Melvin Gordon/RS Sophomore – 6'1", 207 pounds – Wisconsin
The redshirt sophomore has really come on this season since Montee Ball's departure. Gordon has rushed for 1,466 yards on just 181 carries, good for an outstanding 8.1 YPC and 12 touchdowns.
Gordon’s draft profile is intriguing based on several factors. For one, Gordon hails from “Offensive Line University” where pro-caliber offensive linemen seem to grow on trees.
This has hurt the image of Wisconsin running backs in terms of their pro potential due to coming from such a great system.
Current Denver Broncos rookie running back Montee Ball – a former Badger – has done an admirable job in spot-duty so far this season and can help buck this trend if his production continues to rise.
Ball was a second-round pick last year and Gordon has more physical talent. If Gordon can prove that his estimated 4.4 speed is legit at the NFL Combine, the end of the second-round should serve as the worst-case scenario for his draft position.
Another compelling aspect of Gordon’s draft profile is the fact that Wisconsin has two dynamic ball-carriers; James White and Gordon. This has enabled Gordon to be stashed away like grain for the winter, leaving him with a lot of tread left on his tires. NFL teams take notice of how many hits running backs are exposed to more than any other position and Gordon hasn’t taken very many.
Gordon possesses the best size/speed combination out of any running back in this year’s draft (assuming Gordon declares). There have been recent rumors that Gordon will stay in school for a chance at the Heisman Trophy next season – a distinct possibility – but if he chooses to leave, Gordon should be the first running back taken.
Lache Seastrunk/RS Junior – 5'10", 210 pounds - Baylor
The former Oregon Duck who transferred to Baylor in 2011 has lit up the Big-12 this season. Owning a staggering 7.8 YPC average on the season (to go along with 982 yards and 11 touchdowns) is telling in regards to the sort of big-play ability Seastrunk possesses.
With a compact frame to go along with incredible agility and quickness, scouts have fallen in love with Seastrunk’s potential as a dynamic offensive piece on the pro level. The one area of concern for Seastrunk is in his pass-blocking abilities, or lack thereof.
Because Seastrunk plays in the system he plays in – one where the offense throws around 35-40 times a game – this aspect of his game has been put on full-display and the results haven’t been up to par.
The NFL is a league of details, especially for the running back. Pass-blocking is one of those overlooked aspects of earning playing time on a pro field, and is one of the skills Seastrunk hasn’t developed enough yet.
In the grand scheme of his skill-set, this isn’t a major weakness, but it is the biggest concern with regards to his draft status. It should be noted that Seastrunk has zero catches on the season and while the running backs don’t get targeted much in Baylor’s offense, the stat is still somewhat disconcerting.
Overall, Seastrunk’s big-play ability and freakish athleticism put him in serious consideration for the first running back taken in the 2014 NFL Draft.
Ka’Deem Carey/Junior – 5'10", 196 pounds – Arizona
Carey has had an extremely productive and underrated career for the Wildcats but is widely regarded as the most NFL-ready tailback in the nation. The junior is the school’s all-time leader in virtually every single-season and career rushing record as well as the Pac-12 all-time leader in others.
As a sophomore in 2012, Carey was a first-team All-American while rushing for 1,929 yards and 6.4 yards per carry average (YPC), to go along with 23 touchdowns. Carey had some monster games last year but none more so than a game against Colorado in which he became the Pac-12’s all-time leader for rushing yards in a single game with 25 rushes, 366 yards, 14.6 YPC, and 5 TDs.
Carey has carried over that incredible production into this season in which he has accounted for 1,716 yards, 5.3 YPC, and 17 touchdowns. Carey has rushed 100+ yards in 15 straight games, a Pac-12 record.
Most impressively was when Arizona took on No. 5 Oregon and Carey carried them to a victory with an epic 48-carry, 206-yard, 4-TD masterpiece, demonstrating the ability to gain tough yards despite his size.
At 5'10", 196 pounds, Carey possesses adequate enough size but plays with a ton of heart and is one of the most challenging backs in the nation to bring down with just one defender. Carey is constantly breaking tackles and runs like a player who is much more physically-imposing. Possessing great leg-drive and excellent durability, Carey is a relentless runner who also displays patience to let plays develop. This combination is extremely rare and invokes first-round credentials.
The one area that remains a question-mark for Carey is his straight-line, breakaway speed. Once the NFL Combine rolls around and the running backs run their 40-yard dash, no runner will have more on the line than Carey. If he can run under a 4.6 that should be good enough to solidify his place with the top dogs of this year’s class come draft time.
Bishop Sankey/Junior – 5'10", 200 pounds – Washington
No running back on this list has had a more productive season than Sankey who broke Corey Dillon’s school-record for most rushing yards in a season (1,695) with 1,775.
Sankey also has 18 rushing touchdowns, giving him 35 for his career, also a school-record.
Sankey’s size enables him to maintain excellent leverage which combined with his aggressive running style and excellent lateral movement skills, makes him a legit workhorse runner.
These skills plus his underrated catching ability (58 catches, 547 yards over the last two seasons) translate very well to the pro-level.
The most underrated skill that Sankey has is his vision and endurance. This makes the best fit for him in a zone-blocking scheme, a scheme that would utilize his patience as a runner to a tee, enabling Sankey to have a very long and very productive pro career.
Charles Sims/Senior – 6', 213 pounds – West Virginia
Not only the darkhorse of the group, Sims is also the best all-around running back on this list mostly due to his excellent pass-catching ability. Sims transferred from the University of Houston this past season so his polished skills could be put on further display in West Virginia’s spread system.
Sims hasn’t disappointed and has rushed 208 times, 1,095 yards, 5.3 YPC, 11 touchdowns to go along with 45 receptions, 401 yards, and 3 TDs. Sims is a real weapon out of the backfield who has been overlooked the entire season due to West Virginia’s disappointing 4-8 record.
With his size/speed combo (with an estimated 4.45 40-yard dash) and excellent hands, scouts have already compared him to Bears RB Matt Forte because of his versatility and size.
The do-it-all back will be in contention for the first running back taken and as the off-season draft preparations progress, could separate himself from the pack entirely.
Honorable Mention: Jeremy Hill – LSU; Carlos Hyde – Ohio State; Devonta Freeman – Florida State; De’Anthony Thomas – Oregon; Andre Williams – Boston College.