2015 NFL Draft: An Early Look at the Top Running Backs

Curt Popejoy@@nfldraftboardContributor IJune 27, 2014

Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon (25) during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Indiana Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013, in Madison, Wis. (AP Photo/Andy Manis)
Andy Manis/Associated Press

It is never too early to start thinking about the 2015 NFL draft. The college football season kicks off in just two months, and with it player evaluation will be in full swing. It is time to get started by looking ahead at some of the top potential prospects at each position.

This first installment in this series is going to talk a little about the top running backs in the nation. The running back position is one that is traditionally undervalued by the NFL, which means the draft stock of these young men is typically forced down as well.

2015 might be a different story, though. Yes, it’s true that the shelf life of an NFL running back is short. However, that could change this year. The players at top of the position in the potential 2015 draft class are better than any running back taken in 2014 by a considerable margin, and teams will recognize that.

Keep one thing in mind. This list is less about order and more about awareness. The first five running backs listed are the best in the country right now, and the next five are the ones to keep an eye on who could move way up the board depending on their performance this year. 


Top-Five Running Backs

  1. Melvin Gordon III, Wisconsin
  2. Todd Gurley, Georgia
  3. Karlos Williams, Florida State
  4. T.J. Yeldon, Alabama
  5. Byron Marshall, Oregon 

If the draft were today, Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon III would get the nod for two key reasons.

First, when you compare Gordon to the other top running backs, his number of career carries is well below the rest. Like it or not, college teams are starting to really work their backs, and the backs are entering into the NFL with a lot of mileage on them.

The second factor that gives Gordon the edge here is speed. If you compare Gordon’s skill set to the rest of those within the top five, it is quite comparable. They each have exceptional vision, great balance and surprising power. However, once he gets into the open, Gordon can run away from defenders, which is something the other top backs still need to show they know how to do.

Perhaps the most unknown of the five is Oregon’s Byron Marshall. It is always challenging to evaluate Oregon running backs because of the system they play in. However, as more of those concepts seep into the NFL, a player like Marshall is going to be enticing.

Marshall possesses a great combination of speed and power, but he doesn’t have overwhelming size. This isn’t a negative, especially when you consider that Marshall will split time with Thomas Tyner, ensuring that his workload won’t be intense.

My top senior running back is Florida State’s Karlos Williams. Williams was part of an awfully crowded backfield in 2013, and he was never able to showcase his talents. This year, with James Wilder Jr. and Devonta Freeman gone, Williams is going to be running the show.

Williams has impressive size at 6’1” and 223 pounds, but he sports the agility of a man who is much smaller. This is likely due to his background as a defensive back. Regardless, look for big things from this big back in 2015.

I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about Georgia’s Todd Gurley and Alabama’s T.J. Yeldon, as both are truly special football players. We’ve all been able to revel at their skills during their brief college careers. However, it is hard to simply place them atop these rankings with so many other great backs that they are competing against—backs who don’t have injury concerns or a prodigious number of carries to worry about.


Top-Five Running Backs to Watch

  1.  Terrence Magee, LSU
  2. Corey Grant, Auburn
  3. Javorius Allen, USC
  4. Tra Carson, Texas A&M
  5. Storm Woods, Oregon State

These are five names to jot down and keep an eye on for the upcoming season. All of these backs either flashed huge potential in 2013 or were held back for some reason. No matter the reason, though, if things work out, look for all five of these players to make huge strides in 2014.

A couple of these guys in particular stand out. LSU running back Terrence Magee is a brilliant athlete. Last season, he averaged 7.3 yards per carry in a limited role. With losses on the depth chart, Magee has one shot to be great. All of the attention in the Bayou is going to be on rookie stud Leonard Fournette, but Magee has a near ideal NFL skill set.

The other name on this list is Texas A&M’s Tra Carson. Carson’s opportunities were limited last year, but the bruising power back should have many more chances to pound through defenders in 2014.

All of these running backs have an opportunity to really climb draft boards during the season. The best part is that due to the fact that they are all so unique, where they end up is going to depend on the type of back prospective NFL teams are looking for.