2016 NFL Draft: Top 5 Running Back Prospects: Two Names Rise Above The Rest

by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)

For a long time drafting a running back in the first round became taboo, but that trend was bucked in 2015 when Todd Gurley (10th) and Melvin Gordon (15th) were selected.  Could it happen in back-to-back years?  Who are the best candidates (and who are the best running backs overall)?  Let’s take a look (* indicates an underclassman):

Tier 1
1) Ezekiel Elliot – Ohio State *

November 14 (at Illinois) – 27 carries, 181 yards, 2 TD
2015 – 1,425 yards (6.5 YPC), 16 TD; 24 receptions, 169 yards

The numbers are obviously highly impressive, as he’s proven to be a workhorse with 20+ carries seven times this season.  He’s also proven more than capable as a receiver and has scored at least 1 TD in all but one game.  He may be your “old school” back, wearing down defenses and then exploding as the game moves along.  As Bill Landis of The Cleveland Plain Dealer (click here for the article) recently wrote:

It seems that every week Elliott has a hard time getting things going early, but always finishes with a bang.”

There’s certainly nothing wrong with that, and he has the size to do it (6’0”, 225 lbs.), though it’s his other abilities that may boost his stock the most.  As per Walter Football:

“He also has done some nice blocking, which is valuable for pro evaluators.”

That potential to be a true three down back is something NFL team look for.

2) Derrick Henry – Alabama *
November 14 (at Mississippi) – 22 carries, 204 yards, 2 TD
2015 – 1,458 yards (6.1 YPC), 19 TD; 9 receptions, 69 yards

He’s big (6’3”, 242 lbs.) and has consistently been delivering this season.  There has yet to be a game where he’s failed to find the end zone and he’s now rushed for over 200 yards in three of his past four games.  He’s also had some monster workloads (32+ carries in two of his past four games), showing that he can be a true workhorse.

That said, he’s yet to prove that he can consistently catch the football (15 receptions over the course of his college career), which could ultimately limit him to early down/short yardage work.  Obviously that’s hardly a bad thing, but it is going to help keep him a step behind the more well-rounded Elliot.

It’s not to say that he can’t play all three downs, as Walter Football noted:

“Not only has Henry’s running been impressive this season, but the blitz protection will really excite scouts. His contributions in the passing game will really help Henry’s draft grade and give NFL teams the evidence that he can be a three-down starter as a pro.”

Tier 2
3) Devontae Booker – Utah
November 14 (at Arizona) – 34 carries, 145 yards, 1 TD
2015 – 1,261 yards (4.3 YPC), 11 TD; 37 receptions, 318 yards

He’s been given 34 carries in back-to-back games, and a lot of his numbers have been generated thanks to workload as opposed to an impressive average.  Obviously, at 5’11” there are going to be questions as to whether he can hold up to that type of workload.  That’s not the only question, as Walter Football notes:

“Booker has gained a lot of yards after contact in college, but that quality will be diminished when he faces NFL defenders. “

On the flipside he’s proven that he can catch the football, with 80 receptions over the past two seasons, and at the very least could have a role as a third-down/rotational type back.  It’ll be interesting to see how he finishes off the year and how well he performs in the pre-draft workouts.

4) C.J. Prosise – Notre Dame
November 14 (vs. Wake Forrest) – Did Not Play
2015 – 975 yards (6.6 YPC), 11 TD; 25 receptions, 291 yards, 1 TD

He’s probably the player who has seen his stock rise the most this season and, while he won’t jump into Tier 1, could easily be the #3 option.  There’s no question about his ability to catch the football, as a player who transitioned from wide receiver to running back this season.  He missed this past weekend with a concussion, though he’s expected to return this week (as with any concussion, it obviously is something we’ll have to watch long-term).

Prosise wasn’t expected to play a major role this season, but was forced into action when Tarean Folston was injured on Opening Day.  He’s made the most of his chances, though, and it will be interesting to see how teams evaluate him.

5) Alex Collins – Arkansas *
November 14 (at LSU) – 16 carries, 141 yards, 2 TD
2015 – 1,209 yards (6.1 YPC), 14 TD; 9 receptions, 90 yards

His TD number is buoyed by a 5 TD game and he hasn’t shown an ability to produce in the passing game.  That’s obviously going to give cause for concern, and could limit him to a rotational type running back.  At this point he appears to be more of a “solid” option, as opposed to a spectacular one who may carry the load in the NFL, though time will tell.

Also in Tier 2 – Paul Perkins (UCLA)

Sources – ESPN, Walter Football

Make sure to check out our previous NFL Draft Prospect Rankings:

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