There might be no more undervalued position in the NFL than the running back. The wear and tear they take makes them essentially disposable players and therefore their draft stock takes a hit.
This doesn't diminish the value of a strong running game. This year's Super Bowl was a prime example of the team that can line up and run the football having a clear advantage. Teams are still going to be looking for running backs, but they will look at them later in the draft.
Ranking and grading out running backs like this is subjective. For a particular NFL franchise, a big, bruising back is more their style. Another franchise might want a smaller, quicker back who can impact the passing game to a greater degree.
These rankings are based largely on how many teams could benefit from the back. The more teams that would be interested in a back, the higher their draft stock will be. Guys who are more niche players or less dynamic in one or more areas slip some.
Overall, this is a deep and talented group. Whether you are looking for a bruising power back or a speedy change-of-pace runner, this class should have you covered. There might not be a full-time feature back in this class, but the fact is, the days of a single running back racking up massive carries are numbered. Teams want specialists and players who can fit their systems.
The class of this group is Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey. Carey has put up amazing numbers the last two seasons as a starter. 3,814 rushing yards and 42 rushing touchdowns are nearly unmatched in college football. When you figure in 62 receptions for 476 more yards and two more scores, his ability to influence a game in multiple ways becomes clearer.
Carey's running style is not what you'd expect from a running back in a spread system. Carey runs hard. His legs go like jackhammers, and he is as good at seeing the creases as any back in the country. His pad level is excellent and has a tremendous burst.
On a team that uses a zone-blocking scheme, Carey should have the opportunity to rack up huge numbers. And the fact he has no need to come off the field makes him even better.
In the later rounds, another back playing in the state of Arizona is fascinating. Arizona State's Marion Grice shares some similarities to Carey's game, but at the same time with some stark differences.
Grice has tremendous lateral agility and quickness. He can jump cut and accelerate with almost no hesitation. His long speed is also better than Carey's, making him more of a home-run threat. Both are very talented wide receivers whether it's out of the backfield or split out wide.
Where Grice's game falls short is in terms of his power. Grice needs to keep his legs churning and work with a better forward lean. If he can get stronger, he'll be in a position to stay on the field in those short-yardage and goal-line situations. Is it better to have a back who might be able to pop off a 60-yard run or the one who isn't going to lose yardage on third down?
If you are searching for a sleeper later in the draft, Florida State running back James Wilder Jr. might be more your style. There was hope at the start of the season that Wilder was going to be included more into the Seminoles offense. Unfortunately that never came to fruition, and he was relegated to third string for the bulk of the season.
On the plus side, it means that Wilder is very low mileage and should be able to give some NFL team plenty of carries. And at 6'2" and 226 pounds, Wilder should be able to take advantage of his power running style to punish some defenders.
Here's an updated list of the current top crop of running backs for the 2014 NFL draft. Should anything change for any of these players, these rankings could be affected. And don't forget to keep an eye out for scouting reports on many of these players in the coming weeks.
|3||Carlos Hyde||Ohio State||6'0"||235lbs||3rd|
|4||Charles Sims||West Virginia||6'0"||213lbs||3rd|
|5||Andre Williams||Boston College||6'0"||227lbs||4th|
|8||Marion Grice||Arizona State||6'0"||207lbs||4th|
|13||James Wilder Jr.||FSU||6'1"||229lbs||6th|