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NFL Draft positional rankings: running backs edition

NCAA Football: Mississippi at Louisiana State Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday, I put out my rankings of the top quarterbacks in this year’s draft class, and today, I am moving on to the running backs. As opposed to many positions where there is some debate as to who is the best, there is a clear cut top option for running backs, and I didn’t stray away from the mainstream.

1) Leonard Fournette, LSU

NFL: Combine Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Fournette is one of the best running back prospects the draft has seen in a long time, and he thus is one of the leaders of a running back resurgence. Fournette has drawn comparisons to Adrian Peterson for his combination of speed and power. Throughout college, Fournette bowled over potential tacklers, nearing shoving them through the field. And, despite his size, Fournette was able to beat defenders with speed too.

Fournette has really good speed for his size. At the Combine, Fournette weighed in at 240 pounds, but still ran a time of 4.51 seconds in the 40 yard dash. At his Pro Day, Fournette slimmed down to 228, and scouts raved about his smaller look.

At his Pro Day, Fournette showed that he also is capable of catching the ball either out of the backfield on a screen, or further down the field. Fournette really can do it all, and he does it all really well. The Adrian Peterson comparisons may be setting the bar high, but Fournette truly has the potential to become that type of superstar.

2) Dalvin Cook, Florida State

Capitol One Orange Bowl - Florida State v Michigan Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images

Cook improved on his disappointing 4.49 time in the 40 yard dash at the Combine with a time in the mid-4.4’s at his Pro Day according to Dane Brugler of CBS Sports. However, on tape, Cook has always looked much faster. Throughout his college career, Cook’s bread and butter was his speed. He scored many long touchdowns as he blew past opposing defenders.

Cook is a home run threat every single time he touches the ball. In 2016 against Clemson, Cook scored two long touchdowns, both showing off his high octane speed.

In that video, Cook also showed that he not only can catch the ball, but he can create extra yards after making the catch. Cook’s stock has dropped since the Combine, but he still is an incredibly talented back that would have been the first off the board in any other year.

3) Christian McCaffrey, Stanford

Stanford v Oregon Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images

Say hello to the most versatile running back in the 2017 Draft class, Christian McCaffrey. McCaffrey burst onto the scene in 2015 as he broke Barry Sanders’ all purpose yardage record. McCaffrey is good at everything. He is a good runner, a good receiver, and a good returner. His running earned him national recognition, his receiving skills have led to the possibility of McCaffrey playing slot receiver, and his return skills make him a home run threat of every kick or punt. Like Fournette or Cook, McCaffrey will have a huge impact to whatever teams select him as soon as he steps on the field.

McCaffrey’s stock has risen since his exceptionally strong Combine performance. The Stanford product showed there that he is quick and agile, plus that catches the ball better than any other running back in this class. His versatility is what makes him one of the elite prospects in this year’s star studded running back class.

4) Alvin Kamara, Tennessee

Outback Bowl - Northwestern v Tennessee Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images

Kamara earned a full time starting job at Tennessee after Jalen Hurd announced his decision to transfer. However, Kamara has always been a talented prospect who drew NFL consideration. His potential in the NFL is largely linked to his athleticism. Kamara had a 39.5 inch vertical leap, and a 131 inch broad jump.

Kamara, like McCaffrey is very balanced as both a runner and receiver. He wasn’t used down the field much, but Kamara caught many screen passes.

In addition, Kamara possesses good burst and shiftiness that reminds me of Jamaal Charles. I don’t think Kamara will ever produce on the level of Charles, but they have similar running styles. He doesn’t have much tape to look at from Tennessee as he was in a committee for so long, but despite this, he does have starting potential in the NFL.

5) Joe Mixon, Oklahoma

NCAA Football: Kansas State at Oklahoma Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Out of every position in this draft, Mixon is the most controversial prospect. Talent wise, Mixon may be the second best back available behind Fournette. But what slides Mixon down is his major off the field concerns involving a domestic violence history. For the sake of this post, I will focus purely on the Mixon that teams will see between the lines.

Lance Zierlein compared Mixon to Le’Veon Bell, which, similar to Fournette, is a really high bar to live up to, but it may not be that far off. Mixon and Bell have very similar running styles. Mixon may not be as patient as Bell is, but both Mixon and Bell have excellent vertical and horizontal quickness. Both have stellar jump cuts. In addition, both Bell and Mixon effortlessly move to top speed, and both have breakaway speed. Like Cook, Mixon is a home run threat every time he touches the football.

Where he will be drafted is an intriguing debate because of his off the field struggles, but it is clear that when on the field, Mixon is an extremely talented runner.

That’s my 2017 NFL Draft top five rankings for running backs. Next will be a position key to the Ravens draft plans, wide receiver.