In Part 2 of our Green Bay Packers draft preview, we examine the running backs.
PACKERS AREA OF NEED (1 TO 10)
Lacy posted 1,139 rushing yards, averaged 4.6 per carry — better than his 4.1 as a rookie — and rushed for nine touchdowns. Starks rushed for 333 yards, averaged 3.9 per carry — down from his league-high 5.5 in 2013 — and scored twice.
In the final 12 games, Lacy rushed for 978 yards and 5.07 yards per carry. Over the final six games, his 592 rushing yards ranked third in the league.
“I think Eddie had a heck of a year,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “I thought Eddie played better in his second year than his first year. His first year, he made a huge impact for our football team. The number of tackles that he broke, the production he had in the run game was definitely the highlight of his rookie season. Year 2, the ability to play first, second and third down was very impactful for us offensively. I think Eddie made a huge step this year and really the focus was to give him the ball more in the passing game and things like that. Very smart, instinctive player. The understanding that he has of our protection schemes, adjustments and things like that and his pass blocking really improved.”
The Packers could use a change-of-pace back as a third option after sending DuJuan Harris on his way. Kick-return skills would be an added bonus, with a touchback being the best play in last year’s kickoff-return arsenal. It's just not a priority to draft a pick in the first few rounds.
IT’S WORTH NOTING
Under Thompson, the Packers’ preference has been for big backs, who tend to perform better on bad fields and be better in pass protection. The shortest running back selected by Thompson was Brandon Jackson, the 2007 second-rounder who checked in at 5-foot-9 7/8. The smallest was Johnathan Franklin, at 5-foot-10 and 205 pounds. His build stood in stark contrast to Lacy, Starks, Alex Green, Ryan Grant and Cedric Benson.
Taking a league-wide view, from 2008 through 2010, 11 running backs were selected in the first round, including five taken in the first 12 picks. From 2011 through 2014, four running backs were selected in the first round, including just one in the top 12. That drought includes no first-round picks in each of the past two drafts.
“You know, there’s a myriad of reasons, probably,” Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht said. “The shelf life has been a concern, I think. You draft a player in the first round, you ideally probably want to get to a second contract. There just haven’t been a whole lot of those types of players that teams felt were worthy of that.”
THOMPSON’S SUCCESS RATE
It took a while for Thompson to find his franchise back.
Todd Gurley, Georgia (6-1, 232; no 40-yard time due to injury): Gurley’s career average of 6.44 yards per carry set a Georgia record and his 109.5 rushing yards per game is second only to Herschel Walker. He started 27 of 30 career games and ranks second with 3,285 rushing yards and 4,322 all-purpose yards. However, his final season was a bust. He was suspended for taking money to sign autographs and then sustained a torn ACL.
Nonetheless, Gurley is considered the best back in the draft because of his size and diverse skill-set. He’s got excellent hands out of the backfield (65 catches in three seasons, including 37 in 2013) and averaged a whopping 38.4 yards per kickoff return.
“There might not be a big back in college that has the pure blend of power, balance and quickness that the Bulldog possesses,” reads a snippet of his scouting report. “Compared favorably to Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch, he can generate a second gear to separate in the open and has the nimble feet needed to make precise lateral cuts. e is a very effective blocker and a tough inside runner who loves to challenge the defender in one-on-one situations. ”
Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin (6-1, 215; 4.52 at Combine): Gordon led all FBS running backs with a career average of 7.79 yards per carry. He ranks sixth in Big Ten history with 4,915 career rushing yards — an impressive feat considering he had started only eight games in his first three seasons while working behind Montee Ball and James White.
The question is, will Gordon be a star in the NFL? Or will he fall short of expectations, like other Badgers backs before him, because his college production was fueled by Wisconsin’s always-superior offensive line?
“Oh, yeah, he’s the real deal,” a team’s Midwest scout said . “You know how Adrian Peterson, every time he gets the ball, he’s a threat to go the distance? Same with Melvin. I’m not saying they’re the same kind of back but it seems like Gordon is always in the open field.”
In 2014, he rushed for 2,587 yards (7.54 per carry) and 29 touchdowns and caught 19 of his career total of 22 passes.
“Gordon shows explosive lateral agility and movement and is a threat to break for a long run any time he frees himself along the perimeter,” reads his scouting report. “He has the crisp plant-and-drive agility to make sharp cuts and, despite his exceptional quickness, he is a patient runner waiting for blocks to develop. He has outstanding balance on the move, keeping his feet churning to break arm tackles.”
CLICK HERE FOR THE FULL SCOUTING REPORTS from the NFL’s head scout, Dave-Te’ Thomas.
Jay Ajayi, Boise State (6-0, 221; 4.57): Ajayi earned All-American accolades as a redshirt junior in 2014 with his 1,823 rushing yards (5.3 average) and 28 touchdowns plus a remarkable 50 receptions for 535 yards (10.7 average) and four more scores. That made him the only player in FBS history with 1,800 rushing yards and 500 receiving yards. He met with the Packers at the Combine.
“His suddenness lets him gain instant advantage, even when he doesn’t have the luxury of open lanes in front of him,” reads his scouting report. “He will not hesitate to take the ball up the gut, but because of some size limitations, he has to rely on his line to create space for him. He is the type of player that needs room to run and can get bottled up inside, where his leg drive is only adequate. He is good at picking, sliding and accelerating through the holes, but he is not the type that will run through and punish tacklers.”
David Johnson, Northern Iowa (6-1, 224; 4.50): Johnson has garnered comparisons to Chicago’s Matt Forte due to his all-around skill. He broke 15 school records en route to lifting the Panthers to the FCS playoffs. He was voted Running Back of the Week by pro scouts at the Senior Bowl. As a senior, he rushed for 1,553 yards, added 38 receptions (second on the team) for 536 yards (tops on the team) and averaged 36.5 yards per kickoff return.
“The thing you see on film is the way he consistently bounces off tackles, thanks to his thick upper-body frame and thrust off the snap,” reads his scouting report. “He keeps his feet on the move and has a decent burst to clear trash. His balance and foot quickness, along with loose hips, lets him consistently redirect on the move. He is a durable athlete who has never missed game action due to injuries.”
Duke Johnson, Miami (5-9, 207; 4.54) The true junior rushed for 1,652 yards (6.8 average) and 10 touchdowns and showed his tremendous versatility by catching 38 passes for 421 yards (11.1 average) and three more scores. His 2,073 all-purpose yards as a junior and 2,060 yards as a freshman nailed down the second and third spots on the Miami season-record list.
“When he generates his sudden burst, defenders are left grabbing at air,” reads his scouting report. “Johnson is a slashing type of runner who keeps his balance on the move and is sudden shooting through the gaps. With his quick thrust through the hole, he gets to top speed in a hurry and also demonstrates that second gear to break away from the pack once he gets into the open field. Johnson lacks the big mitts you look for in a receiver, but with his concentration and hand extension, he has developed into a capable receiver (only two drops the last two seasons).”
Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska (5-9, 205; 4.60): As a senior, he was a second-team All-American, a finalist for the Doak Walker Award (top running back), a finalist for the Paul Hornung Award (most versatile) and won the Senior CLASS Award, which honors excellence on the field and the community. He rushed for 1,611 yards as a senior and 1,690 yards as a junior and finished second in school history with 4,588 career rushing yards. His 7,186 career all-purpose yards also are second in Huskers history. A versatile performer, he added 22 receptions and averaged 28.0 yards per kickoff return in 2014 and 73 catches and a 26.1 average on kickoff returns for his career.
“Abdullah has the field vision and open-field cutting ability to simply fly past second-level defenders,” reads his scouting report. “With his lateral agility, he can easily escape linebackers, locate the cutback lane and take the ball up the crease. That lateral quickness is what gains him advantage on most of his perimeter runs. Surprisingly, for all of his quickness and a lack of size, you’d think he’d be a better outside runner than one going between tackles, but that is not the case. In the passing game, Abdullah has natural hands and good extension ability. As a blocker, he is alert to stunts and blitzes and will face up, but there is little punch when using his hands. The effort is there, the production is not.”
Tevin Coleman, Indiana (5-11, 206; 4.39): The junior rushed for 2,036 yards — becoming the 18th player in FBS history to hit two-grand. He did it in 264 attempts, the fourth-fastest to 2,000 behind Gordon, Larry Johnson and Mike Rozier but faster than Barry Sanders, and led the nation with nine touchdown runs of at least 30 yards. In three seasons, he caught 54 passes and averaged 23.0 yards on kickoff returns.
“Coleman attacks the rush lanes with above-average explosion and has the pull-away ability to leave even speedy cornerbacks grabbing at air,” reads his scouting report. “He gets to top speed in an instant and has good ability to create separation, thanks to his stiff-arm skills and burst. He has very good vision to recognize coverage and avoid angles. He stays low in his pads and has the ability to cut on a dime. He easily separates the moment he gets a crease and few defenders have the ability to chase him once he gets behind his opponent. He excels at setting up his blocks, especially when operating in space.”
Jeremy Langford, Michigan State (6-0, 208; 4.42): Langford spent his freshman year at cornerback before moving to running back for his final three seasons. For his career, he rushed for 2,967 yards (5.1 average) and 40 touchdowns, including 1,522 yards (5.5 average) and 22 scores in 2014. Langford ran for at least 100 yards in 17 straight vs. Big Ten opponents. Seventeen of Langford’s 40 touchdowns runs since the start of the 2013 schedule have been for 10 yards or longer, including 13 that gained at least 20 yards.
“Langford flashes superb quickness on the move,” reads his scouting report. “His explosion is his best asset, as he can quickly pick and slide through trash. Into the second level, he has the ability to get up to speed quickly, but when operating in tight quarters or near the pile, he can easily turn into a jitterbug type that stays low in his pads and executes very good forward body lean to generate additional yardage after the initial hit. He has natural hands and receiving skills”
Javorius Allen, USC (6-1, 221; 4.53): The redshirt junior rushed for 1,489 yards (5.4 average) and 13 scores. Allen left USC having rushed for more than 100 yards in 13 of his final 19 appearances. All of his 25 touchdown runs were recorded during his last 22 contests, including six games in which he scored multiple times. In 2014, he had an impressive 41 receptions for 458 yards and is an excellent pass protector, giving him the three-down potential the Packers covet.
“Allen sets up his blocks well, has above-average field vision and displays a natural feel for the running lanes, generating a good surge to move the pile,” reads his scouting report. “He is more nimble than elusive, preferring to use his pile moving ability to gain additional yardage. He hits the holes with good force. He stays at a low pad level and knows how to lower a shoulder to push the defender out when going up the crease. Allen also shows flashes as a receiver out of the backfield. He can split out in the slot and is an effective route runner and target. He shows smooth hands and does a good job of plucking on the run.”
T.J. Yeldon, Alabama (6-1, 226; 4.61): Yeldon, slowed by an injured hamstring and ankle, rushed for 979 yards (5.0 average) and 11 touchdowns in 2014. He finished his three-year career with 3,322 yards, which ranks fourth in school history, and his 46 receptions only hint at his receiver-quality hands.
“Like former Tide tailback Mark Ingram, Yeldon possesses good but not great speed to get to the edge,” reads his scouting report. “He has enough burst and power to run through tight areas and shows decisive cutting ability. He just doesn't waste time looking for the “perfect” rush lane, but can make defenders miss in tight quarters with good lateral agility. He shows good vision and change-of-direction agility moving around in the backfield, but might be better served lowering his pads and trying to power through tackles, rather than try to dance around them.”
CLICK HERE FOR THE FULL SCOUTING REPORTS from the NFL’s head scout, Dave-Te’ Thomas.
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