2014 Draft Prospects: Running Back

John Reed-US PRESSWIRE

Kicking off this week our resident draft guru Christopher Hart checks out some of the top running backs available in this years class.

Happy Monday, friends.  To kick off this week's draft prospect reports we will now be shifting our focus to running backs in the 2014 NFL Draft.   This is a crop of players that doesn't have any true standouts - but there are several options available for the Broncos if they are interested in adding more backs to their stable to compete immediately and down the road thanks to a healthy amount of underclassmen declarations.

Ka'Deem Carey - Junior - Arizona

Combine Measurables: 5'9, 207 pounds, 4.7 40 yard dash
College Production: 743 carries, 4239 yards, 48 touchdowns

One of my favorite prospects in this class is underclassmen Ka'Deem Carey out of Arizona. His back-to-back seasons with over 1,850 yards rushing propelled him to a variety of awards.  Carey was a first-team All-American and All-Pac 12 in 2013 and 2012 and was also honored with the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year this last season.  All of his recent successes prompted him to become an early entrant for the 2014 NFL Draft.

First and foremost, Carey is a quick-twitch player who has good cutback ability, agility and elusiveness.   He has the ability to make defenders miss in space and due to impressive balance, often breaks tackles and shift around defenders.   In comparison to other backs available in this class, Carey demonstrates the ability to be an effective three down option - as he excels both as a runner, blocker and receiver out of the backfield making his his LTI (Length to Impact) in the NFL much shorter than other prospects available in this class who are not prepared to play all three downs.    He has good burst, vision and displays good patience as a runner.  Isn't a power back, but is hard to bring down and gives his most on every down. Other positives to mention are durability in addition to having kick return experience.

Negatives that fans should be concerned about are his lack of an elite third gear along with average acceleration.   He isn't a threat to take it to the house, but will be a back who can consistently get yardage and move the chains.   The aforementioned brings speed concerns that might cause a hit to his draft stock.  Doesn't always run with proper pad level, which will leave him vulnerable to big hits in the NFL if he continues to run upright.   Fumbles have been a problem and need to be corrected.  Character concerns are a red flag due to a suspension from the 2013 season opener and past criminal record re: misdemeanor assault and disorderly conduct charges in 2012.

Outlook:   Despite an underwhelming 40 at the combine and past character concerns, Carey is my favorite running back prospect in all the draft.   He doesn't do anything at an elite level, but he is a constant performer whose best football is ahead of him.   The best phrase to describe Carey's abilities on the field would be the old scouting report saying, "a jack of all trades back, but a master of none."    His diverse skill set reminds me of former Bronco running back and current free agent Knowshon Moreno.    I think Carey would be an excellent addition to the Broncos and a quality compliment to Montee Ball, however I believe the Broncos will use their earlier selections addressing other needs.  Expect him to be off the board within the first 75 picks.

Tre Mason, RB  - Junior - Auburn

Combine Measurables: 5'8, 207 pounds, 4.5 40 yard dash
College Production: 516 carries, 2979 yards, 5.7 average, 32 touchdowns

One of the most interesting prospects in this years class is Auburn running back Tre Mason.   Mason was one of the most productive runners in all of college football in 2013, racking up 1816 yards and 23 touchdowns on the ground as a junior which earned him SEC Offensive Player of the Year, First-team All-SEC and Second-team All-American honors.

Mason is a strong runner who possess a low center of gravity, which gives him tremendous balance.   He is a violent, physical runner who has the ability to gain yards after contact by lowering his shouldering and bouldering through tackles - making him an ideal fit for a team in need of a back at the goal line or in short yardage situations.   He doesn't have elite speed or agility, but has good change of direction skills and can get to the edge if need be.   A good one-cut, downhill runner who shows good vision and displays good patience out of the backfield.   Despite lack of an elite gear, can accelerate and get to the edge.  Shows versatility by even being able to return kicks and can effectively be utilized on special teams immediately.  Another plus is his durability and freshness of his legs coming in to the NFL.

Despite the positives in his game, Mason has several big flaws to work on in order to be an effective pro.    He needs to do a better job with ball security - as he has fumbled almost ten times the past two seasons or once roughly every 65 touches.   Additionally, Mason offers virtually nothing on third down, as he is not good in pass protection, nor did he show much in his collegiate career in the realm of receiving.   Last but not least, Auburn has had a history of producing great college backs who often do not live up to high expectations at the professional level, and there might be some "buyer beware" concerns because of this in the scouting community.

Outlook:  Mason is a high-effort player who has the ability to be a starter in this league.   Could very well be the best prospect in a class that lacks a true blue-chip prospect, but his limitations on third down will likely relegate him to complementary duties as a runner early in his career until he can improve the nuances that go along with blocking and pass protection.   It's unlikely that the Broncos will use another high selection on a running back with Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman (2nd and 3rd rounders respectively in 2013 and 2012), but is someone who should be drafted somewhere in the second round of the NFL Draft.

Lache Seastrunk, RB - Redshirt Junior - Baylor

Combine Measurables: 5'9, 201 pounds, 4.51 40 yard dash
College Production: 289 carries, 2189 yards,18 touchdowns

With the third back in my scouting profiles, we transfer over to a player whose skills are different than the two mentioned prior.   Lache Seastrunk was a 2013 First-team All-Big 12 selection and was an honorable mention the year prior.   He boasts an impressive resume after only playing two years in college following his transfer from the Oregon Ducks in 2011.

Seastrunk is an exceptional athlete and physical prospect who has great speed and displays incredible burst through the hole.   Has the elite third gear teams covet in backs and can take it to the house in the blink of an eye.  Shifty runner who has the ability to use his elusiveness to his advantage and sneak around the field;  whose quick feet and lateral moves punish defenses who have lack the ability to cover sideline to sideline.  He has good vision with great cutback ability and is incredibly dangerous in open space.  In my opinion, his ability to see running lanes and let them develop are second to none in this class.  Averaged over 7 yards per carry in his last season with Baylor.  Despite not being featured as a receiving thread in the Baylor Bears offense, has great hands and considerable upside to contribute as a receiver out of the backfield.

Since Seastrunk fits the bill of a finesse runner, concerns about being able to run effectively between the tackles at the NFL exist.  Moreover, he doesn't play with the low center of gravity like he should, often adversely effecting his balance and ability to break tackles.   He isn't going to be a player who racks up much yardage after initial contact or one that would be utilized in short yardage situations.  An unseasoned blocker and pass protector who will have to improve much better to see extensive time on the field as a rookie.  Has minor injury and durability concerns.
Outlook:   Seastrunk's athleticism and suave running style gives him the ability to be a age changing performer at the NFL level.   However, his limitations will be apparent early on because of his lack of physicality and authority when running the ball and limited college experience.   Will likely be best suited as the complimentary back on a team who already has a physical, downhill runner.  An exciting prospect to watch grow in the NFL because of his untapped potential and high ceiling.  Could have an impact similar to what we saw with Giovani Bernard with the Cincinatti Bengals last season.   Likely a Top 100 selection.

Bishop Sankey, RB - Junior - Washington

Combine Measurables: 5'9, 209 pounds, 4.49 40 yard dash
College Production: 644 caries, 3496 yards, 37 touchdowns

A strong collegiate runner who ended up having just as good, if not better collegiate careers than former Husky greats Corey Dillion and Chris Polk - Sankey has emerged as one of the top running backs available in the 2014 draft class after a strong junior campaign and quality performance at the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine.

Sankey is a quality runner whose number one quality is his agility and change of direction skills.   He has the ability to step on a dime and has the speed and acceleration to get outside and be the home run threat teams desire in the NFL.   A terror in the open field, Sankey uses his great footwork and vision - to anticipate blocks gives him the ability to consistently gain positive yardage and score in the redzone. Decisive runner who doesn't waste time or steps behind the line of scrimmage, showing consistent ability to hit the hole.  Fumbling isn't an issue, thus Sankey's ball security skills are top notch in this class.  Good receiver out of the backfield who was a quality checkdown option for the Huskies.  No major history injury - so durability is not a concern.

Sankey is one of the more well-rounded and pro ready prospects in this draft, but he too has correctible deficiencies.   Primarily the glaring fact that there is absolutely no consistency as a pass blocker on third downs - which will undoubtedly have to work on this issue in the pros.   He also isn't the most physical or overpowering runner and appears to have the tendency to attempt to skirt around or by defenders as opposed to consistently meeting them head on and lowering his shoulder.

Outlook:   With his blend of size, speed and overall ability, Sankey is definitely in the running to be one of the first backs taken in the 2014 NFL Draft.  Has the potential to be the main back in any offense and has very similar qualities and aspects of his game that reflect similar to former Rutgers running back and current Baltimore Raven Ray Rice.    Should be drafted within the first 64 selections, if not - he will be a draft day steal.

Keep An Eye On. . .


Carlos Hyde, RB - Redshirt Senior - Ohio State

Combine Measurables: 5'11, 230 pounds, 4.66 40 yard dash
College Production: 523 carries, 3198 yards, 36 touchdowns

Big bruising senior back who overcame adversity with a three game suspension to post some of the best numbers at running back in all of college football.   A physical, sound runner with good vision, Hyde will be appealing to teams who are in need of a workhorse who can carry the load and be effective near the goal or getting first downs.   Won't offer much as a receiver in the passing game, nor is he a threat to take it to the house - but he is a solid performer who can be relied upon to get the small things done right.  Expect Hyde to be off the board somewhere in the third or fourth round.

Charles Sims, RB - Redshirt Senior - West Virginia

Combine Measurables: 6'0, 214 pounds, 4.48 40 yard dash
College Production: 592 carries, 3,465 yards, 40 touchdowns

Experienced four year player who played for Houston his first three seasons before transferring to West Virginia in 2013 to finish out his career.   Has a great combination of size and speed and is an elusive, premier receiver out of the backfield.   Doesn't have the best running instincts or qualities, but performed well at the Senior Bowl and has produced at a very high level.   Will likely garner consideration as a mid-round pick for a team looking to get creative with their backs in the passing game.

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