NEPD Staff Writer: Mike Gerken
I am back with another installment of my Big Board project. This time we switch over to the offensive side of the ball and focus in on the running back position. There is a lot of talent in this group and it has been a lot of fun to watch these players. This was a position I struggled with, not so much in the evaluations, but trying to narrow down my board. I didn’t do a very good job of it either. As I stated in my first big board posts, I am trying to come up with a board of around 75 players, and this would be a position I might have to go back and do some final editing to if I exceed my board by too much. Here are the guys that I liked on tape.
Current Roster: LeGarrette Blount, Jonas Gray, Brandon Bolden, Travaris Cadet, James White, Dion Lewis, Tyler Gaffney, James Devlin(FB)
Position Need: Medium
There are a lot of names on the current roster at running back for the Patriots. The problem is, there is so much unknown with those names. I have never been a huge fan of Blount’s. I think he dances too much in the backfield for a guy his size. When he runs aggressive, he is a quality back. Jonas Gray has shown some flashes, but then disappeared. Bolden is what he is, a decent fill in and good special teamer. James White and Tyler Gaffney are the youngsters with potential, but let’s not forget, they were both day 3 picks last year and Gaffney is coming off a knee injury. I will say that if the Patriots do not draft a running back, this is a good sign for those two and the progress or potential that they have shown the coaching staff. Cadet and Lewis look like guys fighting for a chance to play that 3rd down/Shane Vereen role but could be cut just as easily.
Todd Gurley, Georgia (6’0″, 222 Lbs.) 1st round
I think enough has been written about Gurley. We all know that he is a very special back that does everything well. He has great size, speed, vision, and hands to be a player you build your offense around. He is a three down back that opposing teams will have to game plan for. He is coming off an ACL tear and has had some other injury issues that have kept him out of games, but when healthy, he will come into the NFL as already one of the best running backs. I thought for a long time there was a legit chance he would be available at or near the Patriots pick, but that looks to be less likely now and Gurley would be one of the first names to come off my board because of availability.
Jay Ajayi, Boise State (5’11”, 221 Lbs.) 2nd/3rd round
see my report from earlier this year. http://www.nepatriotsdraft.com/2014/11/scouting-report-jay-ajayi-rb.html. I will say, I watched more of him after I wrote the article and thought he ran tougher than I first scouted and do think he could be a 3 down back at this point.
Duke Johnson, Miami (5’9″, 207 Lbs.) 3rd round
I really like Duke Johnson. He is not the biggest, but he is put together well and while I don’t think he is a true 3 down back, I think he can be more than just a 3rd down back in the NFL. He is explosive and decisive as a runner and he has excellent hands. I think he could be a more explosive version of Shane Vereen and would excel in that role as well as a guy who could take additional snaps as a traditional running back. He will need to improve on his pass protection, but he is willing.
Tevin Coleman, Indiana (5’11”, 206 Lbs.) 3rd round
see my report from earlier this year. http://www.nepatriotsdraft.com/2014/11/scouting-report-tevin-coleman-rb.html. After Gurley, all these guys end up ranked very close together. If Coleman can improve on his pass catching and pass protection, he could be elite.
Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska (5’8″, 205 Lbs.) 3rd round
once again, please check out my earlier scouting report on Abdullah. http://www.nepatriotsdraft.com/2014/10/scouting-report-ameer-abdullah-rb-nebraska.html
David Cobb, Minnesota (5’10”, 207 Lbs.) 4th round
I see a lot of Steven Ridley in David Cobb’s game. Cobb has nice balance, good bulk, and vision. He is a patient runner that fights for his yards and rarely gets knocked back. He has very few negative plays and maximizes his opportunities on each carry. Like Ridley, he does not have that breakaway speed or the dynamic movement skills to make bigger plays. Cobb has some fumbling issues as well and while he caught some passes out of the backfield, it is not something to rely on as a strength.
David Johnson, Northern Iowa (6’0″, 224 Lbs.) 4th round
Johnson is a big runner with NFL size. Looks more like a linebacker than running back. Powerful inside runner with good vision and anticipation. Johnson will make defenders pay for trying to tackle him. He likes to lower his shoulder and deliver the hit rather than be hit. Johnson does run upright which leaves his chest open to take big hits. He has amazing hands and will be a real threat as a pass catcher. He could even play some H-back with his size and hands combination. He tends to dance in the backfield trying to make a bigger play rather than taking what is available, which I do not like. He has good straight line speed, but lacks agility to make cuts and keep his momentum going.
Mike Davis, South Carolina (5’9″, 217 Lbs.) 4th/5th round
Davis is a compact runner with good balance, vision, and a nasty streak. He takes on tacklers and punishes them, getting extra yardage in the process. Not overly fast but keeps up his momentum in and out of cuts, making him faster and more difficult to bring down. Davis has shown to be an above average option as a receiver with reliable hands and good route running. His size at the next level could be an issue as he wore down as the season went on and dealt with injuries after getting the starting job. His 2013 tape much more impressive than 2014 and there have been questions about his work ethic.
Jeremy Langford, Michigan State (5’11”, 208 Lbs.) 5th round
Langford is another hard nosed runner that fights for every yard and then some. Langford is not flashy and although he timed very well at the combine, does not play up to that speed. Langford is a stiff runner with very little lateral movement skills. He is a reliable pass catcher, but not dynamic. I think Langford can be a productive NFL running back, but won’t be flashy and won’t be someone other teams game plan for or fear.
Tyler Varga, Yale (5’10”, 222 Lbs.) 6th round
Don’t let anyone tell you Varga will be a full back in the NFL. Varga is a rocked up runner that looks to punish defenders. He plays at a 100 mph 100 percent of the time. He is a gym rat with an impressive work habit. He doesn’t have long speed to be a home run threat and is an average receiver. Varga gives everything he has as a blocker, but is inconsistent and will need to learn better technique. Varga is a try hard player that will out hustle and out work just about everyone. He also has some value on special teams as well.
Malcolm Brown, Texas (5’11”, 224 Lbs.) 6th/7th round
It is players like Brown that make me love this running back draft class. Let’s say you miss out on Jay Ajayi, well guess what, you can get the same player (from a measureables standpoint) 4 or 5 rounds later in Brown. Brown is a tough runner that is tough to bring down with just one defender. One of his best qualities is his ball handling, with just one fumble in his career. Too me, it looks like he either thinks too much or doesn’t process very quickly because he dances too much in the backfield for my liking. When he runs with more decisiveness, he is very good and if he is going to make it in the NFL, he has to do that consistently.
John Crockett, North Dakota State (5’11”, 217 Lbs.) 7th rounder
Crockett is another well built running back that runs with anger and like he has something to prove. Not a dynamic pass catcher but improved over his career. Crockett does run upright which leaves him open to the big hit. His running style also leaves him with poor balance and too many times guys could take him down by swiping at his lower legs. Very productive in college and a 4 time national champion, but he had a lot of carries in college and his shelf life in the NFL might be shorter than other because of it. Crockett is a talker, but in a positive way and should be a good locker room presence.
Malcolm Agnew, Southern Illinois (5’8″, 205 Lbs.)
Terrell Watson, Azusa Pacific (6’0″, 239 Lbs.) almost gave him a draftable grade, but just not enough tape to go off of. That size and speed though are enticing.
Terrance Magee, LSU (5’8″, 213 Lbs.)
Michael Dyer, Louisville (5’8″, 218 Lbs.)
Kenny Hillard, LSU (5’11”, 226)
Thomas Rawls, Central Michigan (5’9″, 215 Lbs.)
Like I said earlier, this was a tough position to edit down. This class is loaded with talent, with guys like Buck Allen and Zach Zenner who didn’t even make my list but have draftable grades. It will be interesting to see if, when, or who the Patriots take come draft time.