Over the next week or so, instead of writing up new prospects, I'm going to give you some positional rankings. We know the position the San Diego Chargers seemed to need the most is running back, and rightfully so. Danny Woodhead is 30 and coming off of a serious season-ending injury. Branden Oliver's talent could be easily upgradeable. Donald Brown might not even make the final roster...
That brings us to one of the deepest positions in the draft. Before I list my "top 11", it's important to know which traits I value most. There are ten traits that I grade, some have multiple categories that I factor in, others are self explanatory. The two heaviest-weighted traits are "Pre-LOS" and "Post-LOS." Before he gets to the line of scrimmage, I want to see if a runner has the patience to let the play develop, the vision to see the hole, and the footwork to get through the hole. I look for RBs that can manipulate linebackers to open space, then press the hole and burst through it. This is the biggest issue Oliver and Brown struggled with last year.
After the line of scrimmage is equally as important. It's all about creating on your own. If the play is blocked for 2 yards, can you get 4? This is where running backs show off their power and leg drive by pushing the pile. Or they'll show off speed to outrun angles by linebacakers. You'll see RBs set up defenders with a move, and if they're special, layered moves. The other eight traits I factor in are quickness/burst, speed, power, ability in the passing game, ball security, durability, change of direction, and versatility.
Let's get to the players. These are the tiers I have them broken into.
Cream of the Crop
1. Duke Johnson
By now, you know I think he's the best RB in the class. What sets him apart from the player after him is Duke's change of direction. He plays faster than his timed speed. Johnson improved his 40 yard dash today from a 4.54 to a 4.47 per multiple reports. Breaks tackles at a high rate and doesn't take big shots. There will be people who think he's not an every down back but Johnson is the same size as Jamaal Charles and Frank Gore. Three years from now we'll look back and wonder why he wasn't a 1st rounder.
2. Todd Gurley
There's a lot to like about Gurley. The only 1st round trait he lacks is change of direction. The injury history is a concern. I wouldn't let him possibly not being able to perform in the first couple months affect my decision. You're drafting him for five years, not the next two months. Gurley might be the second fastest running back in the class, and the most underrated in the passing game.
Don't forget about me!
3. Jay Ajayi
Ajayi broke a tackle nearly every other carry. That's insane. That, and nearly half of his yards in the six game sample size came after contact, tells you all you need to know about Ajayi's refusal to go down on first contact. He should go at the top of the 2nd round, which is exactly where he graded out for me. He'd be a 1st rounder if he ran with more power.
4. Ameer Abudllah
He's my favorite back in the class. Eventually we'll learn that it's not how big you are, it's how you play. You won't see Abdullah taking big hits, so why does it matter if he's 5'9 and 205 pounds? If you watch him, he's shown he can break tackles better than guys who are 20 pounds heavier than him.
Abudllah is a freak athlete that doesn't have to come off the field and is a walking mismatch.
Best of the Rest
5. Melvin Gordon
Gordon is one of the more popular backs that fans want. I like a lot of what he brings to the table, but I don't think his value is in the 1st round. He's not someone who can consistently create on his own in between the tackles, and a lot of what he does before the line of scrimmage will get him in trouble in the NFL.
6. Buck Allen
The USC running back is fresh, only 480 career touches, and fast. Allen ran a 4.53 40 yard dash, but can get to top speed in a couple of steps. Allen showed he can easily outrun second-level defenders to the spot, turning 4 yard gains into 15 and even 40+ yard gains. While Allen has a nice lateral cut in his arsenal, he'll need to be more consistent behind the line of scrimmage and break more arm tackles. The skillset is there, though.
7. T.J. Yeldon
Like Allen, I think Yeldon is a good 3rd round pick. I believe Yeldon plays quicker than his shuttle times indicate. What Yeldon lacks in burst and speed, he makes up for with his ability to make you miss in tight spaces. Yeldon has very quick feet and is the kind of back that can make those layered moves to set up defenders. He doesn't run with very good power but can be a key contributor in the passing game.
Nothing Flashy here
8. Malcolm Brown
Texas' 224 pound running back might be this years "Alfred Morris went in the 6th round and rushed for over 1,000 yards back." Brown isn't as good as Morris before the line of scrimmage and doesn't create nearly as many yards for himself as he should. However, he does have a surprising burst, constantly falls forward, and runs with a great deal of power.
Here are some more eye raising numbers about Brown.
Malcolm Brown had 47 career carries on 3rd and 3 or less. Converted 89.4% of those carries. Only 2 of the 47 went for a loss.— Lowell Galindo (@LHNLowell) March 25, 2015
Malcolm Brown also ended career w fumbles on only .3% of his carries - The best among players in Top 35 of career carries at end of 14.— Lowell Galindo (@LHNLowell) March 25, 2015
9. Mike Davis
Davis is here because I don't know if he has a true trump card. He's the cliche "jack of all trades master of none." Perhaps expectations were too high on Davis coming into the year. He had more flashy plays a year ago where it was believed he played lighter. This morning at his pro day, Davis weighed in at 210 pounds and ran a 4.38 40 yard dash. If he can maintain that weight, he can be really good. Either way, Davis is going to be a productive back in the NFL that will succeed because of his power and because he is sneaky fast.
Thanks but no thanks
10. David Cobb
If I'm waiting later in the draft to invest in a running back, it'll be on an athlete that brings more to the table than Cobb. I think he's "just a guy." Cobb certainly has his strengths, he runs with great power and is very durable. He just doesn't bring enough value to make me think he's worth anything before a Day 3 pick. Cobb had too many runs where he wanted to be Johnson or Abdullah, but lacked the athleticism to pull it off.
11. Tevin Coleman
I guarantee when Coleman has his pro day he will run in the 4.3's and someone is going to over draft him by 50 picks. Hopefully that someone isn't Tom Telesco. Coleman is without question the fastest running back I've seen. If he has a crease, he's getting 30 yards. The issue is he's a big back that doesn't run with power, his change of direction is questionable at best, which limits his versatility.