I know I’m going to sound like I’m exaggerating this but the 2017 running back class has the potential and I stress POTENTIAL to be the greatest running back class of all-time. There is enough talent in this class that if a team goes into next year’s draft looking for a starting running back, they could get a quality back well into day three. In some ways, this class is similar to the 2016 defensive tackle class in terms of sheer talent. Here my top ten backs going into the 2017 draft.
1. Leonard Fornette, LSU, 6-1 230: Fornette is the best back in this class. He is a one cut runner who runs with power and speed. He can accelerate in the open field and he finishes runs. Fornette needs to stop being indecisive at the line of scrimmage at times. He bottles himself up. As good as Fornette is, he needs to show more as a receiver and blocker.
2. Christian McCaffery, Stanford, 6-0 205: McCaffery might be the best player in the country and along with Fornette, will be the early Heisman favorite going into 2017. McCaffery is a complete back who can play all three downs and is effective both as a runner and a receiver. McCaffery is lethal in the passing game. Just ask Iowa.
3. Dalvin Cook, Florida State, 5-11 202: Cook has good size and he runs with good balance and power. He is explosive in the open field and finishes his runs. Cook has to improve as a pass blocker and Jimbo Fisher has to use him more in the passing game this season but there is no question that Cook has all the physical tools to be a starting running back in the NFL.
4. Samaje Perine, Oklahoma, 5-10 230: Perine has been one of the most underrated and productive backs in the country the last two seasons. He runs with good balance and power and is elusive in the open field. Perine is a grinder who can absorb 25-30 carries a game. He has had some injury issues and has a lot of carries on his body but there is no doubt Perine is a first round talent.
5. Royce Freeman, Oregon, 5-11 230: Freeman is a one-cut wrecking ball if that makes any sense. He runs with square pads and has good feet. He can stick his foot in the ground and he make some pretty impressive jump cuts for a back his size. Freeman needs to show scouts more as a receiver. He has good hands and can be effective on screens. Freeman will be the focal point of the Oregon offense this season so we’ll know if he’s first round material.
6. Jalen Hurd, Tennessee, 6-2 230: Hurd is a big back who has good feet and can make one cut and accelerate into space. He has been highly productive as both a runner and receiver at Tennessee. Hurd does run high, which is to be expected because he is a big back. He needs to learn to run smaller and with a lower pad level.
7. Nick Chubb, Georgia 5-11 220: Chubb is one of the most talented backs in this class but he needs to prove that he is healthy and all the way back from the devastating knee injury he suffered last season. Chubb might just be the best pure running back in this class in terms of speed and power. He does however need to refine his game as a receiver and pass blocker.
8. Wayne Gallman, Clemson, 6-0 215: Gallman is a smooth, fluid runner who gets in and out of his cuts and accelerate into the open field. He is a terrific receiver who has good hands and a good feel for the screen game. He doesn’t have a lot of carries on his frame but he will get more carries this season as the focal point of the Clemson offense.
9. Corey Clement, Wisconsin, 5-10 220: Clement is an explosive open field runner who can separate and score. He does have a lot of carries on his frame and like most Wisconsin backs coming into the NFL, there is a chance he could fizzle unless he ends up in a situation where he can share carries with another back.
10. James Connor, Pitt, 6-2 240: Connor is a big, physical down hill runner who would be ideally suited to split carries in a time share. Connor missed most of last season after being diagnosed with cancer. He just completed chemo treatments and he is on schedule to return this season.