So, quarterbacks in the bag. Not very exciting as a group. What about the running backs?
Ezekiel Elliot – #1 Pick – What’s the point in writing much, the only way he doesn’t go #1 is if Neil locks Mangboob into a lead-lined bunker just before the draft starts. His value is mostly tied to his situation – the Cowboys running game is strong – and the fact he was the best back in the draft. It’s pretty much a fantasy can’t miss, and in a redraft league Elliot should be a first round pick. As an actual running back… Hmmm. Don’t let the hype and presumptive top fantasy pick distract you, nor the fact the Cowboys massively over-drafted him. He’s a three down back thanks to his blocking skills, he can break tackles at the second level and has good initial speed. He’s not a particularly good receiving back however – 1 td in three years at Ohio – and compared with some of the studs coming out in 2017 (Fournette, Cook, McCaffrey headline that group), Elliot is simply OK. He has an appetite for the big game though, showing up big throughout last year’s college football playoff (although not against Michigan State in the fatal game for the Buckeyes in 2015). Of course, that won’t count for much in Dallas, where big games are an occasional treat, rather than a regular occurrence. Lastly, there’s some minor concerns, he almost certainly did the kind of substances which can get a player in trouble in the NFL while at Ohio, his average carry has gone down each year in college and Dallas chucked a bit of money at Alfred Morris. It’s not clear if there was much of a market for Morris, and if you intended to draft Elliot (almost certainly without competition for him since you’re picking 4th) then why would a cap-strapped team chuck money at another running back, instead of at the awful defence. That suggest Morris will get a good amount of touches too, and conceivably he could be a goal-line back, meaning the value of both is hurt.
Derrick Henry – 1st Round – Almost the inverse of Elliot, Henry is in an awful situation with the Titans. He’s a very north-south back, who basically doesn’t catch the ball. He’s a tough prospect to project – an unusual size and shape, with long legs and a long torso, and a lack of great acceleration. Unlike Elliot, Henry was only a one-year starter at Alabama, but across a year as a back up and a year as a starter he still managed to rack up more carries than Elliot. So why is Henry the second best back in fantasy terms? He’s a workhorse, despite having the frame to get brought down by tacklers, he hasn’t been particularly easily. And he runs hard for 60 minutes. In fact, he seems to get stronger as the game goes on. He might not have a ton of acceleration, but that doesn’t mean he’s slow. He is incredibly patient behind the line, and when he sees the gap, he hits it – hard and if he breaks a tackle, he’s hard to chase down. Murray probably isn’t going to be a long-term solution in Tennessee, but unlike Dallas, where Morris is almost certainly a number two back who will work the goal-line, Murray is probably the number one – at least for now – and Henry will get the goal-line touches. On some teams, that’s a useful thing to be. On the Titans, that’s a fairly niche role.
Kenyan Drake – 4th Round – There’s no real clarity over the Miami backfield. They didn’t offer Miller enough, so he’s gone to Houston, they tried to pay CJ Anderson too much and Denver saved them from it. In fact, they did everything to suggest Jay Ajayi wasn’t their guy. Then they drafted Derrick Henry’s back-up. A receiving back not an every-down work horse, he has value unless (or until) Miami pick up a free agent back (Arian Foster?), simply because Jay Ajayi’s knees are not the safest thing to gamble on. The problem for Drake is that until Ajayi gets hurt, he’s got virtually no value. Gase is an excellent offensive co-ordinator, and in Tannehill, Stills and Parker they have a good set of weapons in the passing game – and on top of that, there’s Jarvis Landry, who kind of already fills the role of receiving back, as well as wide receiver. A necessary handcuff for Ajayi, rather than a worthwhile piece on his own at this point.
CJ Prosise & Alex Collins – 2nd Round & 4th Round – So Marshawn Lynch retires and now seems to be a great moment to own Thomas Rawls, who averaged 5.6ypc in 2015. And then the draft happens and the Seahawks muddy the waters by drafting Prosise, Alex Collins and Zac Brooks. Perhaps Collins was simply too good to resist at the back end of the 5th round – some draft guides had him as high as a third round prospect – and I don’t understand why there was so little love for either of the two big Arkansas (5-3 in the SEC) products in this year’s draft. Collins is a former #1 recruit out of high school, who won the SEC freshman of the year award and had back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons despite being the back-up in the first of those seasons. So why a fourth rounder? Because he’s the one competing with Rawls. Lynch was under-rated for his ability to make yards after contact, and Seattle’s offensive line is more offensive than most. Collins is a patient back, who’ll take what’s offered. He doesn’t however do much after contact, and he doesn’t have breakaway pace and behind that line he could struggle to break T-Rich type averages. I can only assume there’s some concerns about Rawls coming back from his fractured ankle, or perhaps his ability to be an every down back for Seattle as it seems a strange fit and an unnecessary pick. Prosise on the other hand is a receiving back who runs well too, he’s shifty, with both speed and acceleration. He’s played both safety and wide receiver in college, but picked up the running back position quickly and has plenty of room to develop, which is good, as he flirts with the line between patience and indecision at times. He’s not an every down back, his blocking definitely needs work, and – like Collins – he has issues with ball security. If there’s genuinely a concern with Rawls, Prosise is probably the guy who gets most of the touches.
Tyler Ervin – 6th Round – Nobody will be shocked to hear Ervin is a bit of a reach as a 4th rounder. He’s small, and he’s not going to grow. The Texans whole draft seemed to be based on the old Oakland approach of drafting speed over anything else. Ervin is not just fast, he’s rapid and he accelerates in a blink. Which is great, but his brain doesn’t run as quick as his feet – even a hint of a gap and he’ll race at it – which sometimes leads to him running into his own blockers. He’s a boom and bust runner, who’s unimpressive average is inflated by big plays. Since the Texans just handed Lamar Miller a big contract, don’t expect Ervin to do much more than frustrate you on your bench when he rips off a 60 yard touchdown play, before frustrating you all over again the following week when he doesn’t even get a touch, or loses 1 yard on his only carry when you stick him in the team.
Kenneth Dixon – 2nd Round – Some mocks have got a little over-excited about Dixon. Let’s deal with this in order then. Dixon is a patient back with good feet who can dodge tacklers, he’s a good blocker and he has good hands and has run well after catching the ball, which serves to make him a potential three down back. However he can also waste time going east-west behind the line, he has little acceleration and he is a little one-paced. Mostly though, the Ravens isn’t a great landing spot. Firstly, the thinking seems to be that the Ravens will make Dixon the lead back because the running game struggled last year and he’s the one to fix it. The Ravens running game didn’t flounder though, these simply aren’t your Ravens of five years ago. It ranked 26th in terms of yardage because it ranked 26th in terms of attempts. Trestman’s offence will always look to pass first, and the two running backs (Forsett and Allen) both ended the year with respectable, if not stellar numbers for the amount of work they did. Dixon isn’t Ray Rice, he’s not going to take over this team and turn them back into a top ten running offence. In fact, he’s unlikely to be anything more than a third option. And as long as the Ravens secondary keeps putting the team in holes they need to throw their way out of, it’s not going to matter anyway. So why a second? Because some idiot is going to waste a high pick on him. If you’re interested, this is the latest you’ll get him, and as much as a low first is probably going to be spent on him. It’s not a deep or a talented class, and Dixon’s supposed ceiling makes him appealing. Just beware, the floor is very low too.
Devontae Booker – 2nd Round – Last of the major players I’m going to bother writing up. Booker’s a talented player, with as high as a second round grade who fell to the bottom of the 4th because of a combination of his age, work-load and the torn meniscus which ended his season. Much like the Texans reaching because of someone’s speed, the Broncos getting a high value guy on the cheap should come as no surprise. Booker’s a little over-worked with four years of college play, and that should be a concern, but he’s an all-round threat who’s very good catching the ball out of the backfield, as well as getting through holes and getting chunks of yardage. He lacks big play ability and will likely get caught from behind. If NFL history has taught us one thing it’s that Cleveland will suck. If it’s taught us two things, it’s that Broncos mid and late round running backs are always worth keeping an eye on. Anderson doesn’t seem a great fit for the zone-blocking scheme Kubiak uses, and Booker could easily end up the lead back in Denver by the end of the year (if he keeps hold of the ball), as his ability to break tackles, run hard and get every inch will likely make him popular with coaches and team mates.
The Rest – Paul Perkins (2nd) is probably the pick of the rest. The Giants running back situation has always been a bit of a mess, but with Tom Coughlin finally shuffling off, perhaps there’s a chance for a lead back to emerge. Perkins is the likeliest candidate, a two year starter (and a solid back up) at UCLA, who can catch – although isn’t the best at it – as well as run he’s a candidate to play at least two out of three downs regularly (don’t expect him to block, he’s willing, but unlikely to be much more than a speed bump). Jordan Howard (2nd/3rd) gives the Bears a proper running back, not a speedster who can catch the ball and run away if he finds space. He can block, but it’s a bit like throwing himself in front of a moving car in the hope of stopping it, rather than expectation. Durability and a slate of injuries would be a concern, but fit, he’s almost certainly getting more reps than Langford as he’s a genuine talent – he’s elusive, he has good vision and patience to follow his blocks and is not easy to bring down. DeAndre Washington (3rd Round) has a shot of being a starter. That’s because he’s in Oakland and there’s no standout back there, rather than because he is a prototypical bell cow running back. He’s not a tough runner who’ll break tackles, nor a prototypical size or shape, yet he gets yards. And he does it because he’s a smooth runner, who can slip by tacklers with deceptive burst of speed and surprising agility. In space he’s a real threat and he could be a very effective option for Carr on screen plays. He’s an effective blocker too, which makes him an interesting proposition and a potential to play a lot of downs. Wendell Smallwood (5th Round) is an elusive ‘tweener back. A natural replacement for Darren Sproles in the Philadelphia offence, rather than an every down back or a starter, he has speed and the home run ability that Sproles has provided so ably in Philly, New Orleans and San Diego. A potential flex player, particularly in bye weeks. Jonathan Williams (7th round) is probably not much more than an after-thought right now, as the Bills are well set. He was the main back ahead of Alex Collins for Arkansas prior to a foot injury that wiped out his 2015, so there’s some talent there. Not much though and almost certainly not enough to get regular touches for the Bills.