New York Giants 2015 NFL Draft Preview: Running Backs
by BigBlueInteractive.com Contributor Sy’56
*Below are my published, abbreviated reports via Ourlads Scouting Services, LLC
CURRENT RBs ON THE NYG ROSTER
Shane Vereen – 25 years old – Signed through 2017
Rashad Jennings – 29 years old – Signed through 2017
Andre Williams – 22 Years old – Signed through 2017
Michael Cox – 26 Years old – Signed through 2016
Orleans Darkwa – 23 Years Old – Signed through 2015
Chris Ogbonnaya – 28 Years Old – Signed through 2015
Henry Hynoski – 26 Years Old – Signed through 2016
Nikita Whitlock – 23 Years Old – Signed through 2016
WHERE THEY STAND
From both numbers and roles perspectives, NYG does not have any need for an additional running back on the roster. Vereen is this year’s “big” free agent signing and I think he will perform well in a pass catching role. He has more talent than any other RB on that list and there is plenty of youth to him. Jennings is likely the every down back that will receive the majority of the carries barring injury. He is solid between the tackles. Williams is another inside bruiser with limited ability in space. He won’t ever be a big time pass catcher. He is an easy guy to like but I can’t say he impressed beyond the preseason in his rookie year. He will get his fair share of carries. Cox has been given more than enough opportunity and he hasn’t capitalized, he won’t be around much longer. Darkwa, Ogbonnaya, and Whitlock are guys that are here for training camp purposes and nothing more. Hynoski is an above average fullback but is still limited in what he can offer.
They are in good but not great standing. The committee approach is probably the safest way to go because of the amount of injuries RBs suffer on a yearly basis. If one of these guys goes down, there is enough depth without a huge drop off in talent to still be okay.
TOP 10 GRADES AND ANALYSIS
1 – Todd Gurley – Georgia – 6’1/222 – 83
Pro Upside Comparison: Adrian Peterson/MIN
Strong Points: Elite blend of size, speed, agility, and power. Thick lower body that creates tremendous drive and power. Fires out of a cannon upon contact with the ball. Has that burst from a dead stop position to top end speed. Breaks tackles consistently and is almost always falling forward to pick up the extra few yards. Can drag tacklers with his strength but also makes them miss with late movement. Agile and quick when changing direction. Runs with great lean and a low pad level. Aware of where and when he plants his feet in relation to where the bodies are around him. Quality blocker and receiver out of the backfield, a true three down back.
Weak Points: Coming off a torn ACL. Played through a lot of minor injuries prior to the knee. Drags plays out with his aggressive style and leaves himself prone to extra hits. Pad level is inconsistent, exposes too much of his body and legs to defenders. Inconsistent receiving mechanics, will body catch the ball.
Summary: Junior entry. Bell cow back that doesn’t need to be taken off the field in any situation. Was suspended and injured in 2014, shortening his quest for the Heisman Trophy. Gurley has the size and movement ability to be a dominant three down back in the NFL. He can pick up the tough yards between the tackles but also break free in to open space and run away from defenders. Very smart running back that is aware of the defense and game situations. If he can return to full strength after tearing his ACL, Gurley can be an elite back in the NFL. All the tools are there.
*Gurley would have been a top 4 player in this draft class if it weren’t for the torn ACL. He fits on the NYG roster if he falls to the 2nd round pick. RB may not be a need but I don’t think this kind of player can be passed on if he is there unless there is another guy there at or very near his grade.
2 – Jay Ajayi – Boise State – 6’0/221 – 82
Pro Upside Comparison: Marshawn Lynch/SEA
Strong Points: Relentless runner that consistently breaks tackles and falls forward. Well put-together frame that carries a dense 222 pounds. Has plenty of lower body wiggle and flexibility. Can make the late movement to miss the meat of a hit and finagle his way in to space. Can see the action in front of and around him at the same time, making quick decisions and reactions. Shows elite balance in traffic, constantly able to change his path with a power presence. Excels between the tackles with his blend of movement ability and strength. Willing and able blocker. Will deliver a pop to the defender and mirror him. Reliable pass catcher on the move, natural to see it in and tuck the ball. Three down ability and skills.
Weak Points: Struggles to reach the edge against fast defenses. Will take too long to make decisions. Tries too often to cut his way out of traffic rather than putting his head down and gaining positive yards. Runs sloppy routes of the backfield. Has had issues with ball security after initial contact with defenders.
Summary: Fourth year junior entry. Has made several All American teams for his dominant performance this season. Finished second in the nation with 28 rushing touchdowns in 2014. Ajayi brings everything to the table that the NFL wants out of a running back. He has size and open field speed to runaway from defenders, but also shows a quick change of direction and smooth agility in traffic. Ajayi can break tackles several ways, consistently gaining extra yards. He is a true three down back that could be starting in the NFL his rookie season if the situation presented itself.
*Even though he has a close grade to the injured Gurley, the urgency to take him if he is there in round 2 isn’t as high. He would add another Jennings/Williams type runner to the backfield. I like this kid a lot though. If you want toughness in your backfield, you want this guy.
3 – Duke Johnson – Miami – 5’9/207 – 82
Pro Upside Comparison: LeSean McCoy/BUF
Strong Points: Complete back with the tools and skill set to play every down. Jitter-bug type quickness in a phone booth. Can be hard for a defender to touch, let alone tackle. Elite burst and acceleration, can go 0-60 in just a few steps. Always has his feet under him, good balance and body control. Can see what’s going on around him in space. Sets defenders up to whiff as they are closing in on him. Easy pass catcher with strong hands. Can make the acrobatic catch. Sees the ball in and can get going right away. Physical blocker that delivers a pop. Takes pride in protecting the quarterback..
Weak Points: Not a big back. Played at over 200 pounds for the first time in 2014. May not have the frame to take a lot of hits in the NFL. Vision in traffic as he approaches the line of scrimmage is delayed. Will try too hard to dance around defenders trying to break off a big run instead of moving north and getting the sure yards. Season ending ankle injury in the 9th game of 2013.
Summary: Junior entry. Former elite high school recruit delivered right away as a freshman on 2012 as a kick returner. His performance as a running back started to take off in 2013 before a season ending ankle injury. Johnson added weight and speed prior to 2014 and it paid huge dividends. He showed that he could handle every down duty with his versatile tools and skill set. He is an elusive ball carrier that can break off the big runs once he gets in to space. Just as important, his ability as a receiver and pass blocker are both NFL-ready from a physical standpoint. If he can continue to add strength while maintaining his ability to move, Johnson can be a back that never needs to come off the field.
*Like I said with Ajayi, Johnson grades out close to the injured Gurley and as much as I like his ability to catch the ball, I’m not sure he can warrant a 2nd round pick. If size concerns bump him down to round 3 however, I bring this kid here in a heartbeat and let him play his way in to the rotation while adding dynamic KR/PR ability.
4 – Melvin Gordon – Wisconsin – 6’1/215 – 81
Pro Upside Comparison: Jamaal Charles/KC
Strong Points: Tight skinned, well developed back that doesn’t need to come off the field in any situation. Top tier vision and instincts. Can see things around him that most backs cannot. Can create something out of nothing. Exceptional when running to the outside. Consistently makes guys miss in space. Will not hesitate to lower his shoulder and force the pile to move north. Can follow blockers through space and sneak through lanes. Has the extra gear in space to runaway from defenders. Can maintain his agility and body control while moving at full speed. High effort blocker that makes an impact. Tries hard and produces when it comes to protecting the quarterback. Easy hands catcher when he had the opportunity.
Weak Points: Will run with a high pad level when approaching the line of scrimmage. Will try to get cute too often rather than getting the sure yards. Lacks the lower body girth that most want out of an every down back. Had a fumbling issue late in 2014.
Summary: Junior entry. Doak Walker Award winner. His 7.79 yards per carry over his career is an all time record. Gordon’s statistical accolades have piled up over his career. His blend of size and speed to go with his instincts and vision have helped mold him in to a top tier talent. He can do everything a team wants out of a running back; rush, receive, and block. In an era where finding true three down backs can be difficult, the demand for Gordon will be high. He is a young kid that loves the game and has shown a tremendous work ethic during offseasons. While his body type and running style may not be ideal, his production and versatile game cannot be overlooked. This is an extremely high ceiling type player.
*This is a back that I would be slightly afraid to draft, but just as afraid to see a division rival draft. I don’t see NFL-type dominance here when it comes to his style of play but his talent cannot be denied. If the toughness is there and he can stay healthy, he has as much upside as any RB in this class.
5 – Tevin Coleman – Indiana – 5’11/206 – 80
Pro Upside Comparison: DeMarco Murray/PHI
Strong Points: Strong between the tackles, fast in the open field. Shows the power and leg drive to push tacklers back, consistently falling forward. Several big runs displaying the ability to run away from defensive backs. Reaches the line of scrimmage quickly, showing the burst to reach top speed with just a few steps. Cutback runner that shows good vision and the explosion to get through the open crease. Quality hands as a receiver with a smooth catching motion. Looks the ball in and tucks it before running upfield.
Weak Points: Upright running style that leaves his legs almost completely exposed. Suffered an ankle injury that forced him to miss three games in 2013. Does not have the late wiggle to miss contact from defenders, takes a lot of hits. Can be a better blocker in blitz pickup.
Summary: Junior entry. Finished as the number two overall rusher in 2014 with 2,036 yards, finishing behind only Heisman hopeful Melvin Gordon. Only the 18th player in history to breach the 2,000 yard mark and he did so with very little help around him. His record setting 2014 season includes a 300+ yard game against Rutgers. Coleman has ideal size and speed for the position. At his best in a north/south type running scheme where he can use his downhill speed and power. Some of the finer, more detailed aspects to the position need to be worked on. His routes out of the backfield, pass blocking technique, and ball security are raw around the edges. However when it comes to talent and big play ability, Coleman has the potential to be a star at the next level.
*Coleman wasn’t getting the attention he deserved throughout the season. He is big and physical but also shows elite ability to explode out of a cannon and run away from defenders. He can likely carry more weight on his frame without losing speed. I wish he ran with a more consistent pad level and would show more concentration and awareness. I wouldn’t be surprised one bit to see him out-shine every other RB in this class.
6 – David Cobb – Minnesota – 5’11/229 – 79
Pro Upside Comparison: Frank Gore/IND
Strong Points: Thick from the bottom up. Carries his weight behind his pads when approaching the action. Has the short area burst and quickness to accelerate through the running lanes with a short shelf life. Decisive and confident in his approach. Quick vision and reaction. Will consistently gain yards after contact, tough ball carrier for a lone defender to bring down. Can make himself low and slippery. Elite balance that can allow him to twist and turn his body on the move without losing much speed.
Weak Points: Lacks the explosive element to his game. Struggles to run away from defenders in the open field. Tight hipped and won’t move with fluidity in space. Doesn’t make defenders miss, will take a lot of contact. Doesn’t have presence or power as a blocker. Limited receiving ability and skills.
Summary: Fourth year senior that was a non-factor until 2013. Led the Gophers in rushing two straight seasons, including his school-record 1,626 yards in 2014. Cobb won’t wow anyone in workouts or on the highlight reel. He doesn’t have the long speed and he doesn’t shake tacklers out of their cleats in space. However Cobb can run between the tackles with quick vision and reaction along with above average power and force. Cobb is quick and efficient in short space. Keep him between the tackles and he can really produce. He isn’t an every down back and he may be limited, but put Cobb in the game when you need tough yards and he will earn them.
*I’ve been higher on Cobb than most of what I see out there. There are things about his game that will turn people off. He isn’t a superb athlete in space and his movement in traffic could be viewed as average. He lacks the “sexy” that a lot of people want out of a RB but plain and simple, I think he’ll be a gamer that can be relied on to get tough yards and keep chains moving. He is smarter and more aware than a lot of backs that have superior physical ability.
7 – David Johnson – 6’1/225 – Northern Iowa – 78
Pro Upside Comparison: Rashad Jennings/NYG
Strong Points: Quick off the snap, can eat up a 10 yard window in a blink. Natural feel with the ball in his hands, runs with good awareness and vision. Shows balance and body control in traffic. Can change direction with ease. Elite ball skills as a receiver. Can reach for the ball away from his body on the move. Has the speed to run away from defenders in space. Aggressive, physical presence as a ball carrier and blocker. Plenty of yards after contact.
Weak Points: Runs with a high pad level. Lacks the lower body thickness to take the amount of hits he will surely encounter with his height and running style. Will take a lot of extra hits. Doesn’t always fall forward, doesn’t drive his legs to move the pile inside.
Summary: Fifth year senior. Rushed for over 1,000 yards three straight seasons and leaves Northern Iowa with almost every school rushing record. He also caught 141 passes. Johnson is an upright runner with good speed and receiving ability. He doesn’t show the quick twitch and reaction between the tackles, but he has a high ceiling considering his tool set and ability to change direction with balance. His future may reside as a third down back and return specialist with the upside to be much more.
*Johnson is one of those guys I wish never got to play at the Senior Bowl because I had him on my radar before then. He performed well there and then all of the sudden everyone was all over him, almost to the point where it’s almost too much. I think he can be a really good third down back if he can learn how to block. An every down guy? Maybe down the road but his top heavy frame isn’t really built for it.
8 – Javorius Allen – USC – 6’0/221 – 77
Pro Upside Comparison: Chris Ivory/NYJ
Strong Points: Complete, every down back. Has the power, size, and running style to perform the role as a shirt yardage back. Can also catch the ball out of the backfield like a receiver and block oncoming pass rushers with consistent success. Strong and well developed lower body. Has the vision in space to create angles and take advantage of potential cutback lanes. Easy runner past the second level, has runaway speed. Equally effective inside and outside. Breaks a lot of tackles and will gain yards after contact on almost every carry. Relentless pursuit of more yards.
Weak Points: Inconsistent pad level when approaching the inside runs. Will leave his lower body susceptible to too much contact, some of which is unnecessary. Vision between the tackles doesn’t match his vision in space. Will be late to see running lanes on the straight ahead runs. Isn’t always as assertive as he should be. Will too often look for the big play rather than sure yards. Balance after cuts is inconsistent.
Summary: Fourth year junior entry. Put together a season and a half of very good, well balanced production. Allen may be one of the top all around backs in this class because his game really doesn’t have a standout weakness. He can run, catch, and block all at a high level. He is a hard nosed runner that will play through the whistle, but also has the finesse and vision of a space back. His frame will allow him to hold up for a lot of touches in the NFL, but even he needs to learn how to economically use his body. If he takes the amount of extra hits with his high pad level in the NFL as he did in college, he will have a hard time staying on the field. With that said, he has the upside to be a productive starter in the league.
*Hard guy not to like. He plays really hard and has a lot of talent, plain and simple. He can be a bruiser between the tackles but he’s one of those backs that can be faster than the guy chasing him. I always have an extra liking for those kind of backs. For where I think you can get him, he may be right up there with Cobb as the best value opportunity at the RB spot.
9 – Mike Davis – South Carolina – 5’9/217 – 76
Pro Upside Comparison: CJ Anderson/DEN
Strong Points: Short and stout with a low pad level. Hard target for the tackler to zero in on. Great quickness prior to contact with defenders. Misses the meat of a tackle and consistently falls forward. Savvy runner. Great vision and cutback ability. Dangerous in traffic and in the open field, can see things before they open up. Can set defenders up and plays a step ahead mentally. Good receiver out of the backfield. Effective in the screen game. Able to hide behind blockers and has the short area burst to accelerate past defenders in a pile. Breaks plenty of tackles several different ways.
Weak Points: Lacks the breakaway speed in the open field. Doesn’t have the extra gear after his initial acceleration. Doesn’t show loose hips to move laterally and miss defenders. Lacks experience as a blocker. Loses track of ball security in the open field.
Summary: Junior entry. Two year starter with proven ability to help both the rushing and passing attacks. Davis is a pure running back that is equally effective inside and outside of the tackles. He is a no-nonsense, very decisive runner that explodes through the hole with aggression and body control. He misses big contact often with his ability to shake and cut prior to meeting the tackler. He breaks tackles and consistently falls forward. He is a versatile offensive weapon that can be counted on to catch the ball and move north right away. A ball carrier with this kind of vision fits in to every system. He is built to handle the physical nature of the NFL. While the athletic upside may be a bit limited, he appears to be one of the most pro ready backs in this class.
*I’m not sure about Davis having the highest of ceilings but part of me is more confident he’ll be a reliable contributor than a lot of the guys above him on this list. He stepped in for Marcus Lattimore at South Carolina and just produced more and more. He may have the most natural hands and vision of all the backs in this class. He is a great mid round value if he drops a bit.
10 – T.J. Yeldon – Alabama – 6’1/226 – 75
Pro Upside Comparison: Arian Foster/HOU
Strong Points: Tall, big, and fast. Quick acceleration out of the backfield and good approach to the line. Shows the patience to allow the action to transpire in front of him. Agile hips and quick feet. Good body control. Anticipates running lanes and has good vision. Will run with a good pad level and lean, allowing him to get the most power out of his strong lower half. Has the last second change of direction to miss the meat of a tackle. Good runaway speed. Good pass catcher with soft hands. High effort blocker that will stifle the blitzing linebacker. Excels as an inside and outside runner. Understands game situations and when to pick up necessary yards, runs with altering styles.
Weak Points: Has a fumbling issue. Does not secure the ball high and tight. Will drag plays out and loosen the ball’s attachment from his body. Will get too indecisive with his approach the point of attack. Hangs out behind the line of scrimmage with the ball in his hands for too long. Will create a high target for defenders. Minor durability issues.
Summary: Junior entry. Productive career that showed the versatility to be an every down back in the NFL early on. Has the physical ability to wear a few hats out of the backfield. Runs hard and fast with the quick burst and open field speed. A weapon as a receiver with a lot of production in the screen game in addition to being a good blocker. Yeldon has all the tools to be a star running back in the NFL, but he will need to shore up his ball security, which has been his Achilles heal all three seasons. High upside, versatile back.
*If you asked me where Yeldon would be drafted last year and/or the year before, I would have said 1st round no question. I wouldn’t say his value dropped but this is such a stacked RB class and Yeldon also failed to really take his game to the next level. I still like his game but there are a couple things like a lack of assertiveness and ball security that bothers me. He is uber-talented though.
11 – Tyler Varga – Yale – 5’11/222
12 – Ameer Abdullah – Nebraska – 5’9/205
13 – Marcus Murphy – Missouri – 5’9/195
14 – Josh Robinson – Mississippi State – 5’9/215
15 – Cameron Artis-Payne – Auburn – 5’10/210
16 – Jeremy Langford – Michigan State – 6’0/205
17 – Gus Johnson – Stephen F. Austin – 5’10/215
18 – Karlos Williams – Florida State – 6’1/230
19 – Thomas Rawls – Central Michigan – 5’10/217
20 – Malcolm Brown – Texas – 5’11/225
I think the NYG backfield is in good shape, especially after the signing of Vereen. I can’t say I was disappointed in that signing but it did leave a sour taste in that it may force NYG to hold off on a RB in this draft. There simply may not be room on the depth chart to warrant a selection with one of their first 5 picks. Like I said, this is probably the best RB class I’ve seen as a whole since I’ve been doing this and I even think some of my grades are on the conservative side. There are a few guys with legit superstar potential and at least another handful of guys that can be every down starters.
I understand the notion is that RBs can always be “found in the later rounds” but nothing leads me to think that is any more true that other positions. Take some time and look at how many teams have spent a 1st or 2nd rounder on the RB position. It’ probably more than you think. And it proposes this question: Are the current NYG RBs actually good enough to warrant passing on a really good value at RB in this draft if the opportunity presented itself? I lean towards no. If RB is the right value when NYG is on the clock in round 2, I may have to bite.