NFL Combine 2017: Running Backs to Watch

Running backs are becoming a hot commodity after strong drafts in recent years. The 2017 NFL Combine features a great class, and these are the names to watch.

The running back class in the 2017 NFL Draft is one of the strongest groups in recent memory. With names such as Dalvin Cook, Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey leading the charge, the 2017 draft class should hear their names early and often. Before that, though, they need to again show how impressive they are when it comes to the NFL Combine.

All three of the big-name running backs will be at the 2017 NFL Combine, but a strong group of potential draftees will join them in Indianapolis. Players such as Alvin Kamara and Marlon Mack will look to take the spotlight from the top names.

Another name to watch that does not crack this list is James Conner from Pittsburgh. He is not likely to be drafted high, but he has made a full recovery from Hodgkins lymphoma, per NFL.com. His place at the NFL Combine will serve as a special moment for Conner, as well as cancer survivors. His fight and determination to defeat the disease last may, and his continued health should be one of the better moments of the Combine.

Having said that, these are the five running backs you should be watching at the 2017 NFL Combine.

Sep 5, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA; Florida State Seminoles running back Dalvin Cook (4) runs in the fourth quarter as Mississippi Rebels defensive back Zedrick Woods (36) defends at Camping World Stadium. Florida State Seminoles won 45-34. Mandatory Credit: Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports

1. Dalvin Cook, Florida State

Most will not be surprised if Dalvin Cook hears his name called in the top-5 of the 2017 NFL Draft. He is an explosive athlete who enjoyed a terrific college career. At the Combine, he should impress many with his testing numbers and his on-field workouts.

Cook will not measure as the biggest player in the running back class, but that is obvious. He is not the big, brushing power back, but he does pack a punch in his 5-11 frame. Where to watch Cook is on the drills that show how quick his feet are. Cook can change direction on a dime, planting his foot and getting where he needs to go in a flash. He should run a very good short shuttle and three-cone drill, but will shine in the on-field position drills.

Cook should also run a good 40-yard dash. He has breakaway speed, and gets to max speed in a hurry. This is not the best indicator of great running backs, but does show the guys who can separate in the open field. Expect a good jump set from Cook as well, as he shows great explosion and a strong lower half.

Arguably the top back in the draft, Cook should be one of the top backs at the Combine as well. He is a must-watch over combine week.

Sep 17, 2016; Baton Rouge, LA, USA; LSU Tigers running back Leonard Fournette (7) runs the ball against Mississippi State Bulldogs defensive back Brandon Bryant (1) during the second quarter of a game at Tiger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

2. Leonard Fournette, LSU

The battle for the top running back in the 2017 NFL Draft is between Leonard Fournette and Dalvin Cook. Cook is likely to have a great NFL Combine, but what Fournette is likely to do at 6-1 and better than 225 pounds will likely be the must-watch part of the Combine.

Fournette is a rare combination of size, speed and power at the running back position. He will measure extremely well, listed at 6-1 and hitting above 6-0 easily. He is not going to blow people away with his 40-yard dash or a ridiculous shuttle time, but for his size he should run very well.

Keeping a close eye on his footwork during on-field drills will be interesting. He makes decisive cuts, but his ability to change direction and get back up to full speed in a non-game situation is something that can help show his elusiveness, something that has come into question.

Watching Fournette run routes out of the backfield will also be something to watch. He has not been asked to run all that many routes, and seeing if he is crisp in a non-game situation will show how hard he has been working on his footwork. Another must-watch, Fournette and Cook will battle for the top back at the NFL Combine.

Nov 26, 2016; Nashville, TN, USA; Tennessee Volunteers running back Alvin Kamara (6) hurdles a teammate for a short gain during the first half against the Vanderbilt Commodores at Vanderbilt Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

3. Alvin Kamara, Tennessee

The most important part of the NFL Combine for Alvin Kamara is going to be behind closed doors when he interviews with teams, looking to prove he is ready to carry the load as a full-time back.  Once he gets on the field, expect good things from Kamara. He likely will not be one of the fastest backs on the field in 40 times, but he has good speed and great feet. He should run extremely well in the short shuttle and three-cone drill, displaying his quick feet and ability to change direction.

He will dominate in the passing drills. Kamara runs great routes, hitting his spot and gaining speed out of his breaks. He has very sure hands and gets back to full speed in a flash after securing the catch. This is something you see time and again on film from his time in Knoxville with the Volunteers. In fact, you could argue that he was at his most impressive as a receiver out of the backfield rather than as a runner.

His decision-making is a bit of a question mark, and seeing the running back drills where they have to read the bags and decide where to run will be a good look at how well he is seeing things. If Kamara performs well at the combine and in his interviews, he could get some serious first Round consideration.

November 5, 2016; Stanford, CA, USA; Stanford Cardinal running back Christian McCaffrey (5) runs with the football against the Oregon State Beavers during the first quarter at Stanford Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

4. Christian McCaffrey, Stanford

The 2017 NFL Combine might be owned by the running backs, and Christian McCaffrey might own the weekend. He is an explosive, elusive back who showed great speed and agility throughout his career. There will be questions around his ability to be a feature back, but that will take place in the interview rooms with teams.

He should run all drills well. He has the acceleration to run a good 40-yard dash time, the quick feet to excel in the short shuttle and three-cone drill and the explosive drive to jump quite well.

His pass catching ability and quick feet should see McCaffrey dominate during on-field drills. He runs routes more like a receiver than a running back. He has sure hands and does a great job planting his foot and getting downhill.

McCaffrey has all the skills and athleticism to dominate the non-game situation. Expect to see his name at, or near the top of the results of nearly every Combine drill. But again, it’s possible that the most important part of the week for the Stanford product will happen behind the scenes. There’s no reason to believe he won’t interview well, but it’s going to be integral to his draft stock that he does to pair with what should be a phenomenal physical showcase. 

Nov 26, 2016; Tampa, FL, USA; South Florida Bulls running back Marlon Mack (5) runs the ball in for a touchdown against the UCF Knights during the first quarter at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

5. Marlon Mack, South Florida

Marlon Mack is a name that not many notice, but should open some eyes at the NFL Combine. He was an integral part of South Florida’s resurgent season, carrying the Bulls to one of the top rushing attacks in college football. That assessment is quite literal as Mack was at the center of their offensive attack and a sure leader on the field.

Mack is going to run well at the combine. He has great speed and accelerates extremely well. His 40-yard dash time should be near the top, showing his breakaway speed. He also shows great footwork and fluid movements, meaning he will perform well in all of the athletic movements for the short shuttle, three cone and position drills.

Expect coaches to really try to pound at his arms if possible, as he showed a tendency to fumble a lot in college. He will also need to show his hands can be consistent in pass catching drills, especially because he runs routes well. He is likely a mid-round pick, but can greatly help himself with a solid Combine performance. Among the big school running backs featured, Mack should still be able to make his presence felt in Indianapolis.

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