The noun form of the word “potential” is defined as “latent qualities or abilities that may be developed and lead to future success or usefulness.” That certainly applies to the most prominent members of the 2014 draft class, including the top prospects at the running back position. However, nobody from this year’s crop of RBs will generate enough excitement with team executives to be among the initial selections in Round 1. In fact, there is increasing likelihood that none will be chosen until Round 2. If that occurs, it will be the second consecutive year in which that has taken place, as Giovani Bernard became the first rusher to depart the 2013 draft board with the 37th overall pick. That trend stands in stark contrast to the previous eight drafts (2004-2012) when 27 RBs were selected in the first round. But even though teams appear primed to focus their attention on securing QBs, WRs, OTs and a plethora of defenders with their opening selections, there is still talent among this year’s RBs.
There is still uncertainty regarding the exact point in which this year’s collection of backs will be chosen. The NFL combine will commence on February 19, which will be the first of numerous factors that could alter the thinking among the collective decision makers from various NFL franchises. But as this article is being constructed, here are the top five prospects at the RB position.
Ka’ Deem Carey
It will not require much effort for you to see Tre Mason or Carlos Hyde listed as the No.1 RB by some draft analysts. But the view from here, is that Ka’Deem Casey will most likely be the first back chosen. Carey enters the draft after rushing for 4,239 yards and 48 TDs at Arizona, and punctuating his career as a Wildcat with an impressive 2013 season. He generated over 100 yards in 12 consecutive contests, after missing the Wildcats’ opener due to suspension. As a result, his 157 YPG average led all Division 1-A backs, and he finished second in yardage with 1,885. He also averaged 5.4 YPC, produced 19 TDs, and was named Pac-12 Offensive Player Of The Year. However, his sizable output was not confined to just one season, as he also led the nation with 1,929 yards in 2012, while averaging 148 YPG. Carey’s quickness will entice NFL scouts, as will his propensity to generate consistent yardage as an inside runner. Not only does he have the speed to burst beyond defenders, but he is also proficient at breaking tackles. And he certainly does not shy away from contact, which was the most impressive aspect of his running when I examined his performances on tape. While he could ultimately sneak into the first round, it is most likely that he will be chosen early in Round 2.
Mason has also chosen to forego his remaining eligibility, after accumulating 2,979 yards on the ground at Auburn. 1,816 of those yards were amassed during his 2013 junior year, which placed him fourth among all Division 1-A backs. He assembled that total by exceeding 160 yards in five different games, surpassing 100 yards in nine contests, and producing at least 70 in 12 of the Tigers’ 14 games. His most productive performance took place in the SEC Championship Game, when he bolted for 304 yards on 46 attempts (6.6 YPC), which he followed up by manufacturing 195 yards in the National Championship Game. He also produced four TDs in the aforementioned SEC Championship Game, which was the second time that he discovered the end zone four times during the year. In fact, he failed to score just one time throughout his 14-game season, which helped him amass a total of 23 TDs. That was the second highest total by a back. Mason is a powerful, decisive runner, who is adept at remaining patient when utilizing his blockers. He also possesses sufficient speed to become successful at the NFL level, although his size (5’10”, 195 pounds) might prohibit him from being selected before the latter portion of Round 2. But he should still be among the first three backs chosen.
In four seasons at Ohio State, Hyde accumulated 3,198 yards and 37 TDs. Nearly half of his yardage total was attained in 2013, when he generated 1,521 yards on just 208 attempts, for a whopping 7.3 YPC average. He manufactured those numbers in just 11 contests, after being suspended for the Buckeyes’ initial three games. Yet, only 11 backs managed to rush for more yardage, as he averaged 155 YPG during his final nine contests. He also produced 15 TDs during that span, while penetrating the end zone in seven different contests. That was consistent with his scoring ability during the 2012 season, when he amassed 16 TDs despite performing in only 10 games. The 240-pound Hyde is a strong, forceful runner, who can quickly burst through the hole, and also pound potential tacklers as he progresses down the field. Those capabilities should translate well toward success at the NFL level. His eventual landing spot within the draft will also be dependent upon the degree of concern that team officials have with his involvement in the off-field incident that led to his suspension. However, he possesses abundant talent, and will be chosen before the conclusion of Round 2, or early in Round 3.
While there will assuredly be concerns regarding Hill’s involvement in several off-field incidents, he also supplies decision makers with attributes that might be difficult to ignore when the draft commences. In two years at LSU, he ran for 2,156 yards, averaged 6.2 YPC, and scored 28 TDs. He burst for 1,401 yards on just 203 attempts (6.9 YPC) as a redshirt sophomore in 2013, while exceeding 100 yards in seven contests, and accruing a season high 216 in the Outback Bowl. He also produced 16 TDs after scoring in 10 different games, and finding the end zone on multiple occasions in four of them. The 6’1”, 235 pound Hill has proven to be a powerful runner, who is extremely difficult to bring down. Not only can he find the hole quickly, but he is also capable of exploding through it. Plus he possesses the agility to continue generating yardage well beyond the line of scrimmage. Most apprehension about selecting him will result from Hill’s two off-field issues. Both have resulted in probations, and he was also suspended after the most recent incident. Still, he has demonstrated enough strength and proficiency as a yardage generating back, to be drafted at the onset of Round 3, if not much earlier.
Sankey just delivered the most productive season by a rusher in school history, after amassing 1,870 yards, averaging 5.7 YPC, and producing 20 TDs in 13 games for Washington last season. He achieved that yardage total by generating at least 160 yards in seven different contests as a Husky, and bolting for over 200 in three games. That enabled him to produce the third best total among all RBs, placing him firmly between Carey and Mason. That output also expanded his career total to 3,496, including the 1,439 yards that he manufactured as a sophomore in 2012. Sankey also accumulated 36 TDs in his final two years, while proving to be a consistent threat to score. Not only did he penetrate the end zone in every contest during the 2013 season, but he also generated a TD in 10 different games during 2012. His ability to immediately find a hole, and rapidly burst through it is prominent when viewing Sankey’s performance on tape. He also possesses an excellent combination of balance, elusiveness, and perseverance, which can make it exceedingly difficult for defenders to stop him. Even though a handful of backs could easily depart the board before Sankey is selected, he does supply a collection of enticing attributes that should compel a team to secure him before the conclusion of Round 3.