Monday, April 21, 2014

2014 NFL Draft Prospectus: Running Backs

2014 NFL Draft Prospectus

Running Backs


If you look at the running backs of 2014, you see where there was a load of productivity in collegiate terms, and this class even had a rare 2000 yard rusher on the FBS level in Andre Williams of Boston College. College numbers seldom ever translate to the pro game when it comes to running backs, and that may prove to be the case with this group as well.  

My red flag radar is pinging heavily when it comes to this group, especially when it comes to character issues affecting some of the higher ranking players in the group. Three of the top five backs in this class have off-field issues that really need addressing before jumping on the band wagon.

Don’t expect any member of this class to go too early, as the running back position has been devalued by the high power spread offenses that have refocused the game on QB play. That’s probably a good thing, however, as I am not sure that any one of these players have instant impact on their horizons.


Top 5

Carlos Hyde, Ohio State

Tre Mason, Auburn

Ka’Deem Carey, Arizona

Bishop Sankey, Washington

Jeremy Hill, LSU


Most Overrated

Carlos Hyde, Ohio State

Jeremy Hill, LSU

Lache Seastrunk, Baylor

Devonta Freeman, Florida State

Charles Sims, West Virginia


Most Underrated

Tyler Gafney, Stanford

James White, Wisconsin


Best Small School Prospect

Isaiah Crowell, Alabama State

Terrence West, Towson

Jerrick McKinnon, Georgia Southern


Carlos Hyde, Ohio State

6-0, 235

4.62 40 Time

Projected Pick: 50-55

Hyde was a four year player at Ohio State, starting in 2010, when he carried the football just eight times on the season. The power back increased his load in 2011 by rushing 106 times for 566 yards and six scores, averaging 5.34 yards per carry. He really took over as a primary in 2012, carrying the ball 185 times in ten games, picking up 970 yards, averaging 5.24 yards per carry, and scoring 16 times on the year. He missed two games to an ankle injury. In 2013, Hyde carried the ball 208 times for 1521 yards and 16 scores, while averaging 7.31 per carry in 12 games, but dealt with a suspension in 2013 due to assault charges from an incident the previous summer.

Pros: Hyde is a typical power back and workhorse who is difficult to bring down in the open field. He has solid build for a power back at 235 lbs. and can blow through arm tackles with a vengeance. Plays angry, which helps his drive and makes him take on defenders. Runs like a smaller back at times, and can take hits while still pumping his legs for extra ground. Increased his workload yearly, as the staff built up more confidence in his ability to carry a backfield. Was good for over seven yards per carry as a senior, keeping the pressure off of his QB to have to make first downs on long yardage 2nd and 3rd down situations.

Cons: Character issues abound with Hyde, who faced a suspension for an assault committed the July before his senior seasons. Also had other off-field issues off and on during his time at Ohio State. Hyde sometimes thinks that he is a smaller back than he is and trusts in raw skill more than he should. His conditioning has come into question many times, as he gets winded often in games and has to be taken out. Hyde will not fit in a spread offense, and only selective teams can take him and make him work. He doesn’t have great breakaway speed, with only a 4.62 40 time which is not nearly elite enough for an NFL back in the open field, where NFL Linebackers will be able to run with him. Not a olidified receiver out of the backfield, nor is he an elite blocker.

Final Grade: B-…Hyde improved yearly at Ohio State, and while he has elite size, he doesn’t have the speed to fit every season.

Final Assessment: To steal a term from Greg Cossell, Hyde is not a foundation back, meaning that he is not plug and play for every kind of offense. He is strictly a prototype three yards and a cloud of dust type back, who stretched his yards per carry average a little bit based on playing some weaker teams on the Buckeye schedule. Character issues worry me about Hyde, and his lack of speed worries me more. I feel that he has value form the third round down personally, but scouts have graded him as second round material. I feel that is mostly because, like the QBs, this is a thin class this year for RB help.   


Tre Mason, Auburn

5-9, 205

4.48 40 Time

Projected Pick: 40-45

Mason was a three year player for Auburn, but only carried the ball substantially in 2012 and 2013. In 2011, Mason carried the football just 28 times for 161 yards and one TD. Mason became more of a threat in 2012, when he carried the ball 171 times for 1002 yards and eight TDs in 12 games, averaging 5.86 yards per carry. Mason became a beast in 2013, when he carried 317 times in 14 games, picking up an SEC leading 1816 yards, while scoring 23 TDs on the ground, leading the Tigers to the BCS title game, where they fell to Florida State late in the game. Mason rushed for 195 yards and a score in the BCS title game, while also rushing for a whopping 304 yards in the SEC title game against Missouri, where he scored four times.

Pros: Solid lower body, reminding me of Maurice Jones-Drew in his prime days. He is smaller, but doesn’t run like a scat back. He makes quick decisions, hits the hole, and keeps on driving. Runs with discipline, but can improvise when needed. Finds his blockers and follows until the block springs him. Solid speed sets him up nicely as a kick returner as well, which he has some experience with.

Cons: Again, not a foundation type back right out of the gate, because he has very little experience as a receiver, and would not fit where he had to be a safety valve right away. That is coachable, however. He doesn’t have a solid height advantage, and may be a bit on the short side of 5-9. Doesn’t look big on film. Plays bigger than his size suggests, and that could be more of a problem than a help. He could be vulnerable to big hits and injuries due to his lack of overall size, and the fact that he runs a bit upright at times. He runs his speed, but doesn’t change speeds all that much, making him a one dimensional back of sorts. While rushing for a career and SEC single season high in yardage (breaking Bo Jackson’s record), this was not a premier year for SEC defenses across the board.

Final Grade: B-…Not a complete back, and can be a little bit one dimensional.

Final Assessment: Mason had a huge season in what was more of a down year in the SEC overall. He has the straight line run ability, but right now, he is of limited use in the passing game, but isn’t quite powerful enough to make him a perfect power prospect either, making him a man between two worlds at this stage. He will need coaching to become more of a complete back, and may have more value as a return man as a rookie than he’d have as a starting back, making him more of a situational back, like LaMichael James in San Francisco. If a coaching staff can complete his missing skills, he may be the best long term investment at RB in the draft.


Ka’Deem Carey, Arizona

5-10, 207

4.53 40 Time

Projected Pick: 55-60

Hardy was by far one of the two best backs in the PAC-12 over the last two seasons. Carey began his career at Arizona in 2011, and was a local recruit out of Canyon del Oro High School. In 2011, Carey rushed 91 times for 425 yards and six scores, while averaging 4.67 yards per carry. Carey blew up big  time  in 2012, when he rushed for 1929 yards and 23 TDs on 303 carries, and averaged 6.37 yards per touch in 13 games. Carey hit it big again in 2013, rushing for 1885 yards on 349 carries. Carey scored 19 TDs on the ground, and averaged 5.4 yards per carry on the season in 12 games.

Pros: Carey is the first true foundation back in this class, as he comes from an offense that is more capable of spread tendencies, while not forgoing the ability to become a true power back. Carey has a slight build, but plays with more power than someone of his body type should be capable of. He has the makings of a three down back on the next level, and doesn’t seem to break down late in games. He can hit the hole decisively, and can show burst coming through the other side. Has the ability to shake off defenders, and looks a defender off with his open field mechanics. Has fluid pass catching ability not seen in the first two backs of this class, and is an effective option out of the backfield or in the slot in motion. Solid pass blocking ability, and is credible picking up blitzes.

Cons: Carey has some serious character issues, and has had numerous off-field issues that will affect his draft stock. Carey has an upright running style that leaves him prone to extra hits, and can drop the football on occasion. Carey does not have elite size, and his speed is a bit on the average side. He does not have an extra burst in the open field, so he can be caught from behind. Carey is athletic enough, and has enough skills to be a solid starter, but does he have that extra skill set to make him truly elite? No.

Final Grade: B…Could have been an A, but off-field issues, and lacking elite speed will cost him.

Final assessment: Carey is probably the best RB in this class overall, but has enough issues to concern an NFL franchise. He has to show that his character issues can be resolved, and will be. He has to show enough talent to prove that he can be a three down back. Carey can be impressive in any system, but he has some work to do.


Bishop Sankey, Washington

5-10, 203

4.49 40 Time

Projected Pick: 60-65

Bishop Sankey finished right behind Ka’Deem Carey in the PAC-12 rushing race overall during their time in college, and Sankey will go down as one of the all-time greats in a Husky uniform. Sankey came to the Huskies out of Spokane and Gonzaga Prep in 2011, when he carried just 28 times for 187 yards and one score, but he showed flashes by averaging 6.68 yards per carry in 12 games. In 2012, Sankey’s career took off, when he carried 289 times for 1439 yards and 16 TDs, while averaging 4.98 yards per carry and 110.69 yards per game. Sankey came into 2013, and carried 327 times for a rousing 1870 yards and 20 scores on the ground, while averaging 5.72 yards per carry, and 143.85 yards per game. He proved that he could be an every down back by averaging 25.15 carries per game.

Pros: Shows great burst through the hole, and has discipline when choosing his lanes. Follows blocks like a pro. Shows fluid body skills when shifting out of tackles and evading hits, and can run in tight spaces. Runs with power and agility, and shows a nice bit of quickness. Has shown some nice skill as a pass catcher out of the backfield, and can slide out in motion as a third down slot receiver, where he can beat safeties and linebackers who shift to cover. Very nice pass blocker on passing downs. Shows nice technique. Sankey was a team captain and has solid leadership qualities in the field.

Cons: Decent, but not elite size for an every down back. He can be exposed to fumbles by running upright and doesn’t always keep his body under control in traffic. While he has been an every down back, he has had a ton of carries applied to him, and has had some knee injuries to deal with on occasion, especially as a freshman. He has shown solid recovery since then, but the questions as to the soundness of the knee must be asked.

Final Grade: B

Final Assessment: Sankey is the darkhorse back in this draft class, and could be better than his predecessors in the rankings. Being that I rank players on this list by averages of scouting and write ups other than my own, if it were my call to make, I may draft Sankey above the others due to his intangibles. Sankey is a complete back, and the only thing that scares anyone about him is the early knee injury and the wear and tear, as Washington was very dependent on him during his stay there. I like Sankey an awful lot, and he should have a solid career if used in the right system. He is not a full time power back, but he can be a nice three down back in a spread system.


Jeremy Hill, LSU

6-1, 235

4.56 40 Time

Projected Pick: 70-75

Hill redshirted, and bolted school after his redshirt sophomore season in 2013. In 2012, Hill rushed for 755 yards on3 142 carries, averaging 5.32 yards per carry. Hill scored 12 times during his redshirt freshman season, but only averaged 68.64 yards per game. In his redshirt sophomore season, Hill rushed for 1401 yards on 203 carries, and scored 16 times, and averaged 6.9 yards per carry. He increased his yards per game average to 116.75 per game.

Pros: Has virtually the lowest mileage on his body of anyone in the draft, as he has only touched the football 345 times in two years, and bolted school after just his sophomore season. Hill has what I consider elite power back size, and may be one of the more impressive physical backs available. Runs with power, and rarely goes down on the first hit. Hits the hole with power, and is solid in identifying cut lanes. He looks like a receiver on passing downs, and can pick up gains in the flats. Solid football IQ.

Cons: Hill is a disciplinary train wreck, so much so that he wrote a letter to all 32 NFL teams pleading his case that he is a changed man, which has yet to be determined from sources that have no horse in the race with him. He was never really a full time starter, and played as part of a rotation of backs at LSU. Will not avoid hits at times, runs upright, and has a tendency to fumble. Is not a natural tackle breaker, and gets knocked around easily despite his size. Not a good pass blocker. When he was busted for assault in 2013 (which he plead guilty to), he was already on probation for sex with a minor. Obviously, he makes poor choices in life, something that may be more engaged when money comes into play.

Final Grade: D-

Final Assessment: Hill has some skills, but I wouldn’t touch this guy with Jerry Jones’ money. The character stuff is always a pass for me, because teams with character issue guys don’t tend to be very cohesive football teams. The Patriots may be the only team in the NFL that can grab a character guy and make him behave, but even that old fact doesn’t always hold true anymore. I would completely pass on this clown and move on to someone else, because this guy not only has made poor character choices in his life, they were huge breakdowns in his moral compass, which is something that he might not even have.


Charles Sims, West Virginia

6-0, 214

4.54 40 Time

Projected Pick: 90-95

Sims played at Houston for three seasons before transferring to West Virginia for his final season in 2013. Strangely enough, 2013 was the only season that Sims broke 1000 yards, and he barely did so, rushing for 1095 yards on 208 carries, and scored 11 TDs. He averaged 17.33 carries per game, and 5.26 yards per carry. In his three seasons at Houston, Sims never broke 1000 yards. He rushed for 698 yards in 2009, 821 yards in 2010, and 846 yards in 2012, all fairly average numbers across the board.

Pros: Sims has a good deal of experience in spread offenses, as both Houston and WVU have played in that system. Sims has a solid build for an NFL back, and has decent open field acceleration. Always looking for cut lanes, and is constantly looking up field for space and blocks. He’s a solid receiver out of the backfield, especially in a spread offense. Sims can line up wide or in the slot, and runs routes like a wide receiver. He has a good understanding of how the passing game works for a back as a receiver. Good pass blocker.

Cons: Not a plug and play guy for any offense. Sims really only works for a team running a spread offense. He doesn’t run low, and by running tall, he can be a target for big hits. He isn’t a real every down running back, and never averaged more than 17 carries per game over an entire season. He may be a solid 3rd down guy on passing downs, but he will never be a full time, three down back. Sims was converted from WR to RB at Houston, and has never fully developed into a true RB, and still plays more like a receiver, which is where most of his strengths lie.

Final Grade: D+

Final Assessment: Sims isn’t my kind of RB, but scouting services like him, which is why we have him here. Sims is a spread back at best, and could never be a RB in a more traditional offense. I feel that his place is on 3rd downs as a receiver out of the backfield, and maybe on special teams. He has limited value at best.


DeVonta Freeman, Florida State

5-8, 206

4.58 40 Time

Projected Pick: 85-90

Freeman was a three year player at Florida State. He carried for 579 yards in 2011, 660 yards in 2012, and then finally broke the 1000 yard barrier in 2013, rushing for 1016 yards, and managed to score 14 TDs. He averaged 5.87 yards per carry, but only averaged 72.57 yards per game, which was by far a career high.

Pros: Runs strong and has a compact build. Hits the hole with power and has enough elusiveness to make defenders miss. He can run hard, and take on tacklers. Never afraid to drop his pads and power forward in traffic. Understands how to follow his blocks, and shows patience when waiting for plays to set up. Freeman is a decent blocker on passing downs, and can get out on pass plays and block downfield.

Cons: Freeman has been limited on experience, and maxed out at 12.36 carries per game for a career high in 2012. He averaged a very pedestrian 72.57 yards per game, which was almost 30 yards higher than his average in 2011 and 2012. That’s not great. He has never been a full time back, and was more of a committee guy. While his weight is decent, his overall size is not, and his frame seems maxed out. For a smaller guy, he doesn’t have a ton of speed to make up for his lack of overall size. He runs in a single gear, and doesn’t have any real acceleration ability.

Final Grade: D

Final Assessment: Freeman never should have come out of school after his junior season. He has never been a star back, so I am not sure what really gives him the idea that he is worthy of a move to the NFL, where he will be lucky to make a roster, and actually stick. For a guy who has never averaged even 13 carries per game over a full season, I have to question his over inflated sense of self to have made such a decision, and I have to ask myself the sanity of those around him to guide him in this direction. Freeman has bust written all over him.


Lache Seastrunk, Baylor

5-9, 201

4.51 40 Time

Projected Pick: 100-105

Seastrunk started his career at Oregon, but after he was tied to scam artist and self-styled college football consultant Willie Lyles (who was investigated by the NCAA for selling information on recruits to Oregon) he bailed out and transferred to Baylor. He used the age old excuse that he wanted to be closer to home, but it seems more likely that Oregon invited him to find a new home. Seastrunk only played two seasons at Baylor after transferring. He rushed for 1012 yards in 2012, and 1177 yards in 2013. He carried the ball 158 times in 2013 and 131 in 2012. Seastrunk’s best carries per game number came in 2013 at 14.36 per season.

Pros: Seastrunk can run with the wind despite a poor time at the combine. He is an excellent athlete, and looks like a track star. Seastrunk can hit the hole with power, and has solid shiftiness in the open field. Once Seastrunk gets out into the open field. He can pull away.

Cons: Seastrunk lacks experience, having played just two seasons, and never carrying more than just over 14 times per game over two full seasons. He doesn’t have great vision, and will not do a great job at creating when lanes close down. He has limited downfield vision, and spends too much time as a shrine game (east-west) back. He had good, but not great numbers at Baylor, when the Big 12 is not exactly loaded with premier defenses. He was the best of a largely average group of backs in the Big 12 in 2013.

Final Grade: D

Final Assessment: Had some questionable affiliations during his collegiate career. He could have been so much better than he was, but played more like an elite athlete than an elite running back. He came out of school early because he had absolutely no desire to be a student athlete, and has always followed the money. Once again, Seastrunk looks like a guy who has inconsistent ability, and probably thinks that he is better than he is. He has too much to learn, and if I am an NFL GM or coaching staff, I really don’t have enough time to develop him.


Terrence West, Towson

5-9, 225

4.54 40 Time

Projected Pick: 115-120

West was a three year player for Towson, and was part of an amazing rejuvenation project at a program that was at the bottom of the Colonial Athletic Association for years, culminating in an FCS Championship Game appearance in 2013, where the Tigers fell to North Dakota State. After attending a military academy, West walked on at Towson after seeking a spot around the ACC. As a freshman in 2011, he rushed for 1296 yards and an astounding 29 TDs, and earned a scholarship. In 2012, he rushed for 1046 yards and 14 TDs, while only playing in 10 games. In 2013, West really exploded by rushing for 2519 yards in 16 games, averaging 157.4 yards per game, and powered forward for a whopping 41 TDs. He averaged 6.1 yards per carry during the 2013 season as well, earning him the reputation as a front line starting back.

Pros: West is built like a bowling ball power back, and runs like one as well. West has very good footwork, and keeps them churning in traffic. One of the better runners in traffic in this class. West is a solid blocker in the passing game, and has one hell of a motor. West was central cog in one of the best program turn around stories in FCS history. He can outright score like a mad man, having piled up 84 TDs in three seasons. What gives West his rep as a power back is that he never averaged fewer than 5.4 yards per carry in his career. Had West attended a bigger school, he would have been rated far higher in this class. West is one of the best FCS backs to come out in years.

Cons: West does not have elite speed, and has to make up for it with strength and power. The FCS status may turn someone off to him, but that may be an overrated issue. It still has to be discussed, as he buried less talented FCS opponents. West will not likely be a home run threat for long runs from scrimmage.

Final Grade: B

Final Assessment: If West had played at Clemson or Maryland (he had sought a spot at both schools), and had elite speed, he may be the best back in this class. He is certainly underrated, and if teams to avoid him because of Towson’s FCS status, they’d be making a huge mistake. West is a traditional power back, and could be a huge surprise as a rookie. I look forward to seeing West smash the doubters out there.


Andre Williams, Boston College

5-11, 230

4.56 40 Time

Projected Pick: 125-130

Williams was a four year player at BC, and finished off his career in 013 with a huge bang. In 2010, Williams rushed for 461 yards, and increased marginally in 2011 to hit 517. In 2012, Williams rushed for 584 yards. Williams finally arrived in 2013, as he rushed for a nation leading 2177 yards in 13 games, and scored 18 times, while averaging 167.5 yards per contest, and 6.1 yards per carry.

Pros: Williams exploded in 2013, and finally showed that he could be an every down power guy, when he rushed 355 times on the year. He is a true power back, and is constantly moving forward rather than laterally, and keeps good balance in traffic and while running through lanes. Williams can take a few hits, and power through tackles.

Cons: Williams doesn’t have elite speed. While he did have an amazing season in 2013, he was subpar for three full years before. Why did it take so long for him to arrive? Williams has some health concerns, and takes too many hits, leading to injury concerns. He does not condense his body, leading to more big hits. Williams is absolutely non-existent as a threat in the passing game, and never caught a single pass in 2013, and has a grand total of ten career receptions at BC.

Final Grade: C-

Final Assessment: Despite what was an amazing 2013, Williams didn’t do enough over his entire career to entice me, and seems a bit like a one hit wonder who lacks diversity in skill sets. He is a bit of a one trick pony who is always on the verge of breaking a hoof. He missed games in 2011 and 2012, and it has to be a concern. Williams is a two down back, and has to get the hell off of the field on third downs, as he brings no value to the field in long yard situations on second and third downs.


The Next Group


Roderick McDowell, Clemson

Came on strong in 2013, but only had one season of real productivity.


James Wilder, Jr., Florida State

Big committee back who has never been a star. Wilder brings little of value to the table.


Jerome Smith, Syracuse

Regressed in 2013 after a decent 2012 campaign. Has some skill set, but not a great prospect.


Storm Johnson, UCF

Probably the best of the second tier backs, he rushed for 14 TDs in a banner season for UCF in 2013.


James White, Wisconsin

White is an underrated power back who ran well despite always being in a committee, which was just Wisconsin’s system.


Glasco Martin, Baylor

Martin is simply a special teamer, who has never had a 1000 yard season. Still, he shared the load with Seastrunk.


Damien Williams, Oklahoma

JC star at Arizona Western, but never lived up to his hype at OU.


Darren Reaves, UAB

Reaves scored 25 TDs in two seasons for a terrible team. One of the lone bright spots for the Blazers.


David Fluellen, Toledo

Fluellen isn’t elite, but is productive, as he averaged over 100 yards per game over final two seasons, and scored 25 times.


Kapri Bibbs, Colorado State

Scored 31 times in his lone season at CSU after transferring from Snow College. Rushed for 1741 yards that season as well. Missed 2012 season.


Adam Muema, San Diego State

Completely undraftable, and a character disaster after walking out of the combine because God told him to. Found in his hotel room unresponsive, and has completely self destructed during the post season workout period. Was once a top 15 RB prospect.


Marion Grice, Arizona State

Scored 25 times in two seasons after transferring from Blinn College. A solid utility back, but will never be a feature player.


De’Anthony Thomas, Oregon

Has never really adjusted to being a full time RB, but is one of the fastest players I have ever seen. Kick return beast, and utility back extraordinaire. More athlete than RB.


Silas Redd, USC

Once a top prospect, Redd really slid after leaving Penn State for USC, and has health concerns. Always banged up.


Tyler Gaffney, Stanford

When finally given the chance to be a primary back, he exploded for over 1700 yards. Gaffney had a tremendous combine performance, and is supremely underrated. He could make someone very happy in the mid rounds.


LaDarius Perkins, Mississippi State

Perkins productivity fell off by almost 50% in 2013. Not sure how much value he has, but none for me.


Henry Josey, Missouri

A small back with a shredded knee, Josey has too many questions to be drafted. He did come back strong in 2013, rushing for 111.1 yards per game.


Rajion Neal, Tennessee

Came on strong in 2013, but has a fumbling issue. That’s a problem.


Antonio Andrews, Western Kentucky

Has rushed for over 3400 yards and 27 TDs since taking over for Bobby Rainey. He’d get better reviews if he didn’t fumble like he tends to do.


Lorenzo Taliaferro, Coastal Carolina

Ran for 1742 yards and 27 TDs in 2013, but is limited on experience. Could be a sleeper from a strong FCS program.


Tim Flanders, Sam Houston State

Flanders ran for 4700 yards and 53 yards the last three seasons during a strong run at the FCS program. Will crack a team with strong special teams play.


Isaiah Crowell, Alabama State

30 TDs in the last two seasons, but topped out at 1121 yards in his only 1000+ yard season. Could be just tapping his potential, however.


Jerrick McKinnon, Georgia Southern

He dominated the combine after rushing for over 2800 yards and 32 TDs over the last two seasons. McKinnon was a former veer QB who is just really learning to be a RB. The biggest enigma at RB in this draft class. Intriguing prospect.


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