Yesterday I posted my personal ranking’s of my top five running backs in this year’s draft and now I’ll round out the top 10 and list some other names to consider in the later rounds. (In case you missed it or don’t feel like clicking the link to see yesterday’s top five here they are; 1) Eddie Lacy, 2) Johnathan Franklin, 3) Giovani Bernard, 4) Le’Veon Bell, 5) Andre Ellington.
6) Mike Gillislee (Florida) – Has all the tools to be a complete back in the NFL. Runs hard and fast, is a tough, physical downhill runner who can plant his foot and explode in and out of his cuts, quick feet and acceleration, and likes to hit the defense with combos of two or three moves in a row. Has good vision inside where he can find a tiny crease and burst through it and has great downfield vision after weaving his way through defenders (very good at making tacklers miss while running inside) and into the second level. Good speed (4.55 40) and can beat the defense around edge on tosses and sweeps or by bouncing an inside run outside.
Shifty and elusive, will squeak out extra yards by always fighting/leaning/diving forward or slipping through arm tackles. Doesn’t shy away from contact, will use his shoulder pads to his advantage, pinball like can bounce and spin off multiple defenders and shoot upfield. Will break tackles and gain extra yards on effort alone. However he doesn’t have the power to bowl over defenders or really move a pile, but he can he slip and squirm his way free to get a few extra yards every now and then. Has excellent balance to stay on his feet or sidestep down the sideline, very good awareness as a runner and receiver.
Good patience, will wait for the blockers to do their job and then quickly hit the hole, will take what the defense give him and rarely runs himself into trouble. In the passing game he has the ability to be a receiving threat and a good pass protector, he just needs to smooth out and expand this area of his game. Has good hands and can break big plays when given space to work with, but he’ll need to improve his route running and work on his blocking technique (mainly finishing the block) to become a three-down back. While he has good speed and excellent acceleration he doesn’t have that elite second gear, but he’s a savvy runner who gets yards in many different ways.
7) Monte Ball (Wisconsin) – Strong, physical north/south runner. Great vision, uses his blockers well, very patient but not hesitant. Powerful, shifty inside runner, runs with excellent pad level and puts them to good use, hard to bring down (will run through arm tackles) and loves contact, he will inflict punishment on would be tacklers.
Has great burst once a hole opens up, intelligent runner consistently finds ways to creative leverage to break tackles or gain extra yards, powerful high step is his preferred move but he makes good use of stiff arms and spin moves as well. His vision and setup ability allows him to bounce outside on occasion but he may have issues with this against faster defenses in the NFL as he doesn’t haven’t great speed (4.66 40).
Uses his smooth lateral movement to find a north/south lanes and will turn upfield at the first chance he gets. Has a nose for the goal-line/first-down marker, can run into a pile and keep driving his feet until he finds a seam to pop out of. He was underutilized as a receiving option, but he has good hands and can break off solid gains in space, but again he lacks breakaway speed and will get run down from behind. Has shown potential as a pass blocker and there’s no reason to think he can’t fulfill that potential with some NFL coaching and experience, but he needs to work on his technique, patience and blocking accuracy as well as finishing blocks.
Ball does many things exceptionally well and will immediately be an excellent short-yardage, complimentary back used for the tough inside runs, but the question NFL scouts are going to have to ask themselves is can he win on the outside edge in the NFL?
8 ) Christine Michael (Texas A&M) – Honestly part of me wants to have him much higher on this list, the other part of me recognizes his flaws and while I think these flaws could certainly be fixed (although many backs haven’t been able to fix these flaws in the past) I can’t give him credit for it until I actually see it. The major problem is his injury history, a broken leg against Texas Tech ended his season in 2010 and in 2011 he suffered a season-ending injury with a torn ACL.
He made it through the 2012 season without a major injury but he also didn’t see the field that much as it’s been widely reported he found himself in Kevin Sumlin’s doghouse. He got tossed from a game against Sam Houston State for throwing a punch and was suspended for the SMU game for violating team rules (which of course could mean just about anything). Michael also has had fumbling problems as he would run carelessly with the ball loose in his hand and extended away from his chest, which improved last year but is still a concern that whatever team drafts him will be sure to fix immediately.
Michael performed great on the field during the combine (4.54 40, 6.69 three-cone drill) gaining everyone’s attention, but he reportedly missed two interviews with teams because he overslept. But if you can forget about all that while you watch the tape you’ll see a very intriguing back.
Michael has incredible balance, good vision, strong powerful cuts, tough downhill runner with good pad level and does a great job of lowering the shoulder (good at creating leverage in many ways), absorbing hits and bouncing off defenders, with good acceleration and speed. Has the speed and moves to beat defenses outside, has the burst, power and sharp, quick cuts to take it between the tackles and can sometimes slip through the pile. Falls forward when he knows he’s going down and runs consistently hard with good effort making him hard to bring down. Has a nose for the goal-line/first-down marker, finds the small crease and launches himself through it. If there’s an open crease he’ll hit it immediately, though he does has to learn to be more patient and use his blockers more consistently as he has a tendency to get ahead of the play and run himself into trouble.
Has good hands and can definitely contribute as a receiver, though he will need to improve he definitely has the ability to do so and the same goes for pass protection. As with the other backs Michael mostly has to work on sticking with and finishing his blocks.
9) Joseph Randle (Oklahoma State) – Randle excels in the passing game. He has great hands, is a natural route runner and has the ability to juke defenders, read lanes and break off big plays on screens, swings or check downs. But he’s even better in pass protection, great awareness and technique and more often than not he completes his block, isn’t afraid to get physical but still needs to improve gaining leverage in certain situations.
As a runner he lacks elite speed (4.63 40) and is extremely quick/twitchy/shifty in confined spaces but has only average acceleration into open space. He’s a patient runner (his best runs were often on draw plays) and uses his blockers to guide him and will set up defenders and let them fly right past him. He will lower his shoulder and use his pads and he can be hard to tackle at times as he will keep fighting (leans forward as he’s being tackled), but he needs to do a better job of creating leverage as he doesn’t have a ton of drive in his legs.
Randle is very good in open space, but he’ll have a tough time running outside in the NFL with his speed. His tape can be deceiving because he has a lot of productive runs but the heavy majority of them are in a four-receiver spread formation against Big-12 defenses.
10) Stepfhan Taylor (Stanford) – Taylor is a solid, but not spectacular back. He has great vision and patience, uses his blockers to his advantage and is a strong downhill runner who can throw a good sitff-arm or two and will lower his shoulder and keep driving his legs looking for extra yards, he’s not exceptionally powerful but he certainly puts forth the effort and will keep fighting and lean forward for the extra yard. Good inside runner, reads the lanes decisively and makes good use of quick, nimble feet in tight space, but has only average at best acceleration out of his cuts. Ran a 4.70 40 and he plays like it on tape, effective inside runner, not so much outside.
Just a grind it out back, not a play-maker and not a threat in the receiving game. Has the potential to be a solid pass protector with some work. The Jet fans that ware thrilled to see Shonn Greene sent packing should want nothing to do with Taylor.
Wildcard: Marcus Lattimore – Lattimore is an exceptionally talented back who excels in just about every area of the game, problem is he’s suffered back-to-back season ending injuries, left knee in 2011, right knee in 2012. If I knew he was healthy and wouldn’t keep getting hurt I’d take him over the rest of these guys with no hesitation, but he suffered two major knee injuries in back-to-back years and I obviously don’t have access to his medical records, his doctors or a psychic so I’m hesitating and that’s why he’s the wildcard. Where gets drafted completely depends on how that particular team and their doctors feel about his health and at what point does his skill and potential outweigh the risk of injury?
Others to consider in late rounds: Knile Davis (Arkansas), Robbie Rouse (Fresno State), Zac Stacy (Vanderbilt), Ray Graham (Pittsburgh), Jawan Jamison (Rutgers), Theo Riddick (Notre Dame), Kenjon Barner (Oregon), Spencer Ware (LSU), Cierre Wood (Notre Dame), QB/RB/WR Denard Robinson (Michigan).
Here’s where I’d consider drafting the backs.
Late first round/early second – Eddie Lacy
Second/early third – Franklin, Bernard, Bell
Third/fourth – Ellington, Gillislee, Ball, Michael
Fourth/fifth – Randle, Knile Davis, Robbie Rouse, Stepfan Taylor
Everyone else somewhere between rounds five and seven, again with Lattimore being the wildcard.
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