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2017 NFL Draft: Ranking the running backs

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This is the best running back class since 2008.

With Mike Gillislee now on the Patriots, the Buffalo Bills — with three fifth-round picks in 2017 NFL Draft — may very well select a running back to add to their backfield of LeSean McCoy, Jonathan Williams, Patrick DiMarco, and Mike Tolbert.

Here are my rankings for what is a loaded running back draft class


Tier 1

1. Joe Mixon | Oklahoma

*Height/Weight: 6’0 3/4”, 228, *40-Yard Dash: 4.50, *Three-Cone: 7.1

Off-field issues are extremely serious. Should and will raise major red flags for many teams. On the field, he’s the most dynamic offensive player in this entire class. Runs with special burst and speed. Doesn’t slow while making amazing jump cuts. Top-level vision. Amazing athleticism for his size. Elite pass-catching running back. Has All-Pro ability as a feature back in the NFL.

2. Dalvin Cook | Florida State

Height/Weight: 5’10”, 210, 40-Yard Dash: 4.49, Three-Cone: 7.27

Proved he can handle big workload. As effective inside the tackles as he is on the perimeter. Effortless when eluding tacklers at second level, and barely gears down to to do so. Deceptive speed to the corner, and once he turns it, has game-breaking speed down field. Proficient block-reading. Packs some power. Some durability concerns. Combine was oddly very poor. Pass pro needs work. Has makings of being a three-down, bigger version of Devonta Freeman.

3. Christian McCaffrey | Stanford

Height/Weight: 5’11” 3/4”, 202, 40-Yard Dash: 4.48, Three-Cone: 6.57

Unfathomably good vision and agility to match. Makes for a rare tackle-evading combination. Skilled receiver. Downfield speed is good, not great. Barely loses speed when cutting. Size and experience to run between the tackles. Sets up defenders with ease. Has three-down potential but probably best in a role that accentuates his outstanding versatility.


Tier 2

4. Marlon Mack | USF

Height/Weight: 5’11”, 213, 40-Yard Dash: 4.50

Underrated ankle flexion, ability to change directions, and keep his balance. Reads defenders at second and third level to decide his optimal path and locate cutback lanes. Surprising downfield speed and balance. Will hit the HR on occasion. Useful screen running back with nice vision. Sometimes tries to do too much. Best in space on the outside.

5. Leonard Fournette | LSU

Height/Weight: 6’0”, 240, 40-Yard Dash: 4.51

Freight train in the open field. If he gets a lane, watch out. Will have a thunderous head of steam and leave a lot of wreckage in this path. Not very elusive. Has issues making defenders miss at second level due to lack of elite agility. Special linear athlete for his size. Capable pass protector.

6. Aaron Jones | UTEP

Height/Weight: 5’9”, 208, 40-Yard Dash: 4.56, Three-Cone: 6.82

Runs bigger, stronger, and faster than his size suggests. North-South runner with subtle, efficient wiggle. Immensely productive in final year in college. Flashes impressive cutting and stop-and-start ability between the tackles. Once he hits the second level, he has speed to pick up big chunks of yardage. Balance is solid.

7. D'Onta Foreman | Texas

Height/Weight: 6’0”, 233, 40-Yard Dash: 4.45*

Flashes amazingly light feet and superb jump-cut ability, especially for a running back of his size. Powerful runner who almost always falls forward for extra yardage due to his massive frame. Tends to miss cut back lanes. If he breaks free or has a clear lane, he can hit the HR due to surprising long speed. Handled huge workout in final year of college but just turned 21 years old. Stress fracture in foot was discovered at combine, but he participated in his Pro Day.

8. Alvin Kamara | Tennessee

Height/Weight: 5’10”, 214, 40-Yard Dash: 4.56, *Three-Cone: 7.10

Forced into do-everything role in last year of college. Displayed moments of elite balance to stay on his feet after contact. Has the explosive burst and instances of sound vision to hit cutback lane for decent gain, just not consistent enough in that are to call it a strength. Too many runs of minimal or no gain. Adequate long speed but won’t hit many long runs. Opened eyes with his jump figures at the combine. Capable receiver.

9. Kareem Hunt | Toledo

Height/Weight: 5’10”, 216, 40-Yard Dash: 4.62, *Three-Cone: 7.22

Balance and vision are among the best in the class. Sturdy build, though looked a bit more slender in college. Lacks downfield speed. Not an amazing tackle-evader but will make linebackers missed in some instances. Not many short gains. Plenty of experience between the tackles but best when running off tackle. Low, forward-leaning center of gravity.

10. Tarik Cohen | North Carolina A&T

Height/Weight: 5’6”, 179, 40-Yard Dash: 4.42, *Three-Cone: 7.22

Lightning in a bottle. Striking similarity to Darren Sproles. Much smaller than the average NFL running back, but he hides among the trees... is there then is gone thanks to electric acceleration and ankle-breaking lateral quicks. Does have some HR-hitting ability. Scored 56 TDs on the ground in college. Four 1,000-plus yard seasons. So fun to watch in space and when he emerges at the second level.

11. Samaje Perine | Oklahoma

Height/Weight: 5’11”, 233, 40-Yard Dash: 4.65, Three-Cone: 7.26

Boulder of a running back who will break his fair share of tackles in the NFL. Plays will low center of gravity which adds even more pop upon contact. For a back his size, he flashes outstanding agility and cut-back-lane vision... just not often. Best season was his freshman year. Severely lacking in speed department.

12. James Conner | Pittsburgh

Height/Weight: 6’1”, 233, 40-Yard Dash: 4.65, Three-Cone: 7.14

Eerily similar to Perine, from his size, power, speed, and instances of “wow” agility for a larger running back. Battled back from leukemia and a 1,000-yard season with 16 TDs. Strong-willed in short-yardage situations. Limited long speed. Proved to be a reliable pass-catcher in his final collegiate season.


Tier 3

13. Joe Williams | Utah

Height/Weight: 5’11””, 210, 40-Yard Dash: 4.41, Three-Cone: 7.19

Game is reminiscent of C.J. Spiller. Will get bottled up for three or four runs in a row then erupt for an 80-yard touchdown. Plays even faster than his 40 time. Older prospect. Has impeccable one-cut ability that helps him stay relatively North-South to hit those long runs.

14. Donnel Pumphrey | San Diego State

Height/Weight: 5’8”, 176, 40-Yard Dash: 4.48

Clearly a natural runner who shows off basketball-like crossover moves at any level of the field to leave less-agile players in the dust. Doesn’t take much for him to be brought to the ground. Because jump cuts are so big, he obviously loses forward momentum, and it leads to him getting caught by slower defenders trailing the play. FBS all-time leading rusher. Good long speed.

15. Wayne Gallman | Clemson

Height/Weight: 6’0”, 215, 40-Yard Dash: 4.60, Three-Cone: 7.17

Seemingly looks for contact. Kind of a bull in a china shop. Runs with intense passion and drive to get extra yardage, and gets it often. Not much speed in the open field. Change-of-pace back in the NFL.