For part two of my NFL Draft preview series Kelly's Heroes (check out part one -- receivers), here's a quick rundown of running backs that I personally like for the Seahawks in this year's class. I'll separate prospects into early round types, mid round types, late-round types, and free agent types.
Early Rounds (1-3)
Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska 5'9, 205
Ameer is probably my number one back for the Seahawks, considering they're picking first at #63. Obviously, if Todd Gurley is alive in the 50's and they want to trade up and grab him, I'm not going to cry about that. Gurley has all the attributes that you want in a bell-cow back and could be had at an extreme discount because of his ACL injury last year. Regardless, I don't think that will happen, and with Seattle's decision to trade their first-round pick, Abdullah is my top-rated guy that still has a shot at being alive at the end of the 2nd Round.
The two main downsides to Abdullah's game are his size and his ball security (and his pass pro might be a question mark - but again, that relates to his size), and for those reasons, it's possible he lasts to where the Seahawks pick. Past that though, he has just about everything you look for in a running back.
He's both fast and quick - his short-area explosiveness is unmatched in this class - and he's also a pretty tough inside runner, taking the ball between the tackles with good forward lean and more pop behind his pads than you'd expect for a 205 pound guy. In the open field he sets up defenders with subtle jukes and rocker-steps before blowing past them. He runs through arm tackles. He runs with balance on contact.
He's excellent in the pass game and has been used as a de facto slot receiver at times. He's a very good returner. He's tough, and played hurt most of the second half of last year. He's Russell-Wilson-off-the-charts rare when it comes to off-the-field intangibles and character. He's absurdly accomplished. This is his awards/honors list on the Nebraska webpage:
He's a gym rat that's married to the game. He won the prestigious "Lifter of the Year" Award twice for Nebraska and can squat 580 pounds and bench 365. If you're making a pro comparison for him it'd probably be a combination of, or somewhere in between Shady McCoy and Shane Vereen. He's not a bell-cow type necessarily but he's a game-changing playmaker at running back with home-run capability as a punt and kick returner. If he's there at 63 I don't even care that the Seahawks have three solid backs already on their roster. They can just use him as a return specialist to start out.
Mike Davis, South Carolina 5'9, 210
Davis' 2013 tape is better than his 2014 tape as he dealt with a few nagging injuries this last year, and there is some talk that his conditioning was an issue late in the season. But, he's now lost 10-15 pounds after playing at 220-225 and apparently that's showing up in his quicks during offseason workouts and the like. At 5'9, 210, he reminds me of a smaller version of Christine Michael, just in his running gait and style. He's lower to the ground than he looks and he runs with his pads out in front of his feet.
Davis is a really good receiving back and his foot quickness is the hallmark of his game. He can make defenders miss with subtle stabs and cuts -- he's not going to full-on juke you out of your shoes or throw in any crazy lateral agility move, he's even a little stiff, probably -- but he does enough to run by you. He loves his spin move and it works. He doesn't necessarily have home-run speed but he has that nitrous-oxide burst in the short area that makes him exciting to watch if he gets any semblance of space.
He almost always picks up an extra yard (or more) after getting wrapped up and I can't remember seeing him lose yards upon contact. If a defender takes a bad angle at him he knows how to make them pay -- and that goes to his vision down the field. He seems to put together his second move before he's even made his first. He "sets up" safeties with the best of them, as evidenced by these two runs.
Another thing about Davis is that he's probably getting undervalued at this point as a three-down back so grabbing him in the late third or early fourth would be a nice price..
T.J. Yeldon, Alabama 6'1, 222
Yeldon doesn't get enough play in a deep class of backs but will probably end up being a really solid pro. The more that I watch him the more I like him -- and that's not to say that I think he's going to be a star in the NFL, but I do think he can be productive and ultimately will be a good value to someone that picks him.
The first thing that stands out to me is that he runs with a really upright gait, and part of the reason for that is that he's 6'1, which is pretty tall for your typical NFL back. That said, he has some of the quickest feet of any of the backs in the Draft this year and when he makes a cut, he leaves the past in the past. His decisiveness shows up time and time again, and even if he occasionally runs into the back of one of his own blockers, more often he's slicing through an opening and getting into the second level.
Because of this, I think he'll fit really well into a zone scheme and a lot of the stuff that Alabama does up front is similar to what Tom Cable and the Seahawks like to do with their blocking.
Take, for instance, this zone left run (with slice block by the fullback), which Yeldon cuts back across the grain. Amari Cooper gets called for an illegal block here (meh) but the point is, Yeldon quickly saw his space cramp down on the playside, and had the acceleration to break it back on the backside.
Here's another zone run out of a tight-split pistol formation, something we see the Seahawks run frequently. Yeldon runs at the right tackle's ass crack until that tackle kicks his man out, then cuts it upfield quickly.
Similar to the first play above, the Crimson Tide run zone right with a slice block on the defensive end to the backside. Yeldon gets upfield quickly and does a good job of following his blockers and allowing them to set the running lane. Again, his feet are rapid-fire here and he keeps his balance until the end of the run.
One more time with the slice block (which you see the Seahawks do with their tight ends or fullbacks all the time -- picture, say, Will Tukuafu doing this). Yeldon sets up the DE and the CB to the outside before cutting it upfield and bursting through the seam at 100 MPH. He then makes the safety miss and picks up an additional ten yards or so dragging the horde of defenders with him.
The Seahawks reportedly met with Yeldon at the Combine and the apparent interest isn't surprising, especially if he's flying under the radar a little bit right now. He's a former five-star recruit that never really shot to the super-stardom that people were expecting, and perhaps that's why he's often overlooked.
He's not a power back for his size, and he's apparently had issues with ball security, so that's a concern. So, he's not my top choice in this draft but again, I wouldn't be disappointed if he ends up in Seattle in the third or fourth round.
A few more early round types would be...
David Cobb, Minnesota 5'11, 229
Jay Ajayi, Boise State 5'11, 221
Tevin Coleman, Indiana 5'10, 206
David Johnston, Northern Iowa, 6'1, 224
I just can't get excited about any of these guys, though there are many analysts that love them. Ultimately, each brings a certain projectable skillset to the table and I've seen major draft twitter types hype them up, but when I watch them, I just feel no emotion other than indifference.
Mid Rounds (4-5)
The mid-rounds are for big, fast dudes.
Karlos Williams, Florida State 6'1, 230
Williams is more of a fullback type of guy - perhaps an H-back, that could be used in the pass game and would be a core special teams ace in the mold of Derrick Coleman. A guy that can run 4.48 at 230 pounds with an 80" wingspan is relatively rare, so he's interesting. You'd have to draft him with "special teams ace" and fullback in mind, most likely.
Matt Jones, Florida 6'2, 230
Jones has flown under the radar a little bit but I actually like his tape. He recently ran in the 40 in 4.55 so he's got some speed to go along with his size and brute power. He churns through arm tackles with the best of them in this class, and is a strong receiver out of the backfield. Like Williams, you'd probably draft Jones with special teams and h-back duties in mind, but I think he's more of a natural runner than Williams.
Malcolm Brown, Texas 5'11, 224
I like Malcolm Brown more than most and his very strong agility numbers (6.86 3-cone, 4.15 short shuttle) support what you see on the field -- tight, sharp cuts and very good foot quickness. Brown came to Texas as a five-star recruit and like Yeldon, never lived up to that hype, but he could be a solid role player in the NFL and surprise some people with his ability.
Late Rounds (6-UDFA)
Josh Robinson, Mississippi State 5'8, 217
Robinson doesn't have NFL speed but what he does have, in spades, is tackle breaking ability. According to PFF's new CFF tracking, Robinson was behind only Todd Gurley in the elusiveness metric, which accounts for forced missed tackles and yards after the catch. That's second only to Gurley against Power 5 opponents as well.
That shows up when you go to the tape. Take these three consecutive runs vs. Kentucky, for example.
In fact, in that Kentucky game last season, Robinson made one run that evoked images of Marshawn Lynch's multiple-tackle breaking runs.
He's below average for NFL speed but could be one of those guys that bucks that statistics and plays better than his metrics would predict.
As for the next four, you tell me -- you like?
Thomas Rawls, Central Michigan 5'9, 215
Tyler Varga, Yal 5'11, 224
Synjyn Days, Georgia Tech 6'0, 230
I like all three. I've obviously focused on bigger backs for the most part -- 220 pounds-plus typically, though I think Seattle could be interesting in guys in the 205-215 range as well.