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Evaluations

Thor's Running Back Rankings

by Thor Nystrom
Updated On: April 21, 2020, 1:58 pm ET

11. Lamical Perine (Florida) | 5'11/216

perine

SPARQ: 51.3

ADJ SPQ: .23

RAS: 6.73

Comp: Kirkland’s Finest Alexander Mattison

Perine is going out outlast a small handful of more-sexy runners in this class in terms of career length. We know this, and yet it’s hard to talk ourselves into him. He’s the broccoli of this RB class. You should hold off on the position and take a Day 3 flier on him. But cake tastes better.

The things Perine does lend themselves to hanging around. At least. And players like this have a way of finding opportunities and seizing them. But it’s also true that Perine will always be replaceable because he doesn’t possess elite traits.

Samaje’s cousin is a headstrong runner. He fights for every yard and sometimes surprises you with a nifty bit of creativity after you’re expecting another 94-mile per hour heater, like slamming on the brakes to come to a complete stop before hitting reverse against the flow of traffic.

But mostly he’s grinding. He’s developed a nice array of compensatory mechanisms to make up for his lack of athleticism. In addition to the toughness and strength, he’s a patient runner with decent vision.

And where you can really squeeze value out of Perine is in the pass game. He blocks his butt off when asked to stay back. But you shouldn’t do that much because Perine is a strong receiver who you can line up out wide. He caught 40 balls last year. I see him in the Alexander Mattison mold as a guy who could come in and be a strong backup in Year 1, adding value early on as a short-yardage guy and a third-down back.


12. Ke'Shawn Vaughn (Vanderbilt) | 5'10/214

vaughn

SPARQ: 35.3

ADJ SPQ: .42

RAS: 6.85

Comp: Short Wayne Gallman (Lindy’s)

Vaughn is a pure runner. A Vitamin D, need-sunlight, one-cut, bye-bye back. Once he finds his crease and slashes in, he’s gunning it. He doesn’t want to weave through cones, he doesn’t want to hop over the intersection like Vin Diesel. He’s in front of the train tracks and he wants to floor it.

A pure zone runner, Vaughn is a Mike Shanahan Denver Bronco of a certain era who would have gone 1.1 in at least one August fantasy draft back in the day. He missed his time, for sure.

Vaughn doesn’t pass block. I mean literally – he didn’t do it much with the Commodores. (But he was bad when he did). And he isn’t much of a receiver. So all the value you’re going to squeeze out of him is coming on the early downs, and he isn’t special from a traits perspective, making it tough to stand out from other one-trick ponies.

In the current era of pro ball, Vaughn still has value, but his type is becoming more back-to-the-basket seven-footer and slugging designated hitter who doesn’t get on base by the year. I think he would have gone at least two rounds higher 15 years ago.

Does your team run a zone scheme? Can it or does it roster another back to handle passing downs? You’re interested. Everyone else, look in a different direction.


13. Anthony McFarland (Maryland) | 5'8/208

mcfarland

SPARQ: 18.3

ADJ SPQ: .43

RAS: 6.15

Comp: Darrell Henderson

McFarland looked like a potential star in the making as a redshirt freshman in 2018, with a jaw-dropping 298-yard performance against Ohio State serving as his national coming out party. In that game he showed off what would become the hallmarks of his game, lightning-strike long speed and fearlessness in the face of contact despite weighing only 208 pounds.

Then 2019 happened. The former four-star back struggled to build on expectations this past fall, with his YPC mark dropping off from 7.9 to 5.4 while his overall grade on PFF fell off from 79.2 to 70.3. In six games, McFarland failed to top even 50 yards rushing (he went over 100 just twice). Of contextual importance, he was playing through a high-ankle sprain and had to split carries with Javon Leake.

McFarland declared for the draft following his redshirt sophomore season. He probably should have returned to school. McFarland doesn’t offer much as a receiver -- just 20 career catches -- and while he has speed in spades and a shining ability to work in space, too often he’s stuck for modest or no gain unless a clear running lane presents itself obviously (seven games under 4.5 YPC in 2019).

But in football, explosion is king, and McFarland holds some intrigue for that reason alone. He’s a project who has some upside as a swing-from-the-heels home run hitter who’s never seen a pitch he didn’t like.


14. Joshua Kelley (UCLA) | 5'11/212

joshuakelley

SPARQ: 46.5

ADJ SPQ: .65

RAS: 8.41

Comp: John Kelly (Zierlein)

Kelley is what he is. An inside grinder with a little juice. Beats you to the spot. Good vision. Muscles around in there. He’s going to reliably churn out inside yards at the next level. But Kelley’s NFL contributions may begin and end between the tackles, and he’s no Derrick Henry.

Inside yardage is the cheapest asset you can buy in pro football. Kelley won’t give you a ton else. He could do a little damage on the outside in college, but his athletic limitations are probably going to severely limit that kind of usage going forward. His NFL team will always employ at least one runner who should be doing that work instead. Likely two.

And Kelley isn’t a big contributor in the pass game. He’s a so-so receiver and surprisingly substandard in pass pro for a banger. To hang around long-term, he’s going to need to level up in one of those two categories.

Seeing as though he spent five years in college, I guess I just see him as more of a finished product than a ball of clay in that regard.


15. James Robinson (Illinois State) | 5'9/219

robinson

SPARQ: 87.8

ADJ SPQ: 0.52

RAS: 8.34

Comp: Latavius Murray

Robinson, a first-team AP All-American in 2019 after rushing for 1,917 yards and 18 touchdowns with Illinois State, intrigues in his combination of build and burst. A burly short-area runner, he shrugs off arm tackles. In the lower tier of backs, Robinson’s vision and patience stand out.

He’ll need them at the next level. If he is to find a lane in the NFL, it’s not going to be on speed. Robinson ran a 4.64-second 40-yard dash but otherwise tested fantastically.


16. DeeJay Dallas (Miami) | 5'10/217

dallas

SPARQ: 40.3

ADJ SPQ: .31

RAS: 5.66

Comp: Spencer Ware

A former high school quarterback, the versatile Dallas arrived at Miami as a top-15 athlete recruit ticketed for wide receiver. He was shifted to the backfield in 2017 and earned a timeshare with Travis Homer in 2018 after Mark Walton graduated.

Dallas remains a work in progress as a running back and the Miami offense he played on the past few years was quite poor, so you need to cut him a little slack in the eval. Sturdily built and equipped with a slip-‘n-slide running style, Dallas is elusive and hard to knock off his feet.

He’s an average athlete with 4.58 speed – in college, Dallas got tracked down from behind, which’ll happen in the pros as well. Meh athleticism and overall rawness are the dings, but I think Dallas is worth a stab after the sure things in the RB class are gone.

He’s going to be a core special-teamer immediately in the NFL, contributing as a return man and a cover guy, which buys him developmental leeway. Even if he never becomes a starter, Dallas’ skillset should lend itself to change-of-pace and third-down duties, along with the special teams value. And there’s a chance you could unearth a little more. That proposition is worth a mid-Day 3 investment.


17. JaMycal Hasty (Baylor) | 5'8/205

hasty

SPARQ: 90.0

ADJ SPQ: .7

RAS: 6.88

Comp: Justin Forsett (Renner)

JaMycal Hasty is small, he’s slippery, and he accelerates very, very quickly. He tested well in Indy. What’s crazy is that he underwhelmed in the 40, with a 4.55 mark after reportedly having been clocked in the 4.3s. He’s a 4.4 guy, minimum.

But more impressive than the top end speed is how quickly he reaches it. He processes bodies in motion in a blink at that speed, and he’s so fearless when hurtling downfield that he at times appeared to be moving at different speeds than the flat-footed collegiate defenders around him in the open field while at Baylor.

He’s one of those “force = mass x acceleration” small guys. As a safety, when all of a sudden a head-of-steam Hasty is bearing down on you at 100 mph while you’re trying to peel off a block, you’re not getting the best of the collision.

Hasty adds value as a receiver. You’ll want to deploy him as such when throwing. Because even though he’s a willing blocker, his force is derived from the “acceleration” part of the equation, not the mass part, and he seems a bit tentative in approach without his cape, from standstill.

There are several fears with Hasty. The first is that he never ran for even 650 yards in college. He never had 140 touches in a collegiate season. And his skillset – small and not a world-class freaky athlete – doesn’t translate well to the pros besides.

If you’re playing the odds, you wouldn’t bet on him. He’s a space player who’s loads of fun to watch, but he never equaled the sum of his parts in Waco. Fortunately, in the NFL, he’ll be relegated to third-down duties, which’ll play up his strengths, mitigate his weaknesses, and hopefully keep him on the field.


18. Rico Dowdle (South Carolina) | 5'11/213

dowdle

SPARQ: 81.3

ADJ SPQ: 0.74

RAS: 9.65

Comp: Royce Freeman (Lindy’s)

Dowdle underwhelmed at South Carolina -- his best season came as a freshman in 2016 -- but showed out well at the combine. He has the requisite athleticism and he’s a tracking dog when it comes to spotting lanes and creases.

If only his body would allow him space to develop. Since his senior year of high school, Dowdle has a sports hernia, broken leg and knee injury on his chart. His medicals will have much to say regarding where he winds up on draft day.


19. Michael Warren (Cincinnati) | 5'9/226

warren

SPARQ: N/A

ADJ SPQ: N/A

RAS: N/A

Comp: Rob Kelley (PFF)

Warren won’t outrun you -- indeed, he did not run at the combine at all -- and he doesn’t have enough breakdance in him to consistently gain the edge running to the outside. But the Cincinnati workhorse -- he rushed for 1,200-plus yards each of the last two seasons -- is built to crush inside. Even if he never develops into a three-down back in the pros, profiles as a short-down bulldozer and goal-line option. Just keep in mind his limitations.


20. Darius Anderson (TCU) | 5'10/208

anderson

SPARQ: 78.4

ADJ SPQ: .6

RAS: 6.55

Comp: Wendell Smallwood (Zack Patraw)

The former four-star back struggled to consistently live up to his “Jet” nickname at TCU, seemingly always in a depth chart battle. Anderson never rushed for more than 825 yards in a season.

Anderson is a jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none type stuck in a stacked running back class. He’s a decent runner with some quirkiness and a knack for breaking tackles (43 on 153 carries) but no sizzle, a station-to-station receiver who’ll catch the ball and be on the ground shortly thereafter.

He’s a slightly above-average athlete lacking in foot speed, which made and makes Anderson a sub 210-pounder lacking any sort of explosive element in his game (just 10 of his carries went for 15 or more yards in 2019). He’s a junkball pitcher: Anderson wins by changing speeds and making you miss.

The NFL will appreciate that he’s a strong pass blocker. Because of that, and because he takes what’s blocked for him as a runner and sometimes gets a little more, and because he’ll at least come down with balls thrown his way (no drops last year), he his place late on Day 3. But he’s going to need to prove that his garage band game will translate to stick around.


Best of the rest

Name Rank Ht Wt Comp SPARQ RAS Adj. SPQ
Patrick Taylor RB21 6'1 217 Jeremy Hill 47.1 7.19 0.53
Javon Leake RB22 6'0 215 Tony Pollard 32.4 7.68 0.44
Raymond Calais RB23 5'8 188 Donnel Pumphrey 67.4 8.11 0.12
Scottie Phillips RB24 5'8 209 Elijah McGuire 6.5 3.01 0.16
Brian Herrien RB25 5'11 209 Kenyan Drake 61.9 6.49 0.4
LeVante Bellamy RB26 5'9 192 Taiwan Jones 72 7.34 0.14
Salvon Ahmed RB27 5'11 197 Bryce Love 27.1 5.53 0.2
Rodney Smith RB28 5'10 208 Myles Gaskin --- --- ---
J.J. Taylor RB29 5'5 185 Tarik Cohen 33.4 4.87 0.05
Sewo Olonilua RB30 6'3 232 Chris Warren 71.5 7.85 0.53
Tavien Feaster RB31 5'11 221 Mike Boone --- --- ---
Benny LeMay RB32 5'8 221 Kapri Bibbs 2.1 4.67 0.05
Reggie Corbin RB33 5'8 205 Kendall Hunter --- --- ---
Ty'Son Williams RB34 5'11 218 Alex Collins --- --- ---
Tony Jones RB35 5'10 220 Dominique Brown --- 3.39 0.18
Adrian Killins RB36 5'7 162 Kenjon Barner --- --- ---
Pete Guerriero RB37 5'10 189 Matthew Dayes --- --- ---
Xavier Jones RB38 5'11 209 Jalin Moore --- --- ---
Jason Huntley RB39 5'8 182 Dexter McCluster --- --- ---
Artavis Pierce RB40 5'10 209 Karan Higdon --- --- ---
Darius Bradwell RB41 6'0 240 Elijah Hood --- --- ---
Tra Minter RB42 5'7 185 Boston Scott --- --- ---
Toren Young RB43 5'10 225 Matt Asiata --- --- ---
Juwan Washington RB44 5'6 192 Khalfani Muhammad --- --- ---
Kennedy McKoy RB45 6'0 202 Kerrith Whyte --- --- ---
Deshawn McClease RB46 5'8 192 Nico Evans --- --- ---
Jonathan Ward RB47 5'11 195 Taquan Mizell --- --- ---
Gerold Bright RB48 5'9 187 Jahad Thomas --- --- ---
Cameron Scarlett RB49 6'1 219 Jeremy Cox --- --- ---
Jordan Cronkrite RB50 5'11 206 Kyle Hicks --- --- ---
Thor Nystrom

Thor Nystrom is NBC Sports Edge’s lead CFB writer. The 2018 FSWA College Sports Writer of the Year, Nystrom’s writing has also been honored by Rolling Stone magazine and The Best American Essays series. Say hi to him on Twitter @thorku!