by Hayden Gibson

Top 5 RB Prospects post combine

The 2017 running back class is stacked!  With it being so deep those running back needy teams will be able to strengthen their backfields with very talented runners in the later rounds of the draft.  I would not be surprised to a running back or two taken in the 6th or 7th round getting significant playing time for teams as early as week 1.  What makes it even better is the top of this class is very debatable as the top five varies from analyst to analyst.  In this article, I will give you my top 5 based on talent and what I see on film.  I will also share where I believe they will be drafted in April.  I will say it was extremely difficult to narrow it down to 5 so I had to throw in some honorable mentions so let’s start off with them.

Honorable mentions
·        Kareem Hunt
·        Aaron Jones
·        Marlon Mack
·        Jamaal Williams
5.  Alvin Kamara
Coming in at number five is a player from my favorite college team the University of Tennessee.  Yeah that’s right I am a Vol fan it comes with being raised in east Tennessee by a diehard UT fan.  Anyway, Kamara had a solid combine and stole the show by finishing at the top of the leader board in the broad jump and vertical.  His 4.56 forty was kind of disappointing and I won’t even bring up his second attempt.  What little film he has is pretty impressive though.  This guy is kind of a jack of all trades and I mean that as a compliment.  He can catch the ball out of the backfield, he can run between the tackles to get the job done on short yardage, and he has a good mixture of quickness and power.  I think he can become a very good running back in the league after he gets a year or two under his belt.  It will be interesting to see how his game translate to the NFL and his usage at Tennessee didn’t really help him get prepared.  Even when Jalen Hurd was still with the team I never understood why Kamara wasn’t more involved.  In my opinion he is only behind McCaffrey and Cook when it comes to running backs that can do it all.  So where will Kamara go in the draft?  I don’t view him as a 1st round talent like some folks were calling for prior to the combine.  I think he will go to the Vikings with the 16th pick of the 2nd round.  They obviously have a big hole at RB and since they traded their 1st round pick for this year they will miss out those RBs likely to go in the first and if others are right they could miss out on Kamara as well.  I think he falls though and Minnesota would be a good spot to land for a young RB as McKinnon and Asiata haven’t shown any signs of being able to serve as a lead back for this offense.
4. Christian McCaffrey
The next two guys are almost interchangeable for me at this point.  McCaffrey looked great at the combine especially in the RB drills and his time at Stanford was incredible.  His film is also extremely good.  In my opinion he is the best pass catching and route running RB in the draft.  You could tell by the way he ran the drills at the combine he is a perfectionist and he put in a ton of work prior to the combine.  Teams are going to fall in love with his work ethic.  I also believe he is the readiest RB to take on a 3-down role based on his ability and wiliness to pass block.  Landing spot will play a big role in what kind of impact he can make in his rookie year.  He needs to fit the offense he goes to and the offensive coordinator he is paired with.  I can see him being a lead back in a committee where he is getting 60-65% of the touches.  His ability to get it done on third downs means he should never come off the field if he starts a series.  If the offensive coordinator he is paired with makes it a goal to get him 15-20 touches per week we could be looking at the most productive rookie running back in 2017 from a statistical stand point.  In no way am I trying to sell him short with this comparison but I think McCaffrey will be what the big Duke Johnson supporters expected Duke to be this past season.  So where might he end up?  A popular choice I have heard is the Colts and that would be great but I think they realize they need to address this offensive line problem they have and they’ve also expressed interest in waiting until the later rounds to address the RB position and this appears like the draft to do that in.  McCaffrey in my opinion has done enough to be considered a prime target to go in the second half of the 1st round.  My dream scenarios would be for him to go at 29 to the Packers but I am not sure how likely that is.  I have a feeling he will go with the 21st pick to the Lions.  The Lions have spent the past few years trying to figure out their RB position with very little success.  I think McCaffrey would be a step in the right direction.  I just hope this guy ends up in a solid situation.
3. Dalvin Cook
I’m sure this will be popular since several people have Cook as the top RB in this class.  Hey with the Jamaal Charles comparisons he has be getting you can’t blame people for jumping on the Cook hype train.  However, I don’t see the Jamaal Charles comparison when I watch Cook play.  I honestly think it is a bit of a stretch.  Don’t get me wrong Cook was a fantastic college running back and made defenders look silly on several occasions.  He is coming off a somewhat disappointing combine but I am willing to give him a pass.  After watching his film here are some things I really like about Cook.  First, he is actually pretty damn fast with his pads on.  He ran a 4.5 forty and from what I saw on Twitter that was somewhat disappointing.  I don’t know if he might have had an off day at the combine or maybe he is just as fast in pads as he is without them.  He doesn’t look like he is losing much if any speed when fully dressed.  So, his speed is just fine in my book.  The kid can catch the football very well.  Cook and McCaffrey probably the best pass catching backs in this class.  Personally, I love RBs that are good pass catchers and for fantasy it gives a RB better odds of receiving more opportunities to touch the ball.  Cook is also very quick and shifty and in college that made him very difficult to get a good angle on.  He has great vision which leads me to my last positive I absolutely love this guy’s desire to get north-south when running.  He doesn’t want to spend much time dancing around in the backfield which for younger backs can be a hard habit to break.  It looks like he already has it down.  If there is penetration where the play is designed to go he recognizes it quickly makes the necessary cut that has him going parallel to the line of scrimmage then he is immediately looking to get up field.  Even a certain RB I will mention later in this article doesn’t do this as often as he should.  Some of the things I didn’t like about Cook include his pass protection which is pretty much nonexistent, he had average power in college so compared to NFL defender his lack of power behind his runs could be a problem, and last but not least I have to give Matt Waldman credit for pointing this out some of Cook’s cuts that he wowed us with in college won’t fly against professional defenders.  I think Cook can turn into a very good running back in the league and his ability to catch the football means he should see the field early and often.  I apologize for referencing Matt Waldman so much in everything I do but as I am learning the art of evaluating player I tend to read and watch a lot of his work.  After watching Cook’s film I was struggling to come up with a good comparison.  Then while watching Matt Waldman’s boiler room episode on Cook to see what I may have missed he made a comparison I really like.  He compares Cook to Giovani Bernard and I think that is a very good comparison.  So where will Cook end up at the end of April?  It is so hard to tell after his combine performance but I still think he is a top 20 pick.  I think free agency is going to play a key role in where Cook ends up.  I say that because I am eying the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at 19 as a possible landing spot.  If they don’t sign Adrian Peterson I think this is very possible and I would really like this spot for Cook.  The team appears all but done with Doug Martin and Charles Sims did not show us he could handle a workhorse workload So the team needs a RB.  I think Koetter would be able to capitalize on the things Cook does very well.  Other teams to keep an eye on would be the Ravens and Redskins in that 15-20 range.
2. Joe Mixon
You can make the argument Mixon is the most talented back in this class.  I absolutely love this guy’s game and some of you may have heard Jared and me gushing over this kid.  He has great breakaway speed, his footwork is top notch some of the cuts this guy makes are jaw dropping, and he is an above average route runner and pass catcher.  The off the field incident has damaged his draft stock to the point where it’s possible he goes undrafted.  Let’s talk about the player Joe Mixon and not the person.  If you haven’t taken the time to watch Mixon in action you should do yourself a favor and check him out.  His pro day numbers are in and he ran a 4.43 forty and from what I’ve read he looked good in drills.  One could argue Mixon should be considered the top RB in this impressive class and quite frankly it would be hard to argue after seeing him in action.  He could very well be a great back in the league for several years.  I think he fits the Jamaal Charles comparison a lot better than Cook does.  I hate comparing players fresh out of college to great/elite players at the professional level it just sets expectations way too high.  However, like Charles was in his prime Mixon is built to be a 20-25 touch back and a player you build your offense around.  Now for the domestic violence issue… This has made putting a draft projection on Mixon nearly impossible.  If it didn’t exist Mixon should be the 2nd RB off the board and if a team took him as the top RB I wouldn’t try making an argument against it.  However, his off the field issue is in fact there and there are experts saying it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him go in the late 1st round or to see him go undrafted.  So where do I think Mixon may go?  Earlier this month I thought the 4th-7th round was the sweet spot for him.  Now I am starting to think he goes as high as the 2nd round.  The Colts, Vikings, or Redskins would be smart to snatch this guy up in the 2nd as he would instantly give their offenses a potential workhorse back which they all lack.  I just don’t get the feeling they are willing to do such a thing with the off the field concerns.  The lions have been the only team vocal about the possibility of drafting Mixon and should be considered big contenders to land him.  I just have a funny feeling he ends up in blue playing for the New York Giants.  The Giants have the 23rd pick in the 2nd round and as much as I am a fan of Paul Perkins I think Mixon has a much better shot of being a difference maker in this backfield.  The Giants defense was amazing last year but the offense struggled to get any traction especially the running game.  I think Mixon would be just what the Giants need to make a push at the NFC championship.  This is probably a hot take I know.
1. Leonard Fournette
This guy is an absolute freak!  If he stays healthy he should be a 300+ carry back as early as his rookie year.  He is the most powerful runner in the draft and he has the mentality of a linebacker.  He is looking to deliver as much pain as he possibly can to anyone trying tackle him.  His ability to lower his shoulder and dish out a hit without breaking stride is one of the more impressive things I’ve seen.  I believe it was against Ole Miss this past year I honestly thought he killed a man when he ran over a DB that thought he had a shot at bringing Fournette down.  I am sure you seen he forty time of 4.51 which is impressive but when you take into consideration he is 240 lbs it becomes hard to imagine how that’s possible.  The one thing Fournette doesn’t do as well as the running backs listed behind him is catch the ball out of the backfield.  The key there is the phrase “as well as” because he can get the job done if he is asked to catch a few balls out of the backfield.  I just don’t see a team drafting Fournette to use him as a pass catcher.  This guy is the be pure running back in the draft and should be treated as such.  He should see no less than 20 carries in each game he plays in.  This may be the closest thing we see to Adrian Peterson when it comes to running style.  The one knock I have on him is his pass protection technique.  I have nothing against his willingness to take on a D-linemen or linebacker one on one because he approaches it with a similar mentality that he has when running the football.  He is looking to inflict some pain.  The only thing is he abandons technique trying to deliver a big hit.  As much as I like that about the guy it can lead to being careless which leads to mistakes and failing at pass protection is something you don’t want to do as a young player.  Regardless I think this guy is special and I’m a firm believer he has the best chance of any RB in this class to become an elite back in the NFL.  So where is he going to end up?  I’m going with the popular choice and that is Carolina with the 8th pick overall.  This just makes too much sense to me.  We have heard reports they are looking to rebuild their backfield which means J-Stew could be on his way out and Tolbert has already been let go.  So why not take the best RB in one of the best RB classes we’ve seen in a long time?  I love the fit too.  They have always lacked a running back that can get short yardage better than their quarterback.  Fournette fits that bill.  Fantasy wise it has a slight negative impact on Cam due to an actual goal line back being on the team and Fournette could be a good fantasy RB in this offense.  Now I am not talking about Zeke Elliott good but a high end RB2?  I think he can put up those numbers.  If Fournette to the Panthers doesn’t happen I will be surprised.  He shouldn't fall too far past them if they choose to go another route.

As always thank you for reading and your support.  Be on the lookout as I plan on doing this for the QB, WR, and TE positions as well.