Lion’s Den: Too Early NFL Draft RB Preview

The lion knows that Hanz and Franz cant stop talking about Todd Gurley from Georgia and Melvin Gordon from Wisconsin

Look at the Gurley Man.

2015 RB Rankings

Dazzle and I were discussing the state of running backs in the NFL, and came to a surprising conclusion. The position is as important as ever, but the players themselves are not worth an investment. It’s not because they are not good. It’s just the shelf life on an RB just isn’t very long and there are plenty fresh ones waiting to run. They have a 3 year peak maybe tops unless they are a total freak of nature like AP. Chris Johnson ran for 2,000 yards not that long ago. Now, can’t get on field behind Chris Ivory. You lose half a step and you are finished. People on Philly talk radio are already accusing Shady McCoy of losing a step. It happens to all of us. Some guys can adjust if they are really good at reading blocks, but usually they were never fast to begin with (See Knowshon Moreno, Freddie Jackson). If you are uber fast usually you aren’t a patient runner because you have been able to run around people your whole life. Quite a conundrum. Kind of like the guys in the NBA who are good only because they can jump. Once they can’t jump as high or as quickly, they suck, because they never developed any offensive skills. One of the reason Pitt’s Bell is having such a good year this year, he was never a burner so he has always had to have vision to get by. Now that he shed 20 lbs (Dazzle is calling PED’s and he may be right), he combines vision with speed. The best of all time combined both. Emmitt, LaDanian, Sweetness, etc. With the rules favoring pass offense I see the future of the game with guys like Gio Bernard and Darren Sproles. However as an owner I would run my guy into the ground like the Bengals are doing with Gio and not protect him like teams have done with Sproles. Why? You will always be able to replace him with a guy. There are tons of great runners. Last week for the Pats Jonas Gray proved it. As I type this Latavius Murray for Oakland is proving you can get them off the street. See in most teams from midgets to H.S. to even college, the best athletes play RB and QB. Often the RB is a better athlete who simply can’t throw. With the rise of popularity of the game and better training and scouting and coaching, RBs are developed consistently. It’s not that they are no good RBs, it’s that there are tons of good ones. RBs in the NFL are like Lawyers, too many competent ones looking for jobs makes the supply greatly outweigh the demand.

One place where RBs still have value is Fantasy Football. So which college RBs will be drafted by NFL teams and getting carries next year? The Lion knows. Some of the things I look at here are yards per carry, vision, acceleration, cutting ability, and big runs against good defenses.

THE SHOWSTOPPERS

Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin. He was the only back I thought would be drafted in the first round last year. He did something crazy and stayed in school. (Good idea generally, NOT for a RB). Here is what I said about him last year:

He is the right size, 6’1 207, and he runs about a 4.5 40. What I really like about him is that he has great acceleration. He gets up to full speed almost instantly out of his stance. He has averaged 10 yards a carry all season long despite being the feature back in a run first offense. Watching him in a back up role last year, it was clear he was better than Montee Ball (much like it was clear Trent Richardson was better than Mark Ingram at Bama a few years ago). This year has confirmed that he is fast enough and has the right type of vision to be a success in the NFL.

Clearly I am high on the young man’s game. I picked him to win the Heisman this year on the Den. I felt good about it after he ran all over a LSU defense geared to stop him and only him. Gordon finished with 140 yards on 16 carries and a touchdown against the Tigers. He ripped off a 63-yard run to open the third quarter, but only received two more carries as he dealt with a hip injury. The hip injury lingered and he had some quiet weeks after that. Then, he got healthy and showed what he could do. He ran for 253 yards on 13 carries with five touchdowns against Bowling Green. Then last week against a Nebraska, THIS HAPPENED. I feel bad for you if you didn’t watch this game as it happened. Just in case you don’t know, Gordon went for408 rushing yards (a new FBS record, topping LaDainian Tomlinson’s previous mark of 406) and four touchdowns on 25 carries, good for a staggering 16.3 yards per attempt. Most astounding, Gordon accrued those numbers in three quarters . In the second Quarter he ran for more yards that Nebraska gave up to any TEAM in an entire GAME all year. He owns the career record for yards per carry in the history of the NCAA. Its 8.3. I don’t know what else to tell you. He is spectacular. Would I waste a first round pick on him? Nah. Somebody might though. Especially if he runs in the 4.4.s at the combine. I hope he does.

Todd Gurley, Georgia: When healthy, Gurley has been utterly dominant and has shown a great combination of speed and power. The key here is he hasn’t been healthy for a full season yet. He puts up Gordon like numbers in the Ess Eee See, so you have to give that some extra credence. The most impressive thing about his speed IMO is that he even returned kicks for the Dawgs, including one for 100 yards against Clemson. Oh yeah, on that day he finished with 198 yards on 15 carries with 3 tds to go along with that return.  A bigger back, at 6-1 226, chiseled out of stone, I am worried about him being too big of a target and taking too many hits over time. This year its 1 and 1a and everybody else.

SECOND TIER

Duke Johnson, Miami: This guy, like the ones above him, are his teams whole offense. Duke has great vision and is a great cutback runner. He has enough acceleration and top end speed to be a home run threat. I move him down because he has lesser numbers (1343 yards and 7.3 per carry with 10 Tds) than the two guys above him in the ACC. When Duke played Nebraska he only ran for 100 yards, not 400. Just saying. He had a monster game against Virginia Tech (29-249 rushing, 2-37 receiving). He may not get picked till late 2nd early 3rd round, but he will make a team and get carries. He is better than any back who came out last year.

Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska: Another guy who is his whole offense. He is a bit undersized at 5-9 195, and isn’t a blazer/home run hitter, but he is a workhorse for his size. He can catch out of the backfield too, which is probably his most valuable quality. The guys above him on this list cannot do what he does in the passing game. I see him as a Danny Woodhead type, who uses his quick, slashing, cutting and vision to get yards as opposed to going off tackle for 50. I worry about his durability, it feels like he has played for the Huskers for a decade and he has to have taken his share of hits.

Big Plodders

TJ Yeldon Bama, Mike Davis USC. TJ is a little faster and quicker, Davis a little stronger and heavier, but both are 220+ backs in the Bell mode. Yeldon and Davis aren’t fat though like Bell was.  They will be on rosters and be bye week pick up backs for somebody in the JFFL mark my words. They won’t get taken in the first 3 rounds of either the JFFL draft or the first 2 or 3 of NFL one.

Sleeper: Tevin Coleman, Indiana. I can’t ignore this guys production. 1678 yards on 7.8 yards per carry. He has a long of 86. He is a nice size at 6’1 210. If he runs a sub 4.6 dash, I think he will shoot up boards. Check him out.

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