Richner: 2016 Top RBs

Last Updated: 5/1/2016 1:00 PM ET
2016 NFL Draft - Top 10 Running Backs

Last year we saw a rare occurrence, we had two tailbacks selected in the first round of the NFL Draft for the first time since 2012. With the recent success of Todd Gurley, whose star shined brightly for the St. Louis Rams last season, a few teams are now more open to the idea of taking a back in the first round. The Chargers are eager to get a little more production out of their first rounder, Melvin Gordon.

This year we may also see two running backs going in the first round, in Ezekiel Elliott and Derrick Henry. Both running backs dominated at the college level and led their respective teams to a national championship during their college careers.

After Elliott and Henry there is a significant drop in overall talent, don't be surprised if after these two there is a full round or two before the next group of tailbacks come off the board. This is a draft where you can probably afford to wait till the later rounds and hope to find a diamond in the rough.

In addition to their evaluation and statistical breakdown, each running back will also include a running back rating grade. This is similar to a QB rating formula in that it encompasses rushing, receiving, fumbles, touchdowns, and total yards into the equation to help statistically evaluate every tailback.

Below are the rankings of the running backs in the 2016 NFL Draft class. This class offers a wide variety of different style of runners and players who can fit into multiple schemes and offenses in the NFL.

1) Ezekiel Elliott (RB, Ohio State):

Elliott was named the MVP of the 2015 College Football Playoff National Championship game leading an offense that had three different starting quarterbacks during the regular season. In the offseason, all of the talk centered around who would be the starting quarterback for the Buckeyes when in reality it didn't matter who was taking the snap as long as they were giving the ball to Elliott and letting the dominant offensive line pave the way for him.

At 6'0” and 225 pounds, Elliott is a rare combination of speed and agility matched with a size that allows him to absorb tacklers and bounce right off of them. Last season he rushed for 1,821 yards, an average of 6.3 YPC, and 23 rushing touchdowns.

For his career in 35 games, Elliott had 592 rushing attempts, 3,961 yards, 6.7 YPC, 43 TD, and 181 first downs. With 27 runs of 20 yards or more, Elliott had a big play rate of 4.6 percent.

A remarkably consistent tailback, Elliott averaged 6.4 YPC in the first half of games played, and 7.0 YPC in the second half of games. He had a .6 YPC variance between the two halves for his career.

With close to 600 carries, Elliott only had four career fumbles, giving him a fumble rate of .6 percent of his carries or once every 162.5 touches. He has repeatedly shown to have an iron grip on the football when it is in his grasp.

A three down type of back, Elliott is a terrific receiver out of the backfield with 58 receptions for 449 yards and one touchdown in his career. He is elusive in the open field and has shown to be capable of finding an open spot and to be seen by his quarterback as a checkdown.

Though Elliott was a dominant rusher, his best quality was as a pass blocker. An unselfish player, he will sacrifice himself to give his teammates the extra half second needed to make a play. According to Pro Football Focus, Elliott allowed only a single sack for his college career.

To say Elliott has a weakness is purely nitpicking at his overall potential. Historically speaking, running backs can be found in the mid to late rounds. With every position you can find talent in any round of the draft, but Elliott might be the most versatile and accomplished player in this year's draft class.

With a running back rating of 88.34, Elliott has a similar rating to last year's top rated running back Todd Gurley. While he might not be a top-15 pick like Gurley, Elliott will most likely be the first tailback selected in the draft.

2) Derrick Henry (RB, Alabama):

Henry is a big, bruising tailback capable of running over opposing tacklers and was the foundation of the Nick Saban led Alabama Crimson Tide team. Leading the way for Alabama, Derrick Henry is a 6'3” 247 pound beast who won't go down on initial contact. Henry has sat behind current Jacksonville Jaguar, T.J. Yeldon, during the past couple of seasons. This past season was his first time as an every game starter and opponents quickly had second thoughts when trying to take him down to the ground.

In 38 career games, Henry had 602 carries, 3,591 yards, 6.0 YPC, 42 touchdowns, and 173 first downs. He had 32 runs of 20 or more yards, a big play rate of 5.3 percent of his carries.

One of the more impressive statistical achievements is Henry's ability to wear down defenses throughout the course of a game. For his career, Henry has averaged 5.6 YPC in the first half of games. In the second half, he averaged 6.3 YPC, a .7 YPC increase between the two halves.

One area of weakness for Henry is that he can be tentative when hitting a hole; he doesn't possess the ability to make a cut and quickly get up field. When he gets his shoulders square and is able to run north or south and not sideways, he can run over opponents.

Several coaches that I spoke with said they worry about Henry's size and his ability to keep the weight off. He might be able to maintain his physical stature at 22 years old, but as we've seen with his former teammate, Eddie Lacy, those pounds can pack on rather quickly.

Henry has five career fumbles, a fumble rate of .8 percent of the time, or once every 123.8 times he touched the football. Being the physical style runner, Henry can be trusted upon to pick up needed yards during critical moments.

Henry had a 58.8 percent success rate of picking up a first down in third and short yardage situations for his career.

With only 17 career receptions for 285 yards and three touchdowns, Henry hasn't shown scouts or coaches enough in terms of his ability to be a quality pass catcher. A lot of question marks remain in terms of his ability to be viable target out the backfield.

There is no question that Henry is the second best running back in this class and there is a big drop between Henry and the next group of tailbacks. With a running rating of 99.7, Henry has the third highest score amongst all the tailbacks in this draft class.

3) Kenneth Dixon (RB, Louisiana Tech):

Would it surprise you to know that Kenneth Dixon is the FBS' second active career leading rusher with 4,480 rushing yards? This is in spite of missing two games this past season with an ankle injury that has finally healed.

A smaller back at 5'10” and 215 pounds, Dixon is an elusive runner who has excellent balance and will bounce off would-be tacklers. An escape artist in the open field, tacklers have a hard time just getting a good shot on him since he runs so low to the ground. While he has the production, one of the knocks on Dixon is his tendency to bounce his runs to the outside. He will need to learn that you can't bounce all runs to the exterior and to take what the defense gives you.

In 47 career games he has attained 801 carries, 4,480 rushing yards, 5.6 YPC, 72 touchdowns, and 204 first downs. Dixon has the second highest big play rate amongst tailbacks in this draft class, he had 50 runs of 20 yards or more, 6.24 percent of his rush attempts.

Dixon would rather run through a tackle and won't waste a lot of time to juke out a linebacker or a safety. He will run straight and, hopefully, over a tackler. In 2015 against Rice, Dixon finished the game with 43 yards after contact and nine broken tackles. Dixon has the ability to make something out of nothing and turn a three yard loss into a big gain.

One area where Dixon will need to improve is his pass blocking abilities and technique. At times he looked passive; instead of putting his helmet into a guy, he looked to reroute an opponent rather than knocking them down.

One of the better pass catching running backs in this class, Dixon has 88 receptions, 972 yards, 11.1 YPC and 15 touchdowns for his career. He has the ability and patience to let his blockers setup during screen passes.

The one major red flag is Dixon's ball security issues; he had a total of 14 career fumbles, giving him a fumble rate of 1.6 percent of the time or once every 63.5 touches.

Dixon might not be a three down back in the NFL, but one who is capable of splitting carries and adding a different dimension to an offense. The agility and quick strike nature of Dixon's game make him a possible third or fourth round prospect. He finished with a running back rating of 83.51, fifth highest in this year's draft class.

4) Travis Greene (Bowling Green):

An exciting player who is capable of causing havoc against opposing defenses, Travis Greene has to be one of the least talked about running backs in this draft class. Defenders have a hard time even getting a hand on him as he is shifty in space and can slip through tacklers. Greene is a former wide receiver converted to tailback.

In 41 career games, Greene had 683 carries, 3,852 yards, 5.6 YPC, 38 touchdowns, and 188 first downs. Greene had the third highest big play rate, with 5.86 percent of runs resulting in 20 or more rushing yards. Greene had an average of 5.7 YPC in the first half of games and dropped slightly down to 5.5 YPC in the second half. The Bowling Green offense was a scoring machine during the past couple of seasons, but Greene showed the toughness to pick up key yards during pivotal moments. He had a 61.7 percent success rate of picking up a first down in third and short situations.

With over 600 carries, Greene rarely put the ball on the ground; he had only three fumbles for his career. Greene had a .4 percent fumble rate, meaning he fumbled once every 252 touches, the best rate of any running back in this draft class.

A former wide receiver, Greene showed solid hands as a threat coming out the backfield. With 72 catches, 564 receiving yards, 7.8 YPC, and five touchdowns, he is a versatile weapon that defenses need to be aware of in every situation.

As a dynamic playmaker in the backfield, Greene might not get the attention from a lot of the national media. He is elusive in the open field and can slip by a tackler and pick up some key yards. He will break a long run or two at a higher rate than most of the backs in this class.

At 5'10” and 182 pounds, Greene is slender and will need to pack on the pounds if he going to be called upon to pass protect. Scouting wise he compares to current Denver Broncos tailback, Ronnie Hillman. Greene had a running back rating of 73.21.

Look for Greene to be a late round draft pick who could make an immediate impact. He might be an unknown prospect now, but he has already caught the attention of a few NFL teams with his game tape.

5) Jordan Howard (RB, Indiana):

After UAB cut its football program, Howard, who was the star for the Blazers, transferred to Indiana. The Hoosiers were in desperate need of a running back after losing 2014 star, Tevin Coleman, to the NFL. Howard stepped right into the starting role and never looked back. Most scouts assumed Howard would need a season to adjust to playing in a Power Five conference, but he was gangbusters from the get-go.

At 6'0” and 230 pounds, Howard is a bruising, physical and punishing runner who won't go down on first contact. In 32 career games, he had a 647 carries, 3,681, 5.7 YPC, 24 touchdowns and 190 first downs. Howard was able to maintain his level of production throughout the course of a game. He averaged 5.7 YPC in the first and second half of games for his career. Only two other running backs in this draft class had the same marks (Tra Carson, and Kenneth Dixon).

Defenders had a hard time getting Howard to the ground and he was able to break through arm tackles with ease. According to Pro Football Focus, Howard averaged 3.3 yards after contact over the past couple of seasons. On third and short situations, Howard had a first down conversion rate of 69.4 percent, sixth highest amongst running backs in this draft class.

Ball security doesn't seem to be an issue for Howard; with just six career fumbles, he keeps ahold of the ball in secure fashion as he punishes tacklers. He has a fumble rate of once every 111.8 touches for his college career.

There are a few question marks for Howard in terms of his ability to be a receiver out of the backfield. He only caught 11 passes in 2015 and only amassed 24 receptions for 261 yards during his college career.

Howard is a solid contributor in pass protection and while he doesn't always display great form or technique, he gets the job done. He will collide with pass rushers, sacrificing his body in most cases, to shut down a defender. Howard missed four games due to injuries in 2015, so improving his technique as a pass protector could keep him out of the infirmary and on the field.

With a running back rating score of 71.09, statistically and scouting wise he compares favorably to current Cincinnati Bengals running back, Jeremy Hill.

6) Jonathan William (RB, Arkansas):

A foot injury sustained in August of last year caused Williams to miss the entire 2015 season. Coming off a 2014 campaign which saw Williams ranked fourth in rushing in the SEC, hopes were high going into last season for Arkansas making a run at the national title. Despite seeing limited action in his first couple of seasons, and having only over 200 carries just once in a single season for his career, Williams elected to go pro and enter the 2016 NFL Draft.

Scouts will have to wait until William's Pro Day on March 16th to see what kind of shape he is in and if he has been able to regain some of the speed and athleticism he showed earlier in his career. At the NFL Combine, Williams measured in at 5'11” and 220 pounds.

In 35 games played for his career, Williams recorded 406 carries, 2,321 yards, 5.7 YPC, 16 TD, and 107 first downs. 3.94 percent of Williams' career carries resulted in 20 yards or more.

A consistent runner in terms of his performance between the first and second halves of games, Williams averaged 5.9 YPC in the first half of games for his career compared to 5.6 YPC in the second half. A drop of just .3 YPC difference shows he doesn't wear down easily and is able to maintain a high level of production throughout the course of a game.

In addition to his health concerns, the biggest issue that NFL teams will have with Williams is his ball security problems. Williams had a total of ten fumbles, a rate of 2.3 percent of touches, or once every 43 touches resulted in a fumble, sixth highest rate amongst tailbacks in this draft class.

Williams played in a pro-style offense for the past couple of seasons and was tasked with understanding pass protection and being a target out of the backfield. With more teams running a spread offense, Arkansas is a rare commodity in scouting circles to see how prospects are able to play in the confines of an NFL system.

Health concerns and issues over his ability to hold onto the football are two major red flags that have caused Williams to drop to the later rounds on a few NFL team's draft boards. With a running back score of 68.20, Williams has proved to be a quality, productive back who dominated against some of the nation's toughest defenses. If he is able to regain his prior form and improve his technique of holding onto the football, he could be a steal in the mid-to late rounds of the draft.

7) Paul Perkins (RB, UCLA):

As the Pac-12 leader in rushing yards in 2014 (1,575 yards), Perkins continued his level of dominance in 2015, rushing for 1,343 yards, fourth best in the Pac-12. This past season he was tasked with mentoring a freshman quarterback and being the unquestioned leader on offense. He bore a lot of the responsibility of being a vocal captain and a strong example for a young Bruins team.

At 5'10” and 208 pounds, Perkins has a slight build and while he is not the most physical and punishing runner, he is able to cut and use his short area quickness to get by defenders. In 39 career games, Perkins totaled 622 carries, 3,491 rushing yards, a 5.6 YPC average, 29 touchdowns and 152 first downs. Sliding past defenders and using an impressive jump cut to spring himself loose, he had a big play rate of 3.7 percent of his carries amassing 20 or more yards.

A consistent runner in terms of overall production, Perkins maintained his production throughout the course of a game. For his career he averaged 5.8 YPC in the first half of games and 5.5 YPC in the second half of games, a reduction of just 0.3 YPC by halves.

Though he isn't the biggest back in the class, he showed an impressive ability to pick up critical yards in short yardage situations. For his career on third and short (three yards or less), Perkins was able to pick up the first down 62.8 percent of the time.

With over 600 career carries, Perkins only had five career fumbles, giving him the seventh lowest fumble rate amongst running backs in this draft class, averaging a fumble once every 140 touches. NFL coaches will enjoy the comfort of knowing he won't lose the ball and negatively impact his team.

With a running back rating of 67.22, Perkins is someone who showed remarkable consistency and production throughout his career. He is suited for a zone style blocking scheme to take advantage of his slashing running style.

8) C.J. Prosise (RB, Notre Dame):

A few players have the natural ability and talent to play new positions with very little practice time and make it look as though they have played it their whole career. Prosise was a former safety and wide receiver and due to a lack of experience at the tailback position during spring practice last season, Prosise moved inside and quickly became a starter.

In just 17 games as an offensive player, Prosise had a total of 166 carries for 1,155 yards, a 7.0 YPC average, 12 touchdowns, and 52 first downs. He had a total of four runs of twenty yards or more, a big play rate of 2.41 percent of his carries.

The type of unselfishness and willingness to sacrifice and be a complete team player will endear Prosise to NFL teams. It is this type of mentality and work ethic that usually lends itself to special team standouts.

Prosise is perfectly suited to play in a zone running scheme to take advantage of his quickness and ability to make a cut and quickly get up field. He shows great patience for a back who lacks experience. He plays with an aggressive style, using a strong stiff arm to gain separation from would-be tacklers.

A strong runner who truly gets stronger as the game goes on. He averaged 5.5 YPC in the first half of games, and dominated in the second half with a 7.3 YPC average. An increase of 1.8 YPC variance between halves is similar to the mark of last year's third round pick by the Falcons, Tevin Coleman.

With 36 career receptions for 62 yards, a 1.7 YPC average, and three touchdowns, Prosise doesn't necessarily light up the highlight reel with one-handed Odell Beckham-like catches. He will need some time to develop his catching ability, too often he lets the ball into his chest or takes his eyes off the ball as it gets into his body.

A red flag on Prosise's resume is his ball security issues, he had a total of five fumbles for his career, a rate of one fumble every 40.4 times he touches the football. Prosise had the third highest fumble rate of any running back in this draft class, the only two with a worse rate were Keenan Reynolds (30.6) and Kenyan Drake (39.9). Even though he has a tremendous skill set as a runner, he won't be getting off the bench if he keeps putting the ball on the ground.

Prosise scored a running back rating of 66.95. He has some room to grow and develop as a player, along with adding a few carries to his resume. He didn't return kicks in college which he will need to learn how to do once he reaches the NFL. Prosise might not develop into a full time starter, but he can be a great change of pace back-style tailback.

9) Aaron Green (RB, TCU):

Despite not getting an invite to the NFL Combine, Aaron Green has shown scouts that he was a dynamic part of the high powered TCU offense and has the skill set to be on an NFL roster. Measuring in a 5'10” and 203 pounds, Green isn't the biggest back in the world but he excels at getting out in space and using his speed to blow past defenders.

In 44 career games, Green, who played at both Nebraska and TCU, had a total of 469 carries for 2,531 yards, a 5.4 YPC average, 22 TD, and 108 first downs. A big play threat, 4.26 percent of his carries resulted in 20 yards or more and he is tied for ninth best amongst draft eligible running backs in this class.

He gave defenses a lot of problems in the second half of games, utilizing his speed and quickness against the tired legs of a defense. With a 4.8 YPC average in the first half and 5.8 YPC in the second half of games, Green averaged a positive 1.0 YPC more in the second half of games during his career.

Though he is small in stature, defenders had a tough time separating the ball from Green's grasp and he finished with a total of just three career fumbles. Green had a fumble rate of 169.7 carries for every one fumble, fourth highest in this draft class amongst all running backs.

TCU was very versatile with the lineup of their wide receivers and running backs, moving each player around the field to take advantage of one-on-one opportunities. Green has shown that he can move up into the slot position and has showcased a solid set of hands, grasping the ball cleanly and away from his body. He had a total of 40 receptions for 332 yard, an 8.3 YPC average, and five touchdowns.

When speaking with a few league coaches and scouts, pass blocking is a major concern for Green. At the Senior Bowl, he laid flat on his back a couple of times in pass protection drills. If he can't protect the most valuable commodity on a football field (starting quarterback,) then coaches will have a hard time putting him in the starting lineup.

With a running back rating score of 68.93, Green could be used in a similar fashion to current Patriots running back, James White. Look for Green to be a mid to late round selection and someone who should be a factor on special teams early in his career.

10) Devon Johnson (RB, Marshall):

At Marshall, Johnson started out as a linebacker then switched to become a tight end. After a season as tight end, which saw him average 18 yards-per-reception, he was moved to running back and has held that position for the past two seasons.

At 6'0” and 238 pounds, Johnson is a battering ram of a back to bring down and won't be stopped by simple arm tackles. Defenses keyed into stopping him the past couple of seasons, slowing Johnson down meant making them one dimensional on offense.

Johnson was injured and missed a handful of games this past season. In 37 career games, he had 305 carries for 2,373 yards, a 7.8 YPC average, and 25 rushing touchdowns. Johnson yards per carry average is the highest amongst all the draft eligible running backs in this draft class.

One of the red flags associated with Johnson is his ability to sustain a physical running style throughout the course of a game. He had a dominant average of 8.9 YPC in the first half of games, but dropped to 6.4 YPC in the second half, a -2.5 YPC drop between halves. He will need to prove to scouts and coaches that he can maintain his level of efficiency throughout the entire game and not go big in the first half and limp away in the second half of games.

In terms of ball security, Johnson does an adequate job of holding onto the ball; he had a total of five career fumbles, giving him a fumble rate of 1.6 percent of the time or once every 66.4 touches. NFL teams and coaches will want to see him improve in this area of the game. Being a physical type of runner, he will need to learn when it's ok to stiff arm an opponent and when it's time to cover up the ball.

Once Johnson was able to break through the first level of blockers, he was able to routinely get to get a number of big time runs. He leads all tailbacks in this draft class with a big play rate of eight percent of his carries resulting in 25 or more yards.

As a former tight end, Johnson has shown that he is a capable receiver coming out of the backfield. He finished his career with 27 receptions for 423 yards, a 15.7 yards per catch average, and six touchdowns.

Johnson's history of injuries and his lack of having much experience at the position is a cause for concern for some teams. He had the highest running back rating for this year's draft class with a 123.12 score. With being just a one year wonder, Johnson might need some time to develop as a runner. He would be an excellent addition as a third down and short yardage tailback for the upcoming season.

Running Back Rankings - Draftable Round

Rank Running Back Draftable Round
1 Ezekiel Elliott 1st
2 Derrick Henry 2nd
3 Kenneth Dixon 2nd
4 Travis Greene 3rd
5 Jordan Howard 3rd
6 Jonathan William 3rd
7 Paul Perkins 4th
8 C.J. Prosise 4th
9 Aaron Green 4th
10 Devon Johnson 4th
11 Kenyan Drake 4th
12 Keenan Reynolds 5th
13 Marshaun Coprich 5th
14 DeAndre Washington 5th
15 Jordan Canzeri 5th
16 Tyler Ervin 5th
17 Tre Madden 6th
18 Marteze Waller 7th
19 Wendell Smallwood 7th
20 Kelvin Taylor 7th
21 Tra Carson 7th
22 Daniel Lasco 7th
23 Jalen Richard 7th-FA
24 Josh Ferguson 7th-FA
25 Peyton Barber FA
26 Alex Collins FA
27 Leon Allen FA
28 Devontae Booker FA
29 Jacobi Green FA