Why the 2014 Running Back Class Could Be Most Successful of This Year's Draft

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Why the 2014 Running Back Class Could Be Most Successful of This Year's Draft
Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

While the top of the draft may lack a true impact player at the running back position, that doesn't mean there aren't several players who'll make solid contributions come Sundays this fall. 

Once players are drafted, wherever that may be, they become just one guy on a NFL roster trying to make a spot for themselves. 

In regard to this draft class, there are quite a few running backs who could find themselves with roles on respective NFL teams as rookies. It might not be a starting position warranting 20 carries per game, but there is enough diversity from a skill-set perspective that guys will find ways onto the field. 

Most draft coverage surrounds first-round or borderline first-round players, which in this draft means there isn't a lot of publicity on the running back class at all. 

According to CBSSports.com's latest running back rankings and projections, there isn't a single first-round running back listed. And despite that lack of top talent, there are still 15 guys projected to go in the first five rounds, including nine in the second and third rounds combined. 

This class has players with the physicality, receiving ability and speed to make impacts in their rookie seasons, not to mention a few players with the raw upside to be considered featured backs at some point in their careers.

 

Physicality—LSU's Jeremy Hill and Ohio State's Carlos Hyde

Both standing over 6'0" tall and 230 pounds, Hill and Hyde represent two of the most physical running backs in this year's class. 

However, the running back position changes over time; there's always going to be a need for a big, physical running back to pick up the tough yards. Both of these players represent the future of that role for this draft class.

Most teams have complementary running backs at this point, guys to help share the load with one another.

Hill and Hyde aren't going to be seen as the featured back as rookies, but there's no reason to think they couldn't compete to be the backup guy on whichever team gives them an opportunity.

They could be the guys stealing the goal-line carries away from the featured backs—a fantasy owner's nightmare. 

 

Receiving ability—West Virginia's Charles Sims and Central Florida's Storm Johnson

Two of the better pass-catchers in this draft would be Sims and Johnson. 

As the NFL moves toward more spread offenses, utilizing running backs more and more out of the backfield, finding running backs who can be threats catching the ball out of the backfield is even more important. 

Both Sims and Johnson display soft hands and the ability to smoothly get out into the open field and be comfortable catching the ball at different angles out in space.

As long as either of these players gets comfortable with the blocking assignments that will come their way as a possible third-down back, there's no reason they can't make an impact right away in the passing game. 

 

Game-breaking speed—Kent State's Dri Archer and Oregon's De'Anthony Thomas

There aren't two players in this draft more terrifying for defensive coordinators at the thought of the ball in their hands in space than Archer and Thomas.

Both of these players possess the kind of game-breaking speed that can change the outcome of a game on a single play. 

They are both considered too small to play a regular role at running back, but their versatility will most likely see their roles change on a NFL roster.

Whether it's as a returner, slot receiver or simply an offensive weapon who moves around, their playmaking ability will be noticed in 2014 one way or another.

While the top of this draft class isn't full of projected first-round picks, there are still several players who can be seen as featured backs with a little development. 

Auburn's Tre Mason and Washington's Bishop Sankey are two players who can be projected to featured backs after a year or two of development. 

This draft class might not have the projected superstar at the running back position as we sit here today, but there's enough quality throughout the top 10-12 players that plenty of solid options will still find their way onto NFL rosters. 

Don't be surprised when we look back at this running back class and recognize how much better they were than initially thought.

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