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2014 NFL Draft: Running Backs

By: Robert Davis

The running back position has lost a little luster as a premium position on draft day. More and more teams are going to running back by committee, decreasing the value for a back at the top of the draft. We may not see a back selected in the first round this year, but there are some talented prospects available.

Bishop Sankey of Washington may be the most natural runner in this draft class. He has tremendous instincts on when to be patient, when to attack, and knowing where the holes are going to open up. He has a thick, compact build at 5'10 210 and runs with more power than it would indicate. He has tremendous feet, showing the skills to sidestep defenders and bounce into the open running lane, but also to make people miss in the open field. Sankey has also become a threat in the passing game out of the backfield. While he may not be used split out wide, he is effective leaking out of the backfield as a receiving threat. Sankey had an impressive showing at the combine, showing off better than expected speed, clocking a 4.49 and leading the position with 26 reps on the bench press. Sankey has true lead back capability and could be the first back selected in May.

RB RANKINGS
  1. Bishop Sankey, Washington
  2. Jeremy Hill, LSU
  3. Carlos Hyde, Ohio St.
  4. Ka’Deem Carey, Arizona
  5. Tre Mason, Auburn
  6. Lache Seastrunk, Baylor
  7. D’Anthony Thomas, Oregon
  8. Charles Sims, West Virginia
  9. Dri Archer, Kent St.
  10. Terrtance West, Towson

LSU's Jeremy Hill is the best all around rushing threat in the draft. He has great size at 6'1 230lbs, and plays up to it. He's a physical runner that can run through arm tackles, move the pile, and pick up tough yardage. He also shows very good feet for a big back. He shows the quickness to make the first defender miss and can change directions and quickly get back upfield. He only ran a 4.66 40 at the combine, but plays faster than that. Hill isn't a home run threat, but he may be the best workhorse with his ability to run between the tackles but also to get outside and pick up big chunks of yardage. He was not utilized much as a receiver, and that is a part of his game he will have to develop to maximize his time on the field. Hill will also face some questions about his off the field conduct, as he was arrested twice during his stay at LSU. Teams will have to be comfortable with his maturity level and dedication to the game, but he has the talent to land in the second round on draft day.

Carlos Hyde of Ohio St is the best senior back available for the 2014 draft. Hyde is a bruiser with the size and power to punish defenders. He has good burst for a 230lber, which allows him to hit the hole quickly, but also makes it extremely difficult for the first defender to bring him down. Hyde has enough quickness to make the first defender miss, and quickly gets going north/south again, and will put his head down at the end of runs, picking up extra yardage. Hyde isn't going to routinely break off big runs, but he isn't a plodding short yardage back either. He would be an excellent fit with a big play back, and will be a coveted option for teams looking to add a physical presence to their running game. Hyde is one of the backs in contention to be the first RB selected on draft day.

Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey lands next on this list. Cary doesn't jump out at you at first glance, as he only stands 5'9 207, and doesn't have the true breakaway speed. He is a physical runner though, and plays bigger than his size would indicate. Carey attacks the line of scrimmage and is very tough for the first defender to bring down. He runs with such authority, which combined with his compact frame, allow him to pick up tough yardage and break arm tackles. His quickness to and through the whole is tremendous. He is a workhorse that has rushed for over 3,800 yards and 40 scores the past two seasons. Carey is also a real threat as a receiver, catching over 60 passes the past two years combined. Carey topped the running back rankings on some boards until he ran a 4.7 40 at the combine, raising real concerns about his speed. He shows the quickness and strength to still be a productive back at the next level, but how much playmaking ability and upside there is is definitely a question. If he slides too far on draft day, someone may get a steal. Carey can be a starter in the NFL, no matter what his 40 time says.

Auburn's Tre Mason blew up this year, and was a key reason for Auburn's presence in the National Title game. The offense was built around his running ability, and he became a playmaker and workhorse this year. He isn't the kind of back that wows you at first glance, but he really impresses after you consistently watch him. He's on the shorter side at just under 5'9, but does have enough bulk at 207lbs. His quickness and agility are very good, and he routinely makes defenders miss. He makes sharp cuts and wastes no time getting back upfield. He isn't a blazer, but he his ability to make defenders miss gets him into the open field a lot and he can make big plays. Mason's ability between the tackles is a bit surprising for a player his size as well. He is tough and willing to run it between the tackles and in short yardage, and fights to pick up every yard he can. He is limited as a short yardage runner because of his lack of bulk, and repeated interior running may lead to some durability issues, but he's got the talent to make an impact in the NFL and be a playmaker on a quality team. Mason should hear his name called on the draft's second day and could make an early impact in the NFL.

Baylor junior Lache Seastrunk is yet another big play threat. He gives you a more traditional look as a tailback, standing 5'10 201lbs, and is explosive. He is also a threat to score any time he touches the football, but he is not as far along as Thomas is in terms of versatility. Seastrunk can turn the corner ad out run defenders but at this point, carrying the football is the extent of his abilities. He is unproven as a receiver, and will need to show he has the hands to be a factor in that area to maximize his big play ability. He did not catch a single pass as a junior, and only had nine receptions as a sophomore. The lack of a well rounded game hurts him a bit, but he is a solid second day pick that could be a star in the right offense.

Oregon's De'Anthony Thomas may be the most explosive player in the draft. He is a threat to score any time he touches it, and he can get his hands on it in a variety of ways. Not only can he take it the distance lined up as a back in the backfield, but he a big play threat as a receiving weapon, as well as returning punts and kicks. Thomas' quickness, change of direction ability, acceleration, and speed in the open field are truly special. He can start, stop and accelerate upfield faster than most can run in a straight line. The last back with his type of big play ability was Reggie Bush. Even moreso than Bush, there are questions about how many carries Thomas can handle, and how he will handle running between the tackles at the next level. Those concerns are legitimate, as Thomas is only 5'9 174lbs. Thomas may not be a true tailback, but he is a game changer. There are real durability issues at play with Thomas, and the lack of a true position also hinders his stock. But someone search for a game breaker may land a steal on the draft's third day, because Thomas can change a game with one touch.

Dri Archer of Kent State has a similar game as Thomas. He is lightning in a bottle and a threat to score every time he touches the ball. The combines fastest player, with a 4.26 time, was banged up as a senior but still displayed his versatility and big play ability. Archer only stands 5'8 173, which will definitely limit his effectiveness as a true running back. He is a tough runner, but that size simply will not hold up between the tackles. The fee and quickness though, are special. He can leave defenders standing still and look silly. He's been utilized as a pass catcher and lined up as a receiver. If he gets the ball in space, look out. That playmaking ability and versatility will make some team overlook the lack of size and durability concerns. Archer may not have a defined position, but the versatility and speed will allow him to make an impact in the NFL.

West Virginia's Charles Sims transferred from Houston, hoping to become more of a feature back. He is another versatile and well rounded back available this year. He possesses good size at 6' 214lbs, with enough speed to hit the corner and get into the open field. While not a bruiser as a runner, he does run hard and with his frame, can pick up tough yardage. While at Houston, he was used extensively in the passing game, even lining up as a wideout at times. He has caught over 200 passes in his career, which is an amazing stat for a running back.That versatility and polish as a receiver will help him be a factor in the NFL as a multi purpose threat. Sims isn't a home run threat or a power back, but his all around skills will be attractive to teams at the next level.

Boston College's Andre Williams ran for 1,562 yards and ten touchdowns his first three years, combined. As a senior, he has emerged as a Heisman finalist after running for 2,102 yards and 17 scores. His amazing season is based solely on the power and authority he runs with. Williams is a powerfully built 227lber, and makes defenders feel it on every carry. He aggressively attacks the line of scrimmage, and is rarely brought down by the first defender. He plows through arm tackles with ease, and has a great stiff arm to push off on defenders. Williams is a pure north/south runner that can pick up some steam if given the room, but his long range speed is average at best. His lack of experience in the passing game is a concern, as he did not catch a single pass as a senior and only has ten career receptions. Williams had a fantastic senior year, and it is one of the best season by an RB in recent memory. He will add some much needed power to some teams running game next year, but there are questions about his potential in the NFL. His inability to create on his own and the questions about his receiving ability definitely hinder his draft stock. Williams 4.56 40 at the combine was surprising, and may have helped his stock on some boards. While it is a nice number for him, he still struggles to change direction and accelerate, which could be a major hindrance at the next level. He'll be an option for teams looking for a physical presence in the running game, but he's not an elite prospect He could crack the end of day two, but may end up a day three selection in the end.

Arizona's Marion Grice transferred from the junior college ranks, and had an impressive debut with the Sun Devils last year. He built on that success this year, falling just short of 1,000 yards with 996, despite missing the final two games of the season with a leg injury. Grice is a slasher that has the speed to quickly get up the field or get to the outside and turn the corner. He has decent size and is willing to run between the tackles, but doesn't bring much power or ability to move the pile because he runs a bit upright. Grice is an accomplished receiver out of the backfield, showing the hands to be a real threat out of the backfield. He caught 50 passes this year, 91 in two years with the Sun Devils. Grice may not have one true physical skill that jumps out at you, but his all around game would fit well with a bigger, more powerful back at the next level. Other backs to keep an eye on: Isaiah Crowell(Alabama St), Antonio Andrews(W. Kentucky), Devonta Freeman(Florida St), Storm Johnson(Central Florida), and Kapri Bibbs(Colorado St.)

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