On Thursday, April 30 the 32 NFL franchises will gather for the 80th time for their officially named “NFL Player Selection Meeting”. This year the “draft”, as we commonly know it, will move out of New York to Chicago.
Today we look at intriguing running back options for the Green Bay Packers. It is almost a given that with glaring needs at other positions the Packers wouldn’t select a running back in round one. Rounds two through seven however are another matter. In addition there are candidates who would be available post-draft who might add depth to the running back position and bolster an anemic kickoff-return team.
The running backs as a group are a strength of this 2015 NFL draft and there is considerable debate as to where each running back might be chosen. With so many quality backs who may be available in mid to late rounds it probably means that we will not see many running back picks in rounds 1 – 3 again this year, but many will be selected in the mid-rounds.
Here is our analysis:
Round One: Running backs with round one grades include Wisconsin All-American Melvin Gordon and Georgia’s Todd Gurley. Just two years removed from selecting Eddie Lacy, who emerged in his first year to earn ROY honors, it would be shocking to see the Packers jump on a running back in round one. ESPN draft prognosticator Mel Kiper projects Gordon as a first rounder (24th to Arizona). NFL.COM football analyst Bucky Brooks in his latest mock draft (2.0) has Gurley going to the Seattle Seahawks at #31 in the first round.
Former Wisconsin Badger (Running Back U) Melvin Gordon led all of the FBS with 2,587 rushing along with an eye-popping 29 touchdowns. At 6’ 1” and 215 lbs. Gordon offer great size, tremendous vision and an impressive burst for this patient runner. He is an able although not accomplished receiver out of the backfield and is a willing blocker. Powerfully built he has been major-injury free in college. While learning the ropes behind fellow Badgers and current NFL backs Montee Ball and James White he does not have a ton of carries over his college career.
Georgia running back Todd Gurley entered the year looking to solidify his position as the top NFL prospect at his position, before a torn ACL ended his year prematurely. To NFL teams they must decide if his injury will affect his production at the next level and become a cause for his drop beyond round one. At 6’ 1” and a sculpted 226 lbs. Gurley has run the 40 yard dash in 4.46 seconds. He cuts well, is an able receiver and blocker and compares favorably to NFL great and former first round pick Marshawn Lynch in size, speed, elusiveness and production.
Where these two accomplished runners are one-two on my draft card, there is hardly a consensus that Gurley and Gordon will indeed be the top two backs off the board.
Round Two – three: During the 2013 NFL draft the top running backs surprisingly dropped to round two before being selected, including the Packers own Eddie Lacy. I see a similar scenario this year with Gordon and Gurley still being available in round two, perhaps as late as 30, and the Packers would have to be intrigued if either were available.
More realistic options available to the Packers should they chose to consider a runner in rounds 2 – 3 are the next tier of outstanding running backs. Depending on the team’s individual preferences those names include: T.J. Yeldon, Alabama, Tevin Coleman, Indiana, Duke Johnson, Miami (Fla.), or Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska. Expect these four to be selected for their board value on day 2.
T.J. Yeldon is yet another high quality back from football factory The University of Alabama. He has great size at 6’1” and 225 lbs. He was clocked at a speedy 4.42 seconds in the 40 yard dash and can cut on a dime. Yeldon averaged five yards per carry in 2014 for 979 yards with 11 touchdowns for the Crimson Tide. He also recorded 15 receptions for 180 yards and a touchdown during this past season. Not known for his burst, he does possess good pass catching ability and possesses a high upside which would be very tempting to many running back needy NFL clubs.
Tevin Coleman has very good size at 6’ 1” and weighing 210 lbs. Despite being on a less-than-powerhouse Indiana Hoosiers team he averaged 7.5 yards per carry for 2,036 yards with 15 touchdowns. The junior also caught 25 receptions for 141 yards. He was known for his breakaway speed with home run potential any time he gets his hands on the ball.
Duke Johnson is smallish at 5’09” and 200 lbs. but has good speed at 4.59 seconds in the 40 yard dash, and averaged an impressive 6.8 yards per carry while scoring 10 touchdowns his senior year at Miami. He showed explosiveness and a great feel running in space and a good burst once he creases the line of scrimmage. In addition he might be the best receiver of all of the running backs available this year. Matt Miller of Bleacher Report has even gone so far to say that Johnson is better than Gurley and Gordon and could indeed be a first round selection.
Ameer Abdulah is also a shorter but a tough and shifty back at 5’ 09” and 198 lbs. Abdullah averaged 6.1 yards per carry in 2014 for 1,611 yards with 19 touchdowns. He added 22 receptions for 269 yards and three touchdowns as well. Abdullah also features a refined pass-catching ability and offers the option of being the primary punt and kickoff returner. For the Packers, finding an effective return man prior to next season is a high priority for the Packers Special Teams success.
Round Four – Five: Two running backs who seem to have gained momentum recently are Mike Davis of South Carolina and Jay Ajayi from Boise State. Where we see them dropping to the mid-rounds, there are others who project the two could easily become day two picks (rounds 2-3).
Mike Davis is a 5’ 9”, 223 lb. running back who runs a 4.55 second 40 yard dash. Davis averaged 5.8 yards per carry on the year with 1,183 yards and 11 touchdowns. Davis endured an injury plagued season in 2014 causing him to miss multiple games and that could be a red flag to potential NFL employers. Based on ability and past accomplishments Davis would seem to be a solid mid-round pick, but his injury issues may cause his draft position to fall to rounds 5-7 or even a free agent.
6’ 0”, 222 lb. Jay Ajayi from Boise State has been a hot-rising commodity as of late and mentioned in the same breathe as the backs mentioned previously. He has been compared to Seattle Seahawk great Marshawn Lynch in that he is a hard-pounding complete back with both explosiveness and power. Some experts have Ajayi ranked as high as the second round given his production in college and projection in the pro game where he could be a three down back. It would not be surprising to see him taken much higher and could be a day-two selection.
Round Five – Seven: Javorius Allen, USC, David Johnson, Northern Iowa, Josh Robinson, Mississippi State, David Cobb, Minnesota and Jeremy Langford, Michigan State and Cameron Artis-Payne, Auburn round out our view of the top draft-able running backs.
Javorius Allen is a 6’ 0”, 224 lbs. workhorse running back for the Trojans who runs a 4.54 second 40 yard dash. He averaged 5.4 yards per carry for 1,489 yards with 11 touchdowns rushing touchdowns. As a receiver, he had 41 catches for 458 yards and one touchdown.
At 6’ 1”, with a 4.60 second 40 yard dash time, David Johnson is a powerful running back who hits the hole hard. During this past season Johnson ran for 1,553 yards and collected another 1,000 yards in all-purpose yardage. He seems to have ability as a returner which would seem to be an attraction for the Packers.
Josh Robinson played well for a surprising Mississippi State team this past season and is considered a solid back. He is stout and tough, but does not have star-power written all over him as many of the other backs available.
David Cobb played in the run-happy BIG 10 conference and distinguished himself on an improved Minnesota Golden Gopher football team. At 5’ 11” and 229 lbs. he is a thickly-built power runner comparing favorably to Todd Gurley in that respect. His speed and agility come into question limiting his big play production at the next level.
Jeremy Langford is similarly a product of the BIG 10 playing on a strong Michigan State program. He has a reputation as a durable back at 6’ 0” and 208 lbs. and deceptive speed. His blocking skills are at least adequate and although he may not be a feature back at the next level, he is projected to be a solid NFL player for years to come.
Cameron Artis-Payne was the go-to back at Auburn University. His 1,608 yards this past year was the third-best rushing season in Auburn history where he led the SEC at 123.7 yds per game. He was voted first team all-SEC (coaches, AP) and SI.com honorable mention All-America. Artis-Payne was also a Doak Walker Award semifinalist who scored 13 TD for the year. He produced 126 yards in 26 carries with two scores at the Outback Bowl in the loss to Big 10 opponent Wisconsin.
Possible Free Agents: Kenny Hilliard, LSU, Matt Jones, Florida, Michael Dyer, Louisville, Dee Hart, Colorado State and John Crockett, North Dakota State round out our view of the top running backs available for the 2015 NFL draft.
For the Packers, adding running backs into roster competition is a no-brainer. It is also a given that someone most probably from the running back, wide receiver or defensive back group will need to emerge as a quality kick and /or punt returner. If I am a betting man I would say that a young running back with return skills and speed would classify as a moderate to high need on the Packers draft wish list.
There will be plenty of valid pre-draft debate as to where all of these quality running backs are ranked. Where they ultimately will be chosen however is up to the teams who draft them and the perception of success at the next level.
Let the debate begin!——————
Jeff Albrecht grew up just north of Green Bay and was lucky enough to attend some of the Lombardi Era classic games, like the 1962 championship and the Ice Bowl. Jeff went on to play HS football in the Green Bay area and College ball at UW - Stevens Point. Jeff is retired but still does some writing for his local paper. Jeff is a writer with AllGreenBayPackers.com and you can follow him on twitter at @pointerjeff .