Welcome to the seventh installment of the BGA: 2016 NFL Draft series. As we head to the draft, I'll be sharing thoughts and observations about draft prospects for each position group. In our previous installment, we looked at this year's edge defender class, and we now move on to look at running backs.
I'll be discussing whether the Jets are likely to have a need at these positions and reviewing some of the top prospects along with some players that might be options later on. Note: I already looked at fullbacks along with the tight ends. These articles are not necessarily meant to be exhaustive, so if you wish to bring some other prospects into the discussion, please do so in the comments section below.
Jets Needs: Running Backs
The running back position was one that definitely needed to be addressed entering the offseason, but the Jets made it a priority in free agency, signing Matt Forte and Khiry Robinson and re-signing Bilal Powell within the first few days. Those moves were essential with Chris Ivory signing a big-money deal with Jacksonville and Stevan Ridley and Zac Stacy not expected to return.
Is there even room for another young back on the roster? The Jets only went three-deep a few times last year and usually only used two backs. However, Robinson's spot is not entirely guaranteed and the team would probably like to develop someone that can potentially take over as a lead back in a year or two.
2016 Draft: Running Backs
The consensus top running back this year is Ezekiel Elliott from Ohio State, who might be a top-ten pick. Elliott is a great runner with 4.47 speed, but also a very efficient blocker and pass-catcher. He's one of the most complete running back prospects in years, but the Jets probably won't show any interest in Elliott or the other potential first rounder.
That would be Derrick Henry, who led the nation in rushing and helped Alabama to another national title. Henry further boosted his stock with some impressive combine numbers, despite tipping the scales at 6'3" and 247 pounds. However, his numbers would most accurately be described as "impressive for his size" rather than elite, so they might not have been good enough to land him in the top half of the first round when all is said and done.
Henry's teammate, Kenyan Drake, might be a good value alternative a few rounds later on. Drake is smaller and faster than Henry but not nearly as strong and powerful. He also has some kick-return experience, with a 26 yards per return average in 2015 and one touchdown return.
Arkanas also boasts two decent prospects in Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams. Of the two, Collins is regarded as the better prospect, but didn't have a great combine and fumbled four times during the season. He does break a lot of tackles, has a nose for the end zone (20 rushing touchdowns in 2015) and had a lot of experience of staying in to pass-protect.
Utah's Devontae Booker is another prospect with a chance of being selected on day two. In addition to being a good runner, Booker was a productive pass-catcher. He couldn't work out at the combine because he's coming off a torn meniscus. Here you can see him both eluding and breaking through tackles.
Louisiana Tech's Kenneth Dixon is a popular prospect because he's one of the best pass-catchers from this year's class. He's also a great runner, but his pass-catching (13.7 yards per catch, seven touchdowns) is what sets him apart from the rest of this year's top running back prospects. He's not just catching dump-off passes, either, and was also used in pass-protection regularly. You can see a good example of his receiving skills here.
Indiana's Jordan Howard is a bigger back (230 pounds) who can generate a lot of yards after contact. His performance against Michigan (239 yards) was one of the most impressive I saw all season, but then he suffered a season-ending knee injury the following week, finishing up with over 1,200 yards in just eight full games. Howard doesn't offer much in the way of pass-catching, but you can see how good he is at fighting for extra yards.
Paul Perkins from UCLA is another back who might be in the mix to be selected on day two. Although he didn't have a great combine, Perkins shows good elusiveness on film. Check out how smoothly he side-steps the tackler at the second level.
Notre Dame's CJ Prosise also belongs in that potential day-two pick tier. Prosise led all prospects with a 6.6 yards per carry average and has good patience, vision and burst. He ran a 4.48 at the combine and was also a productive pass-catcher. Prosise can also run with power and drive for extra yards, as you can see.
Now, let's consider some players with day-three and undrafted projections. Houston's Kenneth Farrow didn't get an invitation to the combine but put on a terrific display at his pro day. Farrow fell just short of his second straight 1,000 yard season due to an ankle injury which bothered him down the stretch and caused him to miss time. He runs angry, though, and could be a good late-round pick. Here's an example of Farrow showing good power and balance to finish a run strong.
Josh Ferguson from Illinois is another player who impresses with his production in the passing game. He could potentially thrive as a third-down back in a system like the one the Jets currently run. Ferguson is undersized, but has some nice moves. Check out this double-spin move.
If you're looking for a speedster with a day-three pick, Georgia's Keith Marshall should be on your radar after having run a 4.31 at the combine. He injured his hamstring, though, and was unable to complete the other workout exercises.
For someone with more developed receiving skills, you could consider Arizona State's DJ Foster. Foster is more of a hybrid running back/receiver in the mold of Dexter McCluster or DeAnthony Thomas. Foster rushed for over 1,000 yards in 2014, but his rushing production was down in 2015. He still caught 58 passes, though.
In 2014, his catch-rate was much higher, but one of the reasons it was lower in 2015 was because they threw deep to him 13 times -- and all 13 were incomplete (which might be down to the quarterback). He did catch a couple of deep balls in 2014. Foster has excellent agility numbers but doesn't have the kick return experience that McCluster and Thomas had.
If you're looking for another big back, Idaho's Elijhaa Penny could be an interesting prospect. Penny is around 250 pounds but his athletic numbers weren't as good as Henry's. He had an extremely productive season, though, running with power and good vision.
For a true long-shot local sleeper, it's worth looking into Dylan Peebles from SUNY Cortland. Peebles obviously played against a lower level of competition, but his highlight reel is outstanding, especially in terms of his kick returning. Peebles has an excellent combination of speed, power and vision. If he doesn't get picked up by an NFL team, CFL teams will surely show an interest.
Finally, I'll remind you of two mid-round prospects Brian Bassett alerted us to in this article. Daniel Lasco from California and Tyler Ervin from San Jose State were the only two backs at the combine this year that (a) are 5'10" or taller, (b) ran a sub-4.5 40-yard dash and (c) had a 124" broad jump or more.
According to the Rotoviz data that Bassett shared in that article, backs who meet all three of those criteria have a 78 percent chance of success, so these two will be worth watching.
I'll be back to look at interior defensive linemen next, over the weekend.