1. Tre Mason – Auburn
High End NFL Comparison: Knowshon Moreno, Miami Dolphins
What He Does Best: Mason slips tackles as well as any running back in the country. For a back without elite size, it is important for Mason to be able to slide off tackles and avoid big hits. He has a knack for falling forward and always finding a seam through the line of scrimmage. His low center of gravity helps him keep his balance and ultimately break more tackles, and his thick base also makes him tough to bring down for defenders.
Low End NFL Comparison: Daryl Richardson, St. Louis Rams
What May Hold Him Back: Mason does not have elite top end speed. He has excellent quickness and a good initial burst through the line, but his long speed is lacking and results in him getting dragged down from behind on a regular basis.
Where He Ends Up: Mason appears squarely locked into the draft’s second day. He could be targeted by the Falcons at #37 and eventually take over for Steven Jackson. Jacksonville at #39 would make some sense as well, pairing Mason with newly acquired Toby Gerhart. A sleeper could be a team like the New York Giants who would pair Mason with free agent addition Rashad Jennings. Where ever he ends up, Tre Mason should make an early impact in 2014.
2. Carlos Hyde – Ohio State
High End NFL Comparison: Eddie Lacy, Green Bay Packers
What He Does Best: Carlos Hyde can wear down a defense as well as any back in the 2014 draft class. Ohio State would routinely gear their 2nd half offensive game plan towards Hyde and his downhill running style and was able to close out multiple close games because of his efforts.
Low End NFL Comparison: Shonn Greene, Tennessee Titans
What May Hold Him Back: The main concern for most power backs like Hyde as they enter the NFL is whether or not they have enough speed and quickness to be a feature runner. A 4.66 forty yard dash time did not do much to quell those concerns and a lack of an elite workout circuit could push Hyde deep into the draft’s second day.
Where He Ends Up: My guess would be somewhere towards the middle of round 2. 3 teams stick out in my mind as excellent fits, the first of which is the Miami Dolphins at #50 to pair along with Knowshon Moreno and Lamar Miller. I also love him pairing with Andre Ellington in Arizona at pick #52, the duo would cover all facets of offensive football and give the Cardinals the most well balanced and legitimate running threat they’ve had in years. Finally, the Cincinnati Bengals could use the #55 pick on Hyde and give emerging super star Giovanni Bernard a perfect compliment and form a dynamic thunder and lightning combination behind Andy Dalton.
3. Bishop Sankey – Washington
High End NFL Comparison: Shane Vereen, New England Patriots
What He Does Best: Sankey is a smart and shifty runner who does an excellent job of sliding through traffic and finding running lanes. His quick feet, excellent body control, and his ability to run with good pad level make him a tough tackle whether it is in the open field or breaking through the line of scrimmage.
Low End NFL Comparison: Jonathan Franklin, Green Bay Packers
What May Hold Him Back: While Bishop Sankey was a feature runner at Washington, he does not have the ideal size to be a 20-25 carry a game back on the NFL level. He would routinely wear down later in games and run with less power and explosion. Sankey would be best served in a running back by committee or as a compliment to a power back.
Where He Ends Up: Sankey is one of the cleaner running back prospects in this draft. He is fundamentally sound as a runner, receiver, and in pass pro. Like so many of the backs in the 2014 class, his draft position ranges from the mid 2nd round to the early stages of round 4 on the draft’s third day. He makes a nice fit with the Atlanta Falcons, Jacksonville Jaguars, and the New York Jets. One of my favorite spots for Sankey would be as a change of pace back and 3rd down specialist for the Houston Texans, complimenting feature runner Arian Foster and as an excellent fit in Bill O’Brian’s offense.
4. Ka’Deem Carey – Arizona
High End NFL Comparison: DeMarco Murray, Dallas Cowboys
What He Does Best: Carey is one of the better “plant and go” runners in the draft. He runs decisively and with some under rated wiggle and power. He’s a natural receiver out of the backfield, a willing blocker, and even has the versatility to line up in the slot.
Low End NFL Comparison: James Starks, Green Bay Packers
What May Hold Him Back: There are some size and durability concerns for Carey at the NFL level. He also runs with an upright running style that makes him susceptible to big hits and the eventual wear and tear that the brutal world of the NFL is known for.
Where He Ends Up: Due to his ability to contribute on all 3 downs as well as be a weapon in the backfield or out wide in the passing game, Carey makes sense for a vast majority of the NFL. His production and skill set warrant a pick among the top 75 selections on draft day, but running backs have become more and more devalued and the depth in this class could push him into the latter stages of day 2 or early day 3. Carey fits well with the New York Giants as a change of pace/receiving compliment to Rashad Jennings. New Orleans makes some sense and could utilize him in the passing game in place of the departed Darren Sproles. He could also be a valuable asset to whichever young quarterback the Jacksonville Jaguars select to lead their team. Carey and Toby Gerhart would be a solid 1-2 punch and compliment each others game very well.
5. Storm Johnson – Central Florida
High End NFL Comparison: Fred Jackson, Buffalo Bills
What He Does Best: Storm Johnson does a little bit of everything well. He is not necessarily elite at any one element of the game, nor does he possess upper echelon athleticism, but he is a productive and well rounded player who can fit into just about every system.
Low End NFL Comparison: Bernard Pierce, Baltimore Ravens
What May Hold Him Back: A lack of special athleticism. He is not a game breaking player, and he is not overly explosive with the ball in his hands. Johnson is a back who will take everything that the defense gives him, and rarely have a negative play, but he is not a player who will keep opposing defensive coordinators up at night.
Where He Ends Up: I personally have Storm Johnson rated much higher than most analysts or publications. I think Johnson could justifiably go as early as the third round, but also as low as the 5th or even 6th round. My personal favorite fit for Storm Johnson would be as a back up to newly signed Ben Tate in Cleveland. He has the size, downhill running style, and cutback vision to thrive in Kyle Shanahan’s zone blocking system. He is also possesses 3 down capabilities.
6. Jeremy Hill – Louisiana State
High End NFL Comparison: Steven Jackson, Atlanta Falcons
What He Does Best: Hill might have the best combination of size and athleticism in the entire 2014 running back draft class. The 6’1, 230 pounder is capable of running over or around opponents. He is surprisingly elusive for a player of his dimensions and offers some of the best upside in the class.
Low End NFL Comparison: Robert Turbin, Seattle Seahawks
What May Hold Him Back: Hill has some limitations in the passing game to go along with some maturity issues. He had multiple off field issues which caused him to miss some time while in Baton rouge. He lacks the polish to be relied upon in pass protection early on and he is not a natural receiver.
Where He Ends Up: Hill’s upside could land him on day 2 of the NFL draft, but I believe he is more than likely a day 3 candidate. The off the field stuff is discouraging, but many of these cases are just young adults making poor choices. What concerns me the most is a lack of natural ability and feel in the passing game. The NFL has evolved into a passing league, and a 2 down running back does not offer enough value to go that high in such a deep draft class. My favorite landing spot for Jeremy Hill would be the Arizona Cardinals, who could use a reliable power back to play alongside the explosive Andre Ellington.
7. Lache Seastrunk – Baylor
High End NFL Comparison: LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia Eagles
What He Does Best: Seastrunk’s explosiveness is the most impressive of the 2014 running back class. Simply put, the young man out of Baylor is a big play waiting to happen. He has the speed to find the end zone from anywhere on the field.
Low End NFL Comparison: Roy Helu, Washington Redskins
What May Hold Him Back: His vision and natural instincts as a runner could be better. He is very raw in terms of his vision, patience as a runner, and he also has a tendency to lose yardage while refusing to give up on a busted play.
Where He Ends Up: Seastrunk is a bit of a project, in terms of his every down capabilities, but his raw explosiveness and playmaking potential will get him drafted on the 2nd day. Seastrunk was tailor made for a one cut system. The Baltimore Ravens, with new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak’s zone blocking system could make a great deal of sense in round 2 for Seastrunk. Given Ray Rice’s declining play and off-field hiccup, the Ravens could look to make a move for the future this May.
8. Devonta Freeman – Florida State
High End NFL Comparison: Ray Rice, Baltimore Ravens
What He Does Best: Freeman is a compact and powerfully built runner who can produce on all 3 downs. He runs with a low center of gravity and is quick to get through the whole and get up field. He is a reliable receiver and has shown the ability to stonewall on coming pass rushers.
Low End NFL Comparison: Jaquizz Rodgers, Atlanta Falcons
What May Hold Him Back: Freeman is not a very creative runner. He gets the yardage the blocking will allow him and he does not make many defenders miss in the open field. He is a steady and reliable player, but does not offer much big play ability.
Where He Ends Up: Freeman is another one of those “all over the place” prospects. Ranging from late day 2 to mid day 3, Freeman’s versatility could land him on any number of teams radar. The lack of any truly “special” qualities will make it hard to justify an early selection in such a deep running back class and draft overall. The Tennessee Titans could provide a nice situation for Freeman to enter, pairing him with Shonn Greene and multi-purpose back/receiver Dexter McCluster.
9. Charles Sims – West Virginia
High End NFL Comparison: Matt Forte, Chicago Bears
What He Does Best: Sims is a multi dimensional back who has everything you’d want in a feature runner. Good size, athleticism, ability as a receiver, and can handle pass protection. He spent his entire college career in spread offenses and operates very well in space, but showed during Senior Bowl week that he has pro style 3 down capabilities as well.
Low End NFL Comparison: Vick Ballard, Indianapolis Colts
What May Hold Him Back: Sims does not run with very good pad level. He’s too upright in the hole and does not do a very good job of playing in traffic. He also has a tendency to dance and will often hesitate as a runner.
Where He Ends Up: Sims is a day 3 prospect with nice upside and lead back ability. His ability to contribute on all 3 downs makes him a target for all 32 NFL teams and an argument could be made that he is one of the most complete backs in the draft. Charles Sims would be an excellent addition to the Pittsburgh Steelers backfield which features two power players in Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount.
10. Kapri Bibbs – Colorado State
High End NFL Comparison: DeAngelo Williams, Carolina Panthers
What He Does Best: Bibbs is a touchdown machine. In one year of splitting time at Colorado State, Kapri Bibbs found the end zone 31 times and broke multiple school rushing records in the process. Explosive and powerfully built, Bibbs has the patience, balance, and vision to develop into a lead NFL runner with time.
Low End NFL Comparison: Mike James, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
What May Hold Him Back: Bibbs is raw. He needs to refine a good deal of his all around game. He is untested in the passing game, both as a receiver and in pass protection. He also does not do much to make defenders miss.
Where He Ends Up: Day 3. He has some momentum going from his dominant finish to the season, but his inexperience, level of competition, and lack of elite measurables make him a tough sell too early in the process. His most likely draft slotting is in rounds 5-6. I would personally love to see him play under Chip Kelly in Philadelphia, the already deep stable of backs could allow Bibbs to further develop his game and ultimately become a weapon in Kelly’s offense.