This season Ezekiel Elliott proved to NFL GMs that sometimes it’s worth it to draft a running back high in the 1st round. However, one freak talent does not a trend make, and if I were handed the reigns to a team you can be sure my RBs were all coming from Day 3. Here’s a list of all the teams this season who’s leading rusher was drafted in the first round and was top 10 in rushing yards:
- Dallas Cowboys
…Annnnnnd that’s the whole list. Granted Mark Ingram (Sean Payton’s Doghouse) & Melvin Gordon/AP (injuries) would also likely be up there if not for unfortunate circumstances, but the point remains. Productive running backs can be found all over the draft, and even in undrafted free agency (hellooooooo Arian Foster).
Not only can highly productive RBs be found on Day 3 and beyond, but rookie RBs can also make a huge impact in year 1. After Zeke, Jordan Howard (Round 5, pick 150), Fat Rob Kelley (Undrafted), Derrick Henry (2, 45), Kenneth Dixon (4, 134) & Paul Perkins (5, 149) all impressed when given the opportunity to carry the mail. It obviously depends on the situation they’re drafted into, but don’t hesitate to draft a rookie RB in your fantasy league, especially if you’re in a keeper league.
Player projections tend to be all over the map this time of year, but I am only trying to highlight those RBs that are projected to go day 2 and later (on average). This is a LOADED RB class, so I expect around 4-5 starters to emerge from the later rounds.
Marlon Mack – South Florida
NFL Comp – Darren McFadden
While Mack’s raw rushing yards suffered a bit (1,187 yards, 37th in NCAA) because of Quinton Flowers’ (USF QB) propensity to run (1,530 yards) he still put a ton of impressive tape together during his 3 seasons as a starter at USF. The all-time leading rusher in USF history demonstrates solid vision to hit the open hole, great footwork, and tremendous burst to accelerate to the second level and beyond. While his speed may not be that of an elite home run hitter, it’s more than adequate and his short area quickness will certainly come in handy at the next level. Mack has solid receiving skills as well but he may be more of a 2 down back in the NFL.
Mack’s true game-breaking talent though comes in his ability and desire to shed would be tacklers. His low center of gravity and incredible balance allows him to not just break tackles, but to shrug them off as if the defender weren’t even there. Beyond that, his jump cut may have been the best I saw this side of Christian McCaffrey and it allows him to change direction on a dime (jump to the 0:52 mark above for a STUPID example). In the open field his go to move is a helmet destroying stiff arm that gets him even more YAC.
On the downside, Mack runs extremely upright which may hurt him on the injury front and in short yardage situations. He’s coming from Willie Taggert’s read option offense in the AAC, and will need to prove his skills translate both to more complex reads & an uptick in competition.
Verdict – Take a flyer on Mack in your fantasy draft, as this kid is going to be a stud sooner rather than later.
Kareem Hunt, Toledo
NFL Comp – Devonta Freeman
Kareem Hunt was a super productive college RB (1,475 rushing yards this year, 15th in FBS), and shows many qualities that should give him a long & productive career in the league. His bowling ball style of running (hence the Freeman comp) allows him to bounce off both his own blockers & opposing defenders to consistently keep his feet churning for yards after contact. Hunt is decisive and while he doesn’t always hit the most open hole, he makes up his mind and Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s his way through some tight spaces.
The part of Hunt’s game that will most quickly translate to the NFL though are his receiving skills and his exceptional ball security. Through his first 3 seasons Hunt only had 32 total receptions, but bested that combined total alone his senior season with 41 receptions (T-11 among RBs in FBS). He has a knack for getting to open spaces and is a phenomenal safety blanket as he hauls in passes that should be outside of his catch radius. As for ball security, Hunt never lost a fumble in 855 touches in his college career (only 1 fumble period, his freshman year).
On the downside, Hunt’s lack of vision is sometimes troubling, although this can perhaps be attributed to the lack of athleticism of the blockers in front of him. He also doesn’t possess top end speed (although short area burst is tremendous) with a noticeable lack of TD finishes on his longer runs.
Verdict – Hunt is a prototypical 3 down back, with his receiving and ball security skills sure to endear him to whichever coach has the privilege of coaching him. Withstand the snickers on draft day and don’t hesitate to pull the trigger on this kid come August, he’ll be a difference maker down the stretch.
Samaje Perine, Oklahoma
NFL Comp – Jeremy Hill
Speaking of uber productive college RBs, Samaje Perine had some of the best career stats of this entire draft class (Donnell Pumphery withstanding). Those more familiar with college football may remember Perine’s FBS single game rushing record of 427 yards (still standing), set during his scintillating Freshman season at Norman. This year Perine broke Billy Sims’ Oklahoma career rushing yards record, which had stood since 1979 (not even AP could break that record).
Elite production like that at a major program will always get on my radar, but it’s Perine’s running style that has me excited for his jump into the league. Perine doesn’t look to make tacklers miss, he’d rather just run straight through them. While Jeremy Hill is a couple inches taller, Perine’s tape reminded me of Hill’s studly rookie year in the league. He has all the qualities you look for in a short yardage back…excellent balance & footwork, the desire to take on defenders, and superb ball security while maintaining deceptive burst & speed to break through a massive hole.
His aggressive running style may lead to some concerns about his long term viability, especially with health issues sidelining him for 3 games this year after no previous injury woes. Perine also has questionable top end speed, and porous Big 12 defenses may have made him look better than he is in both tackling ability and allowing huge holes for him to run through. Perine also doesn’t offer much as a passing down back and likely projects as a two down RB in the NFL.
Verdict – Wait and see. While this is true for almost every rookie RB, I think Perine especially needs to go to a team that has a need for a reliable early down thumper as well as an excellent offensive line. He may still hold value as a short yardage back in other situations, but think of Jeremy Hill’s rookie year vs. his 2nd & 3rd in the spectrum of what Perine could offer depending on the players around him.
Wayne Gallman, Clemson
NFL Comp – Latavius Murray
A name college football fans are sure to recognize, Wayne Gallman from the National Champion Clemson Tigers (man that felt good to write, fuck Saban) is currently projected to be a very borderline day 2 prospect. Gallman is used to being underestimated though, as there were loud whispers that Clemson only signed him to improve their chances in signing his high school teammate and #1 overall recruit Robert Nkemdiche. Gallman spent his time in Death Valley proving his haters wrong, and whenever I see a highly productive player on an elite team with a CHIP on his shoulder I get giddy.
I think Gallman is underrated in all aspects of his game. He is extremely willing to take on tacklers, but also shows great cutback ability to make them miss. He varies between outrunning a defender to the edge, running through them, stepping over leg tackles, quick jukes to make them reach for air, and my personal favorite, a crazy spin move that can get him out of even the tightest of spaces. He’s also very sure-handed as both a rusher and pass casher and is definitely willing to stand in and pick up the blitz. Finally, I love that Gallman showed no fear or signs of intimidation in either of the National Championship games he played in, and a RB with those sort of cajones can always play for my (theoretical) squad.
The main concern on Gallman is his upright running style that can leave him susceptible to jarring hits, and may lead to some ball security issues at the next level (although it didn’t show at school). The presence of Deshaun Watson also made things easier for Gallman, especially when defenses bit on read option plays and Wayne could gallop freely to greener pastures. Beyond that, he has a slight frame (200 lbs) for such a tall RB (6’1″) and you can be sure his next team will make him pack on the pounds. Will that take away some of the explosiveness that makes him the player he is today?
Verdict – I love Gallman as a 3 down back in the NFL, but there simply aren’t very many of those anymore. I think a rookie year with few opportunities is in store for him, unless his team is out of it by December (or injuries vault him up the depth chart). Look out for Gallman in year 2 or 3 of his career as a coach falls in love with his determination and reliability.
Coming soon – Day 3 RBs