Ranking the Top Running Backs for the 2014 NFL Draft
The 2014 NFL draft's class of running backs is interesting because of the lack of elite talent but the tremendous depth and a couple of lesser-known guys with very high ceilings.
Running back has become an interesting position at the NFL level, and no backs were taken in the first round of last year's draft because they're becoming less and less valued.
In my most recent big board, there were no backs in the top 50, although the top three on this list would likely all be in the 50s if I had expanded the rankings.
But because of the lack of top-flight talent, I thought it would be constructive to give a preview and my own rankings of some of the top backs.
Running back rankings have a tendency to fluctuate wildly all the way until draft day, and this list will be no different. But as of now, here are the top running backs for the 2014 draft.
10. Andre Williams, Boston College
He's still not on people's radars yet, but Williams is well on his way to earning some long-overdue hype as one of the better backs in the country.
The redshirt senior has been superb this year, with 216 carries and 1,176 yards already this season to go along with 10 touchdowns. He's similar in style to Alfred Morris, as he projects as a powerful downhill runner who doesn't catch the ball out of the backfield.
Williams isn't the most fluid runner, but he's a load at 6'0", 227 lbs and has good open-field speed. He doesn't get much hype playing for Boston College, but he could be a useful NFL back and is an early fourth-rounder for me right now.
9. Florida State Trio
I know this is a bit of a cop-out, but Florida State has three superbly talented underclassmen running backs who are difficult to separate at this point from a draft perspective.
Devonta Freeman has been the most productive and consistent, with 110 carries and 639 yards. He's only 5'9" but has tremendous burst and balance and can be effective as both a runner and pass-catcher.
James Wilder Jr. is probably the most hyped back of the group, but has the least yards with 298 due to injuries. He's the strongest runner of the three and may be the most NFL-ready back.
Karlos Williams is the wild card. A safety until this season, Williams has been explosive in his new position, with an 8.1 YPC average and seven scores on 49 carries. His ceiling is tremendously high, but his ability as a feature back is unknown.
8. Charles Sims, West Virginia
Sims is a bit of an unknown, as he was forced to sit the entire 2010 season for reasons the NCAA did not disclose, and just transferred to West Virginia this season as a graduate student from Houston.
But Sims has been extremely impressive as a Mountaineer in 2013, showing his versatility with 1,054 total yards on 144 rushing attempts and 36 receptions.
He doesn't do any one thing remarkably well, but is a complete runner with good vision, patience and balance. His ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and be effective on plays when he goes in motion before the snap will entice NFL teams. Sims carries a late third-round grade for me right now.
7. Marion Grice, Arizona State
This article by CBS Sports's Jeremy Fowler gives an incredible glimpse at the life and hardships that Grice has had to overcome to get to where he is today.
The exceptionally fast senior is the nation's leading scorer with 18 rushing touchdowns in eight games and has the raw talent to continue on this tear and climb up draft boards.
The humble, hardworking back is also an extremely talented pass-catcher out of the backfield, averaging roughly 4.5 catches per game. He's been one of the best offensive players in the entire Pac-12 this season and is an early third-rounder for me with a good chance to continue climbing.
6. Jeremy Hill, LSU
An exceptionally talented back, Hill is going to have a lot more questions asked about his off-the-field issues rather than his performance on it.
He has pleaded guilty to two violent crimes in the past three years, which is obviously a major step above marijuana issues that were asked about top talents Tyrann Mathieu and Janoris Jenkins in the past two drafts.
But there is a lot to like about Hill as a runner. He's 6'2", 235 lbs of pure power, although he can get moving in the open field and is lighter on his feet than you would expect. It will be interesting to see how the sophomore's draft stock fluctuates.
5. Bishop Sankey, Washington
Here's where things really start to get interesting, with the top half of this list. A guy many people may not know yet, the well-rounded Sankey should be on everyone's radar by the end of the season.
He has been the driving engine behind Washington's solid season, with two 161-yard games to go along with games of 167, 125, 208 and 241 yards. He's also a solid receiver out of the backfield, with two five-catch performances.
The thing about Sankey is that he isn't necessarily a crazy fast back who piles up a few big runs in an up-tempo offense and gets inflated totals because of that. He grinds out 25+ carries a game and does it with good vision and an impressive motor.
4. Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin
One of the major risers of this draft class, Gordon is a redshirt sophomore who has really taken the Big 10 by storm. Check out this scouting report by Bleacher Report's Brian Leigh for a more in-depth look at the Wisconsin back.
At 6'1", 203 lbs, Gordon is a decent-sized runner who is a threat to take it to the house literally every time he touches the ball, as evidenced by his insane 8.7 YPC average on 124 attempts this season.
He is extremely quick and has remarkable breakaway speed, but there are some holes in his game. He has just one reception this season and needs a lot of work on his pass-blocking.
I have him rated at the back end of the second round as the fourth overall running back, but with his speed I wouldn't be surprised if an NFL team decides they don't need him for third downs and takes him early in the second or even at the end of the first.
3. De'Anthony Thomas, Oregon
Thomas is the most explosive player in college football (when he's healthy), and there's really no debate about it. But there are significant issues that keep him this low.
First and most pressing is his 5'9", 176 lbs. frame (I think he'll measure smaller at the combine), which is just flat-out not big enough to take any type of long-term pounding as an NFL running back.
DAT is a versatile player in college, so some people consider to be an "offensive weapon" or even just a slot receiver, but NFL teams just don't really have "offensive weapons" like that, and Thomas isn't a polished enough route runner or pass-catcher to be used exclusively as a receiver. His draft stock depends on how teams will want to use him.
2. Ka'Deem Carey, Arizona
Carey is an extremely talented back and is practically neck-and-neck at this point with the top guy on this list. He's had some off-the-field issues, but they seem to be behind him.
In the past 20 games of his sophomore and junior seasons, his rushing stats are almost beyond belief. He has rushed for an average of 150.05 yards on 24.55 carries per game, giving him an average of over six yards per carry, which is tremendous considering such a large volume of work.
He's a shade under 200 lbs and will have to put on weight, but he runs extremely hard and slashes across the line and into the secondary with a vengeance. As long as he interviews well, Carey will not last into the third round.
1. Lache Seastrunk, Baylor
Seastrunk is the most naturally talented and complete back in this class. He was originally a top high school recruit who went to Oregon before transferring to Baylor.
At 5'10", 210 lbs, Seastrunk is quick through holes and isn't completely devoid of power but is more skilled at getting around the edge and making people miss. He's not as powerful as he could be, but he's still a strong run.
He's solidly built and is a very willing and capable blocker already, which will make him all the more appealing to NFL teams. He projects as a mid-second round pick right now for me.