2017 NFL Draft: Top 5 Running Backs and Offensive Linemen

*Notes:

  • Value – This is the round/pick that I believe the player should be drafted based on his talent, potential, and overall ability.
  • Projected Pick – This is the round/pick that I believe the prospect will be selected by an NFL franchise in the 2017 Draft.

Running Backs:

  1. Leonard Fournette (Louisiana State)

Strengths:

  • Tremendous speed (40 time: 4.51) relative to his size (240 lbs.)
  • Very dynamic runner with great awareness and the agility needed to change direction quickly and accelerate through holes in the line of scrimmage
  • Runs through defenders and can break tackles by dropping his shoulder and generating power from his legs or by utilizing a stiff arm technique
  • Has an elite spin move to spin away from linemen and gain extra yards
  • Incredible form and footwork leads to consistent efficiency (averaged 6.5 yards per carry in both 2015 and 2016)
  • Ability to step up and block free pass rushers to protect the quarterback in the pocket
  • Had a prolific 2015 sophomore season (2,206 total yards and 23 total touchdowns); finished 6th in Heisman voting

Weaknesses:

  • Suffered a reoccurring injury to his ankle early in the 2016 season, causing him to sit out multiple games (including LSU’s appearance in the Citrus Bowl) and significantly drop his production level (843 total yards and 8 total touchdowns)
  • Can find effectiveness as a receiving back, but is not quite the versatile receiver that some modern NFL systems look for in running backs
  • Will often use his size to take on defenders instead of making cuts to elude tacklers in the open field
  • Can sometimes afford more patience to allow plays to develop before bursting through the line of scrimmage

Value:  Top 5

Projected Pick:  Top 10

 

  1. Dalvin Cook (Florida State)

Strengths:

  • Quick agility to juke and cut past tacklers in the open field
  • Has the awareness to bounce to the outside and find space when the box is crowded with defenders
  • Dynamic receiving back who can open up the passing game (33 receptions and 488 receiving yards in 2016)
  • Proficient route runner with the ability to line up outside and produce deep as a receiver
  • Very explosive and patient to allow plays to develop and accelerate through openings in the defense
  • Had a strong performance (207 total yards and 1 touchdown) in the 2016 Orange Bowl victory over Michigan and won bowl game MVP

Weaknesses:

  • Relatively small back who relies on agility instead of strength to take on defenders; sometimes struggles with physicality against linemen and linebackers
  • Gets dominated by tacklers when initiating contact on inside runs and often forces himself to cut to the outside
  • Fails to get low, plant feet, and drop shoulder in order to drive through tackles
  • Has ball security issues with 13 career fumbles as a Seminole
  • Lack of ability to pick up defenders on blocks and protect the pocket during passing plays
  • Disappointing combine performance: 4.49 in the 40 and looked inconsistent during agility drills

Value:  Top 20

Projected Pick:  Top 20

 

  1. Christian McCaffrey (Stanford)

Strengths:

  • Most versatile offensive player in the draft class; has been productive as a running back, kick/punt returner, and slot receiver
  • Dynamic receiver out of the backfield; is a polished route runner with solid catching ability and is very dangerous after the catch (1,206 total receiving yards in three seasons)
  • Quick feet and agility; able to beat tacklers with juke and spin moves
  • Great ball carrier vision to follow blocks, smoothly change direction, and explode through gaps in the defense
  • Heavily relied upon for offensive production; handled a high volume of carries and receptions at Stanford without much concern regarding his durability

Weaknesses:

  • May project better as a slot receiver instead of a running back at the next level due to lack of ideal running back size
  • Relies on footwork and agility as opposed to strength and trucking ability when taking on defenders; may struggle with inside runs between the tackles in the NFL
  • Sometimes fails to accelerate through runs after making a cut or changing direction
  • Average speed; may not have the burst necessary to create separation on big play opportunities

Value:  Late 1st Round

Projected Pick:  Top 20

 

  1. D’Onta Foreman (Texas)

Strengths:

  • Strong power back who generates momentum to break through the line of scrimmage and truck through defenders
  • Absorbs big hits to bounce off tacklers and fight for extra yards; never gives up on plays
  • Very quick footwork relative to his size allows him to stay balanced and make fluid cuts
  • Prolific 2016 junior season (2,028 rushing yards, 15 touchdowns, 6.3 yards per carry); Heisman Trophy candidacy hurt by poor team record (5-7)
  • Consistent conversion rate in short yardage and redzone situations
  • Tremendous lead blocker who is very successful getting around the edge and blocking for fellow runners on the outside

Weaknesses:

  • Lacks ideal speed and acceleration to burst through holes in the defense and capitalize on free space; primarily relies on power instead of speed
  • One-dimensional power back without much productivity receiving out of the back field; never recorded more than 100 total receiving yards in a single season at Texas
  • Often puts his head down too early and overcommits to his running path instead of changing direction to find space and/or gaps in the line
  • Concerns arise regarding his lack of ball security (7 fumbles in 2016)
  • Exhibits weak footwork and is sometimes sluggish when blocking in pass protection in the pocket

Value:  Mid 2nd Round

Projected Pick:  Early 3rd Round

 

  1. Kareem Hunt (Toledo)

Strengths:

  • Powerful one cut back who drives with his legs and attacks the line of scrimmage with momentum
  • Light on his feet relative to his strong size; smoothly slides in and out of tacklers to find gaps and create space
  • Exhibited his ability to receive out of the backfield and contribute to the passing attack by recording 403 receiving yards on 41 receptions during his senior season at Toledo
  • Runs with his head on a constant swivel to analyze defenses and search for open running lanes
  • Uses quick agility to bounce outside and make runs down the sideline when the box is clogged up

Weaknesses:

  • Sometimes fails to accelerate through gaps in the defense and has average burst when holes open up in front of him
  • Needs to put his head down and commit to runs after making cuts; can slow himself down by failing to make full commitment after changing direction
  • Often gets too fancy at the end of runs and relies on agility to beat tacklers instead of finishing by lowering his shoulder and trucking
  • Will reach full potential only when he increases his play speed on every play to become a more versatile three-down back

Value:  Late 2nd Round

Projected Pick:  Mid 3rd Round

 

Honorable Mentions:  Joe Mixon (Oklahoma); Alvin Kamara (Tennessee); Marlon Mack (USF); James Conner (Pittsburgh); Samaje Perine (Oklahoma)

 

Offensive Line:

  1. Garett Bolles (Utah)

Strengths:

  • Two-time all-conference selection at Snow College (junior college) before transferring to Utah and earning a first-team All-Pac 12 selection at left tackle
  • Elite footwork and agility for a 300-pound offensive lineman; smooth, balanced movement across the line allows him to stay in front of defenders and center his blocks
  • Ability to harness full range of power by shifting body weight and establishing leverage against pass rushers as they move laterally around the pocket
  • Able to accelerate in and out of blocks; proven ability to hit and drive initial blocks then quickly advance to the second level to set up running lanes
  • Quick burst off the snap gives him the time to diagnose blitz packages and maintain control of the pocket by setting his position and protecting against stunt rushes
  • Endless potential with elite combination of strength, power, and athleticism

Weaknesses:

  • Sometimes fails to lower pad level on outside pass rushers, which can lead to a lack of power/drive into contact
  • Needs to work on sustaining his blocks to avoid being thrown off balance with power
  • Often allows initial push from edge rushers causing pocket disruption; must lock-in his blocks quicker to establish position and dominate the blind side
  • Unorthodox technique; too fancy when shifting his feet during blocks

Value:  Top 20

Projected Pick:  Top 20

 

  1. Ryan Ramczyk (Wisconsin)

Strengths:

  • 2016 first-team All-Big Ten selection and two-time DIII all-conference selection at the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point before transferring to DI Wisconsin
  • Explodes off the line of scrimmage with low pad level to set powerful stance against pass rushers; moves across the line very fluidly with balance and athleticism
  • Versatile blocker who can thrive in pass protection and zone run plays
  • Strikes defensive linemen early with smooth, forceful hands and locks into blocks while maintaining the ability to adjust against spin and swim moves
  • Elite awareness to follow pass rushers and stay squared; ability to play left tackle and be an offensive leader

Weaknesses:

  • Only played one year as a DI starter after two years in DIII and one year on the Badgers’ scout team due to transfer restrictions
  • Below-average frame and lack of prototypical left tackle size forces him to work harder to sustain blocks
  • Takes small strides when coming out of his stance, forcing him to burst off the line with perfect timing to avoid getting beat
  • Received arthroscopic hip surgery after Wisconsin’s bowl game; recovery will be monitored and kept him out of many pre-draft workouts

Value:  Top 20

Projected Pick:  Late 1st Round

 

  1. Cam Robinson (Alabama)

Strengths:

  • Two-time All-American and two-time All-SEC selection during three years at Alabama; started every game of collegiate career at left tackle
  • Solid 6’6’’ frame who generates huge burst off the line of scrimmage to carry defenders and control direction with powerful turns
  • Strong run blocker who can fire initial push to redirect linemen and open up running lanes out of the backfield
  • Sets feet to maintain strength and leverage and establish position off the snap quickly
  • Plays hard through each play and drive defenders for every yard

Weaknesses:

  • Projects more as a right tackle in the NFL; slow footwork and lack of agility often lead to him being beaten around the edge by pass rushers
  • Fails to get low enough to remain balanced and shift across the line to keep defenders in front of him
  • Struggles to stay with pass rushers who disrupt the pocket with spin and swim moves
  • Drives defenders to the ground instead of forcing pancake blocks and shifting to the second level for additional lead blocks
  • Concerns arise regarding his instincts; not a natural pass blocker who can accurately diagnose blitzes and secure a tight pocket for the quarterback

Value:  Late 1st Round

Projected Pick:  Late 1st Round

 

  1. Dan Feeney (Indiana)

Strengths:

  • Two-time First Team All-American and one-time All-Big Ten selection in four seasons at right guard for the Hoosiers
  • Elite run blocker with a quick burst off the line of scrimmage to accelerate into the second level to connect on lead blocks and open running lanes
  • Establishes hand position with immediate punch to get underneath defensive tackles and dominate gaps
  • Quick agility relative to his size allows him to slide in and out of blocks across the line
  • Runs smart, efficient routes when blocking around the edge and meeting defenders in the open field; tremendous screen blocker who remains patient and doesn’t overcommit

Weaknesses:

  • Missed 4 games of senior season after sustaining a significant concussion and sat out all of 2013 with foot fracture
  • Bursts off the line with high pad level and often gets pushed off balance and into the pocket on pass blocks
  • Lack of leverage requires additional effort to redirect defenders; should utilize hip bend instead of relying on pure strength
  • Struggles to sustain blocks and maintain base in head-to-head contact with tackles

Value:  Early 2nd Round

Projected Pick:  Mid 2nd Round

 

  1. Forrest Lamp (Western Kentucky)

Strengths:

  • Two-time All-Conference USA and one-time Third Team All-American selection
  • Quick footwork and lateral movement across the line to adjust to blitz packages and handle pass rush moves
  • Accelerates off the line with low pad level to gain leverage and get underneath bull rushes
  • Establishes strong base by shifting feet and squaring shoulders before engaging defenders
  • Great use of hands to hit with strong punches and fight off hand jabs efficiently

Weaknesses:

  • Four-year starter at left tackle, but projects better as an interior lineman in the NFL due to footwork and athleticism constraints
  • Often fails to generate strong initial push on edge rushers and has to rely on lateral footwork to keep defenders in front of him
  • Below-average arm length make it difficult to pass protect when rushers bend around the edge
  • Lacks the necessary power to drive defenders back to open up running lanes; primarily uses footwork and hands to redirect defenders instead of using power
  • Slides too far with pass rush instead of dominating at the point of attack; causes the pocket to collapse with less time and space for the quarterback to make reads

Value:  Mid 2nd Round

Projected Pick:  Early 2nd Round

 

Honorable Mentions: Roderick Johnson (Florida State); Antonio Garcia (Troy); Dion Dawkins (Temple)

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