The running back position is not nearly as valued in the NFL Draft as it used to be. Perhaps it’s partially due to teams going more to a committee approach due to the natural wear and tear of the position. Or it could be that an Adrian Peterson comes around maybe once a decade, if that.
Whatever the case, running backs aren’t valued in drafts, and that’s really not going to be much different in the 2014 NFL Draft. That should mean we don’t see a single running back in the first round of the draft for the second year in a row, although it could yield several picks at the position in round two.
While the value of the position has clearly dropped, that doesn’t mean there isn’t talent worth rostering. It also doesn’t mean there is no need for help at running back, either. With all things considered, let’s prepare for May 8th’s draft by breaking down the top running backs in this year’s pool:
1. Carlos Hyde (Ohio State)
A bruiser with deceptive speed and soft hands, Hyde has feature back written all over him at the next level. He can break tackles and has enough wiggle to shake defenders before they even touch him. He won’t bust many long runs, but he can do everything that is asked of him won’t break down under a heavy load. He’s likely to be the first back off the draft board.
2. Tre Mason (Auburn)
Much smaller than Hyde, Mason still has a nice compact build and is a much better overall athlete. Not necessarily a burner, Mason does have nice quickness and very good long speed. Blessed with good vision and instincts, Mason does a good job following his blocks and is a pretty decisive runner. He’s also a solid receiver and has feature back upside. Some say he’s a system back, but I don’t see it. He can make a legit argument for the stop spot in this year’s running back crop. Likely the second back to be drafted, Mason should hear his name called somewhere in round two or three.
3. Ka’Deem Carey (Arizona)
Carey has some off field concerns and isn’t the biggest back, but actually has the frame to tack on weight and looks to be a feature back type at the next level. Not a burner by any means, Carey does have very good quickness and the ability to break long runs. While a very solid overall athlete, Carey’s best skill might be his toughness and leg drive, as he fights through gang tackles and finishes runs well. He has displayed excellent balance and awareness, making him a task to bring down at all times. While immensely talented, Carey has enough question marks to push him into the third round or even later.
4. Jeremy Hill (LSU)
Hill has to be one of the most underrated backs in this draft. While he did share the backfield in LSU, he was quite arguably the best back of the crop, as he exhibited excellent size and power, as well as vastly underrated speed. He’s not the most explosive player, but once he gets past the second level he’s gone. Hill is a traditional one-cut runner who can flat-out mash up defenses once he gets going. He’s slightly unproven as a receiver out of the backfield, but appears to have that overall skill-set NFL feature backs require. He does have some mild character concerns, so it’s possible he slips a bit in this draft. He could go as early as round two, but could also slide into the fourth round unless someone is in love with him.
5. Bishop Sankey (Washington)
A patient runner with terrific balance and speed. He’s a little smaller than you’d like and will need to bulk up to be more than a change of pace back at the next level, but appears to have the skill-set to be an every down back if his NFL team needs him to be.
6. Lache Seastrunk (Baylor)
While Seastrunk does not have the ideal size for an every down back at the next level, he has the entire package when it comes to quickness, agility, cutting ability, vision and speed. If he can bulk up a bit, Seastrunk absolutely can handle a feature role at the next level. Size concerns should probably see him slip into the third or fourth round, however.
7. Charles Sims (West Virginia)
8. Devonta Freeman (Florida State)
9. Terrance West (Towson)
10. De’Anthony Thomas (Oregon)
Thomas is a Darren Sproles clone with excellent athleticism, long speed, short area quickness and elite versatility. He isn’t a traditional back, but he can kill defenses in a number of ways.
11. Jerick McKninnon (Georgia Southern)
12. Andre Williams (Boston College)
13. Marion Grice (Arizona State)
14. James White (Wisconsin)
White is a solid runner with decent size and power, but he’s not an overly exciting back. Wisconsin tends to produce backs based off of their system, too, so there should be some concern over his actual ability to play at the next level.
15. Kapri Bibbs (Colorado State)
16. Dri Archer (Kent State)
Archer isn’t a true running back at all due to major size and strength issues, but he can still play in the backfield. He’s purely an offensive weapon that can just do a ton of things. Someone will fall in love with his versatility and pure explosiveness as a play-maker.
17. Antonio Andrews (Western Kentucky)
Andrews is an interesting case, as he has the ideal size and build for the next level and was insanely productive, but has horrible timed speed and faced no real competition in college. With that said, he’s a complete back that physically could be a real gem in this year’s draft. If teams think his game tape speed can translate, he could be a steal.
18. LaDarius Perkins (Mississippi State)
Perkins is vastly under-sized for the next level, but has the speed and vision to be a very nice change of pace option in the right system. He showed well at the combine with good timed speed and also displayed good hands and concentration as a receiver in college. He’s a fairly versatile threat that could find himself drafted in the fourth or fifth round.
19. Tyler Gaffney (Stanford)
Gaffney is your classic college back who has good size, is tough and was insanely productive. Unfortunately, he’s not a special talent. In fact, he’s pretty much a plodder with average speed. If someone wants a guy who will do everything that is asked of him and can effectively move the chains, though, he could ascend up boards pretty quickly.
20. Lorenzo Taliaferra (Coastal Carolina)
21. Henry Josey (Missouri)
Josey doesn’t have the size or strength to be an every down back at the next level, but possesses a really nice combination of quickness, acceleration and long speed. He also has good vision and can cut on a dime. Unfortunately, he has some medical issues and his size will also affect his draft stock. He’s likely a fourth round pick, at best.
22. Storm Johnson (UCF)
Johnson was a productive and efficient back at UCF, possessing fantastic size and strength. Johnson has a great build for the next level and runs with good power and decisiveness. He lacks elite timed speed and isn’t an amazing athlete, however.
23. Alfred Blue (LSU)
Blue has good size and build to run at the next level, but was part of a committee at LSU and had a knee injury just two years ago. He probably should have stayed one more year, and not doing so hurt his draft stock.
24. Damien Williams (Oklahoma)
Williams saw a major hit in his workload in 2013, but was still very effective, while he had a very solid 2012 season. He displayed excellent timed speed at this year’s combine, and with a really nice blend of size, patience and long speed, Williams could be a sleeper worth keeping an eye on. He doesn’t figure to be drafted before the fourth round, however.
*Photo credit – Matt Starkey via Flickr.