It's never too soon to start prepping for the draft! 2016 is shaping up as a great year for running backs (even with Nick Chubb likely staying in school), with many talented players expected to transition to the NFL. I've always been a big fan of running backs, and our first big board of 2016 will be dedicated to the position. Here's my preliminary list which will be updated as the draft nears.--Mike B.
1. Ezekiel Elliott, Junior, Ohio State. 6'0, 225 pounds. Elliott is probably the best in a talented pool of running backs. He's a player who is quick on his feet and can handle an extended workload out of the backfield. He projects as a workhorse-type running back who can contribute on every down in the NFL, and, barring injury, should be taken in the first two rounds of the 2016 draft.
Here's some film.
2. James Conner, Junior, Pittsburgh. 6'2, 250 pounds. I'm slightly higher on Conner than most analysts (who rank him between third and fith overall), but I like big running backs, and Conner's footwork is phenomenal. He's a tough player who isn't a great receiver, but should play a large role in a run-based scheme early in his career. He's one of my favorite players in the 2016 draft class, and could be special. He's first to second round talent. Here's some film.
3. Derrick Henry, Junior, Alabama. 6'3, 241 pounds. Henry isn't a household name yet, but with TJ Yeldon and Amari Cooper heading to the NFL this season, he should turn plenty of heads and generate great numbers heading into what will likely be his final season at Alabama. Alabama has a history of producing NFL running backs, and Henry should be the next player on that list. Right now, I'd put him in the second round, but a strong 2015 campaign could easily propel him into the first round of the draft. He's a guy that would be great in a committee but can also be solid as an every-down player in the NFL. He's an elusive runner with good instincts after contact, and could provide some big plays. Here's some film.
4. Corey Clement, Junior, Wisconsin. 5'11, 217 pounds. This ranking may be slightly high on Clement, but a lot is based on potential. The Wisconsin system has a habit of producing decent running back prospects, and Clement looks to benefit from this system. While he's not the complete package that Melvin Gordon was, Clement is a fast, shifty player who will make a big impact as part of a committee, and I expect his draft status to skyrocket after a junior season as the starter in the Wisconsin offense. Here's some film.
5. Devontae Booker, Senior, Utah. 5'11, 203 pounds. Booker is a bit lightweight for a running back prospect, which will scare some NFL scouts away. That being said, Booker had a dominant 2014 campaign in Utah, with 1512 rushing yards and 10 TDs. He also contributed 43 receptions for 306 yards and 2 TDs. While Booker would likely have been drafted following that season, an added season of experience will likely help his draft stock. Teams will worry about his weight, but his pass-catching ability and production as a rusher should guarantee him a role in a committee at the next level. If he can bulk up a bit, he should be an every down starter. Here's some film.
6. DJ Foster, Senior, Arizona State. 5-11, 203 pounds. Much like Booker, Foster is considered slightly underweight by NFL scouts. That being said, Foster's ability as a receiver will generate tons of buzz around draft rooms across the nation, as he has the ability to contribute especially on passing downs at the next level. He plays a bit upright, but is quick on his feet and makes guys miss. He should immediately play a role on passing downs at the next level. Here's some film.
7. Alex Collins, Junior, Arkansas. 5'11, 216 pounds. Collins is a player that produced decent stats on the ground at Arkansas, but has been a relative non-factor in the passing game. He can find seams as a rusher, but needs to improve as a blocker to ensure a large role in the NFL. Right now, he projects as a committee back, but should see some snaps at the next level. Collins has lots of upside, but also has plenty of room to improve. That being said, he'll generate interest as a prospect, and should show improvement this season. Here's some film.
8. Kenneth Dixon, Senior, Louisiana Tech. 5'10, 212 pounds. Dixon is a capable rusher who has been the lead back at Louisiana Tech for three seasons.He's rushed for 53 touchdowns and 3410 yards with 5.6 yards per carry, and has caught 8 Tds on 54 receptions for 505 yards over three seasons. The numbers are there, and will entice NFL teams to take a look at him on draft day. He's well-built and makes good reads, but the one knock on him as a prospect is he goes down quickly after contact, and probably won't generate many yards after contact in the NFL. That will likely relegate him to a backup or committee role in the NFL, but he will generate interest among teams and should see playing time at the next level. Here's some film.
9. Paul Perkins, Junior, UCLA. 5'11, 208 pounds. Perkins is a guy who could wait until 2017 to declare, but with a strong junior season, I expect him to declare for the draft. He's a player who has been listed as a potential darkhorse Heisman candidate, and should have been voted (he wasn't) to the Pac-12 all conference team last season with 1575 yards and 26 receptions for 201 yards. Perkins is being overlooked as a prospect right now, but he's a shifty guy with a penchant for making tacklers miss who could be in line for a huge season with Brett Hundley leaving UCLA for the NFL. Here's some film.
10. Kelvin Taylor, Junior, Florida. 5'10, 212 pounds. Taylor is a guy who is expected to see plenty of touches in his junior season. He's struggled with pass protection in the past, but given a lack of running back depth at Florida, Taylor has received a large amount of reps and reportedly has signiicantly improved as pass blocker heading into the 2015 season. He's an extremely talented runner, and if he can establish himself as a blocker, he should carve out a role on an NFL team. His family history will help keep teams interested as well; his father, Fred Taylor, was an outstanding running back for the Jacksonville Jaguars. He's shown some flashes of talent in limited touches, so this ranking is largely based on potential. He'll be exciting to watch in 2015, and could have a breakout season. Here's some film.
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