NFL Draft 400: Ranking the Top Running Backs for 2016

Matt Miller@nfldraftscoutNFL Draft Lead WriterApril 6, 2016

NFL Draft 400: Ranking the Top Running Backs for 2016

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    The 2016 NFL draft class doesn't feature two Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks at the top like last season's did with Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't be excited about this year's class. With this draft set to be dominated by defensive linemen and small-school studs, not many people know as many names as they did last offseason. 

    The goal of the NFL Draft 400 series is to change that.

    The top 400 players were tracked, scouted, graded and ranked by me and my scouting assistants, Marshal Miller and Dan Bazal. Together, we viewed tape of a minimum of three games per player (the same standard NFL teams use), and oftentimes, we saw every play by a prospect over the last two years. That led to the running back grades, rankings and scouting reports you see here.

    Players were graded on positives and negatives, with a pro-player comparison added to match the player's style or fit in the pros. The top 400 players will be broken down position by position for easy viewing before the release of a top-400 big board prior to the draft.

    In the case of a tie, players were ranked based on their overall grade in our top 400.

Matt Miller NFL Draft Grading Scale

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    Harry How/Getty Images

    At the end of each scouting report, you'll see a final grade that falls somewhere between 4.00 and 9.00. This scale comes from the teaching I received from Charley Casserly, Michael Lombardi and other former and current front-office personnel in the NFL. I tweaked it this year to be more transparent, and as a result, each player received a number grade as well as a ranking.

    This applies to all positions across the board.

    Matt Miller's 2016 NFL Draft Grading Scale
    9.00Elite—No. 1 pick
    8.00-8.99All-Pro—Rare Talent
    7.50-7.99Round 1—Pro Bowl Potential
    7.00-7.49Round 1—Top-15 Player Potential
    6.50-6.99Round 2—Rookie Impact/Future Starter
    6.00-6.49Round 3—Rookie Impact/Future Starter
    5.80-5.99Round 3-4—Future Starter
    5.70-5.79Round 4—Backup Caliber
    5.60-5.69Round 5—Backup Caliber
    5.50-5.59Round 6—Backup Caliber
    5.40-5.49Round 7—Backup Caliber
    5.00-5.39Priority Free Agent
    4.50-4.99Camp Player

27. Brandon Wilds, South Carolina

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images
    Combine Results
    HeightWeight40 Time3-Cone Short Shuttle
    6'1"220 lbs4.54s7.08s4.33s 


    A four-year contributor at South Carolina, Brandon Wilds is a big, strong back with power skills to get downhill in a man blocking scheme. 

    With 4.54 speed on a 220-pound frame, Wilds has enough juice to pull away from linebackers and defensive linemen at the first level of the field. He's agile enough to cut back against the grain and find secondary rushing lanes on the go. Wilds is a hard runner with the body lean to pick up extra yards after contact. 

    Wilds shows good pad height when running between the tackles and the vision to spot the hole and get his shoulders squared and up the field. He's a leg-churner with the power to be effective in short-yardage and goal-line situations.

    You can keep Wilds on the field on third down, as he's shown to be a capable blocker and functional receiver out of the backfield. 


    Often injured during his time at South Carolina, Wilds never established himself as a go-to back. Among those injuries, Wilds suffered bruised ribs (2015), missed 2012 with an ankle sprain and was limited to seven appearances in 2013 with hamstring and elbow injuries. NFL teams considering Wilds must factor in his injury history. 

    Wilds lacks the speed to turn the corner and outrun defenders to space. Even in a zone-blocking scheme he struggles to effectively find holes to dart through. Wilds has good power, but he tries to win with it on every run instead of attempting to elude tacklers. He gives himself up to contact too easily behind the line of scrimmage.

    Without great production (1,844 career yards) and with a history of injuries, Wilds looks like a back with NFL-caliber size and power but enough question marks to make him a priority free-agent projection.

    PRO COMPARISON: Zac Stacy, New York Jets

    FINAL GRADE: 5.00/9.00 (Priority Free Agent)

26. Dwayne Washington, Washington

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    Stephen Brashear/Getty Images
    Pro Day Results
    HeightWeight40 Time3-Cone Short Shuttle
    6'1 1/8"221 lbs4.45sN/AN/A 


    A big back with enough speed to make plays in the open field, Dwayne Washington can shift gears and run away from tacklers. Washington, who left the Huskies after his junior season, has the athletic upside to intrigue scouts even if his college career didn't produce jaw-dropping statistics.

    With legitimate pull-away speed, Washington can be dangerous in space if he gets a clear rushing lane. He's able to rip off long runs on a regular basis and had a knack for finding cutback lanes at the second level to sprint through. He has good footwork at the line of scrimmage and can create on his own if the offensive line doesn't open a hole for him. 

    A former wide receiver, Washington was able to pick up yards on swing passes and screen packages out of the backfield. He's not a player you would have to remove from the field on third down. 


    Injuries and fumbles showed up too often during his 2015 campaign. Washington put the ball on the ground 10 times in what amounts to a season's worth of production in college (226 carries) and was hobbled by injuries that caused him to miss the last four games of the season. 

    Washington isn't shifty, and with his tall frame, he becomes an upright runner with poor hip flexibility to shake defenders in the hole. He's fast enough to make plays when running in a straight line, but he can be bottled up.

    Power should be part of the package for Washington. That he's a bit tall in his running stance limits his pop at the point of attack, but he won't look for contact and initiate it when a tackler meets him. Washington plays like he's much smaller than 221 pounds.

    PRO COMPARISON: Knile Davis, Kansas City Chiefs 

    FINAL GRADE: 5.00/9.00 (Priority Free Agent)

25. Keenan Reynolds, Navy

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    Rob Carr/Getty Images
    Pro Day Results
    HeightWeight40 Time3-Cone Short Shuttle
    5'9 5/8"191 lbs4.57sN/AN/A 


    A four-year starter as an option quarterback at Navy, Keenan Reynolds was one of the most electric, productive players in college football. He rushed for more than 1,000 yards in each of the last three seasons and totaled 4,559 career yards and 88 touchdowns. 

    Reynolds has the ability to run past defenders to the corner and get upfield for plus yardage. He's not a true sprinter, but he has the juice to shake a would-be tackler and create chunk yards. The best way to describe his running style is slippery, as Reynolds can make defenders miss and can make himself skinny to slide through small rushing lanes.

    As a natural runner, Reynolds can withstand contact and keep his feet churning. He's aware and smart when asked to make decisions with the ball in his hands.


    With 32 career fumbles, Reynolds has to answer questions about ball security if he intends to play running back in the NFL. Of course, playing quarterback in an option offense means more opportunities to fumble, but even if you just observe his film without counting the fumbles, he's loose with the ball.

    Reynolds' measurables look like a running back's, but his actual build is more like a slot receiver with thinner legs and narrow shoulders. A role as a third-down back best fits his frame, but given his time at quarterback, Reynolds has no experience running routes or catching the football. 

    A lack of power will keep him off the field around the goal line, and a lack of blocking skill will keep him off the field on passing downs. NFL teams must figure out if his raw running skills are worth the investment.

    Because of his naval commitment, Reynolds is due to serve five years in the Navy or Marine Corps after graduation. This could affect his ability to play in the pros, even if players like Joe Cardona (long snapper, Patriots) have received waivers in the past to carry out their service while playing in the NFL.

    PRO COMPARISON: Dri Archer, New York Jets

    FINAL GRADE: 5.00/9.00 (Priority Free Agent)

24. Aaron Green, TCU

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    Jackson Laizure/Getty Images
    Pro Day Results
    HeightWeight40 Time3-Cone Short Shuttle
    6'1"221 lbs4.57s6.89s4.04s 


    A senior from TCU, Aaron Green began his career at the University of Nebraska, where he saw time in 12 games as a true freshman. Green sat out the 2012 season as a transfer, played as a backup in 2013 and then became a two-year starter for the Horned Frogs.

    Green was not invited to the NFL Scouting Combine, so he was not able to put a time on the track in Indianapolis. His game film shows a player without great straight-line speed but more quickness and agility. 

    In the open field, Green has the vision to find cutback lanes and can get defenders turned around with his footwork and hips if he's given a crease to run through. His change-of-direction skills make him more dangerous in the open field than his actual vision makes him, but the two traits combine to make him a threat in space.

    Green would work best in a stretch-zone scheme that allows him to find his own rushing lane and get upfield. When viewed as a third-down back, he's exciting given his ability as a pass-catcher. He'll be valuable in screen packages and on swing passes.

    Green comes from a strong football family. His dad, Tony, played football at Baylor and his uncle Gary played for nine seasons in the NFL. His younger brother Andrew is a cornerback at Nebraska.


    A lack of true speed is an issue for Green. The ability to get through a rushing lane before it closes takes burst or power, and he's average in both categories.

    Green loves to get outside the tackle box to make plays and looks to turn the corner whenever possible. As a bit of a jitterbug, he has issues hitting the hole with power. Green doesn't play up to his weight and shies away from contact. 

    A lack of bulk and strength makes Green a weak pass protector. Given his skill set as a third-down back, the fact that he's not a willing blocker could keep him off the field in the NFL. Without the speed or power teams are looking for, Green has to become an asset on passing downs to stick on a pro roster.

    PRO COMPARISON: Vick Ballard, New Orleans Saints

    FINAL GRADE: 5.00/9.00 (Priority Free Agent)

23. Marshaun Coprich, Illinois State

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    TIM SHARP/Associated Press
    Combine Results
    HeightWeight40 Time3-Cone Short Shuttle
    5'8"207 lbs4.47s7.26s4.58s 


    Marshaun Coprich dominated the competition at Illinois State, rushing for more than 5,200 yards in four seasons. With 23 touchdowns and more than 1,900 yards in 2015, Coprich put himself on the map and had NFL scouts flocking to Illinois State.  

    Athletically, Coprich looks the part. He has a yoked-up frame and fluid lower-body movements to both run over or around the competition. He's agile and quick enough to dance in the hole but can also get low to meet defenders head-up. Coprich has the second gear to pull away from defenders and shows the different levels of speed required to work in short areas and the open field.

    A zone runner in college, Coprich used his explosiveness to get upfield and through the first wave of defenders in a hurry. With the freedom to create his own rushing lane, he was able to pick his spots. As a power runner he can pick up tough yardage but may be most valuable because he's hard for linebackers to key on at just 5'8". 


    Coprich, who was arrested for trying to sell marijuana to an undercover cop, must address off-field issues. He did community service and entered into a first-offender program in order to stay on the field in 2015.

    Coprich has the speed to make plays, but he's not a sprinter down the sideline. He has respectable 4.4 speed on a short frame, but against actual NFL competition those chunk plays he performed at ISU won't happen. 

    As one NFL scout told me, "Coprich runs like he's blind in one eye." Coprich dominated a low level of competition and was an impatient runner who must learn to let blocks develop in front of him. Playing against few future NFL defenders, Coprich was able to hang back behind the line and wait for a mistake to happen. Pro defenders don't wait on the running back, though, and Coprich must learn to better attack the hole. 

    Overall, Coprich failed to wow with running instincts. He ran over his blockers often and would look for the home run instead of a single on every outside run. 

    PRO COMPARISON: Kenjon Barner, Philadelphia Eagles

    FINAL GRADE: 5.00/9.00 (Priority Free Agent)

22. Tre Madden, USC

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press
    Pro Day Results
    HeightWeight40 Time3-Cone Short Shuttle
    6'0 2/8"223 lbs4.6s7.09s4.27s 


    Tre Madden looks the part of a starting NFL running back, but he's struggled to stay on the field at USC due to numerous injuries. If he can cure that bug, he has a shot to make it in the pros.

    After offseason knee surgery, Madden wasn't able to run at the scouting combine, but he turned in a 4.60-second 40-yard dash at the USC pro day. Pure breakaway speed isn't what Madden does, but he combines excellent awareness at the line of scrimmage with enough agility to get past linebackers and into daylight.

    Madden's background as a linebacker shows up when he has to run with power. He has a thick, full frame and isn't afraid to get low to take on tacklers. His shoulder pads get low and square in a hurry when he has to run through the hole. He's an effective goal-line back and could contribute early on in short-yardage packages. 

    Because of his strength and instincts, Madden is a good pass-blocker and someone who can contribute on third down right out of the gate.

    Madden comes from a strong football background. His dad, Curtis, played college ball at Kansas State, and his uncle, Daylon McCutcheon, played in the NFL and now coaches with the New York Jets. 


    Injuries have been the biggest thing holding Madden back from reaching his potential. He missed the 2012 season with a knee injury and the 2014 season with turf toe before finally playing just nine games in 2015 thanks to a knee injury that required offseason surgery.

    Speed will be a huge on-field question for Madden. Running a 4.6 40-yard dash after knee surgery is one thing, but his film shows a struggle to turn the corner and pull away from linebackers in the Pac-12. Madden is no longer the quick-footed, nimble rusher he was early in his career. He now has to live off power and vision without speed and change-of-direction skills.

    Where do you draft a slower running back with a long history of injury? Madden may come into the league as a late-rounder or undrafted free agent, depending on how teams feel about his most recent knee setback and lack of production at USC.

    PRO COMPARISON: Chris Polk, Houston Texans

    FINAL GRADE: 5.00/9.00 (Priority Free Agent)

21. Daniel Lasco, California

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press
    Combine Results
    HeightWeight40 Time3-Cone Short Shuttle
    6'0 2/8"209 lbs4.46s7.22s4.26s 


    Daniel Lasco was a workout warrior at the 2016 NFL Scouting Combine—finishing as a top-five performer at his position in the 40-yard dash, vertical jump, broad jump and 60-yard shuttle. But does the tape match the hype generated in Indianapolis?

    Lasco has the burst to get through the first line of defenders and the long speed to pull away for chunk plays. He adjusts his speed well to elude defenders and shows the ability to open up his throttle and run away from linebackers and cause defensive backs to take poor angles to the ball.

    As a third-down specialist, Lasco looks natural and comfortable catching the ball out of the backfield. In 2014, when he was fully healthy, Lasco caught 33 passes for 356 yards and two touchdowns.


    Lasco started just three games in 2015—with nine appearances—due to injuries. That those injuries were to his hip and ankle is a major concern for NFL teams.

    A lack of awareness as a runner is a major red flag. Lasco isn't a natural at finding rushing lanes or anticipating cutbacks. If the hole is there, he'll hit it, but if he has to create on his own, he will struggle to do more than bounce outside and try to use his speed on the corner. 

    There is no pop to Lasco's game, even though you might expect some for a 200-plus-pounder. He's a straight up-and-down runner who goes down on first contact and will look for the sideline before looking to cut back against the grain for a few extra yards.

    Lasco tested well and played well in 2014, but a poor 2015 makes him questionable as a draftable player. Add in a hip injury and iffy instincts, and he looks more like a priority free agent.

    PRO COMPARISON: Mike Gillislee, Buffalo Bills

    FINAL GRADE: 5.00/9.00 (Priority Free Agent)

20. Tyler Ervin, San Jose State

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    L.G. Patterson/Associated Press
    Combine Results
    HeightWeight40 Time3-Cone Short Shuttle
    5'9 7/8"192 lbs4.41sN/AN/A 


    A redshirt senior from Colton, California, Tyler Ervin's versatility makes him a dangerous threat in the right NFL offense. In the last four years, he's played running back, slot receiver, return man, cornerback and gunner on punts. Ervin's jack-of-all-trades skill set will endear him to pro scouts.

    With 4.41-second speed in the 40-yard dash, Ervin answered any questions about his ability to pull away from NFL defenses. Ervin has the explosive ability to pick up chunk yards in space and will run past defenders to destroy their angles. His change-of-direction skills are also impressive, as he can shift gears and cut back on defenders without losing his top-end speed.

    When in the open field, Ervin has the instincts to feel tacklers and read blockers, which allow him to score as a running back, receiver, kick returner and punt returner. 

    Ervin is a fearless runner, which is a good thing given his size. He'll run between the tackles with better urgency than many of the big backs in the class.

    Teams that throw to the running back will value what Ervin can do. He's a natural receiver and can run routes from both the backfield and the slot. Ervin is more than just a third-down threat; he's a dangerous return man on both kicks and punts. He's an electric player whenever the ball is in his hands and he has space to operate. 


    The biggest question for Ervin will be how well his lack of size can hold up in the NFL. Weight is a concern, as he was listed at 177 pounds by San Jose State, but did weigh in at 192 pounds for the scouting combine. Is that weight he can keep on during a season?

    Ervin didn't show the leg power to stay on his feet through traffic or even during minor hits at the college level. His overall balance is below average, and he offers nothing after first contact with the ball in his hands. 

    While Ervin has tremendous speed, he's not a decisive runner on stretch plays and will dance in the backfield. Taking four steps when one will do gets you tackled in the backfield in the NFL, and Ervin loves to take multistep cuts in the backfield as opposed to sticking his foot in the ground and getting upfield. 

    Ervin is an intriguing prospect whose value will depend greatly on the scheme he's drafted into. Teams like the Kansas City Chiefs or New England Patriots make the most sense for him late in the draft.

    PRO COMPARISON: Dexter McCluster, Tennessee Titans

    FINAL GRADE: 5.40/9.00 (Round 7—Backup Caliber)

19. Wendell Smallwood, West Virginia

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    Ray Thompson/Associated Press
    Combine Results
    HeightWeight40 Time3-Cone Short Shuttle
    5'10 4/8"208 lbs4.47s6.83s4.28s 


    A junior entry into the 2016 NFL draft, Wendell Smallwood was the Big 12 rushing champion with 1,519 yards. A versatile runner with little wear and tear on his frame, Smallwood rushed for 2,462 yards and 12 touchdowns at West Virginia. He also caught 68 passes for 618 yards. As a change-of-pace runner and slot receiver, Smallwood has NFL value.

    His 4.47 speed on the track is backed up on film. He's an aggressive player when hitting the hole and does so with anger. Smallwood's natural leverage advantage allows him to play with low pads, which helps push him ahead for plus yardage after contact. 

    His vision on the go is a positive, and Smallwood is instinctive enough to find creases and then get skinny to slip through the cracks. Coaches rave about his football IQ and how he helps the quarterback before the snap. "Disciplined" is how one WVU coach described him to us.

    You don't want to take him off the field when it comes time to throw the ball. Smallwood is a dangerous receiver and can operate from the backfield and the slot.


    There is a bit of an off-field situation teams must check into, but it looks more like a bad decision than a sign of bad character. Smallwood was arrested on a witness tampering charge after he allegedly tried to get a witness to change their statement regarding seeing one of his friends fatally shoot someone. Smallwood's charges were dropped when his friend pleaded guilty.

    Smallwood had steady stats but few scores (11) in the last two years. Can he be effective when the field gets tight and tough yards are needed? That's a big on-field question mark. A solution would be adding strength to his narrow, thin frame—but would that sacrifice speed?

    Smallwood's vision allows him to find creases, but you can watch an entire game and not be wowed by any of his runs. He's consistent but hasn't been a home run hitter often enough. This was backed up by his performance at the scouting combine, where he tested as an average athlete across the board. 

    PRO COMPARISON: Cyrus Gray, Denver Broncos

    FINAL GRADE: 5.40/9.00 (Round 7—Backup Caliber)

18. Tra Carson, Texas A&M

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press
    Combine Results
    HeightWeight40 Time3-Cone Short Shuttle
    5'11 2/8"227 lbsN/AN/AN/A 


    A thick, tough, bruiser of a running back, Tra Carson began his career at Oregon before transferring to Texas A&M in 2012. In his final season at A&M, Carson posted 1,165 yards and seven rushing touchdowns while adding 621 yards after contact, per Pro Football Focus.

    Carson doesn't possess the speed to turn the corner and outrun defenders to space, but he does show good foot speed and initial quickness out of the gate.

    Carson can move the chains as a runner and has value in short-yardage or goal-line situations. He has the leg drive needed to push the pile and will fight for those hard yards up the middle. He's a battering ram between the tackles and looks to punish defenses.

    Carson can contribute on third down, and he showed his value in the passing game in 2015 by adding 29 catches. He's a willing pass protector and will use his frame to disrupt pass-rushers. Carson is also experienced leading the way as a blocker on quarterback keepers.


    Carson—born October 24, 1992—will turn 24 during his rookie season. Carson missed the NFL combine with a bone spur issue. 

    A lack of outside speed limits what he can be in the NFL. He doesn't have the wiggle or juice to get off-tackle and pick up yards through the second level of the defense. His lack of burst becomes hesitation if the initial rushing lane is closed. Because he's a heavy-footed runner with lower-body tightness, Carson won't shake defenders in the backfield if his first contact happens behind the line of scrimmage.

    Carson has below-average vision. Running in the wide-open A&M offense offers huge rushing lanes and clear holes, and yet he still struggled to get all the yards out of a run. 

    PRO COMPARISON: Terrance West, Baltimore Ravens

    FINAL GRADE: 5.50/9.00 (Round 6—Backup Caliber)

17. Jhurell Pressley, New Mexico

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    Andres Leighton/Associated Press
    Pro Day Results
    HeightWeight40 Time3-Cone Short Shuttle
    5'10"206 lbs4.38s6.92s4.06s 


    An athletic freak coming out of New Mexico, Jhurell Pressley dominated every drill at his pro day workout. A redshirt senior, Pressley played high school ball at Red Lion Christian Academy in Delaware and will be 24 years old as a rookie (born May 20, 1992).

    Pressley is an excellent dual threat at running back. He has the size and power to run between the tackles and shows the juice to bounce outside and make plays in space. He's smooth in his movements and matches up with foot speed and flexible hips to shake tacklers.

    Coming from a system that asked him to run inside and out, Pressley has the vision to find rushing lanes in the NFL. He's a master of the jump cut and hits the ground running with short, choppy steps that allow him to change direction on the fly.

    The power in his game isn't great given his frame, but Pressley runs like he's 230 pounds. He won't shy away from contact or get intimidated by stacked fronts on defense.


    One of the positives for Pressley is that he runs bigger than he is, but that wear and tear on his smaller frame won't allow him to last long in the NFL. Without the power to really push the pile, Pressley often runs into a wall and takes unnecessary punishment by looking for something that isn't there.

    Pressley loves to look outside the tackle box for openings and will too often lose yards trying to get to space. He's a dancer in the backfield who stops his feet when changing direction—and that's a habit that will lose you yards in the NFL.

    Even at 5'10" he can play very upright and subject himself to big hits between the tackles. That, added to his poor showing as a receiver out of the backfield, is enough of a concern to push Pressley down the board.

    PRO COMPARISON: Charcandrick West, Kansas City Chiefs

    FINAL GRADE: 5.50/9.00 (Round 6—Backup Caliber)

16. Devon Johnson, Marshall

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press
    Pro Day Results
    HeightWeight40 Time3-Cone Short Shuttle
    6'0 4/8"238 lbs4.59s7.09s4.6s


    A former tight end who converted to running back, Devon Johnson has been a two-year starter at the position for Marshall. In his debut season at running back, Johnson rushed for 1,767 yards and 17 touchdowns. Unfortunately, a back injury cut his 2015 season short. Johnson, whether it's at running back, H-back or as a weapon on offense, should intrigue NFL teams.

    He lacks true running back speed on outside runs. He's a chain-mover in the middle of the field and on short-yardage situations. Johnson can be effective on draw plays and counters, but he isn't a player you want to pitch the ball to outside the box.

    Power is a big positive for Johnson, who is built like a tank. He has thick legs and a broad back, and he uses both well to churn his feet through tacklers. According to Pro Football Focus, Johnson had 958 yards after contact in 2014 on 205 runs.

    As a former tight end, Johnson brings value as a third-down back. He can stand in the backfield and protect the quarterback or sneak out on swing passes and middle screens. He could even line up at H-back in most offenses.


    The back injury that cost Johnson six games in 2015 is a concern. This isn't like a knee or shoulder injury and must be thoroughly vetted.

    A lack of outside speed limits what Johnson can be. He'll never be a complete running back in a system that wants outside runs. His instincts and vision as a runner are untested and average at best based on 2014 and 2015 tape. Johnson needs to see a hole to pick up yardage and won't create laterally when the defensive line stuffs the gaps.

    He is a bit stiff, and as a one-cut runner he's only working north-south between the tackles. Any kind of stretch-zone scheme would be a poor fit for his rushing abilities. Fumbles were also an issue, as he put the ball on the ground five times in around one season of production.

    PRO COMPARISON: LeGarrette Blount, New England Patriots

    FINAL GRADE: 5.50/9.00 (Round 6—Backup Caliber)

15. Josh Ferguson, Illinois

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    Bradley Leeb/Associated Press
    Combine Results
    HeightWeight40 Time3-Cone Short Shuttle
    5'9 1/2"198 lbs4.48sN/AN/A 


    A redshirt senior running back, Josh Ferguson finished his career second all time at Illinois with 4,474 all-purpose yards. Ferguson's dual-threat ability is backed by his ranking at No. 3 all time on the Illini career receptions list (168) and No. 6 for career rushing yards (2,586).

    Ferguson is best described as a scatback. His smaller frame means he'll operate best in space, and his versatility as a receiver and runner is made for third-down duty and screen packages. His short-area burst is better than his long speed, and Ferguson understands how to use his wiggle and shake to get space to run in. He's quick when changing direction and can be explosive shifting gears.

    Speed and a lack of size make Ferguson an outside runner. He loves to bounce inside runs to the corner and hit the turbo button to run away from defenders. On tape he has legitimate pull-away speed.

    A true threat as a runner and receiver, Ferguson had 50 catches in a season twice and logged 37 in an injury-shortened 2015.


    Ferguson missed three games because of a banged-up shoulder in 2015, and that's a concern for a smaller running back. He came back from injury to finish the year and participated in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl and East-West Shrine Game in the postseason.

    You won't get inside rushing yards from Ferguson. Even on runs designed to go to the middle of the field, he's looking to bounce and turn the corner. That leads to lost yards in college and will lead to huge losses in the NFL. Ferguson doesn't attack the hole, but instead he's overly patient with looking for something big to open up.

    If you count the wear-and-tear a running back goes through in college, Ferguson's will scare you. He's played heavily for four seasons and saw touches as a runner and receiver while also returning kicks early in his career.

    Born May 23, 1993, Ferguson will be 23 years old as a rookie.

    PRO COMPARISON: Dion Lewis, New England Patriots

    FINAL GRADE: 5.70/9.00 (Round 4—Quality Contributor)

14. DeAndre Washington, Texas Tech

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    Bob Levey/Associated Press
    Combine Results
    HeightWeight40 Time3-Cone Short Shuttle
    5'8 1/4"204 lbs4.49s7.03s4.20s 


    A 23-year-old senior running back from Missouri City, Texas, DeAndre Washington produced 3,411 yards on the ground at Texas Tech while adding 23 touchdowns rushing and four receiving. His 124 catches highlight his ability as a three-down weapon in the right offense.

    The 4.49 40-yard dash on the second time shows what kind of long speed Washington has. What you can't see in the 40 is that he has quick, choppy feet and can explode in short areas to make defenders miss or slide through a hole. 

    Washington, despite being a smaller back, doesn't overuse outside runs and will play to his assignment on efforts between the tackles. He doesn't run with great power, but he secures the ball away and won't fumble in pressure situations. In his last two seasons at Tech, Washington fumbled just twice on 421 rushing attempts. 

    If you want a third-down back, Washington is your guy. He's a reliable receiver out of the backfield and can do work in the slot.


    A knee injury at the end of the 2011 season caused Marshall to redshirt between his true-freshman and redshirt-sophomore seasons.

    A popular concern with Washington will be that he did his damage against soft Big 12 defenses and in a Texas Tech scheme that spreads the field wide and then gashes defenses with inside runs. Both are valid. A narrow frame with small hands (9") will give teams pause as well. 

    Vision can be tough to evaluate in the Texas Tech scheme, but what Washington shows in terms of patience and instincts with the ball in his hands is average. He'll run up on blockers' backs and get too impatient waiting for blocks to develop. He has to learn to read blocks and let his players set up in front of him. 

    Washington has the skill set to contribute as a role player early on, but he must become a better blocker to be called into action as a third-down specialist.

    PRO COMPARISON: Gio Bernard, Cincinnati Bengals

    FINAL GRADE: 5.70/9.00 (Round 4—Quality Contributor)

13. Kenyan Drake, Alabama

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    Brynn Anderson/Associated Press
    Combine Results
    HeightWeight40 Time3-Cone Short Shuttle
    6'0 5/8"210 lbs4.45s7.04s4.21s 


    A three-down threat coming out of the backfield, Kenyan Drake flew under the radar playing behind T.J. Yeldon and then Derrick Henry at Alabama, but NFL scouts know of his top-tier abilities. 

    In baseball there are five-tool players, and in the NFL, Drake might be the same way. He can work as a runner between the tackles, as a change-of-pace speed back, as a receiver on screens or from the slot, and at Alabama he was a valuable member on special teams. If Drake is on your roster, you'll find a way to use him. He's a selfless contributor. 

    Drake has legitimate 4.45 speed and is an excellent leg-churner when working either in space to find a rushing lane or when engaged by a tackler and trying to push for extra yards. He has enough wiggle to shake defenders with his hips and feet, but he isn't afraid to put his pads down and try to bully over defenders. Drake's strength as a runner comes from his quick feet and balance—both are top-tier. 

    Given his experience as a receiver out of the backfield, in the slot and even as a return man, Drake is well-suited to play the third-down role in the NFL. He has the right frame and mentality to improve as a blocker with more reps.


    A long injury history is the first thing scouts must discuss. Drake has dealt with a broken leg (2014) and a fractured arm (2015) along with other bumps and bruises in his four years at 'Bama. Whether or not Drake can stay on the field while taking NFL punishment remains to be seen.

    Another popular question is if Drake is so talented, why couldn't he start at Alabama? The answer may seem obvious, but Yeldon and Henry were much better suited to the offensive scheme and were also healthier options.

    His instincts with the ball in his hands can be questioned. Drake often runs full-bore into a wall of offensive linemen instead of choosing his spots as a runner. He doesn't show patience in waiting for the hole to develop. 

    Drake trusts his speed and feet, but that leads to dancing in the backfield. He loves to jump-cut and bounce outside on an inside handoff and look for a huge gain instead of taking what's there.

    PRO COMPARISON: Jeremy Langford, Chicago Bears

    FINAL GRADE: 5.90/9.00 (Round 4—Quality Contributor)

12. Peyton Barber, Auburn

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press
    Combine Results
    HeightWeight40 Time3-Cone Short Shuttle
    5'10"228 lbs4.64s7.00s4.21s 


    A redshirt sophomore, Peyton Barber surprised many when he declared for the 2016 draft. In his two years on the field at Auburn, Barber played in just 18 games. He fits the mold of a power back with workhorse ability, but there are a lot of questions to answer. 

    Barber is built like a brick house with thick legs and broad shoulders. He's not afraid to put those shoulders down and run over defenders, either. When it comes to outrunning an opponent, Barber can make a defender miss in the hole with subtle lateral movement or a shoulder shake, but he's largely a north-south runner with squared pads. He has the quickness to elude defenders in the hole and can create on his own in the backfield.

    Power runs are a positive for Barber, who is almost 230 pounds moving downhill. He picked up 487 yards after contact, according to Pro Football Focus, and caused 31 missed tackles without being very quick laterally. Ball control isn't an issue either, as Barber had zero lost fumbles in two seasons.

    In pass protection, Barber was consistent in picking up the right defender. He has the frame to be a factor on third downs as a blitz pickup back.

    Barber has had a tough road. It was widely reported at the NFL Scouting Combine that he entered the draft because his mother is homeless. Barber was also diagnosed with ADHD but managed to earn SEC First-Year Academic Honor Roll in 2013. A second cousin of NFL players Marion and Dominique Barber, Peyton has pro bloodlines. 


    Testing consistently in the 4.6 range in the 40-yard dash isn't good, even for a 228-pounder. Barber doesn't always run like a power back and will get too cute in the backfield. He likes to tiptoe to the hole and try to find a cutback or bounce lane to the outside instead of ramming into the defense. This comes from what looks like mistrust of his offensive line and not a poor ability to read the hole.

    A lack of explosion compared to other big backs—both in the NFL and in the draft class—will push Barber down the board. He has decent straight-line speed, but he doesn't have the horsepower out of the gate to rip off chunk plays. 

    In short-yardage situations, Barber has to learn to go first and look for secondary lanes second. He doesn't have much urgency when asked to attack the hole in these spots.

    With just one year of starting film, Barber is a huge unknown. Was he a one-year wonder, or is he just starting to scratch the surface of his skill set?

    PRO COMPARISON: Karlos Williams, Buffalo Bills

    FINAL GRADE: 5.90/9.00 (Round 4—Quality Contributor)

11. Keith Marshall, Georgia

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    Mark Wallheiser/Associated Press
    Combine/Pro Day Results
    HeightWeight40 Time3-Cone Short Shuttle
    5'11 3/8"219 lbs4.31s6.98s4.25s 


    Keith Marshall blew the doors off the NFL Scouting Combine with the best 40-yard dash of anyone in attendance. His 4.31 official time announced that Marshall, who is finally healthy, is ready to take on the NFL.

    Marshall was talented enough to play as a true freshman at Georgia, and what the coaches saw there was excellent speed, balance and natural instincts as a runner. Marshall is blessed with ideal bulk for the position at 219 pounds and has the strength to carry tacklers past first contact.

    With sprinter speed, Marshall can also take those broken tackles—or juked defenders—and turn them into big gains. He's an explosive home run hitter once he gets past the first wave of defenders. If you want a true second-gear runner, Marshall is that guy.

    When asked to read the line and get upfield, he shows good football intelligence and instincts. He can move laterally with patience and wait for the play to develop before hitting his stride and going for broke. 

    The Georgia offense didn't often include Marshall as a receiver (five catches in the last two years), but in workouts he's showed good hands and a natural feel for the role.


    Injuries are the big factor. Marshall tore his right ACL as a sophomore in the fifth game of the 2013 season and tried to return to play in three games during the 2014 season. With a knee that wasn't fully healed, Marshall didn't return at 100 percent until 2015. 

    His 253 carries in college amount to a good season's worth of work for most SEC backs. The injury history will be heavily evaluated since Marshall only played in eight games in 2013 and 2014. 

    Vision and the ability to diagnose on the go are question marks for Marshall. He doesn't show consistent urgency with the ball in his hands and isn't an ideal fit for a power-blocking scheme because of it. Marshall's body control and leverage are not ideal, and he needs coaching to help him learn to run with low shoulders and equal weight distribution. As it stands, Marshall is too easily brought down on initial contact from arm tackles because his chest is directly over his feet.

    The team that rolls the dice on Marshall will be betting his knee holds up—and will base the selection largely on what he did in workouts and not what he's done on the field since injury.

    PRO COMPARISON: C.J. Spiller, New Orleans Saints

    FINAL GRADE: 5.90/9.00 (Round 3-4—Quality Contributor)

10. Kelvin Taylor, Florida

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press
    Combine/Pro Day Results
    HeightWeight40 Time3-Cone Short Shuttle
    5'10 2/8"207 lbs4.60s7.23s4.20s 


    A 22-year-old junior, Kelvin Taylor is the son of NFL great Fred Taylor. In the last two seasons at Florida, Taylor accumulated 1,600 yards and 19 touchdowns on the ground while exploding under new head coach Jim McElwain in 2015.

    A well-built athlete with the right body composition, Taylor wins with footwork and quickness rather than deep speed. He is able to make quick cuts and create yardage with his vision. He won't outrun defenders to the corner, but he can win with lateral agility and has the skills to shake a defender until he finds a rushing lane. Taylor's film shows spin moves, jump cuts and hard, one-cut runs between the tackles.

    When watching Taylor's feet in the trenches, you see he understands how to get to daylight on an instinctive level. His lack of long speed means he has to beat defenses with inside quickness and hard, decisive cuts.

    Taylor has exceptional ball control, with no fumbles in his college career. He's built to handle runs between the hashes in the NFL and won't shy away from contact there. He brings the same mentality to his role as a pass protector and will engage edge defenders.


    What does Taylor do great? The answer for many teams may be nothing. He's not exceptionally fast and doesn't have back-breaking power. His ability to beat a defense comes from vision and cutting prowess, and those things don't show up in a workout.

    Without top-tier speed or power, how can Taylor create in the NFL? He's ideal for a zone-blocking scheme, but because he can't run away from tacklers and isn't a consistent receiver, his value may be as a change-of-pace back and not as a starter.

    Taylor's last name and hard-running style will help his cause, but he has to learn to be more patient in the NFL. The pedigree is there, but he cannot run up on the heels of his linemen and expect to cut off their feet. Trusting the line and trusting the play call will be huge first steps toward pro success.

    PRO COMPARISON: Ka'Deem Carey, Chicago Bears

    FINAL GRADE: 6.00/9.00 (Round 3—Rotational Player)

9. Jonathan Williams, Arkansas

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    Brynn Anderson/Associated Press
    Pro Day Results
    HeightWeight40 Time3-Cone Short Shuttle
    5'10 3/4"220 lbs4.59s6.97s4.29s 


    A senior running back with 24 career starts, Jonathan Williams sat out the entire 2015 season after suffering a foot injury in fall camp that required surgery. He returned in time to participate in the Senior Bowl and NFL combine.

    Williams, who turned 22 on February 2, dominated the SEC in 2014, rushing for 1,190 yards and 12 touchdowns on just 211 carries. At 220 pounds on a chiseled 5'11" frame, Williams is built for the pros. Under that hulking body, Williams has the quick feet to stutter-step and go when meeting a defender. He shows loose knees and the balance to shake in the hole and explode into space. Williams can create on his own—both laterally and by lowering his pads and going forward.

    One big positive is that Williams' injury, along with his shared carries with Alex Collins, means he saw fewer carries than most top-tier backs in this class. Williams toted the rock just 406 times in his college career and absorbed hits well with his larger frame and low running style. He has the balance and body control to roll off tacklers both in the hole and in space.

    On third down, Williams can be an exciting playmaker on swing passes and screen plays. He's comfortable running routes and looks the ball into his hands like a seasoned pro.

    If Williams can regain his 2014 form, he could be one of the best running backs in the class.


    Williams was healthy enough to come back for postseason activities, but NFL teams will be thorough in evaluating his foot post-surgery. 

    Outside of the injury, Williams has to become better at securing the ball as a runner. He fumbled five times in 2014 alone and struggled with ball-handling at the Senior Bowl. That struggle will be accentuated in the NFL if he continues to dance and get cute as a runner behind the line of scrimmage. With his size and speed, Williams shouldn't look to bounce runs outside as often as he does. He's searching for the big run instead of moving the chains. 

    Whether he has the vision to see small holes—and the willingness to attack them—is the biggest on-field question in Williams' game. He often bypasses solid inside rushing lanes—either by choice or because he's not seeing them—and looks for the outside avenue.

    PRO COMPARISON: Carlos Hyde, San Francisco 49ers

    FINAL GRADE: 6.25/9.00 (Round 3—Future Starter)

8. C.J. Prosise, Notre Dame

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    Jeff Haynes/Associated Press
    Combine/Pro Day Results
    HeightWeight40 Time3-Cone Short Shuttle
    6'0 4/8"220 lbs4.48s7.32s4.48s 


    A former wide receiver, redshirt junior C.J. Prosise made the move to running back for the 2015 season. The shift, fueled both by a logjam at wide receiver and a need for depth at running back, paid off big time for Prosise and Notre Dame.

    Prosise has good speed with a 4.48-second 40 time, but he also has field speed. According to Michael Renner of Pro Football Focus, Prosise gained 49.7 percent of his rushing yards on runs of 15 yards or more. That ability to produce chunk plays is a big reason why Prosise ranks this high, even with limited reps at running back. He's a slasher who finds a path to daylight and then has the speed to make defenses pay.

    Prosise isn't just a speed player. He will lower his pads and get after defenders, showing up in our charting with 40 broken tackles on 156 carries. 

    Prosise is an obvious talent on third downs and in passing situations thanks to his background at receiver. He's also a talented special teams performer and was named the team's Special Teams Player of the Year in 2014. Prosise led Notre Dame in special teams tackles that year with 11. 


    Prosise's 2015 season was slowed by injuries, particularly a high ankle sprain that sat him down during the Boston College game. Prosise dealt with ankle and head injuries throughout the season, and franchises will ask if he can physically hold up at running back. 

    With three fumbles on the year, Prosise puts the ball on the ground enough to raise concerns. Given he was only on the field for roughly a half-season, that ratio is worth noting. He has the power to run through tackles, but he must do a better job of securing the nose of the football before taking on tacklers. 

    Prosise has produced largely on instincts given his lack of experience as a runner, but this shows up in a negative way when he's asked to stretch out a run and read his blocks. He's impatient in letting the block develop on the outside and will overrun the play. 

    Despite being a very good receiver, Prosise is in no way ready to block in the NFL. He would have value as a natural pass-catcher on third downs, but until he can pick up blitz-protection schemes, he can't be trusted to stay on the field.

    PRO COMPARISON: Fred Jackson, Seattle Seahawks

    FINAL GRADE: 6.25/9.00 (Round 3—Rotational Player)

7. Alex Collins, Arkansas

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    Wesley Hitt/Getty Images
    Combine Results
    HeightWeight40 Time3-Cone Short Shuttle
    5'10"217 lbs4.59sN/AN/A 


    The 2013 SEC Freshman of the Year, Alex Collins hit the ground running in Fayetteville, Arkansas, on his way to Freshman All-American status and becoming the first freshman in SEC history to start his career with three straight 100-yard rushing games. Collins was electric, but he eventually split time with Jonathan Williams in a crowded backfield. How does he project to the NFL?

    A tough, physical runner, Collins has the lateral quickness to make defenders miss. He's a powerful back with the feet needed to churn through tacklers and get past the first level of the defense. Collins' winning trait isn't speed, but rather agility and burst. 

    Patience and confidence as a runner are natural features for Collins, who uses his exceptional feet to slash and cut his way through holes. Given his ability to make hard cuts in the trenches, he has the eyes to find daylight and finish runs with intensity. He has the balance, flexibility and body control to get his pads underneath those of a defender and pop them for yards after contact.

    With his size, toughness and nose for the end zone, Collins is ready-made for goal-line duty in the NFL.

    Collins will be 22 years old as a rookie.


    A lack of deep speed will limit how NFL teams envision Collins' role. He won't pull away from defenders on the edge, and he much prefers to run inside the hashes. Collins is the opposite of most college backs who love to bounce outside and look for huge rushing lanes in that he would rather bang inside and try to cut his way to yards instead of outrunning players to the edge.

    For all his strength and his stout frame, Collins doesn't pick up as many yards after contact as you might expect. He can become a better finisher of runs by looking to make one more cut instead of giving up his frame to contact.

    In the passing game, Collins was almost a non-factor at Arkansas. He caught just 16 passes in the last two seasons.

    With nine fumbles in the last two seasons, it's fair to wonder about his ability to hold on to the ball on inside runs. This is the first area Collins must improve in the NFL.

    PRO COMPARISON: C.J. Anderson, Denver Broncos

    FINAL GRADE: 6.40/9.00 (Rounds 2-3—Future Starter)

6. Devontae Booker, Utah

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    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
    Combine Results
    HeightWeight40 Time3-Cone Short Shuttle
    5'10 6/8"219 lbsN/AN/AN/A 


    It's been a long road to this point for Devontae Booker, but he's finally ready to take on the NFL. Booker began his college career by signing with Washington State out of high school then enrolling in American River College. He spent two seasons at ARC before transferring to Utah. 

    A two-year player for the Utes, Booker has the initial quickness to make defenders miss and enough burst to attack the hole. He brings power, vision in the hole and a third-down factor to the game that most backs in this class lack. With an urgency in how he attacks the hole, Booker makes up for his lack of top-tier long speed. He's elusive in the trenches and cuts to find daylight. As a runner, Booker relies on instincts and awareness to beat defenses on the inside.

    Booker is a smooth strider with the suddenness to juke defenders and the acceleration to pull away for chunk plays. Once he gets past the first line of defenders, Booker's toughness kicks in. He finishes runs with power and will get low to bowl over a defender. He has a solid cutback juke and will throw out a spin move on the go.

    As a receiver, Booker is arguably the best in the class of running backs. He naturally looks the ball in and can make sideline grabs with impressive footwork and concentration. He's more than just a screen back and can be an effective member of the passing game.


    The meniscus injury that ended Booker's season is a concern, given he had the knee cleaned up again the week of the Super Bowl. If that's a long-term issue, or will hinder his play, it becomes devastating. Another factor is, Booker will be 24 years old as a rookie. 

    His narrow frame has already been mentioned by NFL scouts as a concern. He doesn't have the broad shoulders teams love in running backs. Given Booker's average game speed, his smaller frame becomes a concern. He isn't going to run away from defenders, and he's not built to run over them, so you wonder how he'll succeed against NFL defenses.

    Ball control was a legitimate concern on Booker's film, as he fumbled seven times in the last two seasons (five in 2014). Throw that in with a maxed-out frame and average speed, and Booker's fantastic game film is weighed against trait concerns.

    Booker needs to iron out some issues in his game, but his three-down skill set makes him one of the most pro-ready backs in the class.

    PRO COMPARISON: Doug Martin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

    FINAL GRADE: 6.40/9.00 (Rounds 2-3—Future Starter)

5. Derrick Henry, Alabama

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images
    Combine Results
    HeightWeight40 Time3-Cone Short Shuttle
    6'2 5/8"247 lbs4.54s7.20s4.38s 


    The 2015 Heisman Trophy winner, Derrick Henry was a true workhorse for Alabama during the stretch run to another national title. With his hulking size and surprising pull-away speed, Henry ranks as one of the most polarizing players in this year's class.

    A 4.54-second 40-yard dash at 247 pounds is jaw-dropping. Henry shows that speed on film when he gets an opening, as he'll accelerate away from defenders down the field. Henry had 28 runs of 15-plus yards on the year, showing his ability to beat defenders at the first and second level. 

    Henry's power can be impressive. He runs with a natural body lean and a big back's mindset. He will look for and deliver contact. As a true one-cut, downhill runner, he's at his best when he can build up a big head of steam and truck defenders in space. Henry is a bully with a mean stiff arm and the thick, tree-trunk legs to drive through tacklers.

    The Alabama offense did not ask Henry to be a factor in the passing game, but that doesn't mean he can't contribute on third down. Henry's pro day workout showed soft hands and a natural ability to adjust to the ball in the air. He has the size to be a factor as a blocking back, but his output there has been inconsistent.


    The Alabama workload was not easy, and already NFL teams are talking quietly about head coach Nick Saban running his players into the ground in pursuit of national titles. The belief is that this leaves players beat up upon entering the NFL and would explain Alabama pro players' early injury issues. In the last two games prior to the College Football Playoff, Henry carried the rock 90 times, which is an unbelievable number in a day and age of spread offenses. With 395 carries on the year, Henry led the nation.

    He is a two-gear player. He has his initial burst—which ranks as average—and he has his open-field speed. He doesn't vary or change up his speed, and he doesn't show a true second gear in space. As a tall, upright runner, Henry takes hits in the backfield and doesn't break tackles at the rate you would expect. 

    Vision has been an issue for Alabama backs, and when watching Henry you see some of the same concerns. He needs the offensive line to create an opening for him—much like Melvin Gordon at Wisconsin—before he can do damage. If a crease is there, Henry will attack with power and urgency, but if there is no hole, he tends to stand up in the backfield and lower his head, which limits his ability to find a secondary rushing lane.

    Power is expected to be a big strength for Henry, but when charting his junior season, we counted just seven broken tackles. That crushes the perception he's this unstoppable force once he gets going and backs up the observation he can be stopped in the backfield by first contact.

    Henry is a top-tier athlete who has been successful at every level of football, but for him to succeed in the NFL, he will have to break modern ideas of what a running back is. He's not quick, and he doesn't have a creative runner's ability to find creases and cutback lanes. Henry is almost too big, turning one of his strengths into a weakness when you realize how his size limits his movement ability.

    PRO COMPARISON: Latavius Murray, Oakland Raiders

    FINAL GRADE: 6.40/9.00 (Rounds 2-3—Rotational Player)

4. Jordan Howard, Indiana

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    Michael Hickey/Getty Images
    Combine Results
    HeightWeight40 Time3-Cone Short Shuttle
    5'11 7/8"230 lbsN/AN/AN/A 


    A true junior, Jordan Howard began his career at UAB, but when that football program was due to be closed, he took the opportunity to transfer to Indiana and was allowed to play immediately. He was a heck of a find for the Hoosiers. With 2,800 yards and 22 touchdowns on the ground in the last two seasons, Howard has been consistent as one of the nation's best backs. In fact, he's rushed for at least 100 yards in every game he played all four quarters in.

    Howard is an easy, natural runner with next-level instincts. He reads his keys in the blocking game and finds small inside lanes. He spots cutback lanes and will get small to slip through cracks in the line. Once he finds daylight, Howard has the burst to pick up plus yardage. 

    When approached by a defender, Howard dishes out punishment. He will drop his pads to run over the tackler head-up on his frame and use a timely stiff-arm maneuver in space when angle tacklers come at him. Howard will churn his legs and push through contact. He's a true high-motor runner who gives effort after contact.

    After a brilliant career at UAB and Indiana, Howard has proved he can hang with the big boys. His marquee games came against Big Ten powers Michigan and Iowa, and he was putting on a show against Michigan State before injury hit.  


    Howard's major concern is getting injured. He missed time with ankle and knee injuries during the 2015 season. Howard also cracked his pelvis in high school, which is something teams should look at given the punishment he'll take at the position.

    Howard lacks suddenness, and his second-gear speed is average by NFL standards. He doesn't show the loose hips to shake defenders in the hole or in space. He's an ideal downhill runner who lacks creativity on outside runs. 

    Without great speed, Howard can be caught from behind. His straight-up running style also lends itself to big hits in the trenches—which doesn't go well with an oft-injured body. Howard's ability to hold up in the pros will be perhaps the biggest question mark outside of his lack of speed.

    Teams needing a back with receiving skills will have to trust Howard's workouts. He's not been featured by either UAB or Indiana in the receiving game.

    PRO COMPARISON: Chris Ivory, Jacksonville Jaguars

    FINAL GRADE: 6.50/9.00 (Rounds 2-3—Future Starter)

3. Paul Perkins, UCLA

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    Harry How/Getty Images
    Combine Results
    HeightWeight40 Time3-Cone Short Shuttle
    5'10 5/8"208 lbs4.54sN/AN/A 


    A redshirt junior, Paul Perkins has been the man at UCLA for the past two-and-a-half seasons. Starting four games as a redshirt freshman in 2013, Perkins put himself on the map for future NFL drafts. Then, in 2014, Perkins firmly established himself as a top runner with 1,572 yards—tops in the Pac-12. His follow-up performance in 2015 was once again electric, as he went for 1,343 yards and 14 rushing touchdowns.

    Perkins doesn't have track-star speed, but he's an agile, quick-footed back with the skills to either spot the hole or move laterally to create on his own. He uses his leverage to pop defenders when they get in his face, but he wins with lateral quickness and loose hips.

    Perkins will make defenders hug air when they track him down. He's shifty and instinctive when juking or spinning away from tacklers. He shows urgency when cutting and has the awareness to feel cutback lanes. 

    An inside/outside runner, Perkins is equally good bouncing to the edge or getting low to attack on inside runs. 

    You don't want to take him off the field in third-down situations, as Perkins showed with his 56 catches in the last two seasons. He's not a huge blocker, but he's capable of mirroring a rusher and will gladly step up to defend a blitz.


    There aren't many complaints about Perkins' game. The biggest, though, is he's not special in terms of speed or size—instead showing off great cutting ability. In a height/weight/speed league, Perkins' average testing could hurt his stock for some teams.

    The second-most glaring issue is his workload over the last two-and-a-half years. With 487 carries during the last two seasons, on a frame that is already on the smaller side, Perkins may have taken his hits for free in college. 

    Perkins' 4.54 speed will draw some concerns, especially with inconsistent play speed. He has to learn to vary up his pace to have sustained success in the pros.

    PRO COMPARISON: Devonta Freeman, Atlanta Falcons 

    FINAL GRADE: 6.50/9.00 (Round 2—Rotational Player)

2. Kenneth Dixon, Louisiana Tech

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    Stacy Revere/Getty Images
    Combine Results
    HeightWeight40 Time3-Cone Short Shuttle
    5'10 1/8"215 lbs4.58s6.97s4.28s 


    A highly productive Louisiana Tech runner, Kenneth Dixon posted three 1,000-yard rushing seasons and scored 87 combined touchdowns during his time with the Bulldogs. 

    Dixon is a physical, aggressive runner who looks to finish plays. He's elusive in the hole and can slide laterally to escape. Dixon picks and chooses on the fly and shows the quick feet and excellent balance to leave defenders hugging air when he cuts. His ability to find daylight on inside runs is top-notch. Dixon has the vision and feet to see a lane and quickly cut to it. With exceptional body control, he's able to step through traffic and come out cleanly.

    His long speed may not be elite, but he has the burst to run away from defenders. He's able to hit the turbo button and get to a second gear when needed. 

    At 215 pounds, Dixon packs a punch with the ball in his hands. He's a fighter who looks for yards after contact and seems to never fall backward or lose yards. He's an urgent, instinctive, tough runner who has an aggressive playing style.

    Dixon is a valuable contributor on third downs, posting 63 catches in the last two seasons.


    Dixon missed two games with an ankle injury in 2015 and struggled with a knee injury in 2014. Both should be vetted by NFL team doctors. Two lower-body injuries in a small-framed running back will no doubt cause some concerns.

    While he is quick and a great change-of-direction back, Dixon lacks the top-end speed and power to wow scouts. He doesn't dominate workouts or didn't blow the doors off the combine. To value Dixon, you have to watch the tape. Some may be worried about a lower-tier competition level at Louisiana Tech compared to players like Derrick Henry or Ezekiel Elliott in big conferences.

    Fumbles were a concern for him, with 13 in his last three seasons. That, coupled with a smaller frame and skinny legs, will likely be the biggest red flag in draft rooms when discussing Dixon.

    PRO COMPARISON: Thomas Rawls, Seattle Seahawks

    FINAL GRADE: 6.90/9.00 (Round 2—Rookie Starter)

1. Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio State

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images
    Combine Results
    HeightWeight40 Time3-Cone Short Shuttle
    5'11 6/8"225 lbs4.47sN/AN/A 


    A true junior from St. Louis, Missouri, Ezekiel Elliott is a do-it-all specialist with elite NFL traits on every down. A legitimate top-10 player, Elliott could be selected in the first five picks. During his Ohio State career, Elliott rushed for 3,961 yards and added 43 touchdowns while posting back-to-back 1,800-yard seasons in his two years as a starter.

    Elliott has impressive speed for a big back, posting a 4.47-second 40-yard dash. He shows that same speed on tape, often pulling away for long runs against Big 10 competition. Elliott's 80-yarder against Virginia Tech in the 2015 opener is another example of his long speed.

    With excellent start-stop quickness, Elliott can take the handoff and spot his opening before exploding into the offensive line. His first three steps are full of power and acceleration, which gets him to the line of scrimmage at a high speed with excellent body lean and balance. He's able to see cutback lanes and recognize small creases in the line that can become rushing lanes. Elliott can create on his own and does not need the line to do his job for him. 

    With tree-trunk legs, Elliott will run through arm tackles. He has excellent footwork and churns his legs through the contact. A tackler going for his leg is likely to get a knee to the facemask. Even at 5'11", Elliott has a stout, compact frame that can get low behind his pads. He doesn't run at full height until well into the open field.

    On third down, throw it to Zeke. He posted 55 catches in a run-first offense in the last two seasons and dropped just three passes total. Not only is he a very good receiver, but Elliott is also the class' best pass- protection back.

    Elliott is still a baby by NFL standards, as he won't turn 21 until July 22. 


    Elliott famously criticized the Ohio State offense after he only received 12 runs (for 33 yards) in the team's only loss of the year against Michigan State. Elliott questioning his coach publicly is more damning than the fact he was right.

    On the field, there are few complaints. NFL coaches will want to work with Elliott on expanding his route knowledge as Ohio State runs a simplified tree. There should be some question over whether Elliott's workload over the last two seasons has worn him down, but he's never showed signs of slowing or having to deal with injuries. 

    PRO COMPARISON: Marshall Faulk, retired

    FINAL GRADE: 7.20/9.00 (Round 1—Rookie Starter)


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