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2016 NFL Draft Gems -- Running back preview

Some of the best, draft-eligible RB's for the 2016 NFL draft.

'15- year of the RB
'15- year of the RB
Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

It’s never too soon to start looking forward towards the 2016 draft. Ok, I’m sure it is for most of you, but I love this ish, so I’m looking forward.

We’ll start the 2015 college season similarly to the start of the 2014 college season…thinking it will be the year of the RB. At least, I did. Then, somewhere middle of the 2014 season, the running backs just stopped looking relevant. I mean, I still had the feeling that Gordon and Gurley would splash the 1st round, but I just stopped caring about the "depth" guys. Coleman had his fundamental flaw of carrying one-handed, Ameer was small and had fumble issues, Davis wasn’t healthy and didn’t play well…

Simultaneously, Marshawn didn’t show much sign of depreciation in his game, got the contract extension, and it just felt like "we’re okay at RB at least another year." The Seahawks’ draft indicated similar. But Turbin is now in his final year before UFA, CMike is still an enigma, and then we look at the college backs and daydream of a return to a RB draft the likes of which we haven’t seen since 2008 when Darren McFadden, Jonathan Stewart, Rashard Mendenhall, Chris Johnson, Matt Forte, and Jamaal Charles all hit the league in the first three rounds. (Sidenote: that deep 2008 draft followed the 2007 draft where we had only two RB drafted in the 1st round: Adrian Peterson and Marshawn Lynch. Are Gurley/Gordon to 2014 as AD/Beast were to 2007, with both duos foretelling the crest of the wave arriving the year that follows?)

So I open this year with cautious optimism. Cautious because I recognize my optimism in the past was unrewarded. But optimistic nonetheless because we’ve seen  these ebbs and flows before.

We start with the reminder that RB has the shortest shelf-life of all positions in the league, and it’s probably the position we should (and do) see the most underclassmen declare. This is okay. This is, in fact, preferable. And for the 2016 class to be half as exciting as I think it can be, we will need to see many Juniors declare.

The Senior class next year holds Devontae Booker, Byron Marshall, Jonathan Williams, Tra Carson, and DJ Foster. Good, but not great list. The Junior class holds Zeke Elliott, Derrick Henry, James Conner, Corey Clement, Thomas Tyner, Kareem Hunt, Donnel Pumphrey, Jordan Howard, Matt Breida, Paul Perkins, Aaron Jones, Elijah McGuire, Shock Linwood, Alex Collins. Potentially great list.

That’s a list of 14 Juniors…11 of which ran for over 1000 yards last year. Tyner was dinged up and got pushed down the depth chart behind Royce Freeman. Clement was behind Melvin Gordon (and still put up 949 yards). And Henry basically split carries with TJ Yeldon (172-Henry, 190-Yeldon), and still managed to put up 990 yards. With Gordon and Yeldon graduated to the NFL, basically, we could assume 13 of 14 Juniors will have enough RB1 carries in 2015 to hit the 1K mark.

Once we have a list of primary suspects, I start eliminating names based on size. After not drafting any RB this draft, Seahawks have (yet again) shown a desire for their RB’s to come in at at least 210 lbs by signing both Thomas Rawls (5’9"/215) and Rod Smith (6’3"/231) in UDFA. The Seahawks’ 90-man roster now holds six RB; and all six weigh at least 210lbs (the smallest of which is Bronson at 5’9"/210).

Rod Smith is very much an anomaly in this group, which suggests to me his future may lie somewhere other than a true RB. If we exclude Smith, the other five RB fit a very narrow range from 5’9"-5’11" tall, and 210-222 pounds heavy. In the grand scheme of things, that’s PRETTY specific. We may be able to cross off guys that are either too small or too big. When I narrow my 2016 RB search parameters to these height-weight specs, I come away with four names:

Thomas Tyner- 5’11"/215 5.07/5/22.6

Corey Clement- 5’11"/217 6.46/9/16.3

Alex Collins- 5’11"/215 5.39/12/17

Kareem Hunt- 5’11"/215 7.96/16/12.8

That’s a pretty cool list. I’m least-excited about Clement because on tape he looks like his reported height-weight marks are being fudged the most. You could also argue that Wisconsin backs have been very disappointing once in the league. But just for reference’s sake, Clement averaged 6.46 YPC and scored 9 TD’s as MG3’s backup:

Tyner skews the group numbers a bit because of his lack of touches, but even his low-mark of 5.07 YPC is a nice number. I’ve sort of unofficially dubbed Tyner the CMike of this class. A) I think his SPARQ is supposed to be crazy, much like CMike’s was. B) he’s been dinged up and dropped down the depth chart. In 2012, CMike ran for only 417 yards on 88 carries…last year, TT ran for only 573 yards on 113 carries. With Royce Freeman pretty solidly entrenched as the incumbent RB1, it stands to reason that Tyner will not see many touches this year, and could slide in the draft as a result. This could be to Seattle’s benefit. C) I think Tyner and CMike actually look really similar in their running style/posture.

Collins reminds me more of an Isaiah Crowell. 5.39 YPC and 12 TD’s last year. I like Collins’ interviews, but I need to see more game tape. From what I have seen, I’m not sure that I love his vision.

Hunt is currently my favorite of the four Seahawky RB. All of these guys have the right size, but Hunt had the best production last year. We’re talking 1631 yards rushing, 16 rushing TD’s, 163.1 yds/gm, the 2nd-most explosive runs (20 yards plus) in the country behind Gordon. And I just love how he runs. Currently, there isn’t a whole lot of game tape out on him, so I literally spent a good 30 minutes recently watching every individual run that ESPN has of him on their site. The kid is special.

I’m currently putting Hunt second on my RB rankings behind only Zeke. Speaking of Zeke, I’m sure everyone will want to fantasize about him as a Seahawk, but I think we should put that dream to bed early. He is not going to be available to Seattle without some kind of catastrophic, injury-riddled implosion season.

I also don’t think the "smaller back" happens, but I do have some names I will point out as most intriguing to be exceptions to the rule.

Aaron Jones- 5’10"/185- UTEP. 1321 yards, 11 TD’s, 5.46 YPC last year. Unbelievably hard runner for his size. I straight-up can’t believe he powers through some of the tackles he does in this video. Shows great FBIQ. The double stiff-arm run is probably my favorite single run of all RB in this piece. Seriously, watch this guy. This is a GRITTY football player.

Elijah McGuire- 5’11"/198- LALafayette. I’ve been tracking Elijah for two years already. What an explosive player. After averaging 8.38 YPC as a true freshman, he came back his sophomore year and averaged 7.61 YPC. A good receiver, McGuire finished 24th in the country last year in yards from scrimmage per game (just behind Aaron Jones). He ranked 10th in the country in runs of over 50 yards. His receiving is, at times, spectacular. This is the kind of player I would HATE to see the Patriots get ahold of.

Matt Breida- 5’10"/185- Georgia Southern. Another highly explosive player. Finished 4th in the country in YPC (8.68), 3rd in runs of over 50 yards, to go with his 1485 yards and 17 TD’s on the ground. Again, another nice receiver out of the backfield.

Worth noting that each of the previous three "smaller backs" has a fair amount of broken tackles in his respective video. If the Hawks were to break from their mold and go smaller, it will be for a smaller guy that breaks tackles. The one other negative thought I have on these three is that, not only are they smaller RB, they also come from smaller schools. Non-prototypical build plus non-prototypical school may not make for the most compelling argument for leaving school after only their Junior year. Might see this group stay in school until 2017.

This is going to have to conclude this; my first 2016 draft preview of the year. I was originally intending to do a quick snapshot of some of my favorite guys at all positions, but there just ended up being so many RB I wanted to talk about. We’ll get to other positions really soon.