Throughout the off-season thus far, the top two story-lines surrounding the Dallas Cowboys have been two high profile free-agent-to-be’s, Dez Bryant, and DeMarco Murray. The club has been very forthright about their desires to retain Bryant, however, Murray’s future with the team is much more up in the air. Combining Murray’s uncertain future, the Cowboys commitment to being a running team shows that they will likely not be satisfied with standing pat. The natural place to look for a potential replacement is the NFL draft. So for the first in a weekly series of position previews, let’s look at the top running backs in the 2015 class.
Note: These rankings are based on the grades that I put on each player as I evaluate them through the Lens of the Cowboys scheme, and player preferences.
Height/Weight: 6’/ 222 lbs Projected Round: 1st 2014 Statistics: 123 carries, 911 yds, 7.4 ypc, 9 TDs, 12 rec, 57 yds
Absolute stud on tape who shows everything you want to see from a runner. Runs tough and explosively, and rarely gets tackled by one guy, has a plus stiff arm that helps him break tackles, and always falls forward. Doesn’t fumble and turns poorly blocked plays in to positive gains. Very good on runs both inside and outside, with ability to work in a telephone booth inside and athleticism to make plays on the edge. He has a second gear that lets him finish plays in the end zone, once he gets going north and south it only takes him about two steps to reach full speed. In the pass game he looks like a natural catcher of the football, and has the suddenness to be very good after the catch. He’s a willing protector whose good vision carries to that part of the game helping him recognize pressures. Does not fumble. Only thing keeping him out of the top 10-15 picks is the ACL tear suffered in November.
Height/Weight: 6’/ 215 lbs Projected Round: Late 1st/Early 2nd 2014 Statistics: 343 carries, 2,587 yds, 7.5 ypc, 29 TDs, 19 rec, 153 yds, 3 rec TDs
Dynamic big play runner with ability to sustain top speed to score from anywhere on the field. Is a little too quick to bounce the ball to the outside which you can’t do and expect to win consistently at the NFL level. He can run the wide zone play and get north and south on a cut back when the crease is there. He shows some physicality to his play, but doesn’t have as much power as some others in the class, but has the explosive athletic ability to make up for it. Showed the ability to catch the ball and make plays after the catch, and is willing to block when asked. He did fumble twice in the three games I studied.
Height/Weight: 5’ 11”/ 206 lbs Projected Round: 2nd 2014 Statistics: 270 carries, 2,036 yards, 7.5 ypc, 15 TDs, 25 rec, 141 yds
If you’re looking for a running back with a similar style to that of DeMarco Murray, watch Coleman play against Indiana St. He runs a little upright, but still has enough lower body strength to run through arm tackles. Has very good vision, the speed to out run pursuit and breaks a ton of long runs. Took a couple more tackles for loss than I’d like but also turned some runs that were blocked for zero yards into 2 or 3 yard gains. Is not afraid of contact, but because he has speed to finish he doesn’t have to seek the contact. He’s able to pick out his man in pass protection but needs some technique work, saw him whiff and give up a sack. He’s a difficult guy to bring down whether in space, between the tackles or after the catch.
Height/Weight: 5’ 9”/ 205 lbs Projected Round: 2nd 2014 Statistics: 264 carries 1,611 yards, 6.1 ypc, 19 TDs, 22 rec, 269 yds, 3 rec TDs
At his size many consider him to be a change of pace, speed back who isn’t capable of carrying the load at the NFL level, however I see him differently. Weighing in at 205 at the combine, and still testing well in agility/explosion drills was very important for Abdullah. His most impressive game in my opinion was his matchup against Michigan St. when he ran for only 45 yards on 24 carries (1.9 ypc). His front was completely over matched and he did not have his usual running room. But the coaches kept feeding him the ball, especially in short yardage situations and he converted every time, including 2 TD runs from inside the 5, in this game he earned every one of his yards. He has awesome stop/start ability, making him an awesome “one cut” runner, who only needs a tiny crease in the zone running game.. Keeps his pads down and has great balance making him very hard to tackle both in space and in tight areas, and will get a lot of dirty yards. He’s a very good catch and run player, and Nebraska split him out wide or into the slot to run routes a few times. Did fumble in all three games I watched, and ball security was an issue throughout his career, but two of the fumbles I saw were on the exchange from the QB on a read play, the third was extending the ball inside the 5 yard line. Carried the ball 20 or more times in 7 of the 12 games he was able to finish in 2014. His size will be a limitation in pass protection at the NFL level, but he will give the effort, and be in the right place.
Height/Weight: 5’11” / 225 lbs Projected Rd: 2nd-3rd 2014 Statistics:314 carries, 1,626 yds, 5.2 ypc, 16 rec, 162 yds
Shows enough patience to wait to see the hole and then hit it, rather than immediately bouncing. He’s a chain mover who is elusive enough to make a guy miss in the open field but physical enough to be tough to bring down and run through tackles in a phone booth. Runs downhill and rarely gets brought down in the back field. Consistently gains more than the play is blocked for. Runs very tough and is not afraid of contact, but when he gets the opportunity he looks to finish with six points. Doesn’t have elite top end speed, or quickness like the guys above him, but is good enough to be a starting back at the NFL level. Can catch the ball with his hands and get up field when used in the pass game, but uses ducks his head and uses very poor technique leading with his shoulder rather than mirroring and using his hands in pass pro, so he will struggle in this area early in his career. His overall toughness suggests it won’t be a long term problem.
6- Jay Ajayi - Boise State University 7- Duke Johnson – University of Miami 8- David Johnson – University of Northern Iowa 9- T.J. Yeldon – Alabama 10- Mike Davis – South Carolina
John Crockett – North Dakota State University Malcolm Brown – University of Texas Cameron Artis-Payne – Auburn University Buck Allen – University of Southern California Jeremy Langford – Michigan State University