The 2017 NFL Draft is the next major event in the NFL calendar year. As we head into the draft, it’s time to rank each position’s best prospects. In regards to the running back position, it appears 3 could be ticketed for the first round which would be the most since 2012. In today’s NFL pass catching running backs are becoming more and more valuable which will translate in my rankings. Running backs are very easy to grade. Good marks in vision, speed, ball security, and pass protection are the things you look for. With that in mind, what does this year’s 2017 NFL Draft running back big board look like?
1: Christian McCaffrey (Stanford)
You can’t say enough good things about Christian McCaffrey. At the combine, McCaffrey showed the ability to run, return kicks, and catch out of the backfield. If he was just a wide receiver, he would be the best route runner in the entire draft. In 2016 he rushed for 6.3 yards per carry (1,603 yards) and caught 37 passes as well. In terms of vision and short area quickness, McCaffrey is far and away the best running back in the draft. McCaffrey also comes from NFL bloodlines as his father Ed was a receiver for the Broncos. To keep it short, in today’s NFL, Christian McCaffrey is the prototypical running back you want to start your franchise with.
2: Leonard Fournette (LSU)
Fournette is the opposite of today’s running back as he wins as a downhill runner. Fournette is the most physically imposing back in the draft and runs angry. Fournette came into the combine at 240 and was able to run a 4.51 which is absurd. Freak is the only word that can be used to describe Fournette and is the closest thing to Adrian Peterson I’ve witnessed from a collegiate running back. The LSU back looked like a man amongst boys in college, now he will likely make NFL defenders look silly too come this season. Fournette and McCaffrey are the only running backs I would take in the first round.
3: James Conner (Pittsburgh)
Conner is a cancer survivor that likely would go 2-3 rounds higher if he had never been afflicted by it. I going to bank on him overcoming it as Conner was fabulous this past season for Pitt. Conner could really become a workhorse back in the NFL as a bigger bruising back (6’1″, 233). I think the thing that caught me by surprise is Conner can really catch the ball out of the backfield that was on display at the combine. Go back to his sophomore season to see the real James Conner who rushed for over 1,700 yards. He will return to that form and is a guy that becomes nearly impossible to tackle once he starts downhill. The D’Onta Foreman and Conner comp is pretty similar but I give the blocking edge to Conner which is why he comes in 3rd on the list. I would consider Conner in the 3rd round but he will likely go later than that.
4: D’Onta Foreman (Texas)
Foreman had a breakout season for Texas this past year rushing for over 2,000 yards. Foreman resembles LeGarrette Blount as a bigger back (6’0″, 233) but sort of has that finesse running style. Foreman is a tough guy to tackle who has quick feet for a bigger back. I’ve even seen Foreman hurdle defenders in college and should get a bulk of the red zone carries. The downside to Foreman is he has had fumbling issues in college that need to be cleaned up. I would start to consider him in the 3rd round range.
5: Dalvin Cook (Florida State)
Dalvin Cook is a player that has probably been over-hyped. Remember running backs are a dime a dozen and can be found later in the draft. Why spend a first round pick of Dalvin Cook? The former Florida State product has been involved in numerous off the field incidents that haven’t been talked about enough. He also has fumbling issues and is a complete liability in pass protection. Cook does have the vision and sweet feet but isn’t an eye-popping talent that warrants a high draft pick. His speed (4.49) isn’t as good as advertised either. Overall I think Cook will be a productive back in the NFL that I would consider in the 3rd round range.
6: Kareem Hunt (Toledo)
Hunt’s a small school player from Toledo but is a guy who could end up being a household name by the end of the season. Go back and watch the Senior Bowl, that will tell you all you need to know about Kareem Hunt. Hunt ran a respectable 4.62 – 40 time at the Combine and hit a couple of big runs at the Senior Bowl. The Toledo back, 5’10”, 216, also gets plus grades in pass protection and catching the ball which will keep him on the field right away on third downs. Hunt may not have the great explosion that catapults him into the first round but he is a really shifty runner that will give a team great value in the 3rd round range.
7: Wayne Gallman (Clemson)
Gallman is one of the more underrated backs in college football. He fits the mold as a change of pace guy that can run inside and outside the tackle. He also caught the ball well in college too. He is a bit elongated in his cuts and doesn’t have the explosion to be a superstar but he is solid all day long. The gap between Hunt and Gallman starts to represent a pretty drastic one as the rest of the class is 5th round guys from here on.
8: Tarik Cohen (North Carolina A&T)
Cohen is Darren Sproles all over again. He is known as the human joystick for a reason. The 5’6″, 179, runner is lightning quick and is a tough assignment out of the backfield. His speed (4.42), short area quickness, and vision are all off the charts. The question is how will he play in the NFL coming from such a small school. Smaller framed running backs have also been known to fizzle out quick. He is worth a late-round flier.
9: Semaje Perine (Oklahoma)
First thing’s first. Stop the hype of Joe Mixon. There is no question that Perine is the better running back. Don’t believe me? Oklahoma gave Perine 196 carries while Mixon received 187. Why would Oklahoma give more carries to the worse player? Perine’s best season came when he didn’t have to split carries and rushed for 1,713 yards adding 108 more receiving yards. This past season Mixon recorded 1,812 all-purpose yards which falls below Perine’s mark. Even if Mixon wasn’t involved in a domestic violence incident, he still isn’t the better player. Perine is essentially a Maurice Jones-Drew clone. He ripped out 30 bench press reps at the combine and runs with a ton of power. He also has really quick feet for a 233 pound back. The concern with Perine is he doesn’t have the pure burst (4.65 – 40 time). The more I think about it, Perine might warrant a higher pick.
10: Marlon Mack (South Florida)
Mack is a really elusive and slippy runner. He also plays a lot faster than his 4.50 – 40 time would suggest. He isn’t a guy that’s going to break a ton of tackles but he is a good football player. With running backs, they are a dime a dozen and Mack figures to play a role for a team.