The Turf Report Mid-Season Rankings: Upperclassmen on Patriots’ Radar

NCAA Football: Wisconsin at Northwestern

Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon could join former teammate James White in New England’s backfield next season. (Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports)

NEPD Staff Writer: Ken Vetrano

With the Turf Report taking the past couple weeks off, figured it would be appropriate to return with some mid-season rankings. Lets take a look at who’s stood out from the pack, and which amateur backs might be donning a flying Elvis on their helmet next fall?

Last Sunday’s season ending knee injury to Stevan Ridley has cast some uncertainty in Foxborough as to what the Patriots will do after this season at running back. Both Rildey and Shane Vereen are impending free agents, and there’s no guarantee either will return after 2014. The following are potential Junior and Senior prospects that should be appealing to New England this spring. I broke them down into three tiers and detailed the ones that could land on Belichick’s radar.

First Tier (Rounds 1-2)

Melvin Gordon: JR, Wisconsin, 6’1” 207lbs
Todd Gurley: JR, Georgia, 6’1” 226lbs

It’s splitting hairs when talking about Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon. Both players are worthy of 1st round picks in my opinion, and could be lead backs on many NFL rosters right now. Whether a team feels that position warrants a 1st round pick will ultimately determine where they’re selected. Gurley will most likely be taken first, leaving Gordon as the consolation prize.

Personally, Gordon is my favorite RB in college football. He harnesses all of his athletic gifts to construct a complete game. He’s explosive and relentless once he gets going. Many will argue Gurley has been just as impressive, and done so in a tougher conference, however in my eyes Gordon edges him out by the smallest margin. I’m curious how much Gurley’s recent suspension will effect him, if at all heading into the draft. Adding either of these backs would improve New England’s running game dramatically. Belichick has already dipped into the Wisconsin RB jar once for James White, would he do it again picking Gordon?

Second Tier (Rounds 2-4)

Ameer Abdullah: SR, Nebraska, 5’9” 195lbs
Tevin Coleman: JR, Indiana, 6’1” 210lbs
Javorius Allen: JR, Southern California, 6’1” 220lbs

Ameer Abdullah is off to a tremendous start this season, taking advantage of his small frame by getting inside defenders. He’s a quick back who’s not afraid of contact or getting physical. Teams may rank him lower than other RB’s in this year’s class do to his stature, but Abdullah is more than just a 3rd down back and will be able to handle a more robust role at the next level. Javorius Allen has excellent size and would be a more than suitable replacement for Stevan Ridley. Just like the RB’s mentioned beforehand, Allen is an effective pass catcher who extends his value after 2nd down. In many ways Tevin Coleman is the poor man’s version of Gurley and Gordon, nice speed and athletic ability, but just outside the top tier for now.

Third Tier (Rounds 4-7)

Duke Johnson: JR, Miami, 5’9” 206lbs
David Cobb: SR, Minnesota, 5’11” 229lbs
Josh Robinson: JR, Mississippi State, 5’9” 215lbs
Jeremy Langford: SR, Michigan State, 6’1” 208lbs
T.J. Yeldon: JR, Alabama, 6’2” 221lbs

Josh Robinson’s game reminds me so much of Maurice Jones-Drew. He’s a stocky framed back with a pair of thunder thighs that don’t stop churning. Robinson uses his low center of gravity effectively, and is a reliable option through the air as well. Question is, how much of his production is due to playing with Dak Prescott? Duke Johnson is one of the most talented backs in the country, and has the speed to be a game breaker in New England’s offense. While Jeremy Langford shares many of the qualities that his old stable mate and current Steelers’ RB Le’Veon Bell encompasses. Langford, T.J. Yeldon and David Cobb would all provide power between the tackles and have enough wiggle to make plays around the edge.

Other Notable Options: Jay Ajayi, Mike Davis, D.J. Foster, Cameron Artis-Payne, Byron Marshall

Best Fits:

Melvin Gordon, Javorius Allen

I’m not sure what exactly Belichick will be looking for this spring. If the Patriots don’t choose to resign Vereen or Ridley, than double dipping in the draft might be their approach again. A lot depends on whether or not younger backs like James White and Jonas Gray can emerge this season. Ideally, White would become Vereen’s replacement in the passing game, maybe more. They already have Tyler Gaffney mending on IR, who could also become a factor heading into next year. Many variables exist, but my best prediction would be that New England looks to add at least one more body at the position via the draft. If Melvin Gordon is available when they pick in the 2nd round, that would be my choice. If Gordon is gone by that point, then Javorius Allen – who not only offers size, but some versatility as well – would be a more than viable option during rounds 3 and 4.


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6 Responses to “The Turf Report Mid-Season Rankings: Upperclassmen on Patriots’ Radar”

  1. Alex (freemanator) says:

    Absolutely no way TJ Yeldon makes it to the 4th round or beyond without currently unknown/happened serious injury concerns arising. The man could be the perfect back for our offense. Has the size, vision and moves to run between the tackles, as well as the hands and shiftiness to be a threat in the passing game. I can’t see him making it to our second pick, and I would snap him up in the third round.

    • Ken Vetrano says:

      Alex, I don’t disagree. I would imagine Yeldon will be taken before the 4th round, these are just simply mid-season rankings based on 2014 performances. So far, Yeldon has underwhelmed me compared to his entire body of work. I could easily see backs like Yeldon and Mike Davis being taken before the 4th, but based on this season, and this season alone, I have them ranked lower. Going forward, that positioning could change, and likely will by season’s end.

      • Alex (freemanator) says:

        Fair enough, I’d have thought when players were ranked in draft terms, then whole bodies of work were being considered.

  2. Russell says:

    RB is a tough postiton to look at for the Patriots. I doubt Ridley is resigned, Vereen will be I think. Gaffney was a heads up pick-up by Bill, who is clearly thinking ahead. I don’t see the Patriots taking a RB 1, or 2 in the draft, 3 or 4 seems more likely.
    I like David Johnson 6’1 5/8″ 229lbs. out of Northern Iowa. Not the best speed (4.59 40yd) but a play-maker, hard runner, with outstanding hands in the passing game. Runs very good routes much like a TE, and above average blocker for a RB.

    • steve earle says:

      No idea if Ridley is resigned or not but agree RB not to be taken high in draft. Bill needs to focus on rebuilding the lines, offense and defense with priority on Off.

  3. Michael says:

    I saw Buck Allen for USC last week, the U of AZ defense was able to bottle him up for the most part, but when he was able to break into the 2nd level, he was picking up big yards and had 2 TD runs of over 30 yards in the 1st half. I would have to think NE invests more into the Tier 2 guys unless Gurley/Gordon fall into their lap in the 1st round. With the RB position in next year’s draft, Belichick is in the candy store because all 10 guys (especially the Tier 2 guys you mentioned, it’s round peg in round hole situation) fit very well.

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