BBD Staff Writer: Joe Marino
The running back position has decreased in draft value over the past few seasons. NFL teams have been able to find backs later in the draft who prove to be viable starters.
That’s exactly what I see in many of the senior running backs in the 2014 class. Some of them are situational-type players, but most of them are prospects that could fill the role of a starter who gets selected in the later rounds of the draft and proves to be a tremendous value pick.
At the top of the list is Ohio State running back Carlos Hyde, who is in a class of his own compared to the other senior running back prospects. Charles Sims is another intriguing player who has Matt Forte-like ability.
1. Carlos Hyde, Ohio State (6’, 235 lbs.)
Hyde has had a tremendous senior season and is one of the primary reasons Ohio State has had a terrific season. He is one of college football’s most improved players. Impressively, he has increased his yards per carry from 5.2 as a junior to 7.7 as a senior.
Hyde is an excellent north-south power back with a powerful lower body. He keeps his legs moving through contact and moves piles while picking up yards after contact. Hyde rarely has negative plays and consistently falls forward. He gets the most out of his carries and is a load for opposing defenses to deal with. He is difficult to tackle.
It is a misconception that because Hyde has the makings of a classic power back, he lacks open-field elusiveness. Hyde makes excellent cuts in the hole and at the second level that spring him for big gains. While he can easily run defenders over, he also has the ability to make people miss in space. He is an intelligent runner who is patient enough to wait for holes to develop but also knows when to hit a play quick.
Hyde is a good enough pass blocker to play on passing downs at the next level, and he has frequently been utilized as a lead blocker for Braxton Miller on quarterback draw plays. Hyde is not featured much as a receiver out of the backfield, but he shows no issues catching the football and getting upfield when those opportunities are presented.
Hyde is an every-down player who can be a feature back for an NFL team. I think of him as an eight-year starter and a solid Day 2 selection.
2. Charles Sims, West Virginia (6’, 213 lbs.)
Sims was a productive player as both a runner and receiver in his first three collegiate seasons at Houston, and has continued to be as a senior this year at West Virginia.
Sims sees the field extremely well and makes excellent cuts in the hole and in the open field. These cuts set up tacklers well by getting them off-balance in order to make them miss.
His ability to cut is made even more dangerous by his ability to burst upfield without losing much speed when changing directions. He runs with good forward lean and pad level.
Sims is a great receiving threat out of the backfield with more than 200 career receptions, and a good pass protector who can stay on the field on every down.
Sims is a solid overall prospect with no glaring weaknesses. He is a good athlete with ideal size for the position. For a team looking to add depth at running back with starter upside, Sims would be a fine selection.
3. Andre Williams, Boston College (6’, 227 lbs.)
Williams’ senior season has been one of the best rushing performances in college football history. He has already set the ACC single-season rushing record with a bowl game to go, and leads the nation with 2,112 rushing yards.
Like Carlos Hyde, Williams has had a significant increase in yards per carry this season. He is averaging 6.4 yards per carry as a senior after averaging just 4.6 as a junior.
Williams is a typical power back who runs with great forward lean and a strong lower body. He stays the course of plays and takes yards that are there while falling forward to gain additional yardage.
That said, Williams does not display much ability to improvise when a play design fails. When Williams gets a full head of steam, he can easily run people over, but it takes him too long to generate power. I am also concerned about the length of his strides. Because he is such a long strider, he is not very shifty and doesn’t make sharp, quick cuts, limiting his big-play ability.
Williams offers very little in terms of contributing as a receiver. He has not had a catch this season.
Williams has the makings of a complementary power back to go along with a more elusive player.
4. Antonio Andrews, Western Kentucky (6’, 219 lbs.)
Andrews has done it all for the Hilltoppers over the course his career. He has had more than 1,700 rushing yards in each of the past two seasons while making additional contributions as a kick and punt returner and as a receiver out of the backfield.
Andrews is a physical, downhill runner who is a challenge for opposing defenses to bring down. He finishes runs very well and has good burst through the hole. He picks up good yardage after contact and maximizes every carry.
With good size for the position, Andrews is also a solid athlete with great strength. He has some ability in the open field and has proven to be able to pick up large chunks on the ground.
Andrews gets off-course sometimes and works his way to the sideline too much for my liking. He needs to have more consistent field vision and discipline.
Andrews is an intriguing player who has proven to be a workhorse for the Hilltoppers. He may be able to sneak into the fourth round and provide good versatility to an NFL team.
5. Rajion Neal, Tennessee (5’11’’, 212 lbs.)
Neal has produced well over the past two seasons while playing behind what is arguably the best offensive line in college football. He had the best season of his career as a senior, rushing for 1,124 yards and 12 touchdowns with a 5.2-yard average per carry.
Neal is a good between-the-tackles back who runs very hard and behind his pads. He has excellent forward lean, leg drive and pad level. He looks to maximize every carry and pick up additional yards after contact.
Neal has displayed the ability to catch passes out of the backfield and runs intelligent routes to give his quarterback a reliable check-down option. Neal is a good but not great pass protector.
Neal could be a late-round steal, much like what the Rams got from Zac Stacy in the fifth round of last year’s draft.
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