Apr 242022
 
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Kenny Walker, Michigan State Spartans (March 4, 2022)

Kenny Walker – © USA TODAY Sports

RUNNING BACKS

90+: All Pro Projection

85+: Pro Bowl Projection

81-84: 1st rounder – Should be able to play right away

79-80: 2nd rounder – Should be able to rotate right away – Year 2 starter

77-78: 3rd rounder – Should be able to rotate by end of rookie year – Year 2/3 starter

74-76: Early Day 3 – Special Teams – Future backup/possible starter

71-73: Mid Day 3 – Special Teams – Future backup / gamble starter

68-70: Late Day 3 – Back end of roster / Practice Squad / Development guy

65-67: Preferred UDFA

60-64: Undrafted FA

1: Kenny Walker III – Michigan State – 5’9/211

Grade: 80

Summary: Junior entry from Arlington, TN. Two-year starter that starred in his one season at Michigan State after transferring from Wake Forest. 2021 Doak Walker Award recipient, unanimous first-team All American and Big 10 Offensive Player of the Year. Walker III is a no-nonsense runner that will excel between the tackles. He has enough lower body strength to complement his quick, high feet that enable him to work through traffic well. He breaks a lot of tackles and can win in space a variety of ways. The quick-trigger acceleration and ability to make fast decisions will make him a dangerous threat as he gets through traffic. He needs some work to be considered an every down player, as he is a poor blocker and does not seem to have a natural receiving skill set. That will determine just how useful he can be overall but at the very least he will be a solid addition to an inside-running game.

*There is one medical issue from his high school days that COULD scare some teams off, just FYI. Walker has two of the biggest traits I look for in a back: yards after contact and vision. If I had to rank all of these backs in those two departments, Walker ranks at the top of both. You may look at the size and assume he is not a power back, but that would be wrong. This kid is as strong as you will find at that size and runs bigger than most backs that weigh 220+. The one thing that prevents him from approaching the 85+ tier, and it is a big one, is the lack of impact he has in the passing game. His receiving is simply an unknown and his blocking is poor. Not a good combo there. I do not see him being on the NYG radar.

2: Breece Hall – Iowa State – 5’11/217

Grade: 80

Summary: Junior entry from Wichita, KS. Three-year starter that won the Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year and was a first team All American in both 2020 and 2021, respectively. The two-time finalist for the Doak Walker Award re-wrote 11 school records and scored a touchdown in 24 consecutive games, a NCAA record. Hall is a highly decorated back that brings a combination of size, natural power, and burst that will fit best into a zone-based scheme. His patience comes from the confidence he has to reach his top gear in a hurry while running through arm tackles. While he isn’t the fastest or most agile ball carrier, his ability in a phone booth (where most of his game is played) is top notch. He is a smart runner that understands how to read and manipulate the situation in front of him on the fly. He has number one running back ability for teams that a horse to lead the group but can also be an accessory piece to a two-back system that needs a sizeable part. Either way, his ability to produce will be there from day one and has big upside. Imposing figure that carries 220+ pounds with ease.

*If I had to gamble on it, I think Hall goes before Walker. I just prefer Walker, but the two are graded out the same. Hall is going to need a better offensive line to produce. He gets a little too patient in the backfield and the speed of the NFL could make that a glaring negative. I do like his ability to turn on the jets and he can be really heavy on contact. A decade or two ago I bet this guy is a top 15 pick but, like Walker, I’m not sure he will impact the passing game enough to warrant anything higher. Again, a guy I don’t see NYG pursuing.

3: Isaiah Spiller – Texas A& M – 6’0/217

Grade: 79

Summary: Junior entry from Spring, TX. Three-year starter that earned All-SEC honors in both 2021 and 2020, first team in 2020. Spiller is a jack of all trades, master of none type back. He can be a fit in any role out of the backfield with his blend of size and athleticism. He proved over his three-year career in the SEC that his blend of tools and knack for coming up with the big play in big moments will create a skill set that a team can work with. While there is a limit to his upside, Spiller feels safe and secure when projecting his floor. He would be an ideal number two back.

*Texas A& M has an underclassman running back that may end being a “special” caliber kid. We will see. He ate into Spiller’s playing time quite a bit, but that may not be a bad thing. I like the fact he did not get too many touches because he was used a lot in 2019 and 2020. Spiller is the kind of back that makes the most out of whatever is thrown at him. If he has space, he will make guys miss and run away from them. If he is in traffic, he finds the available crease and falls forward. I feel safe with him, but expectations should not be too high.

4: Brian Robinson Jr – Alabama – 6’2/225

Grade: 78

Summary: Fifth year senior from Tuscaloosa, AL. One-year starter that earned first team All-SEC honors in 2021. Robinson at one point was above Najee Harris on the Alabama depth chart. He played behind multiple future pro running backs throughout his career and patiently waited for his time as a fifth year senior. He did not disappoint. Robinson thrived as a feature back and proved he can handle a full load of snaps as an every down player. His greatest impact will be found between the tackles as a bruiser picking up the tough yards. He pushes piles and rips through cheap contact by a defense. He won’t ever go down easily and is the kind of back that can wear down a defense. Robinson’s athletic upside may not be overly explosive, and his running style may lead to injury here and there. He would be an ideal complement to a backfield looking for a power piece, one that shows up as a runner and blocker.

*This is the first name I would strongly consider for NYG, likely in round 3. There is a possibility he makes it to day three, however. May be worth the gamble since there is not an overly pressing need at the position. Robinson is a bruiser that actually runs to his size and frame unlike the other 225-pound back in blue right now. I trust running backs from this program on multiple fronts. They are physical, but not poor athletes. They specialize in running between the tackles, but they can do well enough as blockers and receivers. And, most importantly, they freakin’ play hard. NYG needs more toughness in the backfield and Robinson will, at least, give you that. It looks like this team needs to prepare for life after Barkley and Robinson would be a nice start.

5: James Cook – Georgia – 5’11/199

Grade: 77

Summary: Senior entry from Miami, FL. Two-year starter that has been a steady part of the backfield rotation since 2018. The brother of Vikings running back Dalvin, James brings a similar level of natural feel and elite burst to the table. He looks like he plays the game on ice skates with how fluidly his hips swivel in and out of breaks. The cuts he can make while moving at a high rate of speed are sharp enough to rip through a bone. Cook’s greatest value will be found in space. Simply put, there are not many backs under 200 pounds that can stick around in the league for a long time. Cook can carry the ball, but he needs to be in the open field. His skill set could even pass for a slot receiver with how well he runs routes and the fact he doesn’t have a single drop on his resume over the past two years. Put in the right situation and he can be an excellent accessory piece to an offense as a big play threat.

*If NYG really wants Cook, it may have to be with their early 3rd rounder. I just don’t see him being there past that point. One caveat to that statement, though, is the history of backs that weigh under 200 pounds drafted in the first 3 rounds is incredibly low over the past decade. Cook’s counter point to that is the elite level route running and hands. Also, and yes this means something, his brother (Dalvin) having enormous success in the league will help him draft weekend. They move similarly. If NYG wants to add an element to the passing game via the backfield, this is the top option. He will be an impact guy right away. He will not be his brother, a true every down force you give the ball to 20+ times every week, but that isn’t as important anymore. He would be a fun kid to watch in this offense.

6: Rachaad White – Arizona State – 6’0/214

Grade: 77

Summary: Senior entry from Kansas City, MO. Spent two seasons at Mt. San Antonio College prior to transferring to Arizona State where he started for two years. Earned second team All-Pac 12 honors in 2021. White makes the game look easy and smooth. He never looks out of control or off-balanced. He plays at different gears and understands timing-plus-angles so well that it almost appears as if he is playing slow at times. He then shoots out of a cannon and explodes through a crease. He is an ideal back for a zone blocking scheme but will also add a dangerous element to the passing game. He uses that movement skill set to run good routes and his concentration on the ball is high-caliber. White does not bring a lot of power to the table as a runner or blocker, but his impact on a backfield can be huge if the right system and situation brings him in.

*White is one of my favorite pass-catching backs in the class. The grade is steered in that direction. Although I do think he is good for 5-6 carries per game, I would bring him in to help the passing game more than anything. He is a receiver-caliber route runner and has better ball skills that several of the players at that position as well. He can be a big play back in the regard and another name I think NYG could use behind Barkley. I want a bruiser or a pass catching specialist behind him, and White brings the latter along with some size and credible ability as an inside runner on occasion.

7: Kyren Williams – Notre Dame – 5’9/194

Grade: 77

Summary: Third year sophomore entry from Saint Louis, MO. Two-year starter that earned second-team All ACC honors in 2020 and won the conference’s Rookie of the Year. 2021 first team All-American. In a league where very few teams use a one-back system, Williams can be viewed as the ideal third down back in any offense. His skill set fits any role you want from that kind of player. He can run routes and catch the ball like a receiver, he can be fully trusted as a blocker, and he can create as a rusher in space. The team-first, tougher-than-nails attitude and play style will be highly sought after by coaches if they have much say in the draft room. He is a safe pro, albeit with a limited upside, that will be dependable on multiple levels. A rusher, pass catcher, and returner all wrapped into one that can handle 15+ touches weekly.

*I am just a tad down on Williams. The size is near-bottom tier, and his workout was below the ideal line as well. I did not move him down much, however. It’s hard not to love this kid’s tape and overall approach to the game. He is one of the best blockers in this entire group despite the frame and anchor. He catches the ball, he makes guys miss, he has excellent vision. I think the numbers tell you he will not be an every down guy, which is fine with me. NYG would be a solid destination for him if he can be had day three. He may not grade as high as some of other prospects at other positions but if Daboll sees that use in him, I am fine with it round 3 or 4. He is a good culture guy and I trust him to get whatever he has in him on to the field.

8: Zamir White – Georgia – 6’0/214

Grade: 76

Summary: Senior entry from Laurinburg, NC. Two-year starter that has been a key piece to the Bulldogs’ backfield rotation from the beginning. The team’s leading rusher each of the past two seasons and team captain brings a physical, no-nonsense approach to carrying the football. He consistently runs behind his pads and gains yards after contact. He shows the ability to make aggressive, explosive cuts left and right but will also show no hesitation in putting his head down and pushing the pile. The two glaring negatives here are a lack of experience in the passing game (17 career receptions) and past injuries (tore both ACLs). While the lack of creativity and wiggle can limit his running style, he excels at what he does so much that it will warrant a spot as a power back on a pro depth chart. Well-built below and above the waist with minimal bad weight.

*The medicals are crucial here. It could bump him all the way to end of the draft or it may not be a huge deal to some teams. I am grading him without access to those reports. I love the way this kid runs with the ball. He takes on contact and delivers the blow as hard as anyone. He will change the personality of a running game, but it is hard to ignore the potential issues.

9: Dameon Pierce – Florida – 5’10/218

Grade: 75

Summary: Senior entry from Bainbridge, GA. Technically a one-year starter but has been a steady presence in the rotation for three seasons. Pierce was under used at Florida which, considering the position he plays, can be considered a good thing as he will enter the league with less wear and tear. He had ten carries in a game just eight times in four years. When it comes to his tape, Pierce shows all the tools and skills to be an effective inside runner that can pick up all the difficult, hard-to-find yards. He has functional thickness and strength below the waist along with light, easy footwork. He can run with several different tempos and speeds and there is a sense of hunger to his style. Pierce shows enough to be used on third down as well, but his biggest impact will be found in short yardage and near the goal line. If he can find a role as a complement to a space-friendly, pass catching back he will be an early and often contributor.

*Florida’s offense was not an ideal fit for Pierce. He is a traffic-back that can move the chains, run with success between the tackles, and break tackles. His contact balance is top notch. But in an offense that creates space, likes to throw, and predicates on speed, he was more of an accessory. I see a similar role and usage at the next level. Pierce is dependable but won’t offer much more than you see. Two things that coaches will like and could end up getting him into day two is the quality blocking and special teams defense. He has a linebacker-feel to his game, and it shows up. A strong and powerful dude that would be a complement to Barkley who struggles as a blocker and does not run with enough success in short yardage. Pierce will need a very good line though.

10: Kennedy Brooks – Oklahoma – 5’11/209

Grade: 74

Summary: Fifth year senior from Mansfield, TX. Three-year starter that sat out the 2020 season due to Covid-19. Honorable Mention All-Big 12 in 2019, second team in 2020. Brooks walked a bumpy road over his career. He came to Oklahoma with a recurring shoulder injury that began in high school which led to a redshirt. He was accused of mental and physical abuse by a woman which had to be investigated by the school (he was cleared). And lastly, he sat out 2020 because of the Covid pandemic. When looking strictly at the film, however, Brooks is easy to like. He runs like a pro when looking at several angles. His tempo, vision, and decision making will bring him to a much higher level than his tools suggest. Brooks does not have stand out triangle numbers. He won’t be a blazer in the open field, nor does he play overly big. However, this is a back that fully understands the intricacies of the position. He stays within the scheme and knows when to get to the next gear. The contact balance and mental side will create production as a sold complementary back.

*I am taking a bit of a risk here. But I can’t get away from what my gut says after watching him run. Some guys have natural and ever-present tempo when they get the ball. It is rare. When someone truly has it at the pro level, it is a near-automatic success. Brooks runs with several different gears and just feels the spacing and timing exceptionally well. The asterisk there is the fact he played in the Big 12. The OU scheme creates more space than what he will see in the league and the defenses in that conference are a joke. I just have the good feeling here. There was an incident (he was fully cleared) that centered on physical and mental abuse with an ex-girlfriend. Never know with that stuff but he will be looked into. Athletically, nothing special either.

11: Tyler Badie – Missouri – 5’8/197

Grade: 73

Summary: Senior entry from Memphis, TN. Three-year starter that capped off his career earning first team All-SEC and second team All-American honors after finishing second in the nation in yards from scrimmage. Badie has the natural instincts and vision to gain the obtainable hidden yards both inside and outside. He lacks the standout physical traits when it comes to size and speed, but he has proven to be a productive asset for an offense both as a rusher and receiver. He is a reliable pass catcher and moves with savvy, subtle quickness in small areas to create bigger runs than he should be able to obtain. He can be a solid number two or three back that is situationally dependent

*I like Badie as a consolation prize day three if NYG wants a pass catcher but does not get one of top guys in that department. He plays bigger than his size. He is stout and runs with excellent contact balance. The catch radius isn’t great, and I question the ability to really get out in space and make moves. But when backs like James White make such a strong impact in the right passing scheme, I can see Badie coming in and making similar plays. Never a feature guy, but potentially an important part to an offense.

12: Jerome Ford – Cincinnati – 5’10/210

Grade: 72

Summary: Senior entry from Tampa, FL. One year starter that began his career at Alabama before transferring to Cincinnati prior to the 2020 season. First team All-AAC in 2021. Ford had to wait his turn after a slow start to his career in the crowded Crimson Tide backfield. Even at Cincinnati, he did not get more than ten carries until mid-December in 2020. He then took off as a senior and gave the league a glimpse what he could be. Ford is a big play back with the kind of burst and acceleration that will not be caught from behind once in the open field. His play speed is excellent. He runs like a back that needs more experience, however. There is not much feel or innovation to his game but at the same time, he will come in with substantial tread on the tires.

*Ford is a big play back. The kind of guy that gets a few yards and will create a touchdown run from it. He truly runs away from guys in space. I don’t see the kind of guy that comes in and makes the impact of Jamaal Charles, though. He fumbled too much, and his vision lacks consistency. For an offense starving for big plays, however, Ford is a nice guy to have on the depth chart for 3-5 runs per game. I liked what I saw in his increased receiving role in 2021 as well.

13: Pierre Strong – San Jose State – 5’11/207

Grade: 72

Summary: Fifth year senior from Little Rock, AR. Four-year starter with enough accolades to fill a bookshelf. Won the MVFC Freshman of the Year award in 2018. First team All-MVFC three times and a three-time All American. Strong was a dominant force on the FCS level since the day he stepped foot on campus. His production speaks for itself. Physically he plays fast and tough with good reaction time as an inside runner. He is the kind of back that will make the most out of what is given to him. Once in the open field, he does have the juice to create more with his movement abilities. There are some concerns with his overall build and lower body mechanics. He may not ever be an every down, top of the depth chart guy but he can fit in as a backup for a team that has a no-nonsense approach to the running game. He will need to improve as a receiver and blocker to really stick.

*Strong is a candidate to be the day three back in this class that comes out of nowhere and ends up being a force early on. He has a solid combination of explosion, long speed, and toughness. Is he going to break tackles in the NFL? That is my one concern. The speed and power jump he is making will be a hard adjustment for his body type and he lacks some of the late wiggle in his hips to really avoid hits. He can get away with that when matching up against boys. The question will be if that shows up against men.

14: Keontay Ingram – USC – 6’0/221

Grade: 71

Summary: Senior entry from Carthage, TX. Spent three seasons at Texas where he started off and on all three years. Transferred to USC for 2021 and earned the starting role which led to an honorable mention All-Pac 12 recognition. Ingram is a physical, strong runner between the tackles with excellent running back mechanics. He stays behind his pads with a solid forward lean that will rip through arm tackles. He can gain a lot of yards after the catch and plays hungry. Ingram also proved he can factor on third down both as a pass catcher and blocker. This is a back that can do it everything across the board with a physical brand.

*Ingram is one of my favorite day three players in the class. Not because I think he will be the Elijah Mitchell of the group, but because I think he can come in right away and contribute. He is a back you feel safe with in multiple roles. Never a starter, but always a reliable backup and rotational force. Ingram has pro-ready vision and tempo. He can break tackles and he can block. If NYG waits until late to add a back, this is one of my guys that I think fits the situation well.

15: Sincere McCormick – UTSA – 5’8/204

Grade: 71

Summary: Junior entry from Converse, TX. Three-year starter that has been earning accolades since his career began at UTSA. 2019 Conference USA Freshman of the Year, 2020 and 2021 Conference USA Offensive Player of the Year, two-time 1st Team All-Conference USA and two-time All American. McCormick broke, and the re-broke the program’s single season rushing record en route to becoming UTSA’s all-time leader in the department. The natural runner anticipates running lanes with ease and has the burst to couple with it to create big play after big play. In a league that is filled with committee-approaches in the backfield, McCormick will be a highly sought after back for teams looking to complement a power back. He runs inside and outside equally well in addition to offering a steady presence as a receiver. The quick-hit mentality and aggressive finishes to his runs will make an impact early and often.

*I’ve had a thing for McCormick since the early part of the season. I saw a potential star here. He has a lot of big plays on his resume and there is a sense of quick vision and toughness that drew me in. His no-nonsense approach was refreshing to watch. The running back position has changed so much to the point where I cringe watching some of these kids dance around while missing out on what is right in front of them. Not McCormick. He takes what is there and will create big plays from that approach. Does that carry over to the next level against much faster defenses? We will see. But I wanted NYG to draft Khalil Herbert last year in the 7th round for similar reasons. He had over 530 yards as a rookie on just 117 touches and made some noise as a kick returner. I bet he starts games in the league at some point. I have a similar feel here with McCormick.

BEST OF THE REST

16: Tyler Allgeier – BYU – 5’11/224: 71
17: Abram Smith – Baylor – 6’0/213: 71
18: Ty Davis-Price – LSU – 6’0/211: 70
19: Zonovan Knight – North Carolina State – 5’11/209: 70
20: D’Vonte Price – Florida International – 6’1/210: 70
21: Max Borghi – Washington State – 5’9/210: 70
22: Ty Chandler – North Carolina – 5’11/204: 70
23: Snoop Conner – Mississippi – 5’10/222: 70
24: Tyler Goodson – Iowa – 5’9/197: 69
25: Kevin Harris – South Carolina – 5’10/221: 69
26: Leddie Brown – West Virginia – 6’0/213: 68
27: ZaQuandre White – South Carolina – 6’0/206: 68
28: CJ Verdell – Oregon – 5’8/196: 68
29: Hassan Hankins – Michigan – 6’2/228: 68
30: Isaih Pacheco – Rutgers – 5’10/216: 68

NYG APPROACH

Only if the opportunity presents itself for solid value can I see NYG using a pick at running back. That could be as early as day 2 (I would still be surprised), it could be early day three (still not likely), but probably with one of their final two picks. I see the spot on the depth chart for a rookie, no question. One can easily make the case that backups Matt Breida, Gary Brightwell, Antonio Williams, and Sandro Platzgummer are number 3-4 backs at best. From that perspective, NYG does not have a true backup behind a running back that has missed 21 games in 3 years (18 over the past 2). Then, the kicker…it is very realistic NONE of the backs, including Barkley, will be on this roster a year from now. Sounds like I could end up talking myself into an earlier pick on a running back. Yes, of course, there are more pressing needs on this team, and it is easier to find day three value at this position in any draft. I do see a huge cluster of those day three backs who make sense here. You want a power guy because Barkley runs too soft on urgent situations? Snoop Conner and both of the kids from South Carolina can be a nice add. You want a pass catcher? Leddie Brown and Max Borghi will likely be there late and could play right away. I think the debate is, do you want to grab a James Cook, Brian Robinson, Dameon Pierce, Rachaad White in round 3? Or do you wait to see which guy falls into your lap in day three? Again, I am looking at this draft not for this upcoming season, but for 2023. With that in mind, I look at this position as a group that can use an asset as early as round 3 if the value is right.

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David Syvertsen

David Syvertsen, aka Sy'56, has worked for Ourlads Scouting LLC since 2013, starting off as a college depth chart manager and now a lead scout for one the most-sold NFL draft guides year-in, year-out. He has been scouting for over 10 years and will compile anywhere from 400-600 scouting reports per season, with that number increasing year by year. He watches and studies game films 20-25 hours per week throughout the entire year with his main focus being NFL Draft prospects.

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