Mid-Round Running Back Prospects, 2016 NFL Draft
The Ravens depth chart at the running back position is just that. Depth.
Justin Forsett returns after suffering a broken forearm in 2015 and he will turn 31 in October. While his legs don’t have the mileage of other 31 year-old RBs, his workload was significantly increased over the last two seasons in Baltimore. There are questions about his fit in Marc Trestman’s offense where the running back is often called on to catch passes. Not something he excelled at, or was efficient in doing. Forsett amassed just under five yards per catch.
Buck Allen on the other hand, racked up 7.8 yards per catch in his rookie season a year ago. But on the rushing side just 3.8 yards per tote. Allen received 182 touches last year, started six games but appeared in all 16. Allen definitely got his feet wet, and should be ready to take the next step in his sophomore season. He’ll be training for an NFL season rather than combines and pro days. He now understands the grind of a 16 game season.
It should be an open competition between Forsett and Allen for the starting job. Possibly a chance they split touches rather evenly.
Further down the chart is Lorenzo Taliaferro, who hasn’t finished a season yet and comes with huge injury risk. Terrence West who was acquired after Forsett went down last year, and was serviceable. Terrence Magee, who went undrafted, and was added and dropped by the Ravens more times than a fantasy team. There is also a plan to bring aboard Trent Richardson if he can reach certain physical benchmarks. But vision has been a comically bad part of his game. Not physicality.
So as you can see, a lot of depth. But not a lot of excitement. A lot of talk, especially here at BSL of late, centers on the idea of taking Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott at pick number six in the first round. Elliott poses big playmaking upside with a speed and strength combo that will play. Also can catch passes, and blocks well for the quarterback. He does come with maturity questions. But can the Ravens find good production later in the draft, with more pressing needs that could be available early on such as elite pass rusher or shutdown cornerback?
Drafting a running back this early, or any player in the top ten, you hope that player steps in and can start right away. You hope for that immediate impact to get your team back on track so they aren’t drafting in the top ten yet again the next year. I wonder if Elliott would unseat now second year player in Allen who could improve, and Forsett who is a veteran presence with success as a Raven. I think it would be doing those two men a disservice, and Elliott one as well, anointing him the third RB on the depth chart, killing him on special teams, seems like an expensive price tag at pick number six if Forsett and Allen progress ahead of Elliott.
If the Ravens pass on Elliott at six, which I find likely they will do, it’s possible they look for someone in the middle rounds. I’m still hopeful that Forsett and Allen can carry the load for 2016. Allen could be a fit for Trestman, and could improve for the reasons I mentioned above. There are other RBs that will come out next year. LSU’s Leonard Fournette and Florida State’s Dalvin Cook are a couple first round candidates for 2017, should Allen show regression.
It’s also possible that Taliaferro, West, Magee, Richardson, are all failures, where a third RB on the depth chart is in order. A player who will have to cut his teeth through special teams, and show well in preseason. Have to earn touches in the regular season. Someone you take in the middle rounds, like Buck Allen a year ago. With that, here is a look at who could be this years Buck Allen. Middle round running back with upside to contribute.
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6’1”, 210 lbs. Senior. Projected third to fourth round. Drake played second fiddle to T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry during his four years in Tuscaloosa. But got plenty of touches…when healthy. Drake broke his leg during the 2014 season, and fractured is arm in 2015. Both poses big time injury red flags which have to be hurting his draft stock. Also what could be hurting his stock is an arrest in 2014 when he entered a crime scene against police orders. His car was parked in the area of what became a crime scene. He wanted to get to his car, police said no, he didn’t listen and entered the crime scene. So maybe he isn’t the most intelligent person either. On the football field though, he is an exciting player. He put to rest any questions about his physicality after a broken leg, running a 4.45 40-yard time in Indy. He is a dual threat averaging six yards per carry, and 12.5 yards per reception. He can also return kicks, taking one 95 yards for the score in the National Championship game against Clemson. Many outlets compare him to Charles Sims. A huge pass catching asset, explosive runner, but not an every down, or short yardage/goal line back. Special team skills fits Harbuagh, pass catching back fits Trestman. I would love the Ravens to draft this guy in round four. Certainly fun to watch.
Daniel Lasco – California
6’0”, 209 lbs. Senior. Projected fourth round. It was Lasco, not Jared Goff, who was the Golden Bears team MVP in 2014. Poised for a big 2015 season, he was slowed by injuries costing him five games, and draft stock. He was a top performer at the combine by a ton. He ran a 4.46 40-yard, a huge 41.5 inch vertical, and the longest broad jump by a RB at the combine in ten years, at 11 feet three inches. He led Cal in special teams tackles as a freshman trying to earn his wings. Lasco must not play up to his potential with the physical traits he has, or else he’d be no doubt a round one pick. Vision, and slow to hit that second gear are other knocks on him. But it’s possible the slowness in 2015 was a product of hip and ankle injuries. Otherwise, he’s not afraid to hit the holes. He’s not afraid to throw his body around. He’ll try to run guys over like a fullback instead of stepping out of bounds. Should be interesting to see how a guy with his physicality develops at the pro level.
Tyler Ervin – San Jose State
5’10”, 192 lbs. Senior. Projected fourth or fifth round. Ervin is another receiving threat as a RB. Someone Trestman would utilize properly in his system. Ervin is lean, but athleticism is very impressive. He ran a 4.41 40-yard, a vertical of 39 inches, and a broad jump close to 11 feet. Real impressive numbers. When he runs, he finds the hole quick. He doesn’t do a lot of dancing in the backfield which I like. Also a kick returner, with three return scores in college. He doesn’t break a lot of tackles because of his lean stature. But he’s elusive and gets up to speed quick.
Kelvin Taylor – Florida
5’10”, 207 lbs. Junior. Projected fourth to fifth round. A lot of people talk about Taylor because he is the son of former Jacksonville Jaguar and Florida Gator, Fred Taylor. Kelvin broke high school records for the state of Florida before coming to Gainesville. Taylor had a poor combine, running a 4.6 40-yard. It was no anomaly as he did the same at his pro day. Taylor lacked strength in the bench and both jumps. He was only a starter for his junior year running behind a banged up, duct taped together O-line, and still decided to leave school early. Coaches love his work ethic, and ball security is no issue as he has not fumbled in 510 touches. He might get some looks because of the genes, the NFL blood line, but nothing I see makes him stand out as a potential sleeper pick.
Keith Marshall – Georgia
5’11”, 219 lbs. Senior. Projected fifth to sixth round. When Marshall was recruited by Georgia back in 2012, he came more highly touted than Todd Gurley, NFL’s 2015 Rookie of the Year. Gurley left a year early for the NFL, and Marshall’s career has been hampered by injuries, losing playing time to Nick Chubb in 2015. However, at the combine, Marshall posted the fastest 40-time at 4.31. To go with 25 reps on the bench, that’s a heck of a power/speed combo. Running that fast puts to rest any debate about effects of ACL injury, but the durability could be a question. Silver lining is that he doesn’t have the mileage some college backs have, making him fresh when he gets to an NFL team. Marshall has big play potential and is absolutely worth a look in the latter portion of the draft. But with durability concerns, have a backup plan.