NFL Draft 2017: Ranking the top 10 running backs

Oct 22, 2016; Baton Rouge, LA, USA; LSU Tigers running back Leonard Fournette (7) runs past Mississippi Rebels linebacker DeMarquis Gates (3) during the second half of a game at Tiger Stadium. LSU defeated Mississippi 38-21. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The 2017 NFL Draft running back class is loaded with a lot of great players. There is a lot of talent at the top, and some possible gems that could be found in later rounds.

In recent years, teams have been able to find their franchise running backs, not so much in the early rounds, but in the later rounds of the draft. With that being said, Ezekiel Elliot who was picked No. 4 by Dallas and was a huge hit.

Yes, first round running backs have been good if not great, but look at teams Like Atlanta, Chicago, and Miami. Devonta Freeman (Atlanta), Jordan Howard (Chicago) and Jay Ajayi (Miami) were all taken in the fourth round or later. All three of these running backs had over 1,000 yards rushing yards in 2016.

This running back class may look top heavy with Fournette, Cook, and McCaffrey but there could be some sleeper running backs that fall in the draft. I think that there are a ton of running backs with great chances to be great NFL players that could be taken between the second and fourth rounds.

What a lot of the running backs in this class bring to the table is versatility. A lot of them are good pass catchers and are very good in space. Guys like Christian McCaffrey are also great returns. Some of these running backs will be able to make impact on their new team even if it isn’t in the run game.

With that being said, here are the top 10 running backs for the 2017 NFL draft.

Dec 17, 2016; Las Vegas, NV, USA; San Diego State Aztecs running back Donnel Pumphrey (19) is defended by Houston Cougars safety Garrett Davis (1) during the second quarter at Sam Boyd Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joshua Dahl-USA TODAY Sports

10

Donnel Pumphrey

RB, San Diego State

Donnel Pumphrey became the all-time FBS leading rusher during his senior season at San Diego State. He has a knack for running the ball.

On the season he rushed for 2,133 yards and 17 touchdowns. Pumphrey, had at least 17 touchdowns in three of his four season, one of which he scored 20 touchdowns. Overall he has rushed for a total of 6,405 yards and 62 touchdowns.

What is so great about Pumphrey is that he has produced. He has great vison and is very patient as well. It is kind of amazing that he holds the all-time rushing record. Pumphrey is only 5’8 and 176 pounds. The fact that he is undersized does hurt his draft stock as an NFL player.

Pumphrey is most likely gonna be a guy that one team looks at and takes a chance at toward the end of the draft.

Sep 30, 2016; Provo, UT, USA; Toledo Rockets running back Kareem Hunt (3) tries to find a way around the Brigham Young Cougars defense during the fourth quarter at Lavell Edwards Stadium. Brigham Young won 55-53. Mandatory Credit: Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

9

Kareem Hunt

RB, Toledo

Kareem Hunt is a guy that I think may get overlooked at the running back position. He is a three year starter from Toledo and rushed for just under 5,000 yards in four years.

In 2016, Hunt rushed for 1,475 yards and 10 touchdowns. He was a threat out of the backfield as well. He had 403 receiving yards and he scored a touchdown to go with it. His receiving numbers his senior year were greater than his numbers in his first three years combined.

He has good size, but the speed isn’t really there for Hunt. He does have the ability to come out of the back field, but his small size may be an issue for him.

Kareem Hunt could be a late round pick. He will probably be drafted somewhere in the sixth or seventh round of the draft.

Nov 19, 2016; Knoxville, TN, USA; Tennessee Volunteers running back Alvin Kamara (6) runs the ball against the Missouri Tigers during the second half at Neyland Stadium. Tennessee won 63-37. Mandatory Credit: Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

8

Alvin Kamara

RB, Tennessee

Alvin Kamara had to share a lot of his touches during his time at Tennessee. That makes me question just how NFL ready he may be.

In two years at Tennessee, Kamara rushed for 1,294 yards and 16 touchdowns. There are running backs that put up those numbers in only one year. What extra value Kamara brings to the table is his great ability in the passing game.

Kamara had 683 receiving yards and recorded seven touchdowns in the passing game during his two seasons. He has great hands and he is also able to step in and play slot receiver at times. He was also the kick return specialist for Tennessee.

What holds Kamara back is that he is not a natural running back. He is more of a receiving back, almost like a Theo Riddick type of player. He has also had to deal with knee injuries in the past. If he hurts his knee again it could be trouble for his NFL career.

Kamara is a solid player that could fall into the third round depending on how running backs are taken in the draft.

Dec 21, 2016; San Diego, CA, USA; Brigham Young Cougars running back Jamaal Williams (21) scores on a 36-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter against the Wyoming Cowboys during the 2016 Poinsettia Bowl at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

7

Jamaal Williams

RB, BYU

Jamaal Williams was a four year starter during his time at BYU. He racked up almost 4,000 total rushing yards during his four seasons.

He rushed for 1,375 yards and 12 touchdowns during his senior season at BYU. This included rushing for 210 yards in BYU’s bowl game victory over Wyoming. Williams led the Cougars in rushing in all four years he was there.

Williams has good size to be an NFL running back. He is 6-foot-0, and at the combine he ran a 40 yard dash time of 4.59. Williams will need to get better at creating space for himself. He will need to develop that if he wants to succeed in the NFL. While NFL running backs can lean on their offensive line, the great ones can do it on their own (Insert any Barry Sanders highlight tape here).

He will be a late round pick in reality. Most likely to be taken in the fifth round by a team that could see if he is made for the NFL.

Jan 2, 2017; New Orleans , LA, USA; Oklahoma Sooners running back Samaje Perine (32) carries the ball against Auburn Tigers linebacker Montavious Atkinson (48) in the second quarter of the 2017 Sugar Bowl at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

6

Samaje Perine

RB, Oklahoma

Samaje Perine is the first head of the two headed running attack that Oklahoma has had this past year. Perine being more of a power back then his counterpart Joe Mixon.

2016 wasn’t the best year for Perine. He did still rush for over 1,000 yards, but his stats were all down. Overall at Oklahoma, he rushed for 4,122 yards and 49 touchdowns. He ran for over 1,300 yards in both of his first two years. He was never really used in the pass game either.

Perine is a tough running back that can generate power to create opportunities. He is able to take hits and keep moving. He has good downhill speed as well. All these qualities make him an interesting prospect.

He isn’t the best out of the back field. A decent check down option at best. Overall his speed isn’t the greatest either. Perine has also suffered from ankle injuries in the past that could be a factor in the NFL if he gets hurt again. Being hurt may have been part of the reasons for his lack of speed.

You won’t see Perine going in the early rounds. I see him more as a fourth round pick maybe as late as a fifth round pick.

Sep 4, 2016; Austin, TX, USA; Texas Longhorns running back D’Onta Foreman (33) runs during the game against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

5

D’Onta Foreman

RB, Texas

D’Onta Foreman’s style of play is similar to that of a freight train. When he gets the ball he is one hard man to bring down.

After having a great 2016 season, Foreman declared for the NFL draft. In 2016 he rushed for 2,028 yards and 15 touchdowns. He ran for at least 120 yards in every game he played. He also had one game where he rushed for 341 yards and three scores.

Foreman is built like a tank. He has a huge frame and weighs in at about 230 lbs. For being such a big guy he is very agile when he runs. He is a rough and tough runner that will bump off of tacklers when he is in stride. He won’t beat you with speed, but he is one powerful back.

There are times when it seems Foreman tries to run a different style then what he is good at. He tries to play with speed when he is really a power back. He doesn’t have explosive speed but can lay big hits as he runs. Foreman is also terrible as a pass catcher. That doesn’t help his stock at all.

He is not a first round talent and may not be a second round talent either. He will probably fall around the third or fourth round.

Jan 2, 2017; New Orleans , LA, USA; Oklahoma Sooners running back Joe Mixon (25) carries the ball against Auburn Tigers linebacker Darrell Williams (49) in the second quarter at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

4

Joe Mixon

RB, Oklahoma

The second half of Oklahoma’s two headed running attack, Mixon is an interesting prospect coming into the draft. He has had to deal with a lot of attention for his off the field actions, which has already made some NFL teams say they are not interested.

As far as the numbers are concerned, in 2016 he ran for 1,274 yards and 10 touchdowns. He also had 538 receiving yards and five touchdowns. He of course shared the load at Oklahoma with Samaje Perine. Mixon does have the ability to be a good combination back in the NFL.

Mixon is higher on this list then Perine because I believe he has a higher upside. He has great speed and can rip off huge runs every time he touches the ball. That speed makes him a consistent threat and it helps elevate his game coming out of the back field.

Mixon’s biggest issue is of course his off the field problem. This past year, a video was released of Mixon hitting a woman after she had turned him down. A lot of NFL teams took his name off their draft board after this video was released. His character as a person was questioned as well.

He did release an apology for what he did. It is somewhat unknown as to where his draft stock sits. He has first to second round talent, but he won’t be able to escape what he did and because of that his stock may fall hard.

November 26, 2016; Stanford, CA, USA; Stanford Cardinal running back Christian McCaffrey (5) scores a touchdown against Rice Owls cornerback J.T. Blasingame (14) and safety Cole Thomas (28) during the second quarter at Stanford Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

3

Christian McCaffrey

RB, Stanford

After having a very impressive combine, McCaffrey’s draft stock rose heavily. To me, Christian McCaffrey should have won the Heisman in 2015, but that is for another day.

In 2015 McCaffrey ran for over 2,000 yards and eight touchdowns. He followed that up in 2016 with 1,603 yards and 13 touchdowns. Once he finally scored his first road touchdown he rushed for at 135 yards in each of his last five games. He really found his form.

McCaffrey is also a huge threat as a receiver. He had over 300 receiving yards in 2016 with three touchdowns. In 2015 he had over 600 receiving yards and five touchdowns.

McCaffrey has great speed out of the back field, but that isn’t his best ability. He has a great talent for making people miss in open space. With his amazing explosiveness and ability to weave around defenders, McCaffrey is a huge threat to score every time that he touches the ball. In 2015 he also had over 1,000 kick return yards. He did everything for Stanford and he did it all so well.

It is hard to find many faults with his game. One would be that he isn’t really a power back. He won’t be able to go through the trenches like a Leonard Fournette and pick up some tough yards. That hasn’t stopped McCaffrey from becoming a very good running back though.

It was a little bit unknown where McCaffrey would land come draft day. As of right now I think it is safe to say that he is a first round talent and should be taken by the first round and no later than early in the second round.

Dec 30, 2016; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Florida State Seminoles running back Dalvin Cook (4) celebrates with offensive lineman Kareem Are (72) after scoring a touchdown in the first quarter against the Michigan Wolverines at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports

2

Dalvin Cook

RB, Florida State

Dalvin Cook had a very slow start to his 2016 season, before finally breaking out against South Florida and got back on track.

In each of his three seasons as a Florida State Seminole, Cook ran for at least 1,000 yards. He also had consecutive seasons with over 1,600 yards and 19 touchdowns in 2015 and 2016. For his career at FSU, he ran for 4,464 yards and 46 touchdowns. Cook is also a decent threat out of the back field. He averaged over 10 yards a reception in 2015 and 2016.

Cook’s greatest strength is in his speed. Once he gets past the line it can be hard to catch him. He is also good in the passing game. Being able to be a speed back with power and catch passes out of the back field, make Cook a top running back prospect.

The one thing that may hold Cook back is that teams want to make sure he will stay out of trouble. He has run into some legal issues in the past. Because of this, some NFL teams may question if this will happen again. Most NFL teams don’t tolerate players with bad off field antics.

With that being said, Cook is a first round talent. His speed and strength can make him become a three down back in the NFL.

Nov 12, 2016; Fayetteville, AR, USA; LSU Tigers running back Leonard Fournette (7) runs for a large gain after a reception during the first quarter of the game against the Arkansas Razorbacks at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brett Rojo-USA TODAY Sports

1

Leonard Fournette

RB, LSU

Most would agree that Leonard Fournette is the best running back in the draft. He has top 10 potential and was one hell of a force to deal with at LSU.

In 2016, Fournette ran for 843 yards and eight touchdowns. He didn’t play in six games for LSU in 2016. In 2015 he ran for 1,953 yards and 22 touchdowns. Many thought he would go pro after his 2015 season. He decided to stay and while his stats did not come close to matching his stats from the year prior, his draft stock didn’t take a hit.

Fournette to put it simply is a wrecking ball. He is 6-foot-1, 240 pounds. He is super strong as he has shown by quite literally throwing tacklers off of him. Fournette has deceptive speed as well. Once he gets going downfield it is hard to catch him, let alone stop him.

He will have to adjust to the NFL like any other player. With that means he will have to be consistent, which he was anything but in his last season at LSU. Injuries plagued his final season more than he would have liked. Staying healthy and being a consistent runner will go a long way to help Fournette.

Fournette does have a lot of hype surrounding him as well. Fournette has a lot to live up to, but he is a first round pick.

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