2017 NFL Draft Preview: Running Backs


Writer’s Note: Right from the early days of Barstool I did draft NFL draft previews focused on the Patriots’ needs. And I’ll put my track record up against anybody’s. I had them picking, among others, Dominique Easley, Nate Solder, Dont’a Hightower, Brandon Spikes, Darius Butler and that Florida tight end who went all Jame Gumb on everybody. I never claim to know what other teams are going to do. Mock drafts are a monument to futilty. I’m just the Belichick Whisperer who understands what kind of players fit his schemes. Well this year, since Barstool has now gone intergalactic and the Pats don’t have a pick in the top 70, I’m going to do more of an overall breakdown of each position, with just a Patriots note at the end. It’s hard enough to guess what they’re going do at the end of the first round. Trying to predict what they’ll do late on Day 2 is like trying to hit the moon with a Lawn Dart.

Earlier previews: Quarterbacks

Positional overview: Running back is going to be the most interesting position groups for real draft nerds. The Class of 2017 is not only stacked at the top with talent in all different skill sets, it’s deep. There are potential difference makers all over the place. So this draft will be a referendum on how much of a difference teams think a running back can make in today’s game. A few years ago I thought Trent Richardson would end up in the Smithsonian as the last Top 10 back ever drafted. But then Ezekiel Elliot went 4th last year, set fire to the world and proved that the running back is not extinct. Not the rare and exotic Elite Back anyway. Then again, there’s enough depth to this group that it’s possible teams will pass in the early rounds to grab reasonable equivalents later on. It’ll be fun to watch if you don’t otherwise have a life.

Mr. Inside:
Leonard Fournette, LSU. 6-0, 240 lb, 4.51 40-time


Compares to the active ingredients in: Jamal Lewis
Most draft pundits are comparing him to Adrian Peterson, but I think the comparison fails because he’s Peterson +25 lb. This guy is a tank. But one that can move like an M1A1 Abrams. A linebacker’s body built on top of a power back’s legs. He ran almost exclusively “dotting the I” at LSU, meaning he almost never lined up at the quarterback’s level, running iso’s, toss sweeps and powers. He’s a violent finisher who looks for contact and runs with a low pad level that makes it tough to bring him down. The knocks on him are that he’s not much help in the passing game and missed six games with an ankle injury, including the bowl game. But he faced loaded boxes exclusively behind a below average line and still produced games like his 16 carry, 284 gem against Ole Miss. Plus the most recent reports on him say he’s shed a ton of weight since the Combine. He should go in the top half of Round 1, if not top 10.

Mr. Outside:

Dalvin Cook, Florida St. 5-10, 210 lb, 4.49
Compares to the active ingredients in: Shady McCoy
Cook is a slip and slide kind of player. An explosive runner who burned defenses on stretch runs, sweeps, counters and off tackle plays. He’s got functional power, but he’s not going to bowl anyone over. He’s a home run type of runner, with metric ass tons of 50+ yard runs who kicks into hyperdrive when he gets to the second level. Personally, that’s not my kind of NFL prospect because those big runs just aren’t there in the pros. But he’ll go high, possibly even be the top back taken. And you can see why given he averaged 6.0 YPA, with 19 TDs and 33 receptions for 488 yards. He’s never been in trouble himself, but some publications are talking about the sketchy crowd he runs with and his excessive drinking. Since that’s probably the reason I didn’t get drafted into the NFL, I think it’s unfair. But I’ve got to mention it.

Mr. Versatility:

Christian McCaffrey, Stanford. 5-11, 202 lb, 4.48

Compares to the active ingredients in: Devonta Freeman
McCaffrey broke Barry Sanders’ record for all-purpose yards. The thing everyone mentions about his is his freakish, almost Le’Veon Bell patience at reading a play, letting the blocking develop and then hitting the seam. He’s the stop/start quickness for it. He’s more elusive than a lower-the-shoulder type who’ll run through contact. But he’s also got a frame that he could stand to add some mass to so that may come. Nevertheless, McCaffrey is considered the best inside runner in this group who can also run routes like a wideout and help you in the return game. There’s also the matter of how he bailed on Stanford’s bowl game rather than risk hurting his draft stock. Which, depending on how you look at it, was either disloyal to the proud tradition of a school he owes so much to or a well-played FU to the hypocrites who run college football’s Feudal System. I know what NFL personnel people think about it: Nothing. It’s a total non-story.

The Best Running Back in the Draft Who’ll be Available Cheap to Anyone Willing to Deal with the PR Nightmare That Will Ensue:

Joe Mixon, Oklahoma. 6-1, 226 lb, 4.48
Compares to the active ingredient in: David Johnson
Mixon is a physical specimen, right in the sweet spot of the measurables you look for in a feature back. Plus he has the sweet feet, balance and power and ability to run inside or out that show up less at workouts than they do on tape. Unfortunately, the other thing that shows up on tape is him cold-cocking a coed at Oklahoma. He’s done and said all the right things since then, but it’s going to cost him a probable top 10 draft spot and a swimming pool full of money. So he’s in a similar situation to Frank Clark coming out of Michigan when he fell to Seattle in Round 2. Some team willing to ride out the protest tsunami will get a steal.


The Other Sooner Back Who Won’t Cause Millions to March on Your Stadium in Vagina Hats:

Samaje Perine, Oklahoma. 5-11, 233 lb, 4.65
Compares to the active ingredient in: Jerome Bettis
Granted, Bettis had 20 lbs on on Perine, but there still aren’t that many guys his size of comparable weight. Perine came to Oklahoma with an NFL-ready body as a freshman, as Kansas can attest because he crushed them for 427 manly yards on a muy macho 46 carries. He’s physical and tough between the tackles. He’ll run through arm tackles. His ball security is off the charts, with one fumble for every 120 touches. The consensus is his field vision needs to improve and he doesn’t have much burst. But for a team looking for a tough-yardage runner, he’ll be a great pickup. He’s also isn’t carrying Mixon’s Kardashian-like baggage. In fact his reputation is as a good character, Captain Intangibles guy. As demonstrated by this video, if you can deal with the sort of annoying, in-your-face magician guy:

Semi-Famous for Appearing in the Video for Migos’ “Emmitt Smith”:

Alvin Kamara, Tennessee. 5-10, 214, 4.62

Compares to the active ingredient in: Emmitt Smith. Der.
I don’t know how much pull being Migos’ friend will have in NFL offices, but I’ll go out on a limb and say most executives don’t have “Bad and Boujee” on their workout playlists. Fortunately for Kamara he’s got skills. He’s a high-octane, triple threat with explosive speed who can carry the ball, run routes and return kicks. He lined up all over the field and had consistent production wherever they put him.

A Mid-Round Power Back:

D’Onta Foreman, Texas. 6-0, 233 lb, 4.55

Compares to the active ingredient in: Jonathan Stewart
Foreman is a punishing bruiser. He didn’t always play to his size, but he was productive overall, with 7.2 YPA as a sophomore. And crazy durable, with 30+ carries in six of his last seven games. He’s kind of a straight line runner who’ll generally make one cut. He runs with a low center of gravity and will fall forward when you bring him down. He only fumbled once every 55 touches. And though he’s a liablility in pass protection, slow to anticipate and react to a quick rusher. Weirdly, he ended up in Texas because they wanted his brother Armanti, and they became a package deal. He might be available as late as Saturday of the draft for a team who’d like a power back but don’t want to pay Leonard Fournette prices.

The Lightning Round – Complimentary Backs:

Jeremy McNicholls, Boise St. 5-9, 214 lb, 4.49
Compares to the active ingredient in: DeAngelo Williams
Small but sturdy, with a thick, Ewok body. He can catch. But has had fumbling issues and lacks either elite size or speed.

Jamal Williams, BYU. 6-0, 212 lb, 4.59
Compares to the active ingredient in: Stepfan Taylor
A tough, downhill runner who’s not much for jump-cutting or making people miss. He retired then unretired and had his best year in 2016.

Kareem Hunt, Toledo. 5-10, 216 lb, 4.62
Compares to the active ingredient in: Olandis Gary
He plays faster than his 40-time would indicate. He was productive after losing a year to suspension and injury. Because he didn’t face elite competition he needed a strong week at the Senior Bowl and delivered.

Marlon Mack, South Florida. 5-11, 213, 4.50
Compares to the active ingredient in: Denard Robinson
Mack posted three 1,000 yard seasons. He does a little bit of everything and is a quick hitter with instant acceleration. He’s another guy who could stand to hit the gym and add mass. But the good kind of mass, not the Mac from It’s Always Sunny kind.

The Perfect Patriot:

Perine. He just seems like the perfect fit to replace LeGarrette Blount as the Pats’ short yardage/red zone threat. But with their lack of picks I just can’t see him being available when they’re addressing their running back needs. So I’ll say they go with:

James Conner, Pitt. 6-1, 233 lb, 4.67

Compares to the active ingredient in: Dante Hall
I hesitate to go with Conner, but only because I have Pitt’s Nathan Peterman as the Pats’ ideal quarterback. Besides that, he checks every box they love. The Human Joystick is tougher than a week-old bagel. As a sophomore he played through a hip injury to come in third in the nation in rushing yards. Later he fought through an MCL injury. And, oh yeah, Hodgkins Lymphoma, which he kicked the shit out of to come back last season and post 216 carries, 1,000 yards, 16 rushing touchdowns, first team all conference and just about every award with “courage” in its name. He’s a power back with a good forward lean who also caught 21 balls for 302 yards and 4 TDs. The Patriots love versatile, tough sumbitches who have overcome a lot to get back on the field because football is important to them. A lot more than they worry about slow 40 times like his. They’re also prone to say “Don’t mind if we do,” when a talent drops because of health concerns, see Gronk and Marcus Cannon. Conner, declared early as a 4th year junior and maybe would have helped his draft stock if he went back another year. All of which makes him a bargain and the kind of guy they’ll take in the middle to late rounds and let him develop.