Patriots draft positional preview: Running back
Predraft positional breakdown: Running back
By Tom E. Curran
The Patriots have been neutered at the top of the 2016 NFL Draft but they aren’t wholly impotent with 11 total picks including four in the first 100 picks. Enjoy this Patriot-centric look at the team’s positional status, the best available players at each position and which direction the Patriots may be inclined to go when they are on the clock.
PATRIOTS NEED LEVEL
8. Why so high? Because of the uncertainty around LeGarrette Blount after a subpar season that ended with an injured hip that landed him on IR. If the Patriots didn’t agree they needed a big pounder on the field, they wouldn’t have signed Steven Jackson for the stretch run. Combing through the rest of the depth chart, Dion Lewis is obviously a rare talent best suited to be a “sub back” but who can run the ball between the tackles a little. James White is a useful backup but – unless he’s planning a stealth unveiling of skills – is a pedestrian player. Brandon Bolden is fine in spurts. Free agent Donald Brown is a stopgap/insurance pickup who – while he may work out fine – is not the solution. Hard to know what the Patriots might have in the annually injured Tyler Gaffney, who came out of Stanford in 2014 and hasn’t played yet. The Patriots need a pounder. Phil Perry says the first pick New England makes could be a back. Not sure I agree with the Senator, but I concur that one of the first four may be.
Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio State, 6-0, 225 pounds
An absolute horse who scored 41 touchdowns over the past two years for the Buckeyes while running for 3,699 yards. Also a tremendous blocker and more-than-capable pass-cacher. The kind of player that, given the competition he played against, promises to have a first-year impact in the NFL. A top-10 talent.
Derrick Henry, Alabama, 6-3, 247 pounds.
Ran for 2,219 and 28 touchdowns in 2015 for the Tide, winning the Heisman. Obviously, a different type of back than Elliot given the height and weight. Also a departure from the running-back norm these days in which speed and three-down ability are the coin of the realm. But, with defensive fronts getting faster and leaner, the zig to that zag is the big back, which is something the Patriots dabbled in with LeGarrette Blount.
Alex Collins, Arkansas, 5-11, 217 pounds
Ran for 1,580 yards and 20 touchdowns for the Razorbacks. Runs hard and fights for every inch which – while laudable – may also lead to some of the ball-security issues that are going to lurk as teams consider him.
DeVontae Booker, Utah, 5-11, 219 pounds
Has three-down back potential because of the size and power but also he elusiveness and receiving skill he brings to the table. Will need some polishing in pass protection
Kenneth Dixon, Louisiana Tech, 5-10, 215-pounds.
Ran for 1,064 and 19 touchdowns, strings moves together and can waterbug. A very good receiver who can be split out and play in the slot. Makes people miss and shows great creativity.
Jordan Howard, Indiana, 6-0, 230 pounds.
Big, surehanded, powerful runner who blocks well, runs with patience and gets through contact. Has not been used much in the passing game and has some injury issues. Would be a good value pick perhaps in the second round as our Phil Perry projects in his mock.
Kenyan Drake, Alabama, 6-1, 210
Excellent speed with the versatility to split out at receiver. Takes care of the football and also was an accomplished kick returner for the Tide. Very good elusiveness but not an everydown back. Later round player.
Paul Perkins, UCLA, 5-10, 203 pounds
A changeup-back with outstanding elusiveness who has great experience in playing the position out of the shotgun and in spread formations. Makes nice yardage after contact for a leaner back.