Top 10 NFL Draft Eligible Running Backs

by TJ Ford

Let me be the first to say that if this draft class were to be drafted ten years ago, the rankings would be much different. The running back position has changed markedly in the NFL. Most teams employ two to three backs and non-traditional body types are making big impacts due to speed and athleticism. Runners like Jamaal Charles, Felix Jones and Chris Johnson as well as pass catchers out of the backfield like Reggie Bush and Brian Westbrook are performing well and becoming more valuable commodities than their traditional gimmick status would have otherwise.

An interesting thing to watch in this draft is how teams address the running back position. There are probably more talented big backs (230+ lbs) in this year’s draft than most years and I foresee many teams looking for home run hitters.


1) Jonathan Dwyer (Georgia Tech Junior) – 6’1″ 235 lbs

I know I’m going to take some heat for this but I really believe that Jon Dwyer is the best running back in this class. Georgia Tech has bred good running backs in the past, Tashard Choice most recently. He’s big enough to bruise you, fast enough to run away from you and talented enough to see the hole and make you miss in the open field. One big plus side for his NFL game is that he will be able to stay in and block from day one whereas other day one backs may not be able to.

My one knock on him in his lack of proven hands. Dwyer doesn’t have many receptions but then again, GA Tech really doesn’t run many screens or routes out of the backfield for him. I can’t say whether his hands are bad or not as the film I’ve watched doesn’t really showcase his hands. I think the combine might go a long way to showing whether he can or can’t catch.

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2) Jahvid Best (California Junior) – 5’10″ 195 lbs

This kid is drawing comparisons to Chris Johnson and if that’s the case, you can bet that he is going to go high in the draft. That said, the neck injury he suffered may serve to scare some coaches. We will need to prove his health in workouts and the combine to assuage those concerns. I think that 195 lb listing is also inflated. Don’t be surprised if he weighs in at the 185 lb range at the combine, especially because of his injury.

That said, Best’s speed and moves may be the (ahem) best available this year. He also has the hands to contribute in the passing game. A dangerous talent, Best’s worth may hinge on his health and his 40 time.

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3) CJ Spiller (Clemson Senior) – 5’11″ 195 lbs

I really thought that CJ Spiller returning to college for his senior year was a poor decision. I thought that he stood to get drafted in the late 1st to mid 2nd range last year. Usually remaining in college is a bad decision for running backs, Mike Hart being the latest example of a huge freefall in draft stock from junior to senior.

However, it looks like Spiller was able to build some credibility as an every-down player by playing without James Davis. His YPC stayed above 5 and his effectiveness out of backfield remained constant. He probably increased his stock somewhat doing this. Spiller is a better blocker than he gets credit for but blocking college blitzes and blocking an NFL lineman are two different things. CJ also has one of the better pair of hands for runners in the draft.

Likely another beneficiary for Chris Johnson’s success along with Best, CJ Spiller should also be a first day pick.

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4) Toby Gerhart (Stanford Senior) – 6’1″ 235 lbs

This year’s Doak Walker award winner for the nation’s top running back, Toby Gerhart is probably a lock for a first round pick in years past but probably slips to day two simply because of the league’s lack of need for running backs, especially big ones.

Gerhart may have the most complete game of the running backs coming out; good hands, good moves, good vision and solid blocking. No glaring weaknesses. His speed has been questioned slightly but if you watch some highlights, he can run away from defenders. What 40 time he actually gets in combine is a mystery. My gut says 4.55 which isn’t that bad for a 235 lb back.

For you fantasy guys, be careful when targeting this guy though. He’s a great halfback but I wouldn’t be surprised if a team makes him play some fullback too.

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5) Ryan Mathews (Fresno State Junior) – 5’11″ 220 lbs

A WAC runner? Surely you jest? Afraid not. Mathews ran for over 1800 yards and 19 TDs this year including a 19 rush 234 yard and 3 TD torching of Boise State in September.

Mathews looks the part of an NFL running back with his cuts and speed but he needs to become more patient in letting his blocks develop.

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6) Joe McKnight (Southern California Junior) – 6’1″ 190 lbs

McKnight has some of the best home run hitter capacity in the draft. He gives me a Felix Jones kind of vibe in that he can take 5-15 carries when you need a change of pace, he is a threat in the passing game and he can make an impact in the return game. Needs to improve his pass blocking a lot however if he wants to make it in the the NFL.

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7) Anthony Dixon (Mississippi State Senior) – 6’1″ 235 lbs

An excellent after contact runner, Dixon has the size and power to make it in the NFL but his lack of experience in a pro style offense may hurt him a bit. That said, he has good big play potential for a big physical runner.

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8) Evan Royster (Penn State Junior) – 6’1″ 210 lbs

Good speed and break tackle skills but I think Royster struggles with vision. His weaker games against Ohio State, Syracuse and LSU are evidence that he might not be able to adjust to the faster, more talented NFL game.

UPDATE:Wait until next year, he is going back to Penn St.

9) Charles Scott (Louisiana State Senior) – 6’1″ 234 lbs

Scott really struggled this year but has the talent to excel in the NFL. Last year, Scott rushed for over 1100 yards and 18 TDs. That kind of talent and nose for the goal line doesn’t disappear in one year.

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10) DeMarco Murray (Oklahoma Junior) – 6’1″ 215 lbs

I struggled with this one a bit because I think Murray doesn’t give 100% effort every play and might be a bit injury-prone but Murray has undeniable talent that NFL teams covet. Although dazzling combine numbers could cause Murray to crack the top 5 on this list, I really think Murray would be wise to go back to school for his senior year and prove that he can carry the load without Chris Brown.

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Here are a couple guys that probably don’t get drafted if the draft were today but could rise up the board if their workouts are stellar and they manage to catch someone’s eye.

Stafon Johnson (Southern California Senior)

Suffered a crushed larynx in a freak weightlifting accident early in the year but showed his effectiveness previous to the injury. Word is that Johnson will accept an invite to the Senior Bowl. A good performance there may turn some heads.

LeGarrette Blount (Oregon Senior)

Blount made headlines when he decided to punch a Boise State player in the face during a game early in the season. Oregon responded by suspending him for what was supposed to be the entire year. Blount returned in time to put up an unspectacular performance in Oregon’s bowl game. That said, Blount has NFL talent and I believe he can play in the league if he keeps his head on straight.

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Article by TJ Ford

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