Here are the final LTL running back rankings for 2015. You can check my work by reading the evaluation of last year’s class. We will likely see a back or two go in round one for the first time since 2012. At the same time, I see starting caliber backs that will be available in the 3rd and 4th rounds, so the argument to not overdraft even the top guys is still valid. Dynasty rankings to come following the draft.
1. Todd Gurley | Georgia | 6-1, 222, 4.4e
The complete package at running back. A smooth, downhill runner, who doesn’t dance and has home run speed. Good receiver and blocker, so he won’t need to come off the field on 3rd downs. Displays power when his pads are low, but can get upright at times. The only thing that could keep Gurley out of the first round is a torn ACL in November. 1st round.
2. Melvin Gordon | Wisconsin | 6-1, 215, 4.52
An explosive runner. Plays faster than his 40 time, with both short area burst and long speed. When he gets space, and often did at Wisconsin, he’s gone. Gordon has pretty good size, but doesn’t move the pile or show power in his lower body. A little top-heavy, with bulked up arms and torso, but thinner lower half. Not a great receiver, but is willing to mix it up as a blocker, although he could get better in that area as well. Has some similarities to Jamaal Charles and if he can prove to be a competent runner inside with smaller creases, he can be among the NFL’s elite. Late 1st round.
3. Ameer Abdullah | Nebraska | 5-9, 205, 4.60
Compact, tough, dynamic runner. Quicker than fast. Great vision and feet at the line of scrimmage. Runs with balance and burst. Didn’t run a great 4o time, but tore up the other drills. 42.5-inch vertical, 10-foot-10 broad jump, 6.79 three cone and 3.95 short shuttle were all tops among running backs at the combine. Small hands (8 5/8 inches) and has a tendency to put the ball on the ground, so that is a concern. Good receiver, despite hand size. Willing blocker, but needs work in pass protection. 2nd round.
4. TJ Yeldon | Alabama | 6-1, 226, 4.61
Yeldon is a big, athletic runner with traits to carry the load in the NFL. Not a burner, but enough speed to make some big runs. For a 226-pounder, Yeldon is an easy mover and has very good lateral agility. A patient runner, who can slide in the hole and find creases inside. Runs tall and has had issues exposing the ball, causing fumbles, but also uses that length to fall forward. Some nagging ankle and hamstring injuries may have been the cause of a down 2014 for Yeldon. He looked like a sure-fire future lead back earlier in his career at Alabama. Late 2nd round.
5. Jay Ajayi | Boise State | 6-0, 221, 4.57
Ajayi is a good-sized runner with a well-rounded game. Quick feet and solid burst for a 220-pound back. Natural hands and sturdy frame as a blocker should make him an asset on passing downs. Super productive at Boise State. Over 1800 yards rushing and 500 yards receiving in 2014. Runs hard, showing vision and power at times, but tends to bounce runs outside too often. Could become a feature back or at worst, a third down guy at the next level. 2nd-3rd round.
6. Jeremy Langford | Michigan State | 6-0, 208, 4.42
Langford looks a lot bigger than 208 pounds. Decisive, long-legged, downhill runner who displays vision and power. Natural pass-catcher. Was utilized on screens and in the slot as a receiver. Very good blocker as well, so he will be able to provide value to an NFL offense early in career. Surprising not to see his name mentioned more often due to his measurables, production and fit for pro-style offenses. Runs a little tall at times and doesn’t show a lot of wiggle, but has enough lateral agility to hit the hole and make some plays in space. 3rd round.
7. Mike Davis | South Carolina | 5-9, 217, 4.61
Short, but not undersized at 217 pounds. Davis uses his compact frame to run with power, vision and short-area skill. Doesn’t posses a great 40 time, but has the traits most common in successful NFL running backs. Good receiver as well. Davis has been underrated throughout the draft process and could be a day three steal. Reminds me a little of Frank Gore. 3rd round.
8. Duke Johnson | Miami | 5-9, 207, 4.54
Smooth and shifty runner with average measurables. Runs with balance, patience and short area quickness. Not a strong runner and will not push the pile. Solid hands out of the backfield. Shows some willingness as a blocker, preferring to cut pass rushers down low due to lack of size and strength. Looks more like a complimentary player than a lead back, but could be a successful starter in the right scheme. Shades of Shady McCoy. 3rd round.
9. Tevin Coleman | Indiana | 5-11, 206, 4.40
Coleman has drawn comparisons to Darren McFadden due to his high-cut build and long speed. That speed is his calling card. When Coleman gets in space, he can take it the distance. Unfortunately, he is a very straight line runner. Stiff in the hips. Even though he runs hard and decisive, Coleman lacks the lateral agility, patience and power to produce consistently between the tackles. Could go much higher than my 3rd-4th round grade due to his home run ability.
10. David Cobb | Minnesota | 5-11, 229, 4.81
Cobb is a big, powerful downhill runner. His runs always end with a thud. Not going to run by anybody and doesn’t really try to. A little underrated in this class due to lack of timed speed, but his play speed looks faster than 4.8. Has vision behind the line and enough lateral movement skills to slide to find the hole. Could become a starter as an early-down power back. 4th round.
11. Karlos Williams | Florida State | 6-1, 230, 4.48
The biggest running back in this class. Surprisingly athletic for his size, with some lateral agility and vision. Pretty good pass catcher. Has trouble keeping his pads low, giving tacklers a large target. Didn’t look very instinctive as a runner, but there are lots of tools to work with. 5th round.
12. David Johnson | Northern Iowa | 6-1, 224, 4.50
The first thing you notice about Johnson is his prototype size. Runs with long powerful strides and has good build-up speed, but lacks burst. Looks stuck in the mud at times when changing directions. Very good hands out of the backfield. Defenses were keying on him in the games I watched, as he was Northern Illinois’ best weapon, so there was not a lot of room to run, but it looked like Johnson lacked vision. Not a physical runner, despite his size. Might get over-drafted due to measurables. 5th-6th round.
13. Cameron Artis-Payne | Auburn | 5-10, 212, 4.53
A top-heavy, short-legged runner who hits the hole decisively. Gets up to top speed quickly, but lacks a second gear. Not a creative runner. Finishes runs. Lacks upside to be more than a rotational player. 6th round.
14. Malcolm Brown | Texas | 5-11, 224, 4.62
Big-time recruit at Texas that disappointed somewhat. Your classic three yards and a cloud of dust runner. Not creative or elusive at all. In fact it looks like he’s trying to run to contact. Well-built and can withstand a pounding, as well as dish out some punishment. 6th round.
15. Javorious “Buck” Allen | USC | 6-0, 221, 4.53
Plays smaller than his size. More like a slasher than a power runner. Doesn’t create a lot on his own, but can gain chunk yardage when the hole is there. Straight-line-ish in the open field and won’t make people miss or separate from defenders. Doesn’t give much effort as a blocker. 6th round.
16. Josh Robinson | Mississippi State | 5-8, 217, 4.70
Short and slow, but has some short area burst and is hard to bring down with his bowling ball build. Thick powerful legs that are good in short yardage situations. 6th-7th round.