BREAKING DOWN THE TOP RUNNING BACK PROSPECTS (In Alphabetical Order)
The 2013 draft made history when not one running back was selected in the first round, and history could repeat itself this year. Mind you, there are some quality running backs available in this year’s draft, but there’s no one who has separated himself from the pack and emerged as a likely first-round selection.
As was the case last year, there could be a run — pardon the pun — on running backs in the second round and the list of top prospects at the position includes Carlos Hyde from Ohio State, Tre Mason from Auburn, Jeremy Hill from LSU, Bishop Sankey from Washington, Ka’Deem Carey from Arizona, and Devonta Freeman from national champion Florida State. The draft offers a nice balance of power backs and playmakers.
The Dolphins have drafted 76 running backs through the years, including one each of the last three years — Daniel Thomas
in the second round in 2011, Lamar Miller
in the fourth round in 2012, Mike Gillislee
in the fifth round in 2013. The Dolphins have selected seven running backs in the first round, starting with Illinois’ Jim Grabowski with their very first pick in the 1966 AFL draft. The others were Larry Csonka in 1968, David Overstreet in 1981, Lorenzo Hampton in 1985, Sammie Smith in 1989, John Avery in 1998, and Ronnie Brown in 2005.
Ka’Deem Carey lacks the stature of some of the other prospects in this class and he lacks the speed of others, but he was the most productive running back in college football over the past two seasons. After leading the country with 1,929 rushing yards in 2012, Carey finished second last fall with 1,885 yards and he averaged 22 touchdowns in those two seasons. Carey is a smooth runner with great vision, but he also benefited from playing in Rich Rodriguez’s spread offense at Arizona. Carey ended his collegiate career with 16 consecutive 100-yard games, the longest streak in a decade among Football Bowl Subdivision players. Carey, who entered the draft as an underclassman, was a workhorse in college but his upright running style have raised concerns about his durability.
When Jeremy Hill rushed for 216 yards against Iowa in the Outback Bowl, it put the finishing touches on a 2013 season during which he gained 1,401 yards, the second-highest total in LSU history. Hill accomplished that feat despite having to sit out the season opener against TCU after he was caught on video punching a man outside a campus bar. Hill also got a late start at LSU after sitting out the 2011 season as the result of criminal charges resulting from his sexual relationship with a girl at his high school. Hill, who is on probation until July 2015, carries some red flags, but there’s no questioning his ability. He’s a big back in the mold of LeGarrette Blount and Steven Jackson, with the ability to break tackles and even outrun defenders at times. On talent alone, he just might be the best running back in this class.
Perhaps the most physical of the blue-chip running back prospects in this year’s draft, Carlos Hyde did nothing but get better during his career at Ohio State. As evidence, his rushing yardage total went from 141 as a freshman in 2010, to 566, to 970 and finally to 1,521 as a senior last fall. Hyde also showed a knack for the end zone, with 35 touchdowns over the past two seasons. Hyde ended last season with nine consecutive 100-yard games, including a 246-yard performance against Illinois followed two weeks later by a 226-yard effort against archrival Michigan. Hyde doesn’t have a lot of wiggle in his running style, but he can catch the ball out of the backfield and he’d also be a great fit for teams that like to pound the ball on the ground.
The son of Vincent “DJ Maseo” Mason, one-third of Grammy Award-winning hip-hop group De La Soul, Tre Mason was a star in his own right in 2013. With his last carry in the BCS Championship Game against Florida State, he set an Auburn single-season rushing record while surpassing the legendary Bo Jackson. Mason rushed for 195 yards against FSU, about a month after he dominated the SEC Championship Game with 304 rushing yards against Missouri. Mason may be small, but he’s still a strong runner and also has the ability to break the long one. Mason, who grew up in Palm Beach, Fla., led the SEC in kickoff return as a freshman when he averaged 26.4 yards. There are some concerns about Mason’s durability given the way he runs and Auburn’s spread offense likely contributed to his lofty numbers, but there’s no questioning the SEC Player of the Year’s running ability.
Bishop Sankey is similar in a lot of ways to Ka’Deem Carey in that he might not possess great size or elite physical ability, but he’s a highly productive running back nonetheless. When he rushed for 1,870 yards as a junior in 2013, Sankey broke the University of Washington single-season record that belonged to former Bengals and Patriots running back Corey Dillon. Sankey had three games with at least 200 yards last fall, including a 241-yard performance against the University of California, and scored at least one touchdown in every game. A two-year starter at Washington, Sankey was voted a team captain in 2013. Like Carey, Sankey carried a heavy workload over the past two seasons, raising questions about how many carries he’s got left before he starts wearing down.THE BEST OF THE REST (In Alphabetical Order)Devonta Freeman
Florida StateLache Seastrunk
West VirginiaTerrance West
Boston CollegeBREAKING DOWN THE RUNNING BACK CLASSOther small-school prospects to watch:
Antonio Andrews, Western Kentucky; Isaiah Crowell, Alabama State; Timothy Flanders, Sam Houston State; Lorenzo Taliaferro, Coastal CarolinaNFL bloodlines:
Notre Dame’s George Atkinson III is the son of former Oakland Raiders cornerback George Atkinson … Florida State’s James Wilder Jr. is the son of former Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back James Wilder. Long shot to watch:
Stanford’s Tyler Gaffney returned to football in 2013 after taking a year off to play Class-A baseball in the New York-Penn League after being selected by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 24th round of the 2013 baseball draft. He didn’t show much rust, finishing with 1,618 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns. The 6-foot, 220-pound Gaffney is a tough inside runner, but he’s only got one year of starting experience.