Critical Factors I value most
It is so difficult to nail down traits that are synonymous with successful running backs, or ones I care about most, due to how many different types of runners succeed. However, the first that stands out is maximizing the yards that are blocked for. This sounds very simple, but frequently freelancing (even if flashy plays can be made) rather than working behind blockers irks me. Mike Gillislee is very good at following his lead blockers on front side runs and getting north and south. Next is the consistency to work past first contact or make the first defender miss. Eddie Lacy and Zac Stacy are known to frequently break first contact. Balance is also very important. Dennis Johnson can shine in this regard due to short, choppy footwork and a low center of gravity. Finally, a runner can improve their value by showing a willingness to pass protect and/or displaying comfort as a receiver.
1. Eddie Lacy, Alabama
Where he wins: Strong lower body runner who always falls forward on contact. Allows blocks to develop but tough to slow down once up to full speed. Underrated passing down back, willing pass protector and adequate receiver.
2. Gio Bernard, UNC
Where he wins: Short, choppy footwork allows for upfield cuts between the tackle or in the open field. Made big plays as a returner. Comfortable as a receiver on angle routes, swings, or screens. Has enough speed to create big runs if given the sideline.
3. Andre Ellington, Clemson
Where he wins: Lean runner who sticks close to his blocks with great acceleration after cutting off their backsides. Despite his narrow base he has some nice balance and isn’t afraid of contact as a runner or in pass protection. Decisive cutter, likely in a zone scheme.
4. Johnathan Franklin, UCLA
Where he wins: One cut, decisive runner with great vision to find backside lanes. Doesn’t shy from contact as a pass protector and can make a big play happen if given a seam due to excellent straight-line speed. Upfield cuts make defenders miss at the second level.
5. Christine Michael, Texas A&M
Where he wins: Plays with a low center of gravity with explosive cuts to get upfield off blocks. Aggressive mentality with vision beyond first contact. North/south runner who has enough speed to sustain and the toughness and quickness to create.
6. Dennis Johnson, Arkansas
Where he wins: Will shine on passing downs. Short choppy steps allow for quick cuts to change defenders’ angles. Comfortable as a receiver in the flats or on angle routes. Low center of gravity helps with broken tackles.
7. Zac Stacy, Vanderbilt
Where he wins: Rarely goes down on first contact. Powerful runner with solid base to work through tackles. One cut runner with some burst. Unafraid to work between the tackles. Covers ground with jump cuts.
8. Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina
Where he wins: One cut, zone runner pre-injury. Showed toughness to finish off runs and always looked to go north and south.
9. Le’Veon Bell, Michigan State
Where he wins: Very agile at the second level for a big back. Has lower body power but shows lighter feet for his size. Strong cuts and sets up defender. Flashes variety of ways to break tackles, namely the strength to stiff arm or thickness to run through contact. Good hands.
10. Montee Ball, Wisconsin
Where he wins: Made the most of space given to him by excellent blocking. Improved vision in 2012, making things happen on his own. Shows a lot of patience with cuts off blocks. Willing to pass protect.
11. Mike Gillislee, Florida
Where he wins: Front or strong side runner. Follows his lead blocker well, cutting off pulling guard or fullback. Sticks his foot in the ground and gets upfield. Little wasted movement. Willing pass protector.
12. Miguel Maysonet, Stony Brook
Where he wins: Decisive, upfield runner who wants to go north and south. Shows determination and enough speed to pick up what is blocked. Determined style, little wasted movement. Does not go down on first contact.
13. Stepfan Taylor, Stanford
Where he wins: Tough, thickly built, north and south runner. Improved making people miss at the second level by running through arm tackles and with swerving hips. Much better burst than long speed.
14. Joseph Randle, Oklahoma State
Where he wins: Made the most of wide open spaces in 2012. Made some highlight reel cuts and even flashed a power element to his game. Dependable receiver and shows a willingness to block.
15. Ray Graham, Pittsburgh
Where he wins: Strong, quick cuts despite the lack of straight-line speed. Runs aggressively and started to look healthy during the Notre Dame game. Breaks tackles by keeping his feet going.
16. Kenjon Barner, Oregon
17. Rex Burkhead, Nebraska
18. Robbie Rouse, Fresno State
19. Spencer Ware, LSU
20. Cierre Wood, Notre Dame
21. Jawan Jamison, Rutgers
22. Knile Davis, Arkansas