New York Giants 2017 NFL Draft Preview: Running Backs
by BigBlueInteractive.com Contributor Sy’56
WHERE THEY STAND
After a solid but unspectacular three year tenure with NYG, the team cut ties with Rashad Jennings. The league’s 29th ranked rushing attack can at least be partially blamed on the offensive line, but the talent running with the ball in their hands wasn’t inspiring to say the least. Paul Perkins flashed in the second half of his rookie season and Shane Vereen averaged almost 5 yards per carry in his limited opportunities. Shaun Draughn and Orleans Darkwa are solid bodies to have on the depth chart. This team lacks power presence in the backfield.
TOP 15 GRADES AND ANALYSIS
1 – Dalvin Cook – 5’10/210 – Florida State: 83
Summary: Junior entry. All time leading rusher in Florida State history. 2nd all time in the ACC conference. Unanimous All American in 2016. Cook is a dangerous threat to take it to the house each time he touches the ball. He is explosive in and out of traffic, runs hard through contact, and shows the on-field IQ you want out of an every down ball carrier. His potential his as high as any player in this class. He is an immediate upgrade to most starting running backs in the league.
*Ignore the naysayers that want to tell you he didn’t have a good workout and lacks the ability to be an elite back. Cook was almost always the best athlete in the field when he had the ball in his hand in college, period. The concern with potentially drafting him at 23 if he is there however, is two-fold. One, he is a similar styled-back to Paul Perkins. More talented, yes. But very similar and it’s nice to have some diversity back there. In addition, and more important, is the fact there are some off field concerns with him. He’s had a few run-ins and while nobody can point to a conviction or anything concrete, he isn’t clean away from the field. That said, there is a very small list of players I would take in front of Cook.
Upside Pro Comparison: Jamaal Charles – FA
2 – Christian McCaffrey – 5’11/202 – Stanford: 80
Summary: Junior entry. Son of former NFL wide receiver Ed McCaffrey and comes from a family full of high-level athletes. Consensus All American in 2015 after setting an NCAA all time single season record with 3,854 all purpose yards. Saw a slight dip in production in 2016, but still finished second in the country in yards from scrimmage per game. McCaffrey will specialize as a third down back type and return specialist in the NFL. He is as dangerous as it gets in the open field and brings the versatility to fill multiple roles for any offense. He may be limited as an inside runner, but otherwise McCaffrey is a threat that defenses need to think about every time he is on the field.
*I don’t like using the term “sure-thing” too often, but I’m confident McCaffrey is going to be a very productive player in the league. His receiving skill set is better than most of the wide receivers and the ability in space is some of the best we have in this class. The lineage and football IQ helps assure that as well. Whoever drafts him needs to make sure they aren’t going to turn him in to a 20 carry, inside the tackles type back. That’s not what he is. A creative playcaller and scheme can make a Pro Bowler out of this kid in year one.
Upside Pro Comparison: Dion Lewis – NE
3 – Leonard Fournette – 6’0/240 – LSU: 80
Summary: Junior entry. After a 2015 1st Team All American season, Fournette came back down to earth partially because of an ankle problem that was pretty much there all year. Running against loaded boxes behind a below average offensive line, his 2016 did not go well to say the least. Fournette has freakish tools and ability, but there are questions revolving around his skill set, quickness, and passion for the game in addition to the lower body injuries. His size and speed will be NFL ready week one, but there is a large gap between his floor and ceiling. Risky prospect from a few different angles.
*Coming in to the year, everyone I knew had Fournette atop this list and in some cases, atop the overall class. I never saw it and as a matter of fact always viewed him as a borderline first rounder. Don’t get me wrong, I still think he is a quality prospect with the upside of being an immediate force. However too often I’ve seen him being that guy that doesn’t create enough on his own, lacks quick change of pace and direction in the backfield, and a guy that doesn’t always play to his true power potential. Fournette just seemed like a guy that didn’t have the consistent motor and effort. Was he protecting himself? Maybe. But I won’t have him as a top 20 player in my class.
Upside Pro Comparison: Carlos Hyde – SF
4 – Kareem Hunt – 5’11/216 – Toledo: 80
Summary: Four year contributor and two time 1st Team All MAC back that leaves Toledo as the program’s all time leading rusher. Hunt has had a bit of an up and down career that included leasing the MAC in rushing despite missing three games in 2014, missing time with nagging injuries and a suspension in 2015, and back to the top of the conference’s rushing ranks in 2016. What is most attractive about Hunt is the ability to change his running style based on situations at the drop of a hat; all of which are at a very high level. Hunt’s greatest trait is the ability to break tackles and with his recent 15 pound weight loss, the athletic ability has taken a step up. He is as complete back as any in this class.
*I’ll tell you what. Gun to my head, I’d have a hard time choosing between Hunt and Fournette. I have had a thing for Hunt all year and once the grading process was over, I realized that Hunt brings to the table what I want out of a back almost across the board. He may not have the athletic upside and he was used a ton in college, but there may not be a back in the class who is better at breaking tackles than Hunt. His balance and lower body strength/stability is on the “rare” level. Considering you can probably get this kid day 2 (maybe even early day 3)…this is someone I want NYG to zero in on. He would be the ideal compliment to add to this backfield. His greatest trait? 1 fumble in 856 carries
Upside Pro Comparison: Mark Ingram – NO
5 – Alvin Kamara – 5’10/214 – Tennessee: 78
Summary: Fourth year junior entry. Began his career at Alabama but after a year of being in the Nick Saban doghouse and looking up the depth chart at current NFL running backs Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake, Kamara opted to transfer. In his two seasons on the field with the Vols, he displayed excellent ability in space as a rusher and receiver. He has some of the best hands in the class at the position and his easy moving lower body and burst at 215+ pounds will attract teams looking for a third down back. If he can block better, Kamara is an under the radar candidate for major contributions as a rookie.
*There are more than a few people that say Kamara is the most talented rusher in the class. His smooth movement makes him look like he is on ice skates. He is one of the guys that can make difficult things look easy, just such a natural athlete. The charater red flags factored in a little, but not too much.
Upside Pro Comparison: Melvin Gordon – LAC
6 – Marlon Mack – 5’11/213 – South Florida: 78
Summary: Junior entry. All time leading rusher in South Florida history. Rushed for 1,000+ yards all three years of his career. Mack is a big-play threat that can break off the long run if he reaches space. His size and strength can be a tough task to deal with for second and third level defenders. While he isn’t an every down, between the tackles runner, he will own a roster spot and contribute if he can learn how to carry the ball tighter to his body.
*The more I saw, the more I liked with Mack. He did played in a RB friendly offense with a lot of space, but I think he can translate well to the NFL. Lesean McCoy is my pick for top RB these days, and Mack has some of that in him. Almost unreal stop and go ability with natural instincts. If he can be had day 3 you are talking big time value.
Upside Pro Comparison: Lesean McCoy – BUF
7 – Samaje Perine – 5’10/235 – Oklahoma: 77
Summary: Junior entry. All time leading rusher at Oklahoma. Burst on to the scene right away in 2014, rushing for a Big 12 leading 1,713 yards and 21 TDs. His production steadily declined each season from there, partially because of injuries and partially because of the emergence of teammate Joe Mixon. Perine has had the NFL body since his freshman season. His power and strength between the tackles will be NFL-ready week one. He protects the ball well, blocks well, and has top tier intangibles. You know what you’re getting Perine. Limited, but effective in the right role.
*Since the middle of the season, Perine has been on my short list of guys that I think NYG is going to look hard at. He is probably the best fit for what NYG needs to add to their backfield. Good short area pop, tremendous power, quality blocking. Perine is a top notch kid and I feel like NYG will like the fact that you know what you are getting with him.
Upside Pro Comparison: Eddie Lacy – SEA
8 – D’Onta Foreman – 6’0/233 – Texas: 77
Summary: Junior entry. Striking the iron whiles it’s hot after leading the nation in rushing yards per game and taking home the Doak Walker Award. The All American has a rare blend of size and speed that teams will love to use between the tackles. His burst and ability to run away from defenders in space within that frame just screams upside. Foreman isn’t nearly as physical as his frame would suggest and he is very one dimensional. However with just 10 career starts and just half, if not less, the career touches as most other prospects, one has to think the ceiling here is as high as any back in the class.
*One look at Foreman and you’ll think this is the power back that NYG needs. But after watching him as much as I did, I noticed he is lighter on his feet and looks to avoid contact rather than deliver it. One of the biggest draws here is that he still has a lot of progressing to do and if he can figure it out, the upside is as high as anyone. He has every down potential.
Upside Pro Comparison: Jeremy Hill – CIN
9 – Jeremy McNichols – 5’9/214 – Boise State: 77
Summary: Junior entry. His 43 rushing touchdowns over the past two years combined leads the nation. Every down back that has wide receiver-caliber ball skills and plus-blocking ability. Has the frame to handle a lot of hits. Very smart, savvy back that will see things before they appear. McNichols has been the guy for two years now and proved he can help a team in several ways. His hands, return ability, and blocking alone are worth considering for a roster spot. Add in the production and skill set as an interior rusher and McNichols can make a case for being the most well rounded back in this class.
*The more I saw of him, the more saw former Boise State RB Doug Martin. He is a little stiffer, but I think he is a tougher back to take down and he offers more as a r receiver. Some people have told me my outlook on him is too high, but I am keeping him here. He doesn’t have a lot of sexy” to him but he gets it done and offers a lot of versatility.
Upside Pro Comparison: Doug Martin – TB
10 – Tarik Cohen – 5’6/179 – North Carolina A& T: 76
Summary: Four year contributor, three time MEAC Offensive Player of the Year and the conference’s all time leading rusher. Cohen’s production and accolades fills up the wall. His jump in level of competition will be an enormous one. The quickness and burst on someone that is built so low to the ground screams Darren Sproles. Can he pack on some weight and handle NFL tackling? That’s the question but nobody can doubt the danger he presents when he gets the ball in his hands
*You know, we see this kind of prospect pretty often. Unreal production but very undersized and simply under the minimum requirements for what teams look for at the position. I don’t believe in “minimums” though and Cohen is a guy that I consider a legit 3rd/4th rounder. I haven’t see a guy move like this since Tavon Austin and I think Cohen has more football IQ to him. He needs the right system and role but he can be a game changer.
Upside Pro Comparison: Darren Sproles – PHI
11 –Joe Mixon – Oklahoma – 6’1/226: 74
Summary: Third year sophomore entry. Suspended for the 2014 season after he was arrested for hitting a female student. Whichever team drafts him will have to deal with an abundance of PR-related issues. On the field, Mixon can be called one of the top backs in this class. He has rare movement ability for a back his size and there is some natural vision and reaction ability here that you won’t see very often. He is an every down back that has some questions to answer, but as a player, he can be big time.
*This will be one of the more interesting situations to watch over draft weekend. I do think teams are worried about the PR situation if they draft him but I would be surprised if he got bumped down past the 4th/5th round area. And I still think there is a shot he is a top 100 overall guy. The fact his situation happened years ago when he was early in his college career will help his image a tad. On the field Mixon was my third rated back. I think he can be a very good, every down back. He has it all when it comes to talent and tools.
Upside Pro Comparison: Arian Foster – RET
12 – Wayne Gallman – 5’11/205 – Clemson: 73
Summary: Fourth year junior entry. He could have come out last year after setting the single season rushing record at Clemson, but he opted to come back for his redshirt junior season. Gallman’s overall production dipped, but he proved to be a more complete back. His blocking and receiving skill set were taken to the next level and he further developed his ability to read a defense post-snap. His game is based on speed and aggression, something every team is looking for in their backfield. He can be a valuable part to a committee approach right away.
*Gallman is a pro ready back but I don’t think he is ever going to be a feature guy, which is fine. His ability to plant his foot and burst combined with his toughness can make him a dangerous player. He became a much better blocker and receiver this season as well. I wish he could hold on to more weight and protect the ball better, but you could do much worse than having him as your number two back.
Upside Pro Comparison: Fozzy Whitaker – CAR
13 – Deveon Smith – 5’11/223 – Michigan: 73
Summary: Michigan’s leading rusher each of the past two seasons. Smith is a between the tackles specialist that can provide short yardage presence and plus-blocking. His upside is limited, as he simply won’t make a lot of plays in space or create on his own. A team will know exactly what they are getting with him.
*Smith showed me some things in the pre-draft process that Michigan never really put on display. First of all, he is a better pass catcher than most give him credit for and he might be the best blocker in this entire group. Those two things in addition to his power running will get him a lot of looks. What he does with them early in his career will be huge.
Upside Pro Comparison: Christine Michael – GB
14 – Brian Hill – 6’1/219 – Wyoming: 73
Summary: Junior entry. Leaves Wyoming after re-writing the single season and career rushing records across the board. His 4.287 yards over three years trails only Dalvin Cook (Florida State) and Donnell Pumphrey (San Diego State) nationally. The production and notable feel for shifting his way through traffic will get everyone’s attention. His biggest question is, and will be, can he break tackles in the NFL? His lower body needs more power and there are some maturity issues that need to be looked in to.
*A few people I spoke with told me back in October that Hill was going to be a top 5 back in this class. He has impressive vision and feel with the ball in his hands. Can run away from a defense, yes, but what I look for the most in college backs is consistent ability to break tackles. He didn’t do that well enough for my liking but I can see why people like him. He has an impressive frame and was uber-productive. I think he’s off the board before I consider him. Also has some off field problems.
Upside Pro Comparison: Taiwan Jones – OAK
15 – Corey Clement – 5’10/220 – Wisconsin: 72
Summary: Four year contributor that finished his career with a 2nd Team All Big Ten performance after a 2015 that included more lows and than highs. Clement has some durability issues in addition to a questionable off-field reputation. Between the lines he has the upside of an effective inside runner but nothing more. The lack of fluid movement and speed in addition to poor vision may prevent him from any consistent role.
*I was curious to see how this kid would respond to taking over for Melvin Gordon back in 2015. A few things didn’t go his way and he became a poor sport, showing some immaturity that stayed in my mind while evaluating him. Clement is a very good back. Breaks tackles, does a lot of little things well. He is limited to specific duties but I think he can get it done in the right role. Don’t expect every an every down back but give him a short yardage role and I think he will thrive if he can keep his focus.
Upside Pro Comparison: Rex Burkhead – NE
BEST OF THE REST
16 – Christopher Carson – 5’11/218 – Oklahoma State: 72
17 – Donnell Pumphrey – 5’8/176 – San Diego State: 72
18 – Elijah McGuire – 5’9/214 – Louisiana-Lafayette: 72
19 – Anthony Wales – 5’10/195 – Western Kentucky: 72
20 – James Conner – 6’1/233 – Pittsburgh: 70
21 – Jamaal Williams – 6’0/212 – BYU: 70
22 – Matt Breida – 5’10/190 – Georgia Southern: 70
23 – Justin Davis – 6’1/208 – USC: 70
24 – Matthew Dayes – 5’9/205 – NC State: 70
25 – Elijah Hood – 6’0/232 – North Carolina: 69
To be blunt, I think NYG needs to bring in a fresh back somewhere in the draft. The need isn’t immediate or large, but I think it is necessary to bring a new back in. They can be patient and wait for the right value, as I would put a lot of money on someone graded highly will be there in round 4/5. That said, I am taking Dalvin Cook at 23 if he is there and won’t think about it unless one of the few guys I have graded above him are there, which isn’t likely. Ideally NYG brings in a power back so they don’t have to put that role on Perkins shoulders or rely on a Draughn type back. All in all, the OL needs to perform better if any of these backs will be effective, but the overall talent in this draft class is too high for a team that has very little talent in their backfield to pass on.