Running back has become the forgotten position in the NFL draft.
The position has been so ignored in recent years that one of the major storylines of the 2015 draft was the selection of two running backs in the first round—an occurrence that had previously been commonplace for decades.
Due to this trend, coverage of prospects in recent years had tended to be skewed toward positions more likely to land in the first round. And for this reason, many of the most underrated offensive weapons can be found at the running back position.
Last year, we saw prospects such as the Buffalo Bills' Karlos Williams and the Chicago Bears' Jeremy Langford burst onto the scene with strong rookie performances despite limited predraft hype, and the most underrated weapon in this year's class could be UCLA's Paul Perkins.
Perkins, who enters the draft after his junior year, has been one of the most complete running backs in the Pac-12 over the past two seasons and is in the mix to be the second running back off the board in this year's class.
Let's take a look at Perkins' best traits.
Blend of Power and Elusiveness
The majority of running backs who sustain success at the NFL level are those who can't be defined by a single trait.
There are certainly roles for the smaller home run threats with elite speed and the bigger downhill runners for short-yardage situations. But we rarely see those one-dimensional runners carry the load for their franchise for an extended period of time.
Perkins' primary strength is his elusiveness, but he demonstrates a consistently balanced skill set that bodes well for his transition to the NFL.
Elusiveness is often confused with pure speed, which isn't always the case with running backs. Perkins can turn on the jets, but his ability to make defenders miss primarily stems from his quick footwork.
This play against Stanford demonstrates how Perkins uses his footwork to lose defenders, as he weaves through traffic before finally hitting full speed in the open field:
Perkins doesn't have to make defenders miss in order to pick up extra yardage.
While running through contact isn't his go-to move, it is a skill Perkins has flashed at times due to his balance and low running style.
On this play against Washington State, Perkins first shows his patience and vision. Then he hits the hole with an explosive burst and runs over a closing defender:
It's rare to find running backs capable of winning with such a varied skill set.
We often think of bigger, more physical running backs as the ones who force the most missed tackles. But as a runner who can find ways to pick up extra yardage regardless of the situation, Perkins is as elusive as they come.
According to CFB Film Room, Perkins forced missed tackles at a fantastic rate:
CFB Film Room @CFBFilmRoom
UCLA RB Paul Perkins forced missed tackles at an impressive rate in 2015 https://t.co/oq31MAUFpi2/11/2016, 7:24:11 PM
This skill set should place Perkins high on the draft board for any team interested in adding an immediate starter at running back in the 2016 draft.
Weapon in Passing Game
Perkins' skills as a runner are enough to make him a future starter, but what he offers in the passing game elevates his draft stock to another level.
Not only was Perkins a reliable checkdown option for UCLA freshman quarterback Josh Rosen in 2015, but he was frequently featured as a weapon down the field. Perkins has reliable hands to haul in the pass, and he also does a great job quickly securing the ball and turning upfield.
This play against Arizona shows Perkins' skills as he quickly snags the pass and then shows off his ability to make guys miss in the open field:
The ability to make plays in the passing game is only a piece of the equation for a running back to become a true three-down playmaker. A back also has to be able to stand in and help out in pass protection in order to be an effective third-down back.
Perkins lacks the size to dominate in this area (5'11", 210 lbs), and he doesn't have the refined technique of other prospects such as Ohio State's Ezekiel Elliott. However, he consistently gives a strong effort, which is half the battle with many running backs.
This area can't be touted as a strength for Perkins, but the fact his pass-protection skills aren't a liability is enough to ease concerns when it comes to projecting him as a three-down back in the NFL.
Elliott is the top running back in this draft class by a wide margin, as Bleacher Report's Ian Wharton has broken down in detail. But a strong case can be made that Perkins should be the next man off the board.
Due to scheme, some teams may prefer a more traditional downhill runner like Alabama's Derrick Henry, but Perkins offers the more complete skill set. With such a well-rounded game, it's easy to envision Perkins as a rookie feature back during the 2016 season.
In the second round, teams such as the Dallas Cowboys, Tampa Bay Buccaneers or Miami Dolphins could view Perkins as their running back of the future depending on how the free-agency period plays out.
Regardless of where Perkins lands, he's a name to remember heading into the 2016 season due to the multitude of ways he impacts the game.
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