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Ranking 16 running backs from the 2017 NFL Draft

Who should the Eagles pick?

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I've had loads of requests to do film pieces on players in this year's 2017 NFL Draft class and I just don't have the time sadly. I will write about everyone we draft after the draft though. In terms of this year's class, I'm focusing on the running backs, wide receivers and cornerbacks. I'll also take a look at some random players the Eagles are linked to at 14. I don't get the chance to watch that many players, but I manage to get to about 16 at each position. So keep in mind these aren't my top 16 running backs, they are the only 16 I've watched!

Couple of important notes before I get to the rankings. Firstly, these rankings are based solely on talent. I can't see off the field problems on film so I ignore it with my rankings but I do obviously keep it in mind in terms of where I would draft someone. Secondly, these rankings are based on how the players would fit with the Eagles scheme specifically. I won't get into great detail about the Eagles scheme but it's a zone based scheme that is incredibly multiple. The Eagles run inside zone, outside zone, counter, draw, trap, etc. and use a number of different formations. The Eagles run mainly from under center but also from the shotgun too of course. There's a lot of outside runs and I think the Eagles would also like their RBs to be able to catch out the backfield but it isn't an absolute necessity if playing on 1st and 2nd down. Let's get to the rankings!

16. Brian Hill, Wyoming: Not sure I would even consider drafting Hill in the late rounds. He's powerful but he runs far too upright which means he is going to take some shots in the NFL and I don't think he'll just run over people. He has little to no receiving threat, can't make you miss in space and can't move laterally. I'll pass.

15. James Conner, Pitt: Everything you read about this guy is that he's an incredible man who has overcome a lot and will help out a locker room. Which is awesome and that can be valuable. In terms of on the field, I wasn't a huge fan. He has good contract balance but runs with all power and nothing else. I don't think he can create anything if the hole isn't there and has stiff hips. I see him as a short yardage specialist.

14. Jeremy McNichols, Boise State: Some people love this guy but I do not. He's big for his size but I don't think he runs with any power at all and is far too easy to bring down. He's a 1-speed runner and I'm not sure I see him as a 1st or 2nd down option at all. He's a decent receiver so he could be an interesting 3rd down back but he'll have to improve his pass protection first.

13. Samaje Perine, Oklahoma: Again, someone I'm far lower on that some. I think he's a decent scheme fit and can be a good short yardage back or someone that carries a load towards the end of games when the defense is tiring. However, I was disappointed with his lateral movement and I can't see him just running defenders over all game long. I don't think he can get to the edge and turn the corner on the Eagles outside runs and he won't give you many explosive plays.

12. Marlon Mack, USF: Mack is a really interesting guy. He'll get drafted fairly high I think because he has great size and speed combination. He can give you explosive plays on minimal carries which is important for any offense. Despite this, I really hated some of his tape. He runs way too soft for my liking and doesn't show really any aggression. He always looks for spaces which means he runs away from contact all the time and he tries to cut it outside way too much. He's got to improve a lot as a runner.

11. Wayne Gallman, Clemson: Unlike Mack, Gallman does show the aggression that you want to see in a running back. His upright style means he'll take shots, but he'll definitely give out some himself too. He always fights for yards and has pretty good feet but he has no real sharp cutting ability. He might almost be too aggressive to be able to handle many carries per game. This aggression also means he's impatient and will need to learn to let his blocks develop.

10. Corey Clement, Wisconsin: One of the good things about being from England, is that I have no idea who most of these guys are when watching them. I know there's no buzz around him so I was surprised myself but I really liked Clement's tape. I thought he had great size, a good enough burst and speed to get to the corner. I also thought he showed the ability to make you miss in a number of ways, he has a good jump cut but can also run through tackles and showed good contact balance. He can't do anything on 3rd down but I think he shows good patience and could replace what Ryan Mathews gave us last year (to an extent). After watching Clement, I looked him up and realized he has injury and character concerns which meant he missed the 2015 season. Anyway, I think he shows potential and he'll be someone in the late rounds I keep my eye on.

9. Matthew Dayes, NC State: Perfect scheme fit for this offense. Not a big or explosive back but is a great zone runner and fits what I imagine Doug will want in a running back. He doesn't have breakaway speed but he's very elusive with quick feet and he runs with a physical style considering his size. His versatility is great, I saw him run good routes from the slot and even as the outside receiver at times. He shows really good patience and will run the Eagles outside zone really well. I see Dayes as an upgrade over Smallwood as the second running back because of his versatility. The Eagles are probably looking for a primary back though. If they want a commitee backfield, Dayes can do a job for them.

8. Jamaal Williams, BYU: Tested awfully at the combine but improved at his pro-day which was great to see. I don't think he has any special trait but he's a very good all-around running back. He hits the hole quickly and isn't easy to bring down, he keeps his legs moving through contact and shows good power and balance. He doesn't have a great sudden jump cut and won't create much behind the line of scrimmage but he hits the hole fast. Williams should be a good 1st and 2nd down option and as a pure runner, I think he has a lot of ability.

7. Alvin Kamara, Tennessee: The NFL likes Kamara way more than I do. Honestly, I'm ranking him here because of his athleticism and great combine rather than his tape. If you take Kamara in the 1st or 2nd round, you are basically hoping that he becomes something he wasn't in college because of his athleticism. I don't think he can be a primary back, he never had 20 carries in a single game in college. He's very explosive and can hit his top speed quickly and get to the edge and turn the corner. He runs with a good pad level and has excellent balance. He's shifty too but needs to run inside with more power. His versatility is good and he showed the ability to catch the ball out the backfield and run good routes which is why I think the Eagles will like him. There are rumors he'll go in the 1st or 2nd round but that's way too early for me personally. He would give the Eagles some explosion though.

6. D'Onta Foreman, Texas: Not sure he's a great scheme fit but I'm willing to bet on his traits. He's a great athlete for his size and he blew up his pro day. For a big dude, he has incredibly light feet and can change direction really well. I love how smooth is lateral movement is. He could be slightly more aggressive for his size but defensive backs will feel it when they tackle him. He shows incredible contract balance, can lower his shoulder and push the pile and can make sudden jump cuts. No versatility though which is a shame, only 13 catches in 3 years so he would be a 1st and 2nd down back only. I think he fits a gap heavy scheme that gets North-South more than the Eagles. But, as I said, I think he has really good traits and I think the Eagles could make it work with him personally.

5. Kareem Hunt, Toledo: Love this dude. He has the potential to be a primary back and a 3 down back. He's a great inside zone runner and despite taking all his snaps from the shotgun, I think he has the traits to run under center for the Eagles. We saw Ezekiel Elliot translate from a shotgun runner to an under center runner pretty easily last year. Hunt has incredible contact balance and he's incredibly hard to bring down. On top of that, he can plant and cut extremely well and he can make you miss in the open field. Lacks real explosive speed but I think he has enough to burst to succeed. He also has great hands and good vision in the open field. Hunt never fumbles and never drops a pass either, sounds pretty good to me.

4. Dalvin Cook, FSU: Perfect scheme fit for what we do here, an absolute stud on outside zone and he has the explosiveness to turn the corner and create huge plays on minimal touches. Can be a primary back, forces a lot of missed tackles by speed and he always flashes the ability to take it the distance. He's a homerun hitter. Reads his blocks really well and has the explosive ability to cut back. Can also catch the ball well out the backfield. So why isn't he higher you may ask? Right, I do believe the combine matters and he tested disastrously. He's in the 9th percentile in terms of NFL SPARQ score. That means 91% of running backs are currently more athletic than him. He didn't even run drills again at his pro day, which suggests he didn't think he could improve on awful 3-cone time. No running back has ever gone in the 1st round with as low as a SPARQ score as him. On top of his terrible combine, he fumbles every 63 touches which is terrible and I also think he runs away from contact a little too much and needs to show more power when running inside. When you add in the off the field question marks, I would not touch him at 14. I think there's a good chance we can still get him in the 2nd round considering his question marks.

3. Leonard Fournette, LSU: Nowhere near as good as a scheme fit as Cook, but similar to Foreman, I'm willing to bank on Fournette's traits. Freakish combination of size and speed. Great size, he can be a foundation running back that you build your offense around if you want. He punishes defenders in the secondary and if he gets a lane he will take it the distance. He's a wear down, attrition runner, meaning he needs a lot of carries every game to get going. If the Eagles decide they want to take a lot of Wentz' plate this year and give him a running back that can carry the load, Fournette makes sense. He does have lateral agility question marks and he's not a great shotgun runner. I probably wouldn't take him at 14 either because of the scheme fit, but I would totally understand if the Eagles did (he likely won't be there anyway). He's not a threat out the backfield either. If the Eagles did draft him, I think they could slightly alter their system and make it work with Fournette.

2. Christian McCaffrey, Stanford: This is my guy. If you follow me on twitter you know I absolutely love McCaffrey. He's incredible. He ran from under center and shotgun, ran inside zone well and was elite on outside zone due to his incredible patience. He's so good at reading blocks. He's incredibly elusive and can make defenders miss in very tight spaces. He won't run over guys but he runs really tough with a good pad level. He also barely ever fumbles, is very young and is the most versatile running back in the draft. He lined up at wide receiver constantly and runs good enough routes to be a slot receiver if he wanted to. You can get him 20 touches a game week in week out in my opinion. That could be 12-15 carries, and 5-6 catches. He can change a game with limited touches. I would absolutely take McCaffrey at 14. I think he is worth that pick and I hope the Eagles decide to take him there.

1. Joe Mixon, Oklahoma: I have to touch on the off field stuff but I want to be brief and can we please not turn the comments section into a discussion about Mixon's off-field trouble, I'd rather discuss the other running backs. I have no problem if the Eagles take him off their board (it seems like they won't). With a situation like this, we have to accept the Eagles organization will know a lot more about him as a person than we do and personally I trust the Eagles organization and think the are a good franchise. They will investigate everything. If they think he has changed, is remorseful will work hard to turn his life around (like Michael Vick) then I am fine with them taking Mixon. At the end of the day, I have to trust the Eagles front office to do the right thing based on all the information they have.

Talent wise, he is a stud. He's big enough to handle a heavy workload and he's also freakishly athletic. He has great burst and can get you explosive plays. He can lower his shoulder and run through you, can stiff arm you but can also make you miss with great wiggle and a great jump cut. He has excellent contact balance. He's also superb out the backfield, runs great routes and catches the ball really well. His vision needs work, he shows outstanding patience but sometimes waits too long and misses backside cuts. He is only 20 years old though and I think he will continue to improve.

Final Thoughts

I think the running back class has a lot of complimentary backs but not a lot of primary backs. If the Eagles want a primary back, I think they will need to take one high. McCaffrey to me makes a lot of sense at 14 and I imagine that the Eagles will have real interest in him. If they miss out on McCaffrey, or decide to go elsewhere at 14, I expect they will target Mixon or Cook in the 2nd round. Kareem Hunt in the 3rd round would also make a lot of sense if they miss on the top guys. I had a really in-depth look at how these guys fit in the Eagles scheme on my latest podcast, you can listen here and I highly recommend it if you want to know more about these players and how they would fit with the Eagles offense.

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