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Senior Bowl Running Backs the Detroit Lions Should Keep an Eye on

NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 02:  Mike Gillislee #23 of the Florida Gators carries the ball against the Louisville Cardinals during the Allstate Sugar Bowl at Mercedes-Benz Superdome on January 2, 2013 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images
Andrew GardaFeatured ColumnistNovember 28, 2016

While Mikel Leshoure and Joique Bell played well for portions of the last season, the fact is that the Detroit Lions are still in the market for consistent help out of the backfield.

This week there were several running backs who could be available to Detroit in the coming draft. More importantly, while running backs are more important than generally given credit for, the perception that they aren't means that often you can find good backs in rounds other than the first.

Mike Gillislee was very good throughout the week when running or catching the ball. The Florida tailback showed a great deal of burst through the hole and didn't try to bounce everything outside—something several players did way too often this week.

The downside to Gillislee is that he is very weak in pass protection. During "backs on backers" (when the running backs take on the linebackers in a pass protection simulation), Gillislee was a complete wreck.

While he has the strength, he was tentative and completely overwhelmed on nearly every rep. On one of the few times he delivered a solid hit, he looked almost surprised at the collision.

It's not impossible to believe that Gillislee will improve—but it's definitely a hole in his game and will limit his ability to stay on the field in third downs at least initially.

That said, his speed through the hole and his ability to add yards after the catch make him a potential player of interest to the Lions.

Another player who had a strong showing was Stepfan Taylor out of Stanford. Taylor is a bruising back who wasn't quite as quick as Gillislee, but much tougher in pass protection. Taylor runs hard and hammers at the defensive line.

Unfortunately, he had a habit of trying to bounce outside—like many of the backs this week and many backs making the leap from college ball to pro.

Overall, though, Taylor seems to have all the tools to be a very good back in the NFL.

Another player worth a look was former UCLA Bruin Johnathan Franklin. Like Taylor, Franklin had a bad habit of trying to bounce his runs outside when the middle looked clogged to him, rather than following his lane or blocker.

Franklin has the speed to make those bounces work against college players. The speed at the NFL level is a different matter, and it's unlikely he'll be able to pull that off very consistently at the next level.

The good news is that Franklin stopped bouncing outside about midway through Wednesday's practice and started keeping his runs off tackle when that's where the play ran.

Franklin looks to be coachable, which is a vital piece of the puzzle for a young player. Can he be taught to correct his bad habits?

In the case of Franklin, it appears the answer is yes. He already has the speed and determination when he runs—he just needs to break a few bad habits.

It's early, and his stock can still rise higher than the Lions might be willing to pay—but as of right now, he's someone who Detroit can get for good value in a reasonable round.

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Follow me on Twitter at @andrew_garda.

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