald (DT – Pittsburgh)

The Bears get a relative steal in Donald, who absolutely tore up the combine and Senior Bowl. He could be a dominating player and is great value at #14.

15. Pittsburgh Steelers – Brandin Cooks (WR – Oregon State)

The Steelers lost some WR talent in free agency, and they need to give Big Ben some weapons on the outside a la Mike Wallace, so they go with a burner.

16. Dallas Cowboys – Timmy Jernigan (DT – Florida State)

Defensive line is the biggest need for the Cowboys, especially with Ware gone, so they go with the best available 3-technique left in the draft.

17. Baltimore Ravens – Calvin Pryor (S – Louisville)

The Ravens are known for having and needing solid play from their safeties, and this year they get a nice infusion of youth in the back end of their secondary.

18. New York Jets – Odell Beckham Jr. (WR – LSU)

It’s pretty obvious that the Jets desperately need help on offense, and Odell Beckham Jr. would be a great addition to the WR corps in addition to signing Eric Decker.

19. Miami Dolphins – Taylor Lewan (OL – Michigan)

The Dolphins need to improve their OL, especially after losing 2 players due to the scandal. Lewan falls right into their lap and is the best available option here.

20. Arizona Cardinals – Derek Carr (QB – Fresno State)

People seem to forget that the Arizona Cardinals don’t have a QB of the future, and incumbent Carson Palmer only has a year or 2 left in the tank. A slight surprise, but Carr is very good.

21. Green Bay Packers – Louis Nix III (NT – Notre Dame)

The Packers get some youth and depth in the middle of their line, giving them a safety valve in case B.J. Raji falters again, also giving Raji some competition.

22. Philadelphia Eagles – Marqise Lee (WR – USC)

With the release of DeSean Jackson, the Eagles have a big hole to fill on the outside. Chip Kelly certainly knows a thing or two about Lee from his Pac 12 days, so he fits.

23. Kansas City Chiefs – Kony Ealy (DE – Missouri)

Though he may not be the most famous DE coming out of Missouri, Ealy is a solid pass rusher who will step in right away for the Chiefs alongside Hali & Poe.

24. Cincinnati Bengals – Dee Ford (DE – Auburn)

Dee Ford has been making some noise during the draft process, and a nice showing on a big stage this year has his stock rising at the right time.

25. San Diego Chargers – Jason Verrett (CB – TCU)

This pick makes a lot of sense for the Chargers, who need help in the secondary and seem to like Verrett a lot. He could be a Courtland Finnegan type.

26. Cleveland Browns – C.J. Mosley (LB – Alabama)

This could be the steal of the draft if Mosley actually lasts this long. He may slip a little due to team needs, and the Browns would be all smiles if so.

27. New Orleans Saints – Ryan Shazier (OLB – Ohio State)

The Saints desperately need some help at the OLB position, currently with 2 no-names set to start. Shazier would be a great value pick right here.

28. Carolina Panthers – Zack Martin (OT – Notre Dame)

The Panthers need big time help on the line to protect Cam Newton, especially given his bum ankle. Martin is a low-risk pick and could be a steady LT.

29. New England Patriots – Kelvin Benjamin (WR – Florida State)

The Patriots are known for taking relatively unknown players at the end of round 1, but this time they get a well-known WR who could make a huge impact with Brady.

30. San Francisco 49ers – Bradley Roby (CB – Ohio State)

The 49ers get Roby, who could have gone a lot higher, to shore up their secondary and fill their biggest team need, especially given their competition.

31. Denver Broncos – Kyle Fuller (CB – Virginia Tech)

It’s pretty clear that if the Broncos want to win now, they need to be able to defend the pass. They grabbed Talib, and now they get another capable DB.

32. Seattle Seahawks – Ra’Shede Hageman (DT – Minnesota)

The World Champs close out the first round with a solid replacement on the defensive line, emphasizing their strength and prepping for another run at it.

How do you think we did? Thoughts on your team’s projected pick? Let us know in the comments!

More Analysis by Zach Wendkos