Bob Donnan/USA Today Sports

NFL Combine breakdown: Running backs

With the Cardinals needing to find a suitable backup for star David Johnson, Arizona may target a running back in the middle to late rounds of the NFL Draft.

How many free agent running backs are looking at Arizona as a premier destination this offseason?

Based on the performance of Cardinals' running back David Johnson in 2016, and the organization's over-reliance on Johnson throughout the regular season, it's unlikely many starter-caliber players view Arizona as an attractive option.

Nevertheless, with uncertainty surrounding veteran free agent Chris Johnson's potential return and underwhelming play from former Cardinals' draft pick Andre Ellington, Arizona needs to find David Johnson a quality backup.

The best option for the Cardinals may be pursuing a player in the NFL Draft, which has a particularly deep class of backs this year and could offer the franchise an opportunity to wait until the middle or late rounds to find a difference-maker for the backfield.

With Arizona's roster structure and team needs in mind, CardinalsSource highlighted four running backs whose NFL Combine performances suggest they have what it takes to back up David Johnson. 

James Conner

40-yard dash: 4.65

Bench press: 20 reps

Vertical jump: 29 inches

Broad jump: 113.0 inches

Analysis: Entering the NFL Combine, general manager Steve Keim said the Cardinals' goal this offseason was to find a complementary back to Johnson who possessed all the same skills and abilities. Sorry, Steve, but that's not happening. What the Cardinals can search for, though, are players with similar abilities and Conner has the size at 6-foot-1 and 233 pounds to rival Johnson. Though Conner isn't nearly as fast, running a 40-yard dash time 0.15 seconds slower than Johnson's two years ago, he has the bulk to play on an every down basis and is comfortable rolling out of the backfield into routes. What Conner's Combine performance lacked was explosiveness, as he graded low in the vertical jump and broad jump, so that means he may be on the board in the fifth, sixth or even seventh round if the Cardinals are still out for a back.

Samaje Perine

40-yard dash: 4.65 seconds

Bench press: 30 reps

Vertical jump: 33.0 inches

Broad jump: 116 inches

3-cone drill: 7.26 seconds

20-yard shuttle: 4.37 seconds

60-yard shuttle: 11.71 seconds

Analysis: Of all the backs CardinalsSource covers in this piece, Perine will probably be the first one off the board, as he's expected to go somewhere between the second and fourth rounds. In terms of size, Perine compares favorably to Johnson, as Perine is a bit shorter but also a bit bulkier and has proven at the college level he can handle an extended workload. Perine impressed on the bench press with 30 repetitions, and was one of the only running backs at the Combine to go through every drill. Though his 3-cone drill and 20-yard shuttle didn't stack up with the top running backs in this year's draft class, his vertical jump and broad jump were almost right on par with Johnson's, which suggests Perine has a great deal of explosiveness. Whether Arizona would want to use a pick in the third or even the fourth round on a running back is up in the air, but Perine could make a convincing case. 

Donnel Pumphrey

40-yard dash: 4.48

Bench press: Five reps

Vertical jump: 33.5 inches

Broad jump: 117.0 inches

Analysis: Physically, there aren't many similarities between Johnson and Pumphrey, who is much more in the Ellington mold of smaller scat backs who can run between the tackles a few times a game when called upon. However, Pumphrey does have production on his side, as he blew away Marshall Faulk's records at San Diego State en route to becoming one of the top statistical backs in FBS history. While Pumphrey probably doesn't have the size to ever become a full-service NFL back, he can complement Johnson and he should be on the board late in the draft when the Cardinals will presumably look for a second or third option in the backfield. Pumphrey lacks strength, but he does have powerful legs for his size that were on display with his vertical jump and broad jump measurements.

DeVeon Smith

40-yard dash: N/A

Bench press: 22 reps

Broad jump: 108.0 inches

3-cone drill: 7.30 seconds

20-yard shuttle: 4.56 seconds

60-yard shuttle: 11.75 seconds

Analysis: The Cardinals love speed, and they treasure explosiveness, so on the surface, Smith isn't exactly the type of back the Cardinals are looking for. Smith is a productive player who brings great vision and determination to the table, but he's not a game-breaker who is going to outrun anyone in the open field. Because of that, though, Smith should be available in the mid to late rounds, and he does have size that's reminiscent of Johnson and a rugged running style that could benefit the Cardinals in short yardage situations. At Michigan, Smith became used to playing power football, and his competitive mindset could make him a valued presence on special teams units. If the Cardinals haven't taken a running back by the sixth or seventh round, Keim will probably take a flier on a small school player, but if he goes the Power 5 conference route, Smith may be his man. 


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