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Top Running Backs in the 2016 NFL Draft: The Ezekiel Elliot Show

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We are in the midst of a renaissance for college football running backs. Last year, the NFL draft was littered with great running back prospects, which is evidenced by how successful many of the rookie backs are thus far this year. This year’s crop of running backs has the potential to be just as good as last year’s, depending on who declares.

No matter what you are looking for, there is a running back that can fill what you need. There are running backs for every scheme and every style that you can ask for, you just have to do an adequate job of evaluating the whole crops and fit them in where they best fit.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at the best draft eligible running backs for the 2016 NFL draft.

Ezekiel Elliot, Ohio State

Size: 6-foot and 225 pounds

The premier running back prospect in this class by a wide margin, Ezekiel Elliot is just a notch below the elite tier of running backs that are occupied by the Adrian Peterson and Todd Gurley’s of the world.

Elliot is the most well-rounded and scheme diverse running back in this class. He will be successful no matter where he goes because of his diverse skill set. Elliot displays impressive patience to allow him blocks to develop and the burst to get through the hole once it develops. Once he gets into the open field, Elliot doesn’t have the game-breaking elusiveness of others, but his power, balance and open field vision allow him to break off a ton of long runs.

Another aspect of Elliot’s game that NFL teams will gush over is his ability as a blocker. Elliot is the best pass protector in this class as he shows the intelligence to distinguish who to block and the integrated technique to actually do it. Furthermore, Elliot has shown an ability to be a great lead blocker for the variety of quarterbacks that Ohio State trots out onto the field.

Overall, Elliott is a fantastic prospect who will ultimately make some team extremely happy. He should be a first-round pick and make an instant contribution as the lead running back for his squad.

Paul Perkins, UCLA

Size: 5-foot-11 and 210 pounds

The most underrated running back in this class is UCLA’s Paul Perkins. Because he doesn’t have the numbers or team success of the others, Perkins has been somewhat of an afterthought up until this point. However, once you turn the tape on, you see a player who would be a perfect fit for a team that employs a zone-blocking scheme.

Perkins isn’t a burner or even a player that displays great power, but he displays the type of integrated technique that is vastly superior to most of his peers. Perkins displays great patience and the ability to set up blockers that are vital to being successful in the NFL. Furthermore, Perkins attacks defenders when contact is imminent, which allows him to break a lot of tackles. Furthermore, Perkins is a slippery runner who layers a variety of moves together to make opponents miss. Perkins is one of the few running backs who can create for himself with his ability to deal with penetration and make something out of nothing.

Perkins has all the makings of a top-100 pick based on his film; however, he could be a player who drops because of a poor 40-yard dash time.

Derrick Henry, Alabama

Size: 6-foot-3 and 242 pounds

The Heisman Trophy winner has his fair share of fans and critics. Ultimately, Derrick Henry’s success in the NFL will highly depend on where he lands and how that team uses him.

Henry is at his best when he is aligned deep and asked to get north-south quickly. Henry is extremely difficult when he has a full head of steam because of the momentum he can generate with his size. Henry is the best height-weight-speed player in this class, but he lacks the ability to really be elusive. All too often, Henry is stopped by tackles below his waist and if he can get a full head of steam.

However, if you put Henry is a traditional I-formation power offense and allow Henry to bludgeon the defense over four quarters, you have the makings of a potentially elite player. He accelerates well in the open field and good luck to any cornerback who tries to bring him down.

Henry’s draft stock will likely be all over the map, but it is possible that a team falls in love with his production and drafts him based on his pedigree rather than is tangible skill set and how it fits within their scheme.

Devontae Booker, Utah

Size: 5-foot-11 and 212 pounds

Utah’s Devontae Booker isn’t a very flashy player, but he will get the job done every week for his future NFL team. Booker has excellent vision and the type of one-cut ability that is perfect for a zone-blocking scheme. Booker isn’t a home-run threat, but he will consistently hit doubles, which is exactly what you want for most NFL offenses.

Booker has all the ability to be a bell-cow running back for his prospective team. He will also make a huge contribution as a receiver out of the backfield in the NFL as he shows soft, reliable hands and an ability to get a lot of yards after the catch.

Will Booker be a player who is consistently among the NFL’s rushing leaders? No, but Booker is a player who will consistently be productive and do all the little things that will make him extremely valuable in the NFL.

Kenneth Dixon, Louisiana Tech

Size: 5-foot-10 and 213 pounds

Not many have heard of Kenneth Dixon because of the fact that he hails from a small school in Louisiana Tech, but this player has big-time talent.

Dixon is the epitome of “slow to the hole and fast through it” as he waits for his blocks to develop before he explodes through the hole. In the open field, Dixon is hard to bring down, mostly because of his fantastic jump cut that leaves defenders grasping for air. He accelerates into open space well and he does a great job of playing behind his pads with good balance. Despite his great elusiveness, Dixon doesn’t dance looking for the home run, he does a great job of getting downhill quickly and getting what he can out of each run.

Dixon isn’t the best blocker because he his propensity for dropping his head on contact, but he isn’t inept in that area at all. As a receiver, Dixon tends to be a body catcher, which could give him some trouble once he gets in the NFL.

Overall, Dixon could be a late rise in the draft process as more people get to his tape and see the type of talent that he is working with.

Five Other Names To Consider

James Conner, Pittsburgh

Alex Collins, Arkansas

Matt Brieda, Georgia Southern

Elijah McGuire, Louisana-Lafayette

Jordan Howard, Indiana


About John Owning

John Owning

John Owning is a NFL columnist for Football Insiders. He has years of experience covering the NFL, NFL draft and NCAA football. John's work has been featured on the Bleacher Report and DraftBreakdown.com