The 2016 NCAA season will re-focus on running backs as not only potential Heisman Trophy candidates, but top candidates to be selected in the 2017 NFL Draft.
Next year’s NFL Draft could see a number of running backs earn first-round grades. Experts say the running back position no longer presents high first-round value due to the trend of spread offenses and greater emphasis on passing.
What must a modern running back do to achieve a first-round grade?
- Pass protect. In order to become an every-down-back, runners today must be able to protect the quarterback first and foremost. Any ‘back who can’t pick up a blitz will find himself second or third on the depth chart.
- Immediate acceleration fits in with draws and screens. Today’s passing schemes require backs to gain speed from positions where they have to wait for the ball.
- Yards After Contact is a key metric measured by “Moneyball” analysts. The ability to break tackles remains a key attribute running backs in any era.
- Pass catching due to screens, check-downs and flat passes.
Which running backs will garner the most attention this season?
Leonard Fournette, LSU – Fournette is the Heisman favorite heading into the season. He racked up 1,953 yards in 2015 for the Bayou Bengals. Can he hit the 2K mark? Could be the first running back selected in 2017.
Darren McFadden is the only player since 2000 to be a unanimous first-team media All-SEC pick. Leonard Fournette was 2 votes away this year.
— Jimmy Carter (@NWAJimmy) July 15, 2016
Nick Chubb, Georgia – Rushed for 1,547 yards as a true freshman (7.18 YPC). He suffered a sophomore jinx, however, when a knee injury killed his season. Prior to getting hurt, Chubb collected 747 in six games (124 YPG). All eyes will focus on Chubb’s knee as the season progresses.
Dalvin Cook, FSU – If he can stay out of trouble off the field, Cook might end up in the Top 15 and will compete with Fournette and Christian McCaffrey to the first back selected. He averaged 7.4 yards per carry for the Seminoles last season, but ran into some off-the-field issues.
Christian McCaffrey, Stanford – Another potential Heisman candidate (see we told you running backs would receive consideration). Reggie Bush like talent combined with elusiveness, pass catching and return abilities. McCaffrey brings explosiveness. Watch his highlights running the Wild Cat…
Wayne Gallman, Clemson – Most conversations regarding Clemson will revolve around quarterback Deshaun Watson. At 6-foot-1 and 215 pounds, Gallman packs speed into a massive running back frame. Scouts will monitor Gallman’s ability to add some weight and power this season.
So… What running backs will you be focused on in the upcoming NCAA season? Do you have a dark horse that could surprise and rocket up the draft boards? Share your thoughts in the comments!