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A pre-combine look at the running backs
Feb 26, 2016; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Running backs huddle up as a group after completing their workout during the 2016 NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
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Pre-Combine Rankings: Running Backs


February 15, 2017

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I decided to take a look at the running backs that I’ve scouted so far this year and show how I have them ranked through this point in the draft process. I still have plenty of backs to get to, but this is a very deep class that should offer some serious steals later on day two. Below are my running back rankings as we look forward to the combine.

Dalvin Cook, RB, FSU

Cook will probably run in the 4.4’s and his versatility isn’t easy to find within this class. Cook’s tape combines great vision and patience when it comes to executing plays and maximizing yardage. He’s elusive, has great balance, and his style features more power than many people acknowledge. I do have questions about his character and about his shoulder, so interviews are just as important as drills or workouts for him.

Valuation: 1st Round

Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford

In terms of versatility, savvy, and long-speed, two other backs in this class are on the same level. McCaffrey’s elusiveness and patience interested me most, he never gives up on a play and is constantly scanning the line for the best hole to exploit. He’s also a very reliable receiver, he could easily become my top back in this class in my final rankings.

Valuation: 1st Round

Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU

Fournette is a patient runner who’s great pad level allows him to burst through small holes at the line of scrimmage and break off huge gains. He isn’t very skilled in areas such as pass protection or as a receiver, but his game features a blend of power and long speed that’s rare in this class. He’s explosive and physical and is talented enough to punish NFL defenders on a regular basis.

Valuation: 1st-2nd Round


Samaje Perine, RB, Oklahoma

Perine doesn’t have the bells and whistles people look for in a running back, but he’s very talented knows how to maximize his current skill set. He has a very strong lower body, runs with physicality,  and has about average long speed but accelerates well. Additionally, his tape showed me an intelligent and unselfish player. He should appeal to many coaches and it may shock you how high he’s drafted.

Valuation: 2nd Round

D’Onta Foreman, RB, Texas

Early in watching Foreman ‘s tape, I noticed his patience and elusiveness as key skills that he can use to exploit defenses at the next level.  He’s an above average pass protector, and not much of a receiver, but if you’re looking for a guy to run north and south, wear down a defense, and make big plays in between, he’s a great pickup.

Valuation: 2nd Round

Joe Mixon, RB, Oklahoma

I searched hard for shortcomings on tape, but I barely found anything. His long speed is special, he’s elusive, tough, and is a reliable receiver. He doesn’t have a ton of experience with it running inside, but he demonstrated solid ability to do so on tape, in addition to bouncing it out and making plays in space. I still believe Mixon’s character concerns are real, teams need to vet him thoroughly and gauge the likelihood of his angry episodes as isolated incidents or an ongoing pattern. Otherwise, he’s a great talent.

Valuation: 2nd-3rd Round

Brian Hill, RB, Wyoming

At the least, I can say Hill is the most talented pass blocker in this class at the position. His long speed isn’t great, but if he can run in the 4.5’s he should see a sizable boost in his stock. He’s patient, accelerates well, has good average power, and in a zone blocking scheme, I think he can do some damage. Not much help as a receiver, but Hill can be a reliable contributor at the NFL level.

Valuation: 3rd-4th Round

Marlon Mack, RB, USF

Mack did a plethora of blocking and receiving in addition to running the football within USF’s spread-option based scheme. His long speed, unsettling elusiveness, and lower body strength are very good and should draw interest from many teams. However, his tendency to run to high or upright at time and frequency taking the ball outside the tackles can be unsettling. Given his ability, his utilization in that offense could have also been a bit stronger, regardless he’ll be selected on day two.

Valuation: 4th Round

James Conner, RB, Pittsburgh

Conner is a back with pretty good power and his tape was fun to watch. He can lower his shoulder and punish defenders and can also win with a great stiff-arm. He has substandard long speed, but he has good hands and great talent as a blocker.  I don’t think he’ll test very well, but if he did, he could go in the third.

Valuation: 4th-5th Round

Alvin Kamara, RB, Tennessee

I had to do some research to confirm that Kamara has been a running back for the majority of his career because his tape suggests he’s pretty raw mentally for the position. The nuances of the running back shouldn’t be overlooked, his tape showed me he didn’t always know the situation when he had the ball and had limited vision (even tunnel vision at times) pretty frequently. Despite mental flaws, he is explosive, sure-handed, and a very strong lower body. I’ll also add that it looks like he reaches another gear when he’s near the end zone.

Valuation: 4th-5th Round

Donnell Pumphrey, RB, SDSU

Pumphrey’s build holds less weight than I thought, but he has no issues running up the middle with tenacity. He brings receiving talent to the table as well and has impressive long speed. His elusiveness is also one of his biggest strengths on tape. Lower body strength is a question mark for me, his combine numbers may give me a better understanding of whether he can plant his feet in the ground and go in one direction without being re-routed by arm tackles or diving defenders.

Valuation: 4th-5th Round


Jeremy McNichols, RB, Boise State

McNichols excelled as a rusher and receiver within Boise State’s offense. In viewing his tape, I saw someone who’s lower body has about average strength at best and fluid speed. He also has good vision and patience and adequate ability to make defenders miss in space. I’m most concerned about his ability to protect the football and his ability in pass protection at the next level.

Valuation: 4th-5th Round

Kareem Hunt, RB, Toledo

Hunt runs low to the ground and used his low center of gravity to run over or fight through approaching defenders. I think he’s a little faster than he’s given credit for and also has solid hands. I don’t see a ton of versatility in his game or special traits, but he can be a contributor to an NFL offense at the next level.

Valuation: 5th Round

Corey Clement, RB, WISC

He isn’t the athlete I thought he was when I was raving about him back in 2014, but he has the mental part of the game figured out. He’s patient, approaches the hole properly and isn’t explosive but does have good speed. Clement has good hands and could work on pass protection, right now he could be a contributor as a committee back in the NFL.

Valuation: 5th Round

Wayne Gallman, RB, Clemson

Gallman isn’t as physically gifted as evaluators may have led on. On tape, I see slightly above average power, not much explosiveness, and about average ability as a blocker and receiver. He’s a physical runner who has good vision that helps him find rushing lanes and will fight through contact. I just think some of the other backs are further along mentally or athletically.

Valuation: 5th-6th Round

Jamal Williams, RB, BYU

Williams is another back who I felt hadn’t played very much running back prior to this year and my research confirmed it.  He suffered a bad knee injury that cut his 2014 campaign short and sat out the entire 2015 season. He’s definitely the least patient runner in this class, and it shows up easily on tape. Running backs are supposed to be slow to the hole and quick through it. Williams frequently sprints to the ball and crashes into the line of scrimmage which occasionally leads to him missing better rushing lanes in the process or seeing them too late. Despite having marginal long speed, Williams’ elusiveness and flexibility could be cemented with the combine and give him some interest on day three.

Valuation: 6th-7th Round

Ellijah McGuire, RB, UL Lafayette 

McGuire’s tape was pretty good, I think his lower body strength is below average but he is a smooth receiver out of the backfield. Other positives are that he’s elusive and has above average agility. While similar issues with vision as Alvin Kamara, he’s just not the same athlete.

Valuation: 7th Round


Follow Montel Hardy on Twitter: @MontelNFL

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