Every year, the NFL draft features an influx of some very talented and outstanding running backs blessed with skill sets that will enhance any team.  2015 is no different this year’s crop of running backs varies in size and speed, quickness, injury history and production.  It was a blast evaluating them as a runner, blocker, receiver and those that fall in the category of a return specialist.

When reading my stacking below some will say is he crazy?  Gurley is number two!  Yes.  If I’m a GM for any of the 32 NFL teams looking to draft a running back in the 1st or 2nd round, I want him clean.  Gurley is rehabbing an ACL, despite given the green light at the NFL rechecks, he has not run, done full speed cutting, shown burst and acceleration or even COD (change of direction).  What is his speed going to be like, has he lost a step?

But for me the biggest question that no one can answer, when does DJD (degenerative joint disease-arthritis) set in.  This is a huge gamble and a flashing yellow light for the decision makers.  For teams that have good depth at running back, drafting him and allowing Gurley to sit and get completely heathy would be best situation for the young man.

Several teams are hoping he can rebound like Adrian Peterson (Vikings) and others are holding their breath that he avoids a back to back ACL tear like Sam Bradford (Eagles).  Prior to the injury, Todd Gurley was the best player in the 2015 draft class hands down.  No matter which round he gets drafted in, this player still has the same issue, a surgically repaired knee.

Below are the critical factors and athletic skill sets for the running back position, and the top five based on film evaluation.

 

RUNNING BACKS

Critical Factors

Character: off-field issues (arrests, drugs, domestic incidents, guns, tickets, etc).

Football Intelligence: Student of the game, film study, playbook memorization, ability to process and regurgitate information with recall.

Mental Awareness: Intelligence, ability to take hard coaching, understanding role on team and position assignments.

Leadership: Natural born leader, locker room guy, community involvement.

Competitiveness: A clutch player with a win-at-all-costs attitude; a high level of intensity. He is at his best under adverse and pressure situations. He has confidence in himself, and his teammates have confidence in him.

Toughness: This most unprotected player in the game must have a high level of toughness. A clutch player to consistently deliver under pressure. Has ability to play both injured and hurt when the team needs him.

Production: Produce under pressure in critical situations as a runner, receiver and blocker.

Blocking: Attitude and temperament, three points of contact, strength/explosion; lead blocker, pass blocking, blocking on the move; toughness, aggressiveness, willingness; 3-E (eye, ear, elbow).

Durability: Stamina; endurance; injury history for position.  Long term, short term, aggressive rehab

Receiving Skills: RAC (run after catch) elusiveness; vision in open space; playmaker; catch-in-a-crowd toughness; production.

 

Athletic Skill Set

Initial Quickness: Quick start out of stance to press LOS (line of scrimmage) with burst/acceleration both laterally and at POA (point of attack).

Run Instincts: Vision in/out of hole, read/reaction to blocking and flow to open space; create angles with anticipation and setting up defender with cutting ability. Nose for the goal line.

Inside Run: Courage, quickness to press line of scrimmage, burst and acceleration through the hole; BYOB (be your own blocker); pad level; strength/explosion; balance; effort; YAC (yards after contact); power; slasher; pick and slide; upright high knee; short-yardage runner; production.

Outside Run: Lateral quickness with speed to bounce and turn corner; big-play speed; gear change; cutting ability; change of direction; burst and acceleration; production; vision; balance and body control.

Elusiveness: Ability to make several defenders miss with cutting ability and restart quickness; cutting ability in open and tight space; make defender miss in open/tight space; quickness in cutting in tight space; ability to string several cuts together in a single run.

Speed: Straight line; one gear with build-up acceleration; breakaway threat; explosive full speed in two steps; never caught from behind, speed tops out early, quicker then fast.

Ball Control: Swings ball outside of frame when cutting or in traffic; two hands on goal line.

Fumbler: Courage; carelessness; in/out of traffic; physical make-up, lack of high and tight technique.

Routes: Ability to avoid defenders in route, type (cross, out, swing, screen etc); gathers self; quickness out of break with separation.

Adjust: Flexibility to adjust to poorly thrown balls, contort and aggressive.

Hands: Natural receiving skills, soft or hard; extends to catch outside of frame; body catcher; snatcher; cradle catcher.

Break Tackles: YAC (yards after contact) production; strength and toughness; exploding at POA; natural run instincts after contact.

Lower Body: Large thighs, buttocks, strength and explosion in lower extremity; powerful hips; good vertical jump.

Special Teams: Coverage ability; return skills.

The listing below is the final stacking order as I evaluated the big picture which included; starts, Inside/outside running skills, blocking, production, special teams and injury history along with both football and personal character.

*Underclassmen

Wisconsin   Melvin Gordon   6’0 – 215*   1st Rd
Georgia   Todd Gurley   6’0 – 222* (X) Knee   1st Rd
Boise State   Jay Ajayi  5’11 – 222  (X) Right Knee issues (KOR skills)    2nd Rd 
Indiana   Tevin Coleman  5’11 – 207*  (X) Foot   2nd Rd
USC  Javorius Allen  6’0 – 222*   2nd Rd

Others to watch:

Nebraska   Ameer Abdullah  5’8 – 205  (Change of pace/return specialist)   2nd Rd
Miami   Duke Johnson  5’9 – 207   2nd – 3rd Rd
Alabama   TJ Yeldon  6’1 – 226*   2nd – 3rd Rd
Northern Iowa   David Johnson  6’0 – 224  (KOR skills)  3rd Rd
Michigan State   Jeremy Langford  5’11 – 208   3rd Rd
Minnesota   David Cobb  5’10 – 229  4th Rd 
South Carolina  Mike Davis  5’9 – 218*   4th Rd 
Auburn  Cameron Artis-Payne  5’9 – 212  4th Rd – 5th Rd 

Fullbacks
Alabama   Jalston Fowler   5’11 – 255   4th Rd – 5th Rd
Rutgers  Mike Burton  5’11 – 242   5th Rd 
LSU  Connor Neighbors  5’10 – 232   5th Rd – 6th Rd