Green Bay Packers NFL Draft Preview: Going Deep at Running Back

Building upon our Elite 5 story, we take a look at the rest of the running backs — a position of perhaps long-term need — through a Packers lens.

Eddie Lacy is entering his final season under contract and must have lost some trust within the organization after last season. James Starks is back on a two-year deal but is 30. The only other running back on the roster who’s played a snap is John Crockett, an undrafted free agent last year.

The state of the depth chart makes running back a need in this week’s draft. We told you about the Elite 5; now we dig deeper. Remember the Packers’ historical preferences: Of GM Ted Thompson’s six picks, Brandon Jackson was the shortest 5-foot-9 7/8 and Johnathan Franklin the lightest at 205 pounds.

KENNETH DIXON, Louisiana Tech (5-10 1/8, 215)

Position rank: 6

Notes: Dixon ran for a school-record 4,480 yards and 72 touchdowns, plus caught 88 passes for 972 yards and 15 touchdowns. His 87 total touchdowns rank second in NCAA history. Dixon tied the national record by scoring a touchdown in 38 games, and he ranks second with 24 games with two-plus touchdowns and 14 games with three-plus touchdowns. His 522 points scored trail only Navy’s Keenan Reynolds’ 530 in the record books. As a senior, he was first-team all-Conference USA and first-team all-Louisiana. Despite missing two games, he rushed for 1,057 yards (5.3 average) and 19 touchdowns and caught 34 passes for 467 yards and three more touchdowns. Of our top 23 running backs, he ranked fourth by forcing a missed tackle on 20 percent of his carries, 10th with a 75.6 percent catch rate and tied for ninth with 2.1 yards after contact. Of our top 23, Pro Football Focus had pass-protection data on 21 of them. Dixon ranked sixth. He did fumble four times and has a lot of mileage. He ran in 4.56.

C.J. PROSISE, Notre Dame (6-0 1/2, 220)

Position rank: 7

Notes: Prosise went from Notre Dame’s special teams player of the year and a slot receiver in 2014 to its marquee running back in 2015. In his lone season in the backfield, Prosise rushed for 1,032 yards (6.6 average) and 11 touchdowns. He added an impressive 26 receptions for 308 yards and another touchdown. In 2014, he played receiver and caught 29 passes for 516 yards and two touchdowns. Prosise led our top 23 by forcing a missed tackle on 23 percent of attempts. He tied for ninth with 2.1 yards after contact and was eighth with a 76.7 percent catch rate. Probably not a surprise but Prosise was mediocre in protection, ranking 12th of 21. He also tied for No. 1 with five fumbles. He ran in 4.48.

KENYAN DRAKE, Alabama (6-0 5/8, 210)

Position rank: 8

Notes: If nothing else, Drake will be fresh. With Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry leading the nation in touches, Drake received merely 77 carries as a senior. He turned those into 408 yards (5.3 average) and one touchdown. He added a career-high 29 receptions for 276 yards and another touchdown. He averaged 22.1 yards on 14 kickoff returns during the regular season but had a 95-yard touchdown in the playoff loss to Clemson. Always behind someone on the depth chart and battling injuries and a suspension, Drake finished his career with 233 carries for 1,495 yards (6.4 average) and 18 touchdowns. He was in the middle of the pack with a 72.5 percent catch rate and 20th of 21 in PFF’s protection metric but tied Henry for second with 2.4 yards after contact and didn’t fumble. In high school, he was Georgia’s Gatorade Player of the Year and a 100-meter sprint champion. He showed that speed with a 4.45 at the Combine.

ALEX COLLINS, Arkansas (5-10, 217)

Position rank: 9

Notes: Collins ranks second in program history in career rushing yards (3,703), 100-yard games (16) and is fourth in rushing touchdowns (36). With teammate Jonathan Williams sidelined and taking advantage of a heavy workload in Bret Bielema’s run-first offense, Collins ranked 12th nationally with 1,577 rushing yards and sixth with 20 rushing touchdowns. He topped 100 yards in 10 games, tied with Alabama’s Derrick Henry for No. 1 in the nation. He finished second in catch rate but that was on only 13 receptions. Collins tied for ninth with 2.1 yards after contact and was 11th in protection. Collins tied Prosise with five fumbles.

JONATHAN WILLIAMS, Arkansas (5-10 3/4, 220)

Position rank: 10

Notes: Williams missed almost the entire season with a foot injury sustained in fall camp, playing only as a safety on a take-a-knee play to end the bowl victory. He didn’t work out at the Combine but ran in 4.63 at the school’s pro day on March 16. As a junior, he rushed for 1,190 yards (5.6 average) and 12 touchdowns as he and Collins became the only tandem in the nation to each top 1,000 rushing yards. Williams caught 23 passes in his career.  His pass-protection numbers in 2014 would have ranked 16th in our group of 21. What happened to Williams as a senior was difficult, no doubt, but hardship was hardly a foreign concept. As he arrived for his first fall camp with Arkansas, his family had been evicted from their home in Allen, Texas.

WENDELL SMALLWOOD, West Virginia (5-10 1/2, 208)

Position rank: 11

Notes: After rushing for 734 yards in 2014, Smallwood had a huge junior campaign with 1,519 yards and nine touchdowns. His rushing total ranked 13th in the nation. He’s also an adept receiver, with 57 receptions during his final two seasons (31 in 2014, 26 in 2015). Smallwood tied for 15th with 2.0 yards after contact and was ninth with a 76.5 percent catch rate. What will give him appeal is he tied for second in PFF’s pass-blocking efficiency and ran his 40 in 4.47. What hurts him? A friend admitted to a 2012 murder, a case in which Smallwood was charged with witness intimidation. Those charges were dropped, and while officials at West Virginia have his back, it’s a serious allegation. If teams are comfortable with his character, No. 11 on the running-back board seems about right.

DANIEL LASCO, Cal (6-0 1/4, 209)

Position rank: 12

Notes: Lasco had a breakout season in 2014, when he rushed for 1,115 yards and tallied 1,471 rushing and receiving yards — the highest totals in those categories by a Cal player since 2011 and 2008, respectively. As a senior, however, Lasco, was slowed by an injured hip muscle early in the season and a sprained ankle late. The team captain rushed for merely 331 yards (5.1 average) and caught four passes (five targets) in nine games (three starts). He tied for ninth with 2.1 yards after contact and fumbled once. He served notice to his enormous potential with a 4.46 in the 40 and a 41.5-inch vertical at the Combine. In limited chances, he finished fourth in PFF’s protection metric.

DARIUS JACKSON, Eastern Michigan (6-0, 220)

Position rank: 13

Notes: Jackson rushed for 1,089 yards, caught 21 passes, scored 16 total touchdowns and fumbled twice as a senior, his first time as a starter. He caught scouts’ eyes at Michigan’s pro day on March 18, when he ran his 40 in 4.40 with a vertical jump of 41 inches. However, he averaged only 1.7 yards after contact (tied for 20th) and caught just 65.0 percent (19th). Of our group, he ranked eighth in PFF's protection metric. Still, big and fast should get him drafted.

TRA CARSON, Texas A&M (5-11 1/4, 227)

Position rank: 14

Notes: Carson rushed for 1,165 yards and seven touchdowns and almost tripled his career reception count with 29 catches for 183 yards and another score. His 90.3 percent catch rate ranked third and he ranked seventh in PFF’s protection metric. He’s an old-school, 3-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust bruiser — until breaking a 55-yarder vs. Louisville in his final career game, his long career run went for 39 yards on his previous 408 carries. As a senior, his missed-tackle rate was just 13 percent and he averaged 2.0 after contact. He ran in 4.64 at the Combine. In high school in Texarkana, Texas, he broke LaMichael James’ single-season rushing record. He then followed James’ path to Oregon. Carson rushed for 254 yards for the Ducks in 2011, then sat out 2012 due to NCAA transfer rules as he returned to Texas to play for the Aggies.

AARON GREEN, TCU (5-10 7/8, 203)

Position rank: 15

Notes: Green rushed for 1,271 yards and 11 touchdowns and added 16 receptions as a senior. He is an interesting contrast. From one perspective, he looks physical. While not use often in protection, he didn’t allow a pressure in 43 protection snaps, according to PFF. On the other hand, he’s not physical at all. Of our top 23, he averaged 1.2 after contact — no one else on the list averaged less than 1.7. He ran in 4.56 but his 20-yard shuttle, which measures change-of-direction agility, was 4.04. Only Jhurell Pressley of New Mexico was close, with a 4.06. Pressley is an interesting case, as well. He rushed for 907 yards and averaged 2.5 after carry but didn't play on third down and caught all of one pass. That likely takes him out of consideration for Green Bay.

Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.


Packer Report Top Stories