Friday, March 27, 2015

2015 NFL Draft: Top 20 Running Back Prospects Julian Hayes

2015 NFL Draft: Top 20 Running Back Prospects

The 2015 running back class is shaping up to be one of the best in a long time. There’s big backs and small backs. Fast backs and power.
Underrated backs who if they have strong 2015 campaign can catapult themselves into the first-round. And yes I said first-round, because the NFL needs to stop being so dang picky when it comes to running backs.
Most of the backs the NFL likes tend to bust, and just because they found guys like Zac Stacy, Matt Forte and DeMarco Murray outside of the first doesn’t mean they deserved to be there. The NFL is too lazy in their analysis of the position and always fall into the ugly trap of traits.
If a running back doesn’t meet all of these traits he isn’t a first-rounder. Most of these traits include how big he is and the forty he runs.
They have to produce at a certain school, or be related to a former NFL player otherwise we don’t know. Well I do know.
My work through athletic metrics, production metrics and good ole game film have led me to a list of 20 backs you should expect big things from in 2015.  Whether they declare early or not doesn’t matter, because they’ve done enough on tape and in the metrics to warrant discussion.
These are the top 20 backs that are eligible for the 2015 NFL draft.
1. Todd Gurley, Georgia
The best running back prospect since Adrian Peterson. His combination of size, speed and power is luscious. He has decent hands to be an every down back.
Yes, he needs to improve a little bit as a pass blocker in terms of awareness, but the overall weaknesses in his game are trees among a magical forest of running back goodness.
2. Mike Davis, South Carolina
He can do it all. Power, speed, can catch and pass protect. If he has another big year in 2014, he might find himself in the first-round.
3. Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska
Tough, smart, powerful and fast. Yes he’s playing in the Big Ten (14), but he’s not playing in a Wisconsin rushing system. Most of the yards Abdullah earns are all on him.
He’ll probably end up in Day 2, because of his height and playing in the Big Ten, but the substance to his game warrants a push into the late first, early second range.
4. T.J. Yeldon, Alabama
Yeldon needs to fight to stick out in crowded Alabama backfield, but I believe the criticisms on Yeldon are hypercritical. This is a big and tall back with decent vision who can be a starting running back in the NFL.
He might even go in the first if he can finish strong in 2014. However, I want to see Yeldon show that he can stick out in a crowded backfield to truly cement his status on this list.
5. Jahwan Edwards, Ball State
He’s a big back with a great burst and will be the primary offensive weapon for Ball State this year after losing Keith Wenning. His vision and patience is exceptional.
He can make defenders miss in the open field and sets up defenders at the second level at the same time. I don’t know why more people aren’t talking about him other than he plays in the MAC.
Edwards is a back who may likely go Day 3 and end up pulling an Alfred Morris. Why? Because the NFL doesn’t know how to evaluate running backs.
6. Jay Ajayi, Boise State
Some view him as change of pace, but his power and speed is indicative of a higher calling. If he can fix his fumbling issues and get better at pass pro he could surprise as a late first-rounder with a strong junior season.
7. Keith Marshall, Georgia
Gurley has backup who isn’t that bad either. Keith isn’t as awesome as Todd, but he’s solid back. He has good size and can become a nice change of pace guy at the next level. He produced well when Gurley went down, gets little nicked up too, but I see a chance for him to be a quality starter in the NFL.
8. Duke Johnson, Miami
Fast. Different kind of speed when he was healthy. Problem is he’s the same as backs like C.J. Spiller or David Wilson.
He over relies on his speed, and he has a nasty fumbling habit. I like Duke, but this will be a very important year in terms of career path.
9. Kevin Parks, Virginia
A very short, but very fast running back. Virginia will likely continue to be a bad football team in 2014, but Parks isn’t.
Might end up being overlooked once the process begins. However, if he can carry the team to a bowl, there’s a chance he can be drafted.
10. Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin
I don’t trust Wisconsin backs. Especially more physically gifted backs who haven’t out produced less talented backs like James White, or Montee Ball yet.
He’s not Jamaal Charles, and to be honest I see more a slower version of Darren McFadden. Pass protection is comical at times, but he is pretty fast, which is a redeemable quality.
I see the potential, but want to see more.
11. Jawon Chisholm, Akron
Great spread back in the MAC. He has good lateral ability, can catch, but peripheral vision worries me.
Both in pass protection and running downs. If he can finish his senior season strong, he needs to be talked about more as a Day 3 option.
12. Alonzo Harris, Louisiana Lafayette
Huge back with great speed, but is very subtle in his running style. He’s been very productive in the Sun Belt, but will need a big last year to get more exposure.
13. Malcolm Brown, Texas
Big power back. Will likely appeal to the Jeremy Hill lovers, but hasn’t been a lead back in his career at Texas.
And there’s a reason for that if you watch the tape.
14. David Johnson, Northern Iowa
Big and tall with a good burst and long speed. Needs to be a lot more impressive on the stat sheet to get buzz.
However, he has the tools to be a starting caliber back.
15. Julian Hayes, Monmouth (NJ)
Another small schooler who also unfortunately happens to be 5-9. I like what I’ve seen from Hayes in 2013, but he will need a big senior campaign like Johnson to get onto draft boards.
16. Michael Dyer, Louisville
He’s fast and strong for his size, but it hasn’t showed up much since leaving Auburn. Bobby Petrino also has a big back fetish, but Petrino could make Dyer into a hot commodity if the offense clicks.
17. Karlos Williams, Florida State
Very big and fast, but Kay-Jay Harris produced more than him. Very limited work as a lead back who has only shown me he can be an outside runner.
Likely a first-rounder, because of the school he goes too. However, I just haven’t seen enough, nor feel safe about a guy who hasn’t been a lead back period until his senior year.
18. Corey Grant, Auburn
David Wilson 2.0. Same questions with Tre Mason will apply to Grant, but he’s really fast and will produce big time in Malzahn’s triple option attack. Only problem I have is just that I haven’t seen enough.
19. David Cobb, Minnesota
Cobb is a nice little back who was a bit of a one hit wonder in 2013. I need one more year before I can raise him up my board, but I like what I’ve seen so far.
20. Kenneth Dixon, Louisiana Tech
Bowling ball with wheels. He should not declare early, because of the conference he plays in, but he’s one heck of back who deserves to be mentioned.
Now there are other backs like Alex Collins, etc. who I would have put on this list, but I don’t see, nor want them to declare early. The high mileage argument with running backs is a myth.
The best running backs in the NFL had a lot of carries in college, because in-game reps make all the difference at any position. If you don’t believe me, check the stats.
Pull up any Hall of Fame back and see if they only had less than 300 carries in their college careers. Most trail blazed the collegiate level and then the NFL, because their talent was evident by what they achieved in college.
Yes it’s a position where injuries happen, but limiting your game experience doesn’t make you a better back. Great backs have great production in college.
Never forget that, and don’t declare early just because you believe limiting your in-game reps will make you better, or prevent injury. It doesn’t.
So this was my top 20 running backs eligible for the 2015 NFL draft, and next week I’ll have the quarterback and wide receiver lists up. Happy preseason action.
James Cobern is the lead writer for All Pro Football Source and can be contacted at and follow him on twitter @Jmcobern1
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