Thursday, April 20, 2017

Breaking Down the Running Backs of the 2017 NFL Draft

Earlier this week, I tackled the quarterbacks of the 2017 NFL Draft, so today, I wanted to analyze their backfield mates in the running backs of this class. This class is very exciting at the top of the draft, so I wanted to focus on the top four names in this year's class.

Dalvin Cook - Florida State
From what is on tape, there is no doubt that Dalvin Cook should be the first running back off the board. Unfortunately, there are issues outside of the tape that could make an impact. Most importantly is the shoulder injuries. Shoulder injuries used to be a death sentence for running backs, as guys never seemed to be able to stay healthy after sustaining one, but medical technology has helped where it’s not a deal breaker, but it would be silly not to drop him down a bit because of that.

Second is his testing numbers at the combine. His numbers were abysmal. Watching the guy play, there is no way he could have tested that poorly, so I can’t say that it should have a huge impact, but the only real explanation of him testing that poorly is him simply not giving a shit.

Which leads us to the third issue, and that’s off the field issues. I don’t put much weight at all at this, but with the combine testing being so poor, it does worry me a bit about whether he’s taking football 100% seriously. I really hope he is, but I also have to hope he stays healthy, which is a worrisome combo.

(watches Clemson game again)

Oh hell, just draft the guy.

Leonard Fournette - LSU
I know that ranking someone over Fournette may seem like blasphemy to the average football fan, but that’s how much I love my guy Cook. Still, Fournette is the closest thing we’ve had to Adrian Peterson. He doesn’t avoid hits; he looks to make them. He will be a very good running back, but his versatility has to be questioned a bit, and that hurts his overall value. Still, if you’re looking for a back to pound the rock between the tackles, you’re not going to do any better than Fournette.

Christian McCaffery - Stanford
Okay, let’s address the elephant in the room. Christian McCaffery is a running back, but he is also a (gasp) white guy. Okay, obviously, the next assumption is that he’s a fullback in the John Kuhn mold, but no, he is actually a halfback that is not just in there for 1-2 yard dives and blocking assignments. I know it’s tough to wrap your head around, so I’ll give you a minute…

Okay, now let’s talk about how stupid good this guy is. Two years ago, he set the record for yardage gained by any player in NCAA history; it was held by a guy named Barry Sanders, who went on to have a decent NFL career. So after breaking this record, people were disappointed that he didn’t have as good of stats as the GREATEST SEASON IN NCAA HISTORY. Now, there were rumors that he was dealing with injuries, and he still had an incredible season by any reasonable standard, but people were still disappointed.

Here’s the thing with McCaffery. He’s an incredible running back. He fits in perfectly with new offenses in the NFL. He’s not going to be your Leonard Fournette, pounding the ball repeatedly up the gut, but he’s going to be a guy who can take 15-18 carries, with another 5-7 catches a game. He handled the workload at Stanford, so there’s no reason to think he won’t be able to handle it at the next level. And he’s so stupid good that his floor is Darren Sproles with a ceiling of poor man’s Marshall Faulk. I know those are black guys, but it’s the best comparison you’re going to find.

Joe Mixon - Oklahoma
Ugh, it’s time to feel dirty.

You’ve probably seen the video, and it is sickening. But the video doesn’t make the act itself any worse than people who don’t have it on video. But it’s definitely bad. Unlike Greg Hardy, Joe Mixon has outwardly shown remorse, but my cynicism understands that this may be so he can get paid. I don’t know how to weigh that, so I just want to evaluate him as a football player.

As a football player, he’s really freaking good. There is no way to watch him play without thinking one word: Explosive. He just explodes in all of his actions. It’s one cut and blast through the hole, but he also showed good patience and vision to wait for a hole instead of just ramming himself straight into a pile of bodies. He does a good job of catching the ball, as he’s a hands catcher so he should also be an asset in the passing game. On talent alone, he’s without a doubt a first round talent and arguably the best running back in this class.

But there’s also the other stuff, and without immediate access to Mixon, there is no way to properly weigh that. I mean, is a team really sending a message by not drafting him until later? Like, we see how talented this guy is, but the off the field troubles only make him a third rounder in our eye; is that admirable? I think he likely drops to round two, and as a football player, it’ll be great value, but that doesn’t mean I have to feel good about it.

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