Top Running Back Prospects for Fantasy Football
1) Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio State
Similar to most of the draft boards this year, Ezekiel Elliott is the No. 1 running back on our board. The package of extremely skilled rushing, receiving, and pass protection ability is what has us sold on ‘Zeke as the best back in the draft. I like Ezekiel’s stop-start ability and his ability to get his pads low and gain extra yardage. At 6-foot and 225 lbs, Elliott has the ideal size and speed (4.47 second 40-yard dash) to translate his college production into the NFL. He displays soft hands out of the backfield and with his knowledge of blocking techniques, he could operate as a true three-down-back in the pros.
After backing up Carlos Hyde as a freshman, Elliott emerged on the scene in 2014, leading the Buckeyes to a national championship with 2,100 overall yards from scrimmage and 18 touchdowns. Although Ohio State did not live up to their lofty expectations in 2015, as a junior, Elliott still had a great statistical season with 2,020 total yards and 23 touchdowns.
The one criticism that NFL scouts might have of Elliot is a small character issue, with him calling out the coaching staff after a loss to Michigan State this past November, but it could be argued that it showed his competitiveness and will to win.
Elliott is the safest running back pick in the draft because his rushing style matches the quick-twitch speed needed for the NFL. He looks like Le’Veon Bell because they both have strong lower bodies and the breakaway speed to break a long run.
Risk Level: 8
Overall (so far): 17
2) Derrick Henry, Alabama
One thing that makes it difficult to evaluate Derrick Henry and other running backs out of Alabama, is their monster offensive line. The Crimson Tide offensive line consistently opened massive holes for Henry, with no contact being made anywhere near the line of scrimmage. How will he perform in the NFL when there’s no hole or a defender breaking free in the backfield? It’s a legitimate question and was something that lowered Melvin Gordon on my draft board last year. Henry did nothing to dispel the critiques about his side-to-side speed with mediocre times in the quick agility drills at the combine.
Henry did however run a 4.54 second 40-yard dash and has a 37” vertical leap at 6-foot-3 and 247 lbs, proving he is an athletic freak. Something to love about Derrick is his reputation for being a “gym rat.” In the NFL, it is not all about athleticism because everyone is supremely talented at that level and the players that last the longest in the league are the ones who put in the work after practice ends.
Watching Henry’s tape, I saw a running back that consistently avoided tacklers, along with the ability to fall forward to pick up an extra one to two yards. In his final season, he carried the Alabama offense to a national championship by defeating Clemson. In the process, Henry carried the ball nearly 400 times for 2,220 yards and 28 touchdowns. He also chipped in on the screen game and was strong as a pass protector, en route to winning the Heisman Trophy.
Henry came to Alabama as a 5-star recruit and set a national record for the most career rushing yards at Yulee High School in Florida. He played third-wheel to TJ Yeldon and Kenyan Drake as a freshman and split time with Yeldon as a sophomore when Drake got injured. In 2015, it was Henry’s turn to take the crown as the lead back when Yeldon turned pro and he definitely made the most of it.
His NFL comparison is an upgraded version of LeGarrette Blount for his big frame and fall forward mentality.
Risk Level: 6
Overall (so far): 15
3) Devontae Booker, Utah
If it were not for Booker and his 1,500 yards and 11 TD’s last season, the Utes offense would have looked completely different. Booker maximized his rushing yards and displayed soft hands out of the backfield until he went down with a torn meniscus in his knee. Booker showed he has the skills to contribute right away as a three-down back in the National Football League.
He broke out in 2014 for 1,800 yards and 12 touchdowns with Utah as a top JUCO recruit out of American River Junior College. Originally signed to Washington State out of high school in Sacramento, Booker went the junior college route and had a standout year at American River before sitting out all of 2013 to focus on academics.
I like Booker’s ability to break first contact with a strong lower body and bowlegs reminiscent of Marshawn Lynch. Booker shows a good feel for his blocking as well as making quick, decisive cuts to gain speed. At 5-foot-11 and 219 lbs, he adds a lot of value in the passing game, making all the catches while continuing to keep his speed.
One concern with Devontae is his top-end speed and his ability to break long runs against the fast defenses of the NFL and his knee injury, which forced him to sit out of the NFL combine, could be something to keep an eye on. Entering the NFL off an injury-shortened season could be a cause for concern, and some NFL scouts could question if Booker can withstand the pounding that an NFL running back takes.
With a strong lower body and exceptional skills out of the backfield, Devontae Booker could be compared to Matt Forte.
Risk Level: 6
Overall (so far): 14
4) Kenneth Dixon, Louisiana Tech
Running backs transitioning from a smaller collegiate program to the NFL are often more difficult to evaluate. It is easier to evaluate a prospect when they are facing top end talent on defense, such as the Power Five conferences. Dixon is entering the NFL Draft from Louisiana Tech of Conference USA, where he was the school’s all-time leading rusher for 4,480 yards and 87 touchdowns and a four-year starter.
At 5-foot-10 and 215 lbs, Dixon posted a very average 40-yard dash time of 4.58 seconds but put up a top time in the 3-cone drill and a top vertical leap among running backs of 37.5 inches. While the mediocre 40-time was expected, it was nice to see Kenneth finish near the top in the vertical leap, which shows explosion and the 3-cone drill, which shows stop-start quickness. The sudden change of direction skills and a wicked jump-cut should greatly benefit Dixon going from a non-Power Five conference, to the much bigger and faster NFL. While he may not have the breakaway speed to break many long runs, Dixon is a physical runner who has the foot speed and cutting ability to succeed in the NFL.
One major concern I have for Dixon are his thirteen fumbles over the past three seasons, as he must clean that up to stay on the field in the NFL. I am also worried about Dixon’s lower body strength and his capability to break tackles at the professional level. The Louisiana Tech star needs to add bulk and must improve in pass protection to become the full package.
Kenneth Dixon is a real asset catching the ball out of the backfield and is advanced in his route running. Due to his size and cutting style, he looks similar to Lamar Miller breaking through the line of scrimmage into the second level.
Risk Level: 5
Overall (so far): 13