Leading up to the NFL draft on May 8-10, Shutdown Corner will examine each position, rank the top players at each spot and try to identify some top sleepers, sliders and undrafted gems.
For the second time in two years, the draft class features some depth of talent but no clear-cut first-round option. As the NFL shifts in identity toward the pass and away from the bell-cow back, running backs in general are seen as specialists — even with successful teams such as the Seattle Seahawks, San Francisco 49ers and New England Patriots going against the grain on this thinking.
Many NFL teams opt to employ two or three backs in complementary roles, with many types abounding: the first- and second-down hammers, the third-down receivers and pass blockers, the jack of all trades but masters of none, the four-minute offense back and the change-of-pace speed players.
There’s room for all of these styles of backs in the NFL and there are good examples of each in this class. But the chances of any being selected in the first 32 picks appear slim.
Here are our top 10 running backs for the 2014 NFL draft (not what order they will be drafted but how we think they ultimately will perform in the NFL):
|1.||Carlos Hyde||Ohio State||6-0||230||Averaged 156.1 rushing yards in Big Ten games in 2013||Great blend of power, quickness and burst to be a featured, tackle-breaking back|
|2.||Tre Mason||Auburn||5-9||207||Rushed for combined 663 yards vs. Bama, Mizzou and FSU||Wrist injury a worry, but incredible burst, vision make him best quick back|
|3.||Bishop Sankey||Washington||5-9||209||Broke Corey Dillon's UW rushing mark with 1,870 yards||Mighty-mite back packs a punch, even if lacking breakaway speed|
|4.||Jeremy Hill||LSU||6-1||233||6.9 YPC set an SEC mark; career zero lost fumbles||A poor man's Steven Jackson, Hill must run tougher, prove character|
|5.||Andre Williams||Boston College||5-11||230||NCAA-best 2,177 rushing yards in 2013||Move-the-chains runner always falls forward; must prove as receiver|
|6.||Devonta Freeman||Florida State||5-8||206||Scored at least one TD in final 10 games||Short slasher with some juice in his legs, determined running style|
|7.||Ka'Deem Carey||Arizona||5-9||207||Two-year rushing total: 3,814 yards, 42 TDs||Character red flags, small build mar massive college production|
|8.||Storm Johnson||Central Florida||6-0||209||1,646 rushing yards, 8 fumbles past two years||Miami transfer must improve ball security but has good talent|
|9.||Charles Sims||West Virginia||6-0||214||2nd in conference with 1,549 all-purpose yards in '13||Fluid receiver has some Matt Forte-like skills; 24 years old|
|10.||Jerick McKinnon||Georgia Southern||5-9||209||9 rushes, 125 yards, TD in shocking upset at Florida||Former triple-option QB has learning curve, terrific athleticism|
He announced his arrival on the first day of Senior Bowl practice when he lowered his pads and slammed into Florida State S Terrence Brooks, which earned a loud “Wow!” from Rex Ryan watching on the sidelines. McKinnon was a triple-option quarterback and running back in college and will require an adjustment and patience from the team that draft him. But he has tremendous athletic skill and the temperament to play on special teams while he figures out how to operate in an NFL offense.
Baylor RB Lache Seastrunk
A terrific athlete with some long runs to his name, Seastrunk nonetheless doesn’t wow NFL teams in the toughness or character departments, and he hasn’t proven to everyone that he can be an every-down runner. The measurable and production are hugely enticing, but Seastrunk also was a product of wide running splits and an offensive system that he won’t be lucky enough to work with in the NFL. Some teams view him as a fourth-round talent, but a zone-running team could take him higher than that. It might be a mistake, considering he’s probably only a change-of-pace back.
SMALL SCHOOL WONDER
Terrance West, Towson
Although he has some wear on him, could stand to improve his ball security and might never be a huge factor in the passing game, West shares some characteristics with the Washington Redskins’ Alfred Morris with his powerful and purposeful running style. West scored 83 times (!) in three seasons at Towson and showed he could handle a massive load for a competitive team at a lower level of football. His skills definitely translate to the NFL game for the right power-running team. The massive crowd at his pro day shows just how intrigued teams are.
News of a wrist injury that hasn’t healed correctly came as news to Mason but appears to be making the rounds with NFL teams. At one point, Mason appeared to be the kind of hyper-productive, explosive back who could threaten to be the first or second one taken in the draft. But this injury concern, which came up at the combine medical recheck, might knock him down to the late second or early third round. Not too far, but he could end up being the fourth or fifth back taken now, despite a thrilling performance last season.
There have been questions about Hill’s checkered legal past, his lack of breakaway speed and his very limited usage as a receiver. But the more teams have looked at Hill, the more they see a powerful, nimble-footed runner who could be the perfect complement to a speed back. With LeGarrette Blount’s success last season, Hill could open the eyes of an NFL team seeking similar traits and give him a spot to be successful right away in a limited role as a rookie.
Alfred Blue, LSU
Hill’s teammate in Baton Rouge was a bit lost in a crowded backfield situation with all the talent the Tigers had there, Blue started only seven college games. But his production — six yards per carry — and special-teams traits make him an intriguing option in Rounds 5, 6 or 7. He appears fully healed from 2012 torn ACL and with little wear on his body, Blue could end up being a better pro than a college player.
PLAYER WHO WILL GO UNDRAFTED BUT SHOULDN’T
James Baker, Idaho
Baker’s tremendous pro day effort showed how good an athlete he is, especially at 6-foot and 237 pounds, running a faster 40 time than Hyde did at the NFL combine. Baker fumbled too much last season and it’s not clear if he’ll ever be a large factor in the passing game (even though he caught the ball well at the pro day), but his size-speed combination might make him worth investing some incubation time in.
Hyde to the Patriots
The Eddie Lacy comparisons are frequent and clear, and with the Patriots losing Blount they could have a perfect replacement — and quite possibly a younger, more talented one. The respect between Bill Belichick and Urban Meyer runs deep, and the coaches almost certainly will have talked about why Hyde took a while to figure it out (and keep his weight down) at Ohio State. The Patriots currently pick No. 29 overall, but there’s a good chance — based on how the draft is stacked and the team’s past willingness to move down — that they could snag Hyde in the early to late 30s.
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