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Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio State Buckeyes (January 1, 2016)

Ezekiel Elliott – © USA TODAY Sports Images

New York Giants 2016 NFL Draft Preview: Running Backs

by BigBlueInteractive.com Contributor Sy’56

*These rankings and grades are based somewhat on NYG schemes and perspective.

WHERE THEY STAND

Over the past three years, the Jerry Reese regime has brought in 3 RBs to be a serious part of the rotation. 31 year old Rashad Jennings has been the group’s top option, averaging just over 4 yards per carry and adding a couple catches per game. Andre Willians is the lone draft pick of the trio and has been nothing worth discussing outside of a few solid preseason runs. Shane Vereen was signed last spring in an effort to enhance their pass catching out of the backfield. He was used sporadically and the scheme struggled to get him a consistent flow of touches. Orleans Darkwa showed off some young, fresh legs and ran hard when given the chance. He was the one back that has a sense of big play ability. NYG has struggled to piece together a strong rushing attack for years now. It’s partially a personnel issue and partially an OL issue.

TOP 15 GRADES AND ANALYSIS

1 – EZEKIEL ELLIOTT – 6’0/226 – OHIO STATE: 84

Third year junior. All American back that has rushed for 3,699 yards over the past two seasons combined, number one in the country. Elliott is a three down back with the body to take hits between the tackles and keep the chains moving, but also more than enough ability to break off the big runs. He has powerful acceleration and good-enough speed. He holds on to the ball and is a reliable, consistent rusher. His main issues revolve around a sense of self-entitlement, as he’s called out the coaching staff to the media following a loss. Elliott has some “all about me” in him. He will grade out above average-to-elite across the board physically, however. Definite long time starter potential. NYG will need to consider Elliott at #10 overall. He would be the second best skill position player (Manning not included) on this team right away. The notion that first round picks shouldn’t be 1st rounders is baseless. Elliott makes this offense more dangerous week 1 and there is no denying that. His running style is perfect for the NFL.

Upside Pro Comparison: Arian Foster – UFA

2 – KENNETH DIXON – 5’10/215 – LOUISIANA TECH: 80

Accomplished career. If it weren’t for Navy QB Keenan Reynolds, Dixon would have left college as the all time leader in TDs in FBS. Dixon is the best two way threat among the RBs in this class. He is an elite receiver out of the backfield with hands that are better than most of the WRs in this class, no exaggeration. He can even be split out wide and run routes like an accomplished pro WR. Dixon has Marshall Faulk in him. He is a hard nosed game that understands game situations and it shows every game. He can lower his shoulder and gain tough yards with a quick approach to the line. He can bounce things outside and play games with defenders in space. He understands the nuances of blocking and finding the blitzers. Dixon is a guy that wont need to come off the field. What’s not to like? He may have a hard time holding up in the league? He saw a lot of touches over his 4 year career in which he started from the beginning. He also has average top end speed. I care more about quickness and change of direction than I do straight line speed, but I have seen him get caught from behind a few times. Dixon is a starting back in the league and if he can stay healthy, could be an all purpose yard machine.

Upside Pro Comparison: Marshall Faulk – RET

3 – PAUL PERKINS – 5’10/208 – UCLA: 79

Fourth year junior. Team’s leading rusher in the 2014 and 2015 seasons respectively despite battling a nagging knee injury this past fall. Perkins may not have the body or running style to be an every down back, but his ability to make something out of nothing cannot go overlooked. He has the rare, hard to find ability to completely change direction while moving at full speed at anytime. His top end speed and lack of size may limit his touches week in, week out however he is a prime candidate for a committee approach. If he can find an offense that needs someone to offset a between the tackles, chain moving bruiser, Perkins will excel. I have a higher grade on Perkins than what I see out there. He has the kind of talent that can change how an offense approaches thing, which ended up happening at UCLA after 2013. Perkins may not have the ideal situation here in NY because of Vereen’s presence, but NYG hasn’t had a back that can move in and out of traffic like this since the early days of Tiki Barber. He may not be the ideal every down guy, but he is a dangerous playmaker that defenses are afraid to see with the ball in space.

Upside Pro Comparison: Lesean McCoy – BUF

4 – ALEX COLLINS – 5’10/217 – ARKANSAS: 76

Third year junior. SEC Freshman of the Year and Freshman All American in 2013. Has rushed for 1,000+ yards all three seasons respectively of his career. Collins has the goods. He is an explosive downhill runner that approaches the line with anger and aggression. Collins is tough to bring down on initial contact but he also has elite level footwork and balance that allow him to adjust at the last second in traffic. He can make defenders miss but also has the option to run them over at any point. His off-field maturity issues appear to be behind him now and his speed in space is average. One thing I’ve noticed inmy secondary review of him is how exposed his legs are to tacklers. He has a tendency to run high and he has a weird body shape. Very thin lower body, especially beneath his knees. He may be a guy that has a hard time staying healthy in the NFL. While I know it may seem I am over-analyzing to a fault, it’s a legit concern for me. All this in mind, I still think Collins can be a starter with big time upside, I’m just not as sure of him as I once was.

5 – DANIEL LASCO – 6’0/209 – CALIFORNIA: 74

Fifth year senior. Battled an injury-riddled career but showed glimpses of being an effective, explosive inside runner. Lasco has an aggressive nature about him when running north/south. He has the ability to improve the physical side of an offense with his bruiser mentality and willingness to block pass rushers. Lasco has been battling lower body injuries over the past two years, mainly hip and ankle tweaks in 2015. If you watched him on the wrong week, you would have thought Lasco was a below-average back with average athletic ability. But make no mistake here, Lasco has elite explosion and open field speed. There are some backs that jump off the screen when it comes to their approach to the line. Lasco is one of those guys. He is a borderline reckless runner. He is the complete opposite of the back that you hate to watch tip toe to the line and show fear when approaching tacklers. Lasco is angry and aggressive with a developing skill set. The extras are that he blocks extremely well and he proved to be an effective special team defender.

Upside Pro Comparison – Donald Brown – NE

6 – DERRICK HENRY – 6’2/247 – ALABAMA: 74

Junior entry. 2015 Heisman Trophy, Doak Walker, and Maxwell Award winner respectively. Set the all time single season SEC rushing and TD records. Elite production after an elite High School career. Henry was a man among boys most weeks throughout his entire career. He has a rare size and speed combination. His foot speed while moving downhill and in to the open field is very good. He has the speed to make big plays and the power to move the chains throughout an entire game. His struggles come from overly long legs and maybe too much height. Defenders get a ton of big hits on his lower half and will likely fight nagging injuries throughout his whole career. His lateral quickness and ability to cut in and out of lanes is also very limited. That’s the thing that deters me from making him a 1st or 2nd rounder. Backs that can change direction always make me look in another direction. One could make the argument that Henry could be a part of an elite rotation for sure. He can be a 10-15 carry per game guy that will get more in weeks where a team needs to grind out the clock in the second half. I’m just not confident he will stay healthy and I think there are power backs that can be just as effective but can also do more with the ball in their hands laterally. He will be a role player at the next level but in a committee approach, he can be an important piece.

Upside Pro Comparison – Latavius Murray – OAK

7 – DEVONTAE BOOKER – 5’11/219 – UTAH: 74

Spent two years at Utah following a two year stint at American River Junior College. Booker played a part time role in his first three games for Utah, but quickly took over the offense and performed his way to two straight First Team All Pac 12 seasons. Booker is an every down threat with his ability to dominate between the tackles, catch the ball out of the backfield, and pick up pass rushers and at the very least get in their way. He lacks the star-caliber speed and agility and he won’t be a big time power back, but he has stating potential because he is very good at everything a back needs to be good at. There are issues with his ball security and toughness to break tackles, two things that are major parts of the grading process for me. The offensive system at Utah was set up for well for Booker as well, so I’m not sure this kid would have been that productive in every situation. He is a risk but one with big potential dividends.

Upside Pro Comparison – Lamar Miller – HOU

8 – DEANDRE WASHINGTON – 5’8/204 – TEXAS TECH: 73

Fifth year senior that tore his ACL in late November of 2011, forcing him to miss the 2012 season. Scat back type that can be a playmaker in the right role. Can be a dangerous third down back that will create a lot by himself in space. Team player that will run hard, block hard, and make things happen. Washington was one of my favorite players to watch this past season. He is all out, all the time. He’s the guy that you forget about his size when watching him. He won’t ever be a move-the-chains rusher or a guy that gets 15-20 carries per game, but his impact can be there weekly. Very quick and savvy. Tougher to bring down than you would think. Lacks star power but can fill a role for a team looking for an offset to a big power back.

Upside Pro Comparison – Giovani Bernard – CIN

9 – JONATHAN WILLIAMS – 5’11/220 – ARKANSAS: 73

Fourth year senior entry that missed his final season because of a foot injury. Williams was part of a lethal two back attack that ranked among the nation’s leaders in yards. His bruiser approach is best suited for north/south running. He can be a hard guy to bring down initially especially if he can learn how to run with a lower pad level. Once in the open field, Williams has shown the ability to make things happen on his own as well. He has an upside of being versatile rushing threat and pass blocker, but most likely of backup caliber. Don’t sleep on his potential to be THE guy in a backfield. If it weren’t for the injury, Williams could have easily been a top 5 guy on this list. I wouldn’t be surprised if a team took a flier on him much earlier in the draft than where I have him pegged.

Upside Pro Comparison – Marion Barber III – RET

10 – CJ PROSISE – 6’0/220 – NOTRE DAME: 73

Fourth year junior. Made the move to RB in 2015 after spending two years as a wide receiver and top special teams defender. Prosise has the triangle numbers and hustle-approach that coaches will want to work with. Just one year’s worth of carries will make him attractive as well considering he’ll have taken a much lesser beating than most college running backs. All in all, he lacks the vision, natural feel, and quick twitch of a difference maker. He is a developmental back that can excel as a special teams gunner early in his career while he tries to figure out the position. I don’t think we are looking at elite upside but there are tools here that NFL coaches like to work with.

Upside Pro Comparison – Rashad Jennings – NYG

11 – TRA CARSON – 5’11/227 – TEXAS A& M: 72

Fifth year senior. Started off at Oregon and was the Ducks’ fourth leading rusher in 2011. Transferred to the Aggies in 2012 and ended up as the team’s leading rusher in 2014 and 2015. Carson appears to be a short yardage specialist in the NFL. He runs behind his pads and can carry defenders downfield consistently. He is very consistent at breaking through initial contact with defenders and falling forward. You can call him one dimensional but I think with these rotations becoming a team by team thing almost, there is value with him. While he lacks dynamic speed and agility, he can carve himself a role somewhere.

Upside Pro Comparison – Joique Bell – DET

12 – JORDAN HOWARD – 6’0/230 – INDIANA: 72

Third year junior. Played 2013 and 2014 seasons at UAB prior to the program shutting down. Set the single season rushing record there in 2014 (1,587 yards). First Team All Big 10 in 2015 Howard appears to be a short yardage specialist when looking at his body type and ability to deliver blows to defenders. He has more breakaway ability than you think if he reaches the second and third level of the defense. His struggles revolve around initial contact with the ball if his running lane isn’t there. He takes too long to locate or anticipate running lanes. His power can be used in short yardage situations but when considering his running style in combination with a lack of receiving and blocking skills, his role in the NFL will be tough to create. For a guy this thick,, you would think he has a more physical side to him. I have heard some off-field concerns about him as well. Lacks the versatility and specialty of one aspect to the position. Guys like that are a risk but Howard is a guy that some people really like. High ceiling, low floor.

Upside Pro Comparison – Terrence West – BAL

13 – KENYAN DRAKE – 6’0/210 – ALABAMA: 72

Fourth year senior. A lot of hype surrounding this kid early on, as he’s always been a part of the RB rotation. Drake has been marred by injuries the past two years. When he’s on the field though, you are talking about elite level explosion and speed. He scares defenses every time he touches the ball. And we aren’t talking about a little guy here, he’s got some meat on those bones. If he can get the ball in space, he can outrun anyone. He won’t do much to create on his own though and he just doesn’t have the feel for finding lanes and creases. Dynamic threat but he is not a fit for every team.

Upside Pro Comparison – Reggie Bush – UFA

14 – KELVIN TAYLOR – 5’10/207 – FLORIDA: 70

Third year junior. Son of former NFL Running Back Fred Taylor, 16th on the all time NFL rushing list. Somewhat of a surprise early declaration here considering Taylor never quite had a breakout season. His tools are limited when looking at his triangle numbers and there isn’t anything that overly stands out about his game. He can be a productive runner in a zone scheme with his easy cut and go ability, but a lack of size and top end speed could make him disappear in to the pack of running backs in this class. The relation to his father is something scouts and GMs alike take very seriously. He is a feel-runner in that the anticipation and reactions make him play faster than he times. There is a shot his best football is way ahead of him.

Upside Pro Comparison – James White – NE

15 – PEYTON BARBER – 5’10/228 – AUBURN: 69

Third year sophomore entry that surprised many with his early declaration. There are family financial issues he is chasing after. Barber has an ideal running back body. He has a very thick lower half and understands how to win the leverage battle to take advantage of it. He shows jump cut ability and can really explode when moving downhill. He may be restricted to inside running in the league but he can be a very effective short yardage specialist.

Upside Pro Comparison – Alfred Morris – DAL

THE REST (16-25)

16 – JOSH FERGUSON – ILLINOIS – 5’9/198: 68
16 – DEVON JOHNSON – 6’0/238: 68
17 – TYLER ERVIN – 5’10/192 – SAN JOSE STATE: 68
28 – KEITH MARSHALL – 5’11/219 – GEORGIA: 66
19 – KEENAN REYNOLDS – 5’11/205 – NAVY: 68
20 – JORDAN CANZERI – 5’9/192 – IOWA: 67
21 – MARSHAUN COPRICH – 5’8/207 – ILLINOIS STATE: 66
22 – JHURREL PRESSLEY – 5’10/203 – NEW MEXICO: 66
23 – DWAYNE WASHINGTON – 6’2/226 – WASHINGTON: 66
24 – AARON GREEN – 5’11/202 – TCU: 63
25 – WENDELL SMALLWOOD – 5’10/208: 63

NYG APPROACH

To start off, I am in the camp that believes NYG needs a massive upgrade at RB. Just as I am against the general flow when it comes to LBs still being very important in the 4-3 defense, I believe a special talent in RB should not be passed on if you can grab one. This really is a one-back class. Ezekiel Elliott is the only one worth considering in the top 25-30 picks. With NYG sitting at #10, I think they need to at the very least consider him a strong option. The issue is, Reese has spent a draft pick and two straight years of free agency money on the position. Is he too proud to admit those assets simply aren’t enough and he needs to use another prime pick on the group? Or will he understand this may very well be his last shot and bringing in a day one starter and potential game-changer could literally save his job? Elliott is NFL-ready for all three downs. He is better than any NYG running back and I don’t care what Vereen did with the Patriots years ago, I don’t care what Jennings did late in the year, and I don’t care what Williams looked like during preseason. The decision whether or not to draft Elliott at #10 should have nothing to do with them. If you’re asking me, he is on a very short list of guys I am considering at that pick. After him, I think NYG can find a value after round 3 or 4. There are a lot of RBs graded very closely and some of them will slip. But then you are bringing in another “eh” back. There are some names in here with interesting upside (Lasco/Collins/Booker to name a few) that would be nice to have on the bottom of the depth chart. I understand “you can get good RBs late in the draft” but look around, there are a lot of VERY GOOD running backs taken in the 1st. And there are a lot of VERY GOOD players at other positions taken late in the draft. Going in with certain “rules” for specific positions will limit a team from getting to the next level.

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