Positional analysis: Running backs

The Vikings will be looking for a running back at some point in the draft, but there are concerns – off-the-field, injuries or athleticism – with most of them. We review the strengths and weaknesses, analysis and projections of top 10 prospects.

VIKINGS RUNNING BACKS – Adrian Peterson, Jerome Felton, Matt Asiata, Joe Banyard, Zach Line, Bradley Randle.

TEAM NEED – The Vikings had a solid insurance policy in Toby Gerhart for four years and, now that he's gone, it's clear the Vikings need to add someone to fill in as the primary backup to Peterson. Asiata did a solid job in that role last year, but the devaluation of running backs in recent years could have a very talented player available to them in the third or fourth round. Whether they target a speed back for third-down/change-of-pace use or more of a workhorse that can be a 20-carry-a-game guy if A.P. gets injured, expect a draft pick to get used here – possibly as early as Day 2, but more likely Day 3.

POSITION OVERVIEW: Over the last few years, running back has become so de-emphasized in the college game, giving way to pass-happy shotgun attacks that use a rotation of running backs that the days of multiple backs going in the first round of the draft are over. Teams seem to feel much more comfortable waiting until the third or fourth round and taking specialist types. This year, there isn't a running back that grades out as a first rounder, but the second day could see a handful of back go. By Day 3, running backs will likely be flying off the board early. There isn't an Adrian Peterson in this year's draft, but there is a lot of Tier-2 talent available that could have the potential to have excellent NFL careers.


Carlos Hyde, Ohio State, 6-0, 230 –
Fifth-year senior who spent 2009 at Union Military Academy…A two-year starter who finished with 3,198 rushing yards and 37 touchdowns. In two seasons as a full-timer, he carried 393 times for 2,491 yards and 31 touchdowns, while catching 24 passes for 198 yards and four more TDs…Suspended for the first three games of 2013 for his involvement in an assault in July of that year…In just 11 games (nine starts) in 2013, he rushed 208 times for 1,521 yards and 15 TDs…The ideal combination of size and power…Rarely brought down by one tackler and always fights for the extra yard…Wasn't overused in college and hasn't been worn out…Has good footwork for a player his size and has the burst to get to the edge…Doesn't have the greatest conditioning and will wear down at times…Seen by some as a one-trick pony between the tackles…Doesn't have a second gear to blow past defenders downfield…Not a receiving threat (34 catches in 41 games)…Suffered a hamstring injury on his first 40 run and it impacted his results, running a woeful 4.61 40 with 19 reps of 225 pounds, a 34½-inch vertical jump and a 9-6 broad jump. PROJECTION: Hyde is viewed as the top running back in the draft, but, thanks to the degenerating of RB value, he won't come off the board until the second round at the earliest.

Bishop Sankey, Washington, 5-9½, 209 – Third-year junior…Two-year starter who rushed 616 times for 3,309 yards and 36 touchdowns while catching 61 passes for passes for 553 yards and one TD…Broke Corey Dillon's school record for rushing yards in a season with 1,870 in 2013…A hard worker who proved he can be the focal point of an offense…Has good vision and consistently picks the right hole to attack…Versatile as both a running and receiving threat…Has excellent lateral movement and has a good stop-and-go jump cut…Doesn't have bulk strength to be a consistently effective goal-line runner…Had a heavy workload the last two years, which will be a concern for some teams…Needs to work on his pass protection because he can get pushed backward too often or dives at a defender's knees and often missed….Doesn't have ideal balance and gets tripped up too easily…Ran a 4.51 40 with 26 reps, a 35½-inch vertical jump and a 10-6 broad jump. PROJECTION: He has size limitations, but in the current NFL, speed backs and change-of-pace backs can be difference-makers. Like Giovani Bernard last year, in the right situation, he could get a lot of action.


Tre Mason, Auburn, 5-8½, 207 –
Third-year junior…Two year starter who rushed 478 times for 2,818 yards and 31 touchdowns in that span… Finished sixth in the Heisman balloting last year after rushing 317 times for 1,816 yards and 23 touchdowns…Is the son of Vincent Mason, who was a member of the legendary hip-hop group "De La Soul"…Will be 21 during his rookie season…Broke Bo Jackson's single-season rushing record on his last carry of the BCS Championship Game…Extremely powerful lower body and may be the best between-the-tackles runner in the draft…A decisive runner who is a one-cut, hit-the-hole runner…Is especially effective in third-and-short and goal-line situations…Has decent speed and makes the most out of just about every carry, always pulling forward to gain the extra yard…Shorter than prototype RBs…Wasn't used much in the passing game, catching just 19 passes in 38 career games…Doesn't have an elite change of pace or second gear in the open field and will get caught from the side or from behind…Durability will be a question because he has dealt with nagging injuries in each of his two seasons as a starter…Didn't lift at the Combine because of a left wrist injury, but ran a 4.45 40 with a 38½-inch vertical jump and a 10-6 broad jump. PROJECTION: He resembles a younger version of Ray Rice and will likely go in the second or third round, but his lack of use in the passing game may serve as a strike against him and drop his value somewhat.

Ka'Deem Carey, Arizona, 5-9½, 207 – Third-year junior…Two-year starter who had 652 carries for 3,814 yards and 42 touchdowns and caught 62 passes for 476 yards and two TDs in that span…Was arrested for misdemeanor assault and disorderly contact with his pregnant ex-girlfriend in December 2012, was kicked out of an Arizona basketball game after an altercation with staff and police and was suspended for the 2013 season opener for a violation of team policy…Extremely powerful runner who can be a workhorse for an offense…Has good field vision and consistently hits the hole decisively…An excellent blocker in pass pro duty…Has natural hands and is a reliable receiver…Ran extremely slow 40 times at the Combine and doesn't have a second gear to accelerate through the hole…Is a head-strong runner who runs too high and exposes himself to too many "kill shot" hits…Had 820 career touches – most in the last two years – so durability will be a concern long-term…Has some off-field issues that will have teams putting red flags on him…Ran a 4.69 40 at the Combine with 19 reps of 225 pounds, a 32½-inch vertical jump and a 9-7 board jump. PROJECTION: Few backs will have as varied a ranking as Carey. Some may view him a second- or third-round prospect, but, given his lackluster Combine performance and potential red flags, he could easily get drafted after some backs we have ranked below him. It wouldn't be a surprise if he's on the board at the start of Day 3.

Jeremy Hill, LSU, 6-0¾, 233 – Third-year sophomore…In two seasons, he ran 345 times for 2,156 yards and 28 touchdowns and caught 26 passes for 254 yards…Sat out the 2011 season after being arrested for sexual assault after a relationship with a minor and was arrested for battery after a bar fight near campus…He is currently on probation in Louisiana until July 2015…First-team All-SEC in 2013 after rushing 203 times for 1,401 yards and 16 TDs and catching 18 passes for 181 yards…A powerfully built downhill runner who rarely goes down on first contact…Has big hands and long arms to keep defenders away from his body…Runs with authority when he makes his cut and attacks the hole…Has good speed for a player his size when he gets in the open field…Has a lot of red flags that will scare off some teams…Can be too impatient and won't wait for a hole to develop, instead running up the backs of his blockers…Has never been a full-time back, playing in a rotation for the Tigers…Runs a little too upright and may have fumbling concerns moving forward…Ran a 4.59 40 at the Combine with 20 reps, a 29-inch vertical jump and a 9-5 broad jump. PROJECTION: A big back with prototype size to be a power runner in the NFL, teams will need to be convinced that he has put his problems behind him. If he can get his head on straight and focus on football, he could be a steal-of-the-draft candidate in the fourth-round range. His athletic upside and lack of tread off the tires (just 371 career touches) could be enough to get him drafted in the third round.

Dri Archer, Kent State, 5-7¾, 173 – Fifth-year senior who missed the 2011 season after being ruled academically ineligible…Finished his career with 325 carries for 2,342 yards (a whopping 7.2-yard average) and 24 touchdowns and caught 99 passes for 1,194 yards and 12 more TDs…Was a valued return man who returned 51 kickoffs, including four for TDs…Has incredible speed, can create mismatches and can take any play to the house…Is a dual threat as both a runner and receiver…Can stop and start on a dime and can get to full speed in just a couple of strides…Has excellent instincts in predicting where the seams will be and hits the open field in the blink of an eye…Extremely undersized with sub-par lower-body strength…Split time at wide receiver and running back and never got the chance to perfect either element of his game…A willing blocker, but will get overwhelmed…When defenders get their hands on him, he typically goes down…Ran a sparkling 4.16 40 at the Combine with 20 reps, a 38-inch vertical jump and a 10-2 broad jump. PROJECTION: He was one of the Combine stars and vaulted himself into Day 2 consideration. But, like Darren Sproles and Dexter McCluster, he will likely be a part-time player, which could drop his stock to a premium pick early on Day 3. In the right offense, he could be a huge contributor for an offense like they run in Denver, New England and Seattle.


De'Anthony Thomas, Oregon, 5-8¾, 174 –
Third-year junior…Started just 19 of 37 career games, finishing his career with 243 rushes for 1,890 yards (a 7.8-yard average) and 26 touchdowns, while catching 113 passes for 1,296 yards and 15 TDs, 73 kickoff returns for 1,885 yards (25.8-yard average) and four touchdowns, and 16 punt returns for 274 yards and one TD…Pac-12 Freshman of the Year in 2011…Competed on the Ducks track team, running the 100 meters in 10.31 second and the 200 meters in 21.17 seconds…Has incredible quickness, agility and top-end speed…Reaches top speed very quickly and had the extra gear to run away from defenders…Has excellent field vision…Is a versatile weapon who makes big plays as a rusher, receiver and return man…Very undersized and likely will have to be limited to the number of plays he's on the field…Doesn't have a strong upper or lower body (see below) and gets wrapped up and brought down too easily once a defender makes contact…Has significant red flags concerning his work ethic and passion for the game – scouts claim he has a sense of entitlement because his natural gifts haven't forced him to commit to a strong work ethic…Ran a 4.43 40 at the Combine with just eight reps of 225 pounds (one of the worst of anyone who lifted), with a 32-inch vertical jump and a 10-4 broad jump. PROJECTION: Like Archer, he is an undersized speed merchant who could make an immediate impact. But his lack of bulk strength and power and the red flags concerning his commitment to the NFL will likely leave him on the board until early in the third day of the draft.

Charles Sims, West Virginia, 6-0, 214 – Fifth-year senior…Missed the 2010 season after being ruled ineligible…Played three seasons with Houston, rushing 384 times for 2,370 yards and 29 touchdowns and caught 158 passes for 1,707 yards and eight touchdowns…Transferred to West Virginia, where he rushed 208 times for 1,095 yards and 11 touchdowns and caught 45 passes for 401 yards and three TDs…Has the ideal combination of size, muscle mass and speed…Has excellent acceleration into the hole and out of his cuts…Is arguably the best receiver of this year's RB class and his production is hard to ignore…Durability is a concern because he has battled injuries during his career and had a whopping 795 offensive touches, which scares off some teams…Doesn't run with great balance or power and gets taken down easier than he should…Is a high-cut runner who exposes the ball too often and has a style that lends itself to fumbling in the NFL…Ran a 4.46 40 at the Combine with 17 reps, a 37½-inch vertical jump and a 10-6 broad jump. PROJECTION: A fifth-year senior who was allowed to play last year because he was in graduate school, Sims is his own worst enemy on draft day. He has the talent to be a solid pro, but he's got a lot of wear on his body and will likely be a good value on the third day of the draft.

Andre Williams, Boston College, 5-11½, 230 – Fourth-year senior…Didn't become a full-time starter until last season, but exploded – rushing 355 times for 2,177 yards and 18 touchdowns and becoming a finalist for the Heisman Trophy…Finished his career at BC with 704 carries for 3,739 yards and 28 touchdowns…A first-team All-America in 2013 and won the Doak Walker Award, given annually to college football's top running back…A team leader who earned the respect of everyone in the program…Has a strong lower body and can gain extra yards after contact and is never brought down by arm tackles…Has good build-up speed and is dangerous once he gets in the open field…Is almost useless in the passing game – he caught just 10 passes in his career and none in his breakout 2013 season…Durability will be a concern because he missed considerable time in 2011 with an abdominal injury and 2012 with a shoulder injury that is still a problem (see below)…Doesn't have great initial burst and needs room to pick up speed…Didn't lift at the Combine after being given a medical exclusion for an injured left shoulder, but ran a 4.50 40 with a 38-inch vertical jump and a 10-9 broad jump. PROJECTION: Williams is a good prospect, but he is a two-down player with limited speed and no suddenness or burst. Players like that are typically available well into the third day of the draft.

Devonta Freeman, Florida State, 5-8¼, 206 – Third-year junior…Was a part-time starter in both 2011-12 before becoming full-time and finished his career with 404 carries for 2,255 yards and 30 touchdowns, while catching 47 passes for 475 yards and one TD…A skilled player with the ability to be a very good pro because he is a tireless worker who puts the team first and will be an ideal teammate…Plays with a mean streak and will often initiate contact and keep his legs churning…Has good acceleration and gets to top speed quickly…He isn't an elite athlete and was consistently near the bottom in several categories for his position at the Combine…Doesn't have a frame that can add much weight and has dealt with more than one back injury, but has played through the pain…Doesn't have the size or lower-body strength to be a power running at the next level…Chose not to lift at the Combine, but ran a 4.51 40 with a 31½-inch vertical jump and a 9-10 broad jump. PROJECTION: An undersized player who may get lost in the shuffle thanks to a poor showing at the Combine and an existing history of back injuries. He was viewed as a potential late Day 2 prospect before the Combine, but more likely he will still be on the board into Day 3.

OTHERS TO WATCH Lache Seastrunk, Baylor, 5-9½, 201
Storm Johnson, Central Florida, 5-11¾, 209
James Wilder, Jr., Florida State, 6-2¾, 232
Terrance West, Towson, 5-9¼, 225
James White, Wisconsin, 5-9¼, 204
Marlon Grice, Arizona State, 6-0, 208
Tyler Gaffney, Stanford, 6-1½, 220
Kapri Bibbs, Colorado State, 5-9½, 212
Antonio Andrews, Western Kentucky, 5-10, 225
David Fluellen, Toledo, 5-11¼, 224

John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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