Here are the final rankings for running backs this year. Included are only the backs I have broken down this year, so if anyone is not included, that is the reason. This running back class is so tightly packed that the rankings that the 17 backs included could be ranked in almost any order and it would defensible. Much of this will come down to taste and preference for the person handling the rankings. Nevertheless, here we go.
1. Bishop Sankey, Washington – Sankey brings a tremendous combination of instincts and ability to the running back position. He was great as a sophomore but added strength allowed him to be even better as a junior. Not only is he a good runner, but he can also contribute as a receiver out of the backfield. In workouts, he showed just how much physical talent he brings to the table and for me, he is the best in the class.
2. Carlos Hyde, Ohio State – Despite what has been an awful draft process for Hyde in terms of workouts, he is the best of the Clydesdale style running backs in this draft. He has size and power, but he has more quickness than some might expect. This year, Hyde really figured out who he was this year and was at his best as a runner. He has to improve as a pass catcher, but he can block. The fact that he has no workouts to speak of and chose to skip the Reese’s Senior Bowl has put teams in a lurch projecting him more than they would like.
3. Lache Seastrunk, Baylor – Seastrunk, along with Tre Mason, are the purest runners in this draft. Seastrunk has more physical talent than Mason, which is ultimately he got the nod. Seastrunk brings an element of chaos in that he is never afraid to make a big cut or risk losing yards in hopes of the bigger payoff, which can lead to some incredible as well as frustrating results. Baylor simply did not throw to running backs, Seastrunk or otherwise, so there is a question lingering about how well he can do that, but as a rookie, Seastrunk is a great second back to bring in and change the pace and potentially be a hot hand that a team keeps feeding.
4. Tre Mason, Auburn – Especially in the second half of the college season, Mason really took off as a runner, putting up terrific numbers and helping the Tigers get to the National Championship. Like Seastrunk, an extremely natural running talent, but he is far more predictable and consistent in terms of making good decisions with where to take the football. Mason also has a lot of good habits and technique as far as getting behind his pads and how he takes on contact. Mason showed in workouts he could catch the ball reasonably well, but that along with blocking are questions with him.
5. Davonta Freeman, Florida State – In terms of raw physical ability, Freeman ranks up with just about anyone in the class. He has great speed, pretty good power and he can be a play maker. What hurts Freeman is a concern over his vision and just how well he can see and anticipate holes opening up for him to make the right play. This could really hurt how far he can go in the NFL, but if he can improve his vision or if he is put in a system that minimizes the amount he needs, he could be a special player.
6. Terrance West, Towson – West was a larger than life back in the FCS ranks that really carried Towson to the FCS Title game. He looked like a power back against lower competition, but he plays like a more balanced threat. West can get behind his pads and drive his legs for extra yardage but he is able to plant his foot in the ground and make opponents miss. Certainly, one concern is the level of competition but West has been extremely impressive at every stage of the process and could be a nice pickup for a team. The other concern with West is whether he is special enough at anything to be a truly good back or if he ends up being largely average at everything and fails to stand out in the NFL.
7. Antonio Andrews, Western Kentucky – In a nutshell, Andrews gives a team everything Bobby Rainey does but with more size and strength. A poor 40 time and issues with fumbles could really hurt Andrews, but both at the Senior Bowl as well as on tape, he was impressive in his ability as a runner. He showed a good amount of strength and burst allowing him to beat opponents both with power and quickness. His long speed might prevent him from being a home run hitter but it does not stop him from gashing opponents for substantial runs.
8. Lorenzo Taliaferro, Coastal Carolina – The second FCS back in the rankings, Taliaferro has shown he is a physically talented runner, a receiving threat out of the back field and a terrific blocker in pass protection. Especially in Mobile at the Senior Bowl, Taliaferro was lights out as a blocker and if he can carry those results forward, he should be fantastic as a third down option for that reason if nothing else. Having said that, he is a natural receiving threat who can add in that respect as well as a runner. The competition he faced and the relative lack of experience, having only one year as a feature back, could hurt him.
9. Tyler Gaffney, Stanford – Stanford backs tend to be stereotyped as being slow and pure power backs. Gaffney is certainly able to run with power but he has more speed than people expect as he has shown in some opportunities in the open field as well as at the combine. In a more wide open offense when the box is not crowded with so many bodies, he should be able to showcase that ability while still finishing runs with power. He was effective more or less caged and doing what the scheme called for, so if he do that and add more speed and explosion to his game, he could be extremely productive at the next level.
10. Jeremy Hill, LSU – Hill is a huge power back that has some burst as well. While he is effective at getting behind his pads and forcing opponents to see if they can tackle him, he does have some agility to use subtle cuts to take opponents out of the play. Hill is a good blocker in pass protection and he can catch the ball enough for what he does. Questions off the field could hurt Hill as well as the fact that he did benefit from a strong offensive line that was able to create a lot of opportunities for him.
11. Charles Sims, West Virginia – Sims is a really good receiver and blocker, but a relatively average runner. His burst through the line leaves something to be desired, which can result in getting tackled behind the line of scrimmage, but he is pretty consistent when he is able to gain yardage. It seems unlikely that Sims ever becomes a feature back in the NFL, but he is the type of player that teams love to have in their running back rotation because he is going to block and catch the ball for a team with enough threat as a runner to keep teams honest.
12. Dri Archer, Kent State – Archer is not a traditional running back. He can take some carries, but he is really a space player that can operate as a back, a receiver in the slot and brings return ability. Archer is not going to block, but he has improved dramatically in his capacity as a receiver and he is a nightmare in space both in terms of straight line speed and agility who is a threat to score every time the ball is in his hands. The biggest issue with Archer is the number of touches a team can feel comfortable giving him game to game.
13. James White, Wisconsin – White is a nice all around back with speed, hands, and the ability to block. The times he can get an opening, he can gash opponents for big gains with the ability to make opponents miss on occasion. The problem with White is that he consistently stops his feet on contact and does not maximize runs. As a result, unless he can make an opponent miss with quickness, he goes as far as his blocking can take him.
14. Ka’Deem Carey, Arizona – Although Carey was remarkably productive for the Wildcats, his physical tools are average and he does not do a great job of getting behind his pads to maximize runs. Carey has great change of direction skills and has been really effective in college, but he needs to make better use of the tools he does have. Like Hill, Carey has some off field backage that could potentially impact his draft stock, but on the field, he is not confident catching the ball away from his body and his blocking in pass protection is mediocre at best.
15. Andre Williams, Boston College – Williams is an old school work horse back that does his work between the tackles and gets better as the game goes along. He is good at what he does, but he is largely predictable for a few reasons. First, he has not shown much when it comes to being able to help as an outside runner and he has struggled as a pass catcher. He was mostly used in play action to sell run, but he is not terribly difficult to scheme against.
16. Marion Grice, Arizona State – Grice is a downhill runner that can occasionally make some spectacular plays. For the most part, he is going to play behind his pads and try to maximize his runs, but there are some runs where he becomes a man possessed and can make magic happen. Grice can also make some spectacular plays as a pass catcher but will turn around and drop an easy pass as well. At this point, Grice is a bad blocker who really could get his quarterback killed and injuries have derailed him in the offseason, which could both have a dramatic impact on where he is picked.
17. Storm Johnson, Central Florida – Johnson is a great open field runner with a good amount of physical ability, showcasing a splash play or few in every game. The problem is that Johnson struggles when it comes to seeing the hole between the tackles, hesitates in there and will try to run plays outside unnecessarily. He gets hit for too many losses in the backfield as a result. Johnson also is extremely raw and mediocre as a pass blocking threat and has had issues with fumbles. If he can correct the issues, there is a lot of talent, but there are several hurdles to get over and right now, it is difficult for him to find his way on the field.