Best Bargain-Bin Running Backs Available in 2015 NFL Draft
The 2015 NFL draft class is projected to be the first since 2012 to have a running back taken in the first round. In fact, every mock draft listed at NFL.com has at least one RB drafted in the first round. This would fly in the face of the growing perception that the running back position is being de-emphasized in the NFL.
Perhaps this just happens to be an unusually talented class of RBs this year. From the film study I've done personally, I can say with confidence that this class is, at the very least, a deep one.
The workhorse prospects entering the league in 2015 offer some intriguing skills for those teams in need of an adrenaline shot to their backfield but unwilling to pull the trigger early.
This list of bargain-bin prospects consists of the most promising running backs projected to be available after the first two rounds of the draft.
RBs Projected to Go in the First Two Rounds
1. Todd Gurley, Georgia
2. Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin
3. Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska
4. Duke Johnson, Miami
5. Jay Ajayi, Boise State
6. Tevin Coleman, Indiana
Note: According to CBS Sports' player rankings.
T.J. Yeldon, Alabama
T.J. Yeldon is the only running back in Alabama history with over 1,000 yards rushing in his first two seasons and nearly reached that mark in his junior season as well.
He also had at least 10 rushing touchdowns in all three seasons he played at Alabama.
In 2014, Yeldon only had two games where he had at least 20 rushing attempts, which means he was able to put up impressive career numbers despite operating in a committee backfield.
His measurables for an NFL running back are average across the board, but he does have the frame to take punishment and run through arm tackles.
T.J. Yeldon is an underrated prospect who has the frame and running style of an NFL back. By this, I'm referring to his fearless nature with the ball and his willingness to meet contact head-on without slowing down or trying to avoid it.
Two things he is one of the best at in this class are breaking arm tackles and driving his legs through contact.
His only problem in that arena is that his pad level tends to get too high at times, which not only depletes his functional strength but also maximizes incurred damage.
NFL teams looking for a power runner who drives through tackles and also has some wiggle to him should be interested in potentially acquiring Yeldon at a bargain.
David Cobb, Minnesota
"In 2014, set Minnesota record with 1,626 rushing yards including two games over 200 yards (Middle Tennessee and San Jose State)." — Lance Zierlein (NFL.com)
His 20 touchdowns all came in his last two seasons.
David Cobb didn't participate in Minnesota's pro day. Cobb's father told the Pioneer Press that his son is still recovering from a quad strain he suffered at the NFL combine.
Apparently he will hold a personal workout in early April. This should give him a much-needed opportunity to improve on his terrible 40-yard-dash time.
Despite being one of the heavier backs at 229 pounds, he had the sixth-best vertical jump among RBs this year.
Cobb is one of the more versatile running backs in this class. He moves extremely well for his size and has the athleticism, quickness and vision to make impressive jump cuts at the line of scrimmage.
Though he changes direction well, he lacks top-end speed to generate electrifying home run plays. However, he does flash the potential to emerge as a solid NFL starter and has the frame and talent to be a featured running back. This doesn't mean he will, but the potential appears to be there.
His best attribute is his vision—plus, he has just enough physical tools to follow his eyes through tight running lanes.
At this point, we still need to get a better picture as to what type of athlete he is in terms of measurables, which can be the difference between a third-round projection and a seventh-round slide.
David Johnson, Northern Iowa
David Johnson has had at least 10 rushing touchdowns and 1,000 yards rushing in each of his last three seasons at Northern Iowa.
In his first game of 2014, Johnson had five receptions for a whopping 203 yards against Iowa.
David Johnson finished second among RBs in explosion totals (bench, vertical, broad) and in his three-directional speed when combined with his weight. Only Ameer Abdullah graded higher in those categories.
The star from the small school of Northern Iowa has emerged to become one of the most interesting RB prospects of the 2015 class.
David Johnson showed off his natural ability and impressed scouts during his week at the Senior Bowl. He reminds me of a light-footed Brandon Jacobs who has good speed and athleticism for his size.
Johnson lacks elite qualities to his game, but he flashes NFL-caliber skill in enough areas to justify a mid-round selection.
Malcolm Brown, Texas
In 2014, Malcolm Brown only averaged 3.9 yards per carry. The Longhorns RB also never had a 1,000-yard season during his time in Texas. His last three games were unimpressive. He had a total of 32 carries for 85 yards, which is less than three yards per carry.
On the positive side, according to Dane Brugler of CBSSports.com, Brown had the lowest fumble rate of any RB he studied. He apparently fumbled once every 619 touches.
Not many realized that Malcolm Brown turned out one of the combine's best performances for running backs.
At 5'11", 224 pounds, he ran a 6.86-second three-cone drill in Indianapolis, good enough for the fourth-best time for his position.
When you average out his speed and agility times, and factor in weight, he had the third-best average among running backs. He also Joey Iosefa of Hawaii for the biggest hands (10 ¼") of the group.
Brown may lack flat-out blazing speed, but he is quick enough to hit holes and big enough to break arm tackles at the next level.
After talking with film junkie and friend Matt Waldman of Football Outsiders, I had to put Malcolm Brown on the list. He has perhaps the most uniquely optimistic opinion about Brown that I happen to agree with. Here is what he had to say:
"I'm a 'Malcolm Brown is a sleeper' bandwagon builder. His O-line had 13 collective starts among them this year. They sucked. So it hid how good he was to the box-score eye.
"I had a somewhat difficult time not ranking him in my top five. If you took out the projection of improvement with easy things, Brown makes it. I give small bonuses for players I think can/should learn skills that are easy to learn and small penalties for players who I think are capped at where they are or have a difficult task ahead.
"For instance, if I were to rank guys without projecting better work in pass pro or ball security—things I think that are easy, to moderately easy, to project for improvement—Brown would be above Melvin Gordon for me in my top five. Which is scary considering he won't get drafted, but he's still in my top seven.
"An NFL guy tells me that he's written off or a late-round guy at best. I think he's a future starter in ability. He's not fast, but balance, burst, vision—he made that 3.9 yards per carry this year look decent."
Josh Robinson, Mississippi State
Only two running backs in the SEC finished with more rushing and receiving yards than Josh Robinson's 1,573 in 2014. Last year, he led the conference in receiving yards among running backs with 370.
More than half of his career production came from his 2014 campaign, which was his only year as Mississippi State's feature back.
His most impressive game might have been against LSU last year, when he rushed for 197 yards on 16 carries.
At the combine, Robinson ran his 40-yard dash in 4.7 seconds, but he then ran a 4.61 at his pro day. I averaged those two times out to generate his listed 40 time. For whatever reason, it doesn't appear Robinson participated in short shuttle or the three-cone drill.
Measurables are obviously not this guy's strong suit, which is a major reason why he will be available after the second round.
Simply put, Robinson is one of my favorite prospects to watch from this draft class. He runs like the Energizer Bunny, showing off wondrous feats of effort, balance and functional strength.
His forte is breaking tackles and driving through piles of defenders for those hard-fought extra yards.
Though he may be short and not too fast, this guy just knows how to play the game with heart, vision and the passion that can succeed at the next level, in many ways.
He resembles C.J. Anderson, who was an undrafted rookie out of California but eventually earned a starting role for the Denver Broncos.
Ryan Riddle is a former NFL player who writes for Bleacher Report.