Tha Sports Junkies 101

Running Back Rankings and Scheme Fits

NFL Scouting

Running Back Scheme Fits

We are one week away from the NFL draft.  With most teams having their draft boards set at this point, we can start looking at team needs and schemes and see where we think the best fits might be.  I have my running back rankings and want look at the scheme fits for the top 10 running backs in the NFL draft.

Joe Mixon

Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon sits atop my running back rankings due to his rare ability to affect all facets of the game. Mixon will not be the first running back taken; his well-documented off-field issues probably scare a lot of teams. On the field, however, Mixon plays in the mold of Arizona Cardinals running back David Johnson. He fits any scheme. Mixon is big and strong enough to play in a power scheme, has good enough vision and lateral agility to thrive in a zone scheme, and can affect the passing game as a receiver.  He is a complete back and will thrive in the NFL if he can keep his nose clean.

Leonard Fournette

Louisiana State (LSU) running back Leonard Fournette is one of the best pure runners to come out of the draft in the last several years. His NFL comparison is Minnesota Vikings great Adrian Peterson. Fournette is bigger, faster, and stronger than most of his opponents. While he was not used in the pass game often at LSU, Fournette is a fairly effective receiver out of the backfield. Fournette will thrive in a downhill power scheme. Personally, I’d love to see him land with the Carolina Panthers.

Dalvin Cook

Florida State running back Dalvin Cook is simply a gamer. He’s a threat to take any run for a touchdown. His lateral ability and vision will make him an effective weapon in a zone scheme. While his slow 40 time at the draft and whispers of off-field issues may have dropped his draft stock, all you need to do to assure yourself of Cook’s abilities is turn on the tape. He’s a game changer no matter what his 40 time says. Cook is also a terrific weapon in the screen game and can line up as a slot receiver. Put him in a zone blocking scheme and he will wreak havoc on NFL defenses. Think of Kansas City Chiefs running back Spencer Ware, but with more explosiveness and better vision.

Christian McCaffrey

Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey is a dynamic weapon who can affect the game on offense and on special teams as a returner. He has elite vision and his stop-start ability is incredible. McCaffrey is extremely effective when lined up as a slot receiver. He will be most successful playing for a team utilizes a zone-based running scheme and uses its running backs in the passing game. His contributions as a returner on special teams are unique amongst the other running backs in my top 10.

Kareem Hunt

After seeing Toledo running back Kareem Hunt live at the Senior Bowl, I fell in love with his skill set. He is not tremendously explosive but he is a grinder. What sets Hunt apart from his counterparts in this draft class is his balance. Hunt takes hits from any angle and somehow manages to stay on his feet. He’s a stout runner who will thrive in a power scheme where he can play downhill and be used on 3rd down as a pass catcher out of the backfield. If Hunt lands with the New Orleans Saints, watch out.

Marlon Mack

South Florida runner Marlon Mack is not the type of runner who you want if your offensive line isn’t good. He is too indecisive and his often loses yards when attempting to create. While he is inconsistent, he has shown enough at his peaks to show he can one day carry the load for an NFL team. Mack will thrive in a downhill gap running scheme where he is also used as a pass-catcher. If he’s behind a good offensive line, he will also find early success in a zone scheme. His ceiling will be with a team like the Oakland Raiders, where he can sit behind Marshawn Lynch for a year or two and then take over as the lead back.

Alvin Kamara

Much like Mack, Tennessee’s Alvin Kamara is going to struggle if he’s being forced to create for himself. While his tools alone would make him one of the top 3 backs in the draft, Kamara just doesn’t have the vision to be a starting NFL running back right now. His best draft spot would be somewhere that he can sit and develop for a year. He has the size and strength to be successful in a power scheme and the agility to succeed in a zone scheme. He will have to be coached up, but ultimately has the tools to be a very good running back in the NFL.

D’Onta Foreman

Texas running back D’Onta Foreman led the nation in rushing yards last year. Don’t let that fool you, though, he’s nowhere near the best running back in the class. While he reportedly played at about 240 pounds last year, Foreman doesn’t play with the physicality that most runners his size play with. He isn’t the next LeGarrette Blount. I’m not convinced he’ll even be successful as a goal line back. However, Foreman has good enough vision and balance to be a rare success story as a big zone back. His pass blocking ability also stands out this early in his career.

Wayne Gallman

Clemson’s Wayne Gallman is one of my favorite backs to watch in the draft. While he is very lean for an NFL running back, Gallman refuses to go down on first contact. He has tremendous balance and is very agile. His open field cuts are among the best in the class. He doesn’t have breakaway speed, but you don’t need breakaway speed to be a successful NFL running back. Gallman is also very good at giving what his offensive line gives him.  He will take the easy three yards instead of trying to create and losing yards. Gallman will best fit in a zone scheme where he can get in open space and use his agility to make people miss and maximize yardage.

Samaje Perine

Built low to the ground and sturdy, Oklahoma running back Samaje Perine is going to find early success as a goal line back in the NFL. He is tough, has a low center of gravity, and drives his feet through contact. Perine doesn’t look like an every down back to me. He struggles in pass protection and is not great as a receiver. In the open field, he looks slow and lethargic. I think his best fit will be in a power scheme where he is the primary goal line back.