#FutureInvestments: Running Backs

Posted Apr 22, 2015

As the NFL Draft approaches, we will take a look at each position in our #FutureInvestments series.

We’re down to the penultimate edition of our positional breakdowns with running backs. This year’s class certainly has some top-tier talent, but there has not been a running back drafted in the first round since 2012. While some believe the position has become devalued in what’s more and more regarded as a “passing league,” a couple of running backs do have a chance to end that streak on Thursday, April 30.

We’ll tell you all about them below. And be sure to catch up on any of the positions you missed throughout the rest of the series to get ready for the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft.

Defense: P/K | DE | DT | LB | CB | S

Offense: C | OG | OT | TE | WR | RB | QB


The first of the two top backs in this year’s class, Gordon tallied the second-most, single-season yards rushing in FBS history in 2014. His 2,587 yards for Wisconsin ranks only behind Barry Sanders, who set the record at 2,628 in 1988 for Oklahoma State.

Gordon also set an FBS single-game record with 408 yards rushing against Nebraska -- which Oklahoma’s Samaje Perine broke a week later with a 427 yards rushing performance against Kansas.

Still, Gordon’s numbers tell the story when it comes to why he has a chance to not only be drafted highly, but become a dynamic back in the pros. He was the 2014 Heisman runner up to quarterback Marcus Mariota after leading the nation with 2,587 yards rushing and 29 touchdowns. When you add in his yards receiving, he topped the country with 2,740 all-purpose yards and 32 touchdowns. He registered a 7.8-yard average on his carries, which ranks 1st in the Big Ten dating back to 1956.

If there is a negative with Gordon, it’s his issues with ball security. The running back fumbled six times over his final five games, which signals that teams started to pick up on Gordon failing to properly secure the ball. According to his draft profile, he’s not nearly as strong of a runner between the tackles as he is going outside of them. But both of those are aspects to his game that he can likely improve in the pros, and shouldn’t really affect a team’s view of his talent.

Gurley is highly regarded as a tough, physical runner who has the potential to be great in the NFL. But given that he tore his ACL in November, there are some reasonable injury concerns. The running back has not gotten through a full season since his freshman year in 2012, when he rushed for 1,385 yards and 17 touchdowns, garnering second-team All-SEC honors.

In 2013, Gurley missed three games with an ankle injury, but still rushed for 989 yards and 10 touchdowns. And in just six games in 2014, he rushed for 911 yards on 123 carries - - good for a 7.4-yard average.

With those numbers, Gurley clearly has plenty of talent. And according to his draft profile, he’s the type of running back who thrives on contact. In fact, 61.9 percent of his yards rushing came after contact in 2014. Additionally, he had only three fumbles in 510 carries, which bodes well for his future.

On Wednesday, NFL Media’s Albert Breer reported that despite Gurley’s knee injury, five teams believe the running back should be ready for Week 1. Because of that, he does have a chance to be the first back off the board in the draft.

If not for Gordon, Coleman would have been the best back in the Big Ten in 2014. He finished second in the nation with 2,036 yards rushing -- good enough to earn him a spot as a consensus first-team All-American, and first-team All-Big Ten honoree. His strong final season as a Hoosier was only the third in Big Ten history in which a back ram for over 2,000 yards.

His draft profile calls him a “decisive north-south runner,” which is a good quality for a running back. It means that he’s more likely to get positive yards than move around laterally looking for a seam. The profile also touts him as a “violent run finisher” who can duck the shoulder to get that extra yard. His top-end speed is also a strong quality, as half of his career 28 rushing touchdowns came from 43 yards or more.

Coleman does have some room to grow when it comes to patience, though. His draft profile says that he sometimes gets a little too aggressive early in his runs instead of waiting for his blocks to materialize in front of him. He has the raw skills, but, like most rookies, he’ll take some polishing once he gets to the highest level.

Johnson is only 5-foot-9, but he’s learned how to utilize his size to his advantage. He left Miami as its all-time leading rusher after racking up 3,519 yards in just three years.

In 2014, Johnson tallied 1,652 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns. He also had 38 receptions for 421 yards, meaning he totaled 2,073 yards from scrimmage. The performance earned him first-team All-ACC honors, as well as the Brian Piccolo Award, given to the “most courageous” player in the conference. He was bestowed that award because he sustained a broken ankle at the end of the 2013 season, and came back to have a terrific 2014.

According to his draft profile, he’s probably best suited for a zone blocking scheme because of his one-cut ability. However, Johnson’s another back who needs to improve his ball security, as he’s fumbled six times over the last two seasons.

Also worth a mention…

- Jay Ajayi (Boise State)

- Ameer Abdullah (Nebraska)

- T.J. Yeldon (Alabama)