CFB250

B/R CFB 250: Top 20 Running Backs

Michael FelderNational CFB Lead WriterDecember 9, 2013

B/R CFB 250: Top 20 Running Backs

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    Editor's note: Welcome to the first installment of Bleacher Report's new series, the CFB 250. We're using a signature scoring system to rank the best of today's college football players at every position, starting with running back.

    The CFB 250, like B/R's popular NFL 1,000, sets out particular criteria by which to judge players at each position. Using those criteria, National College Football Lead Writer Michael Felder scores and ranks the players based on careful scouting of their play this season (and not based on NFL potential).

    The series (you can read more about it here) will continue with 14 more positions over the course of December, before finishing with an overall ranking of 250 players. Now, let's get to the running backs:

    Running back is one of the positions in the college football world that is overflowing with diverse talents. It is populated by all types of runners, and different styles of play yield different results. A running back who is active catching the football is used differently than a back who is asked to be a between-the-tackles runner.

    For Bleacher Report's CFB 250, we’ve put together five criteria by which to judge the running back position, and then we watched, re-watched, evaluated, scored and ranked them all. This ranking is based on each player’s tape and is obviously subjective, not simply a look at statistics or forecasting for the next level.

    Using power, speed, ball security, vision and hands as criteria, we took a look at players from across the nation who played in at least six games. Those elements create the most successful backs, and those five traits are what helped generate the list. If there were any ties, the edge went to the player we would rather have.

    Keep in mind, these running backs are being rated on their performance in college, not NFL potential. But to see where they may go in the NFL draft (whether they are eligible in 2014 or later), check out Bleacher Report draft expert Matt Miller's projections at the end of each slide.  

20. Tyler Gaffney, Stanford

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    Power

    19/20

    This is Tyler Gaffney’s strong suit. While he is not the type of runner who goes hunting for defenders to run over, he is phenomenal at running through traffic. He forces defenders to have to wrap up, stop his leg drive and force him to the ground. There is no easy tackle on Gaffney.

    Speed

    18/25

    Gaffney is a lot faster than people give him credit for. He proves it time and again as he hits the corner on unsuspecting defenses and pulls away from defenders for some of his longer runs.

    Ball Security

    18/25

    Fumbling has shown itself to be a small issue for Gaffney. However, for a guy who totes the rock as much as he does, he has demonstrated remarkable reliability and a knack for protecting the football in big moments, especially at the end of games.

    Vision

    16/20

    One area where Gaffney is lacking compared to other top-level backs is his vision. He runs into his own linemen and runs into defenders. While his power can get him through those hangups, there are extra yards to be gained by seeing and slipping avoidable contact.

    Hands

    8/10

    The former baseball player is a reliable weapon. He’s not as comfortable in space catching the ball as he is receiving a handoff. But he makes the catch and has contributed in spots through the air.

    Overall

    79/100

    He’s a good running back who fits exactly into what David Shaw wants to do at Stanford. Gaffney's lack of vision does not hurt his game because he runs behind a massive offensive line. Once he gets to the second level, his own powerful approach and churning legs make him a problem for tacklers.

    NFL Draft Projection

    Fifth round. A grinder who needs to improve his burst and speed before heading to the NFL.

19. Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin

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    Power

    17/20

    Melvin Gordon breaks from the traditional big, physical power back mold that had become the norm in Wisconsin dating back to Ron Dayne. Although the sophomore is capable of breaking tackles and has the leg drive to move the pile, power running is not his biggest strength. 

    Speed

    21/25

    Speed and explosion is where Gordon sets himself apart from previous Wisconsin backs and joins the ranks of the best in the country. Simply put, Gordon is a kid with phenomenal burst. That ability to explode through the holes made by his massive offensive line is a quality that pushes him toward the top. 

    Ball Security

    19/25

    The sophomore battled a couple of early fumbles this season and has rebounded to become a more secure ball-carrier as the year has progressed. His early issues were rooted in being loose with the football and being more focused on yardage than security. He has pushed to rectify that issue.

    Vision

    18/20

    This is a running back with tremendous vision at the line of scrimmage and at the second level. Gordon has the ability to be a one-cut running back, the type who can spot the cut across the grain. With his burst, he can get to the opening in a hurry. He also has a knack for spotting off-balance, second-level defenders and making them pay by going against the flow to pick up extra yardage.

    Hands

    5/10

    Gordon struggles to catch the football, hence the Badgers pulling him in favor of James White, when the back is to be involved in the pass game. Catching the football is a hurdle that Gordon must overcome if he is to move into the upper echelon of quality running backs.

    Overall

    80/100

    In Gordon, the college football world is watching a back with great speed and tremendous vision operate. His skills translate into many different offenses, but in Wisconsin, he’s proved to be a tremendous asset to a team that is already set up to operate with a lesser back. The speed allows Gordon to get loose, and in doing so, he picks up first downs and breaks long runs.

    NFL Draft Projection

    Fourth round. A highly productive runner, but he doesn't do any one thing great.

18. Andre Williams, Boston College

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    Power

    19/20

    Andre Williams is one of the better power backs in the game. He takes pride in running between the tackles, making it hard on defensive backs and forcing defenses to bring plenty of bodies to get him on the ground.

    Speed

    18/25

    He does not have great speed, but he has enough to pick up good yards. He is a lot better at getting first downs, picking up seven yards on a carry, than he is at going for the 20-plus-yard run. That's evidenced by his low ratio of big-gainers to his total number of carries.

    Ball Security

    22/25

    Although Williams has fumbled this season, he does not have a fumbling issue. He tucks the ball high and tight, keeps it away from defenders, covers it up in traffic and protects it when he is stretching to pick up extra yards.

    Vision

    18/20

    He has outstanding vision and a knack for finding the sticks and the best route to get to them. He is another runner who does not possess the speed to cut back across the grain, so his vision is dialed into his immediate area, seeing defenders, setting up blockers and finding the crease to move the sticks.

    Hands

    3/10

    He’s totally unproven as a pass receiver, having yet to catch a pass in 2013.

    Overall

    80/100

    As a true feature back, Williams is a monster at Boston College, putting up big numbers on a 7-5 team. He is reliable, tough and one of the backs who gets better and better as the game wears on.

    NFL Draft Projection

    Third round. Williams' lack of speed will hurt, but his build and strength are NFL-caliber.

17. Alex Collins, Arkansas

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    Power

    18/20

    The youngster is learning how to use his power in the SEC. Alex Collins has taken some shots, but he’s also shown a consistent ability to run through arm tackles and bounce off defenders who know that he is going to get the ball on most plays.

    Speed

    19/25

    He has better speed than many anticipated but is still learning how to use his burst at the collegiate level. Over the course of the season, the freshman has improved in his ability to explode through holes and then use a second burst to push away from defenders to pick up extra yards.

    Ball Security

    18/25

    Fumbles have been an issue for Collins this season. He gets a lot of carries and has a low fumbling rate, but costly fumbles have been a problem. He needs to work on being more conscious of the ball in traffic and realize defenders are looking to knock the ball away.

    Vision

    18/20

    Collins has been a treat to watch as his vision has developed. Instead of looking to break the big gains and get cutbacks, Collins has settled into reading defenders’ body leans, following blocks and picking his way through space to ensure that he falls forward.

    Hands

    7/10

    In an offense in which the quarterback lacks confidence and is under constant duress, Collins’ natural ability to catch the football often goes unnoticed.

    Overall

    80/100

    As evidenced by his strong 2013 campaign, Collins has the makings of something special. The fumbles lowered his ranking a good deal, but he is a high-quality back who can run between the tackles, keep his legs moving and pick up tough yardage.

    NFL Draft Projection

    Second round. Collins looks like an eight-year starter in the NFL already. He just has to stay healthy.

16. Ben Malena, Texas A&M

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    Power

    16/20

    Despite a rare moment when Ben Malena gets a good square-up on a defender, the Texas A&M back is not a power player in the run game. He can slip a tackle, but his game is more rooted in giving a leg and taking it away than it is running through the interior and punishing defenses.

    Speed

    22/25

    He has excellent speed that complements elite-level quickness. Malena is another back who has a rapid acceleration rate, which helps him get to the second level. He uses that quickness to be a problem for tacklers.

    Ball Security

    17/25

    This has been a bugaboo for Malena throughout 2013. He fumbled the ball early in the season and has fumbled on several occasions during the SEC season. As the Aggies’ most called-up ball-carrier from the running back position, his ball security must improve.

    Vision

    17/20

    His good vision goes hand in hand with his quickness. Malena recognizes when to break back across the face of a defender and when to bear down and race for the corner. He can pick his way through traffic and find a crease to get to the end zone.

    Hands

    9/10

    It is a shame Malena does not get more passes thrown his way, because he has a phenomenal set of hands. Much like his running style, he is a fluid pass-catcher who uses his hands, not his body, to reel in balls thrown his way.

    Overall

    81/100

    Malena’s struggles with fumbles are the lone downside to a player who is a capable runner in space. He can manipulate defenders with his body, then use his vision to take advantage of overpursuit. He also has a great ability to read his blockers and run to open areas.

    NFL Draft Projection

    Sixth round. Issues with size, fumbles and the offense he's coming out of keep his stock down.

15. Jay Ajayi, Boise State

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    Power

    19/20

    Jay Ajayi is a serious runner between the tackles. He is a player who bounces off defenders, can run over defensive backs and smaller linebackers, and challenges every tackler at the point of impact. This is a guy who pushes the pile, gets the extra yard and is looking to finish through a defender instead of going out of bounds.

    Speed

    19/25

    He has enough speed to break a big run from time to time, but he mainly uses it to burst into tacklers as well as into and out of cuts. That short, quick speed helps him get into defenders’ chests, break arm tackles and pick up more yards.

    Ball Security

    18/25

    Fumbles have been an issue for Ajayi. Without some of his early fumbling troubles, he would likely be higher on the list because of his skill set and reliability in advancing the football. He has been better in that regard since September, tucking the ball tighter and being conscious of security, but the early troubles were a setback.

    Vision

    18/20

    He has excellent narrow vision on the field. Some backs have a knack for seeing the big cutback across the formation. Ajayi is zeroed in on his path and sees the spacing, blocking and defenders in that zone. He does not have the speed to cut back across the entire field, so he uses his vision to get him to the second level and find first-down yardage.

    Hands

    7/10

    Ajayi has become a comfortable target for his quarterback, although he is not a natural at catching the ball. He is more reliable in pass protection, but he can work as a late safety valve who will secure the ball if it is dumped off to him.

    Overall

    81/100

    Ajayi is a high-quality feature back who has to continue to work to solve his fumbling problem. Any team with a running attack rooted in pushing piles and making defenders physically work to make tackles would be a fit for Ajayi.

    NFL Draft Projection

    Sixth round. There are 20 running backs just like Ajayi in college football. He's solid, but not special.

14. Tre Mason, Auburn

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    Power

    17/20

    Tre Mason is not a back who seeks out contact or thrives on delivering a blow. Instead, he’s a back with a violent running style who bounces off tacklers and is aggressive in getting on top of defenders. Mason is tough to bring down because he has great leg action and runs behind his pads with a solid body lean.

    Speed

    20/25

    As evidenced by his long gains and kickoff return for a touchdown, Mason has both short and long speed. He is a rapid accelerator at the point of attack. After he makes a cut downfield, he can get back up to speed quickly. He has a proven ability to run away from defenders.

    Ball Security

    20/25

    Mason is not a high-volume fumbler, even playing in an offense in which the quarterback rides the back on the read to extend the handoff process, but he has had some costly giveaways this season. With his running style, it is about keeping the ball tight to his body and covering up in traffic.

    Vision

    17/20

    Good, quick reads are Mason’s big specialty. He’s more than the typical one-cut-and-go runner out of the zone-read scheme. He has the ability to get to the next level and pick through traffic and get to space. That yields a lot of first-down runs and five- or six-yard carries that go for 10 or 12.

    Hands

    7/10

    Spotty quarterback play and the Auburn offense not being fully installed limit the number of times Mason has been targeted, but he can catch the ball. He’s dangerous with the ball in his hands. Given his ability to secure the ball on the fly, he should be targeted more frequently.

    Overall

    81/100

    Mason is a quality back who can be counted on to pick up positive yardage on most plays. He runs with the violent aggression of someone who is hungry to get those extra yards. That approach is reflected in his ability to get first downs and yards after contact.

    NFL Draft Projection

    Second round. He's going to be a good one. An all-around back.

13. Byron Marshall, Oregon

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    Power

    17/20

    Byron Marshall does not go out and deliver the blow, but he does have great balance and good leg drive that allows him to bounce off would-be tacklers, push the pile and pick up yardage. He does not go down with arm tackles, which is a major plus for the Oregon Ducks, a team that pushes him to run through tight seams.

    Speed

    20/25

    As is the case with most Oregon backs, Marshall certainly has the speed to get loose on the edge. He is more than just a one-cut-and-go player. He has the ability at the second level to start and stop and push his carries from a short gain to a longer rush. His speed is not elite, but it is enough to take advantage of out-of-position defenders.

    Ball Security

    22/25

    Marshall is a safe option for the Ducks. While not as explosive as De’Anthony Thomas, he also does not put the ball on the ground. He runs through traffic safely and is capable of protecting the ball from punches and swipes.

    Vision

    17/20

    Marshall is growing into a solid one-cut-and-go running back. He diagnoses the blocks ahead of him well, which makes him dangerous as the defense is following the zone read.

    Hands

    6/10

    He’s not a natural catcher of the football. If the Ducks decide to work Marshall into the passing game, he could be a tremendous asset. But he has not received enough game reps this season to develop as a receiver.

    Overall

    82/100

    Marshall is a perfect fit for the system. He’s a quality back who can get loose when the opportunity presents itself. He is safe with the football and shows an ability to run through contact that makes him Oregon’s best option at the position.

    NFL Draft Projection

    Third round. Has all of the athletic ability, but he needs to show consistent production.

12. Charles Sims, West Virginia

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    Power

    15/20

    Charles Sims is durable and dependable, but he’s not a true power back. That said, he does bring a real presence to the spot, including an ability to break tackles, bounce off defenders and use his leg drive to pick up extra yards.

    Speed

    19/25

    Sims is not a player with elite speed, but he does have a good burst when he sees daylight, and that allows him to generate space in his runs. He has speed to get to the first-down marker but not the acceleration or top-end speed to consistently get to the end zone.

    Ball Security

    22/25

    With Sims, the West Virginia Mountaineers have a smooth and reliable ball-carrier. He’s someone who should probably receive more touches because he is sure with the football and a safe bet to pick up positive yardage. He doesn’t fumble and carries the ball securely, which is a big asset to his game.

    Vision

    18/20

    Sims has an innate ability to find space. Because of his style and use of burst, he also knows how to create space by setting defenders up to use their pursuit against them. He cannot only read blocks but read defenders to help set up blocks. That’s a plus for a running back.

    Hands

    9/10

    He’s extremely comfortable catching the football. He’s not always a smooth catcher of the ball, but he is someone who certainly gets the job done and can be counted on to bring in passes.

    Overall

    83/100

    Sims is a high-caliber running back, a player who can consistently pick up positive yards, make a defender miss and stretch for that extra yard at the sticks. He is a player who can be counted on out of the backfield in the pass game and as a quality rusher.

    NFL Draft Projection

    Fifth round. A very versatile back, but he doesn't have good power or speed.

11. Bishop Sankey, Washington

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    Power

    18/20

    Given his small stature, many expect Bishop Sankey to fill a more scatback-type role on the field. However, the junior is a beast between the tackles, and his height does not stop him from being truly difficult to bring down. He explodes into tacklers, bounces off contact and maintains both his balance and leg drive in the process, allowing him to pick up positive yardage.

    Speed

    20/25

    Sankey is not the fastest back, but he has enough get-up-and-go to be a factor on longer runs down the field. That speed also allows him to transition from interior rushes to bounces outside, where he can outsprint linebackers to the edge and get on top of defensive backs in a hurry.

    Ball Security

    22/25

    Given the number of carries that Sankey gets as the Washington Huskies’ workhorse, he has great ball security. The fumble in the Oregon game sticks out like a sore thumb, but Sankey rebounded in that same game and played solid in a losing effort. He’s safe with the football in his hands.

    Vision

    17/20

    At 5’10”, Sankey is one of the nation’s shorter backs, yet he finds his way through the trees in the interior. That is a testament to his vision as a runner. He feels the action around him so well, recognizes defenders fading away, sees blockers giving him an opening and gets to those spots quickly.

    Hands

    6/10

    He’s better at pass protection than he is at catching the football, but in a pinch, he can be called upon to help out quarterback Keith Price as a safety valve. Catching the ball consistently is not a skill that Sankey has added to his set.

    Overall

    83/100

    Sankey is a treat at the running back position, a guy who can do everything in the run game that a scout or coach would ask. He runs between the tackles surprisingly well for a guy of his measurables and still can get to the edge to pick up extra yardage.

    NFL Draft Projection

    Fourth round. Lot of wear on his tires, but he could be an NFL starter.

10. Marion Grice, Arizona State

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    Power

    13/20

    Marion Grice is not a power runner by any means. He can shake off a tackle or two, but his value comes in his shiftiness, not in his ability to run behind his pads. The Arizona State back will run between the tackles when it is necessary, but he is not very effective against the bigger bodies on the interior of a defense.

    Speed

    22/25

    Speed is where Grice excels, especially because it comes in a double dose. The senior has a great burst into and out of his cuts. Combined with solid quickness in space, Grice is a difficult target for defenders to get square in their sights.

    Ball Security

    22/25

    He is a safe bet with the ball in his hands every play. Grice is a sure-handed back who secures zone-read gives and straight handoffs, catches in fluid fashion and protects the football in traffic.

    Vision

    17/20

    Since power is not Grice’s strong suit, he relies on his vision to be effective. His eyes pick up on spacing, defender balance and pursuit angles. That helps him diagnose the best way to continuously attack opponents.

    Hands

    10/10

    He has the best hands of any running back in college football. Catching the ball comes naturally to Grice. He is a most reliable target catching passes out of the backfield and from the slot position. He could easily be successful as a full-time wide receiver.

    Overall

    84/100

    Grice is the most versatile player in college football. On a given offensive series, he can line up all over the field, everywhere from a Wildcat-type quarterback or a slot receiver to a traditional running back. He’s effective in space, makes defenders miss and has the best nose for the end zone in the game.

    NFL Draft Projection

    Third round. Exceptional do-it-all back with no power to move the pile.

9. Jeremy Hill, LSU

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    Power

    18/20

    Jeremy Hill is truly violent in the run game. He is not a guy who seeks out contact, but when the defenders come, he is looking to make them hurt for their tackling efforts. He runs through arm tackles and defensive backs diving at his legs. He has tremendous leg drive and is seldom tackled by just one player.

    Speed

    21/25

    Despite being a patient runner, Hill has great wheels when he sees daylight. He’s a runner with deceptively high top-end speed. Defenders seem to never truly close the gap on Hill as he pushes to get into the end zone.

    Ball Security

    20/25

    Hill has fumbled, but he is by no means a true fumbling risk. Following a fumble in the Ole Miss game, he corrected his ball-security issues in a big way: securing the football from the quarterback, keeping it high and tight and switching hands to keep the ball away from defenders.

    Vision

    19/20

    Hill has the ability to see everything: full cutback opportunities, creases between defenders, linemen set up to block at the second level and back-end defenders off-balance who give him an alley.

    Hands

    6/10

    Hill is not a true passing option. At his best, he can be a target for quarterback Zach Mettenberger as a last resort. Catching the football is not why LSU puts him in the game.

    Overall

    84/100

    Hill is one of the premier backs in college football. He has a violent running style in traffic, burst to explode into daylight and the top-end speed to go the distance. In Hill, LSU has a high-quality asset on the ground.

    NFL Draft Projection

    Fourth round. Has the size, but he lacks the touches that show he can perform.

8. Johnathan Gray, Texas

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    Power

    17/20

    Johnathan Gray has a good-sized body, but because he runs more upright, he limits his ability to deliver a blow at the point of contact. However, he is a guy who runs through arm tackles, can shed smaller defenders and can get a good push for the extra yard when the defense closes around him.

    Speed

    23/25

    He has tremendous speed, and that shows in both his short and long runs. Gray has a strong burst into the line, the ability to rapidly accelerate after making a move on the field and then good top-end speed to go the distance.

    Ball Security

    21/25

    Obviously, Gray’s questionable fumble-not fumble in the Iowa State game raises questions about his ball security in the pile. But over the course of the season, he’s been reliable with the football. Gray is the Longhorns’ feature back because he does not put the ball on the ground. His coaches trust him to secure the football in big spots.

    Vision

    17/20

    Gray sees the field at both the primary and secondary levels. He makes good initial reads, then is able to pick his way to daylight by reading defenders’ body leans, pursuit angles and his own blockers.

    Hands

    6/10

    The sophomore is not the most reliable weapon out of the backfield in the pass game, but he has shown an ability to make catches when pressed into action. Gray is not a true receiving threat at the position.

    Overall

    84/100

    After grabbing the reins from Joe Bergeron following his fumbling issues, Gray has shown why he was an elite talent coming out of high school. The running back uses a blend of shiftiness and the ability to break tackles to generate quality production. His vision at the second level helps him find the creases and extend runs.

    NFL Draft Projection

    Third round. Tons of potential, but injuries are piling up.

7. Carlos Hyde, Ohio State

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    Power

    19/20

    Carlos Hyde has the look and feel of the classic power back, but the Buckeyes senior is so much more. He is less a blow-deliverer and more of an absorber who bounces off tacklers, runs through arm tackles and makes defenders have to secure his legs to bring him down. He has great leg drive and a frame, combined with balance that allows him to move piles and shake off defensive players.

    Speed

    18/25

    As evidenced by his long runs, Hyde is faster than most defenses expect him to be. That said, he is certainly not a speed back, but he hits the hole hard at the line of scrimmage and can pick up an extra five yards once he gets going. Due to his size and deceptive speed, some defenders take poor angles on him, which allow him to turn the corner. Largely, Hyde’s runs come in the interior of the field because he lacks game-changing speed.

    Ball Security

    24/25

    Hyde is the safe bet for Ohio State. He is a guy who can take the handoff, get positive yards in traffic and not have to worry about the ball squirting out and costing the Buckeyes dearly. Hyde is a good high-and-tight-tucking ball-carrier, and his frame allows him to ward off punches and swipes as he gets up the field.

    Vision

    17/20

    Hyde has a good ability to find space and run to daylight. However, he also has a tendency to run into players, both his own and defenders, on his way to that crease. He has a way of seeing the hole where it is, rather than where it will be as he prepares for his next move. Luckily, his power allows him to shake off those defenders and still gain yards.

    Hands

    6/10

    Catching the ball does not come naturally to Hyde, but he can still corral it when it is thrown his way. He uses his body too much, but because he is usually a last resort, he is open and not forced to make a clean-hands catch. This is definitely a skill that if improved would make him even more dangerous.

    Overall

    84/100

    One of the nation’s most reliable backs, Hyde absorbs blows, uses his balance to dance off hits and then keeps chugging toward the end zone. His ball security is top-notch, and because he rarely takes a negative play, this grinder is a beast in the second half of games.

    NFL Draft Projection

    Fourth round. Amazing power, but he lacks speed at the next level.

6. Devonta Freeman, Florida State

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    Power

    16/20

    Devonta Freeman is not a power back or a violent runner, but his balance and leg drive do give him the ability to absorb hits, bounce off tacklers and continue pushing for extra yardage. While he does not shy away from contact, the junior is best served picking his way through traffic, instead of just running over defenders.

    Speed

    20/25

    The best part of Freeman’s speed is his initial burst. That surge carries him into the line of scrimmage. On slower-developing plays, it goes into effect after he finds his seam of choice. He has good but not great top-end speed, but the burst gets him away from defenders.

    Ball Security

    22/25

    Freeman is safe with the football and covers it up in traffic. Even as he pushes for extra yardage, he maintains control of the ball. He carries it tight to his body, and because of his shiftiness does not allow defenders to get clean punches or swipes to dislodge the ball.

    Vision

    18/20

    Freeman excels in this area. He finds space all over the field, picks his holes and then moves from one void to the next, thanks to his ability to read defenders, blocks and find creases between them.

    Hands

    8/10

    Freeman is developing a reliable set of hands out of the backfield. Early on in the season, he was used primarily as a pass-protector. But as he showed a consistent ability to track the ball and make catches out of the backfield, more was added to his plate. He’s a reliable safety valve for his quarterback.

    Overall

    84/100

    Freeman is not even the most talented running back on his team, but he’s the best back the Seminoles have because of his ability to blend together his skills. He finds running room where there appears to be none, can break tackles to get the extra yards and is a great option in the pass game for Jameis Winston.

    NFL Draft Projection

    Third round. A little small and not all that fast for a starting back.

5. Lache Seastrunk, Baylor

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    Power

    18/20

    Lache Seastrunk is a back who runs behind his pads and keeps his pad level low to explode through contact. Although he is not a power back, he is a runner who does not shy from contact, shakes off defenders and continuously picks up extra yards. He is a true run finisher.

    Speed

    24/25

    The Baylor junior’s speed is among the nation’s elite. Seastrunk accelerates rapidly, can start and stop on a dime, and then return to top speed quickly. At his top end, he runs away from almost every defender. Because he hits top speed quicker than most backs, it allows him to get the corner or burst through a seam for big gains.

    Ball Security

    21/25

    Seastrunk has been safe with the football in 2013, a major plus for Baylor’s feature back. His big improvements have been securing the ball in traffic and keeping the football tight as he pushes to pick up extra yards and finish runs.

    Vision

    16/20

    As the nation’s premier one-cut-and-go back, Seastrunk makes quick diagnoses at the line and then uses his burst to get upfield. With a clear path, Seastrunk is phenomenal. However, at the second and third levels, he is less capable of diagnosing defenders’ vulnerabilities and making the second cut.

    Hands

    5/10

    Seastrunk is not generally a target for the Bears in the passing game. He’s not a natural pass-catcher, as Baylor uses him in pass protection more than out in routes.

    Overall

    84/100

    Seastrunk is a high-level running back who benefits from a system designed to help a back of his ilk flourish. Behind the zone-blocking scheme, with defenders frozen by the zone read, Seastrunk is able to get the ball, make one cut and get out of the gate and past defenders.

    NFL Draft Projection

    Second round. Spread offense and average vision hurt his stock.

4. Mike Davis, South Carolina

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    Power

    20/20

    Mike Davis is the proverbial bowling ball of a running back. The kid is built for power with his short frame and thick core. His violent running style welcomes contact, and with his solid balance, he is able to pinball off would-be tacklers and continue to drive his legs, pushing piles and finding daylight.

    Speed

    20/25

    Davis has an “end-zone gear.” When he sees the pylon, he can turn his speed up enough to get the ball into the scoring area. Play to play, his speed will not wow folks, but he gets on top of defenders in a hurry, allowing him to deliver the blow rather than absorbing an impact.

    Ball Security

    16/25

    This is Davis’ bugaboo. He had two costly fumbles against Missouri that, luckily, did not cost South Carolina the game. The sophomore has to improve his ball security, valuing the football on an every-play basis.

    Vision

    18/20

    Davis has a knack for getting into the open field and finding space. He recognizes when to bounce his runs and when to fight through traffic, and he knows where the sticks are to move the chains.

    Hands

    10/10

    Davis has the most underrated hands out of the backfield in college football. He is a reliable and natural pass-catcher. That consistency allows him to be a factor all over the field in the pass game.

    Overall

    84/100

    Davis is having one of the best years of any running back in college football. He’s capable of scoring in short yardage, from distance and is a major factor in the passing game. He is not higher on the list because of his fumbles. Improved ball security is a must for the Gamecocks running back.

    NFL Draft Projection

    Second round. Has the potential to be a top back.

3. Ka'Deem Carey, Arizona

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    Power

    18/20

    At first glance, Ka'Deem Carey appears to be a smaller back because of the way he can get loose and get to the edge. However, at around 200 pounds and standing just 5’10”, the Arizona junior is a load to bring down, as tacklers bounce off him. He is capable of delivering a blow and getting tough yards in the interior.

    Speed

    20/25

    Carey has a solid burst that gets him into daylight and allows him to pick up extra yards. Although he lacks top-end speed, Carey is able to use his rapid acceleration to create space and pick up yards.

    Ball Security

    22/25

    Carey rarely puts the ball on the ground. Because of that, his team involves him in multiple facets of the offense. He catches passes, pitches, takes zone-read gives, straight handoffs and secures the ball through traffic.

    Vision

    18/20

    Vision is a tremendous asset for Carey. He’s a runner who does not run up his linemen’s backs and is able to find his way to space after hitting in the interior to start the run. Unlike many runners, his eyes don’t just take him to the edge. He looks for creases to get plus yardage on the interior as well.

    Hands

    10/10

    Carey is one of the best pass-catching running backs of 2013. He does not fight the ball on flare routes. For that reason, he is a quality safety target for quarterback B.J. Denker.

    Overall

    88/100

    What Carey lacks in speed, he more than makes up for with his vision and blend of power and versatility. He is a back who can run between the tackles and get tough yardage, but he has the quickness and burst to get loose at the second level. Throw in his vision to run off the zone-blocking scheme, and you have a guy who belongs among the nation’s best.

    NFL Draft Projection

    Third round. Needs a great 40 time to move up.

2. T.J. Yeldon, Alabama

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    Power

    17/20

    T.J. Yeldon is a high runner who does not get behind his pads. For that reason, he does not get the most out of his 218-pound frame. However, Yeldon does show an ability to run through contact consistently and is rarely brought down by arm tackles. He has good leg drive, but exposing his chest by running straight up limits his ability to truly attack.

    Speed

    21/25

    Yeldon is a quick back. When he gets a chance in the open field, the more he runs, the faster he becomes. That's unlike other backs with a great burst who lack quality top-end speed.

    Ball Security

    23/25

    Yeldon has focused on not fumbling since a costly giveaway in 2012. This season, the sophomore has been careful not to lay the ball down on the field. He carries it high and tight to his body, uses two hands in traffic and does a wonderful job of securing handoffs and heading into the line.

    Vision

    19/20

    This is where Yeldon excels. Although he does not have the burst of some backs, he has quick feet and great balance, and those traits are put to use thanks to his vision. He can read the back side, the front side and take the temperature of blocks all at the same time, a special ability in a running back. His vision also allows him to recognize defenders who are off-balance and triggers where and how to attack them.

    Hands

    9/10

    Yeldon is a sure-handed receiver out of the backfield. He rarely drops a catchable ball, is a natural pass-catcher and is a guy who understands how to be a target. Much like his running style, Yeldon is smooth in the pass game. He brings the ball in securely with his hands.

    Overall

    89/100

    With great feet, vision, long speed and enough tackle-breaking ability, Yeldon is one of the nation’s best running backs. He has a blend of skills that allows him to succeed on every type of run play. That is rare at the college level.

    NFL Draft Projection

    First round. Curse of Alabama backs and lack of power keep him under Todd Gurley.

1. Todd Gurley, Georgia

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    Power

    20/20

    Todd Gurley is the best power runner in the collegiate game. He’s capable of absorbing hits and shedding tacklers to continue his runs in the open field. He is a back who looks to deliver a blow at the second level. One tackler rarely brings down Gurley. With his elite-level leg drive, the Georgia running back is a force at the position.

    Speed

    22/25

    Gurley is not the fastest back in the nation, but he’s fast enough to get out of the gate and go the distance. Gurley has shown time and again that if he gets a seam, he can take the ball to the end zone. His ability to rapidly accelerate is what helps him burst through openings to break big runs.

    Ball Security

    21/25

    This is an underrated trait for the sophomore, but it's not understated in football circles. The Bulldogs can trust Gurley with the ball in any situation because he will not put it on the rug. Given his violent running style, the ability to hang on to the ball is a must as he pushes to get the extra yard.

    Vision

    19/20

    Gurley sees the crease at an elite level. He recognizes the opportunity to cut to the back side, notices defenders that overpursue and locates blocking advantages. At the line, his vision is great, and as he gets downfield, he continues to see the field over the course of a run.

    Hands

    9/10

    Gurley is the rare powerful running back who excels catching the football out of the backfield. Flares, screen passes, angles, circles and wheel routes are in Gurley’s repertoire. He catches the ball cleanly, is fluid in his motions and uses his hands to make grabs.

    Overall

    91/100

    Although Gurley missed time in 2013 due to injury, he is the cream of the running back crop. He has an unmatched blend of size, speed and vision at the collegiate level.

    NFL Draft Projection

    First round. The total package.

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