This post covers my preliminary rankings of the top running backs entering the 2017 NFL Draft. For analysis of the respective rankings of certain prospects, see the corresponding footnotes (+).
1. Dalvin Cook (Florida St) | 5’11 210 (+)
2. Leonard Fournette (LSU) | 6’1 230 (+)
3. Joe Mixon (Oklahoma) | 6’1 225 (++)
4. Marlon Mack (South Florida) | 5’11 205 (+++)
5. Alvin Kamara (Tennessee) | 5’10 215 (+++)
6. D’Onta Foreman (Texas) | 6’0 240 (+++)
7. Christian McCaffrey (Stanford)| 6’0 200 (++++)
8. Samaje Perine (Oklahoma) | 5’10 235
9. Kareem Hunt (Toledo) | 5’11 225
10. Wayne Gallman (Clemson) | 6’1 215
11. Jamaal Williams (BYU) | 6’1 220
12. Corey Clement (Wisconsin) | 5’10 225
13. James Connor (Pittsburgh) | 6’2 240
14. Brian Hill (Wyoming) | 6’0 220
15. Jeremy McNichols (Boise St) | 5’9 210
16. Matthew Dayes (NC State) | 5’9 200
17. Elijah Hood (UNC) | 5’11 220
(+) Cook is my number #1 ranked RB over Fournette. Cook, who is literally a bigger and more powerful clone of Jamaal Charles, displays a rare combination of vision, patience, agility, acceleration and breakaway speed, power and elusiveness, and receiving skills to become a workhorse back and multidimensional threat at the next level… The sentiment that Fournette is the “best prospect since Adrian Peterson” is credible in terms of his rare combination of size, speed and power. However, Fournette’s vision, instincts, agility and elusiveness attributes are, while good, not nearly as prodigious as those that Peterson displayed coming out of Oklahoma. To be clear, both Cook and Fournette are practically sure bets to be star-level players at the next level–but I’d rather have the multidimensional talents of Cook between the two.
(++) This ranking is based solely on judgment of on-field talent. Mixon’s highly-publicized incident involving an act of violently striking a woman in the face (which was caught on tape and has been made public) will pose a PR nightmare for any team considering to draft him. Regardless of talent, which is arguably exceptional, I’m inclined to believe that PR (if not morally-guided) concerns predominate and he ends up not getting selected in the upcoming draft.
(+++) At this juncture, Mack and Kamara are my two favorite RBs that have yet to receive much public media hype to date. Mack’s game most closely resembles LeSean McCoy–especially their uncanny similarities in effectively eluding defenders in space… Kamara exhibits a versatile, well-rounded game that includes above-average to excellent agility, tackle breaking and receiving abilities… Although Foreman offers a different package than either Mack or Kamara, he grades out similarly as a solid second round prospect. His vision and power are obvious–but Foreman’s underrated agility and acceleration are attributes that, given his size, give him the requisite talent to become a top bell-cow RB at the next level. However, at this juncture, he is ranked behind Mack and Kamara because it is unclear whether he can provide sufficient receiving capabilities to become more than a two-down back.
(++++) McCaffrey’s ranking at #7 probably says more about the strength of this RB class than it does about my evaluation of him as a top RB prospect. This much is clear: McCaffrey arguably possesses the best combination of vision, patience and elusiveness among the RBs in this draft class. With that said, I think it’s reasonable to question whether he possesses sufficient speed, power and build to be effective as a three down tailback for multiple seasons at the next level. In other words, even if his requisite talents translate to the next level, he may just be a better iteration of Danny Woodhead or Theo Reddick. And if that’s true, he’s still worth spending a late second or third round selection on for teams looking to add a dynamic ancillary piece to their offense.