5 Running Backs the New England Patriots Must Consider in 2015 NFL Draft

Erik Frenz@ErikFrenzSenior Writer IFebruary 10, 2015

5 Running Backs the New England Patriots Must Consider in 2015 NFL Draft

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    With Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley set to become free agents, the New England Patriots could be in need of an overhaul at running back. 

    In fact, it was four years ago that the Patriots went on the offseason shopping spree that welcomed both of those players into the fold. The thing is, it wasn't even a high-spending frenzy, as they were acquired via the draft.

    The Patriots offense featured a below-average rushing attack, with only 107.9 rushing yards per game (18th in the NFL) and 3.9 yards per rush attempt (22nd). Even if the Patriots weren't facing the possibility of saying goodbye to two of their young, talented backs, they may be looking for upgrades at running back anyway.

    LeGarrette Blount, James White, Jonas Gray and Tyler Gaffney will be back for the 2015 season, but other than that, the Patriots may have to rebuild their entire running back depth chart. One of the best places to take care of that problem will be in the 2015 NFL draft, which has the usual mix of top-end talent (one or two prospects) and mid-round complementary backs (plenty). Here's a look at some of the running backs the Patriots could target.

Todd Gurley, Georgia

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    A combination of power, balance and vision has earned Georgia running back Todd Gurley some comparisons to Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch. He's a bit taller than ideal at 6'1", but he doesn't struggle to get a low pad level to help him bowl over defenders, and at 226 pounds, he's barely brought down by the first contact even with more to tackle.

    In three seasons at Georgia, Gurley rushed 510 times for 3,285 yards (6.4 yards per carry) and 36 touchdowns. He appeared to be a lock as a first-round pick before his junior season at Georgia was severed by a season-ending ACL tear. He's not even expected to be back until mid-August from that injury, but that's not the only injury he's dealt with in his career. He was also bothered by an ankle injury in 2013.

    The Patriots, however, have not been shy about adding players to their roster who come with a background of injuries (see: Amendola, Danny; Easley, Dominique; and Dowling, Ras-I). Those kinds of acquisitions have been met with mixed results, but when need meets value, you can never rule out that the Patriots will make a move.

Duke Johnson, Miami

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    Rogelio V. Solis/Associated Press

    The 5'9", 206-pound back is more lightning than Gurley's thunder. He has drawn comparisons to Philadelphia Eagles running back LeSean McCoy for his quickness and burst, according to Rob Rang of CBS Sports. If Johnson can replicate or even approximate McCoy's ability on passing downs, he'll be a great replacement option for Vereen.

    There are a couple of black marks on his resume, though. His explosiveness isn't always as effective when running between the tackles, where his vision is less than adequate. He also doesn't like to get as dirty in pass protection as some other backs. 

    Johnson's numbers were steady at Miami, and he rushed for a career total of 526 carries, 3,519 yards (6.7 YPA) and 26 touchdowns, with 10 touchdowns in his freshman and junior years. His sophomore year (2013) may have been even better than it was, had he not been sidelined with a broken ankle that cut his season short at eight games. He also missed time in multiple games in 2014, according to Rang, so teams should be cautious and thoroughly examine him.

    If his medical records check out, though, the Patriots must consider Johnson an option.

Tevin Coleman, Indiana

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    John Sommers/Associated Press

    Whether you read the scouting report by CBS Sports' Dane Brugler, NFL.com's Lance Zierlein or another draft pundit, you'll read rave reviews about running back Tevin Coleman's home run ability. Sometimes that can benefit the 6'0", 210-pound back, such as when he gets an open lane and can hit it at full speed; sometimes it can be his detriment, when those lanes are slower to develop. 

    Zierlein says he "treats every carry like a sprint," but adds that his "race car in the red" mentality allows him to break off long gains. There's plenty of evidence of that in his 270-carry, 2,036-yard, 15-touchdown junior season in 2014. He rushed for more than 120 yards in 10 of 12 games last year.

    The Patriots could use a back with his versatility on passing downs and willingness to block in pass protection. What they will not like, however, is his penchant for fumbles, with four of them in 2014. 

David Cobb, Minnesota

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    Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

    NFL.com's Lance Zierlein compared Minnesota's David Cobb to Stevan Ridley, so if the Patriots are to lose Ridley to free agency, Cobb would be a reasonable replacement. His skill set reads like a replica of Ridley's, especially when Zierlein says things like, "efficient and decisive," "patient runner who gets the most from his runs" and "average improviser."

    Like so many other backs in this year's class, Cobb has a less-than-sterling record when it comes to fumbles. He fumbled in four of six games in the middle of the season. That being said, he also ran the ball 314 times in 2014, the third-most rush attempts in the country.

    On that note, he may have a little too much tread taken off his tires already after two seasons in which he rushed a combined 551 times, but while he may not be the most explosive back, he is dependable when it comes to maximizing his rushes by following his blockers and fighting through tackles.

Cameron Artis-Payne, Auburn

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    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    At 24 years old, Auburn running back Cameron Artis-Payne will be an old rookie, but he has shown enough potential to warrant a draft pick. Besides, the Patriots typically don't hang onto running backs beyond their first contract, anyway.

    Artis-Payne played only two seasons at Auburn, but he became an important piece to their offense in 2014 after the team lost running back Tre Mason to the draft. He had a highly productive senior year and rushed 303 times for 1,608 yards and 13 touchdowns. He arrived at Auburn from junior college in 2013, and as such, he still has plenty of tread left on the tires.

    The Patriots will like what NFL.com's Lance Zierlein classifies as a "patient runner who waits for blocks to develop before attacking the hole" and also "looks to keep the runs north and south," but at his age and with a general lack of athleticism, the Patriots may not be willing to spend more than a late-round pick for him. 

    Unless otherwise noted, all scouting information provided by NFL.com and CBSSports.com.

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