The Baltimore Ravens will have a big decision to make when it comes to the running back position during the off season. Justin Forsett has made it clear that he doesn’t want to be in the “friend zone” and is ready to make a long term relationship with the team. There is no doubt that he has earned a multi-year contract to remain with the Ravens.
The New York Jets have decided not to exercise the option on Chris Johnson’s contract. Some have said that he would be a target for the team to be a big play back. The better option would be to go younger and less expensive via the 2015 NFL Draft. The 2015 NFL Scouting Combine will feature a number of backs that would be great for the Ravens. Here are the top five running backs to watch at the Combine:
Duke Johnson, Miami There aren’t too many guys that can put their foot in the ground and explode up field the way that Johnson can. He is a home run hitter that can score from anywhere on the field. One thing that makes him a superb fit for the Ravens is his cutback ability. He is one of those runners that has the vision and anticipation to know when a cutback lane is going to open up. Many will say that Melvin Gordon is the better option but as Jeff Risdon of Real GM and Draft Lions said, Johnson is already proven as a receiver out of the backfield. Johnson has the ability to motion out wide and still be a threat in the passing game. His one cut and go running style is right in line with the zone scheme that the Ravens will employ. He is also fully capable of being a threat when the Ravens use empty backfield formations. Expect him to light up the track at the combine which will only help his draft status.
Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin Gordon is the sexy pick at running back. He will more than likely be the first running back selected this year. Teams will be enamored with his speed. Gordon has very nice size and is also a home run hitter. His track background will help him run a fast 40 at the combine. Gordon is a long strider that hits top speed in a matter of steps. He will garner most of the interest when it comes to running backs. His height/weight/speed measurables will be very intriguing. Gordon is likely to warrant a first round selection because of his big play ability. He has a penchant for looking to bounce it outside which is not always a good thing. Gordon will pass the eyeball test when he weighs in and teams will fall in love with his speed as he blazes through the 40 yard dash.
Todd Gurley, Georgia Gurley is a rare player because of his size and speed. He should measure in at around 6-1, 226 pounds. That is outstanding for a break away back. He does an excellent job of pressing the line of scrimmage and setting up cutback lanes to explode through. The most critical part of the combine for Gurley will be the medical examinations. Gurley tore his ACL after returning from a suspension this past season. Team physicians will poke and twist Gurley’s knee to see how far he has progressed. There will be questions about whether or not he can still have the speed that he had prior to his injury. The Ravens could use him as a feature back if he recovers from torn ACL injury.
Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska They say that good things come in small packages. Abdullah surely lives up to that saying. He is a do it all back that packs a surprising punch behind his pads despite being 5-9, 195 pounds. Abdullah finishes his runs with authority. He has the patience and vision that is needed to see cutback lanes in the zone blocking system. Abdullah was impressive taking on bigger linebackers in pass protection drills at the Senior Bowl. He will really impress teams during the interview process. His football IQ is very high. Abdullah is also a receiving option out of the backfield which is surely attractive to a team like the Ravens.
Tevin Coleman, Indiana Coleman is another back with impressive size/speed measurables. He is a more violent runner than the previously mentioned running backs but still has that big play ability. One of the things that he does well is keep his shoulders square to the line of scrimmage which allows him to remain in positon to accelerate through a small crease that may appear. He is a guy that will hit full speed in an instant and get to the second level quickly.
Wildcard: T.J. Yeldon, Alabama Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome seems to have a thing for drafting Alabama guys. Yeldon is a big back that can also be a viable receiving option out of the backfield. Yeldon is a big but he can get skinny and slip through small rushing lanes to get extra yards.
Don’t forget: David Cobb, Minnesota Every conversation that I had with my colleague Brandon Howard from Pro Player Insiders about running backs at the Senior Bowl somehow managed to find it’s way to Cobb. When he talks, it would be wise to listen. He is a back that may not be the sexy, dynamic guy that the aforementioned backs are but he is a one cut back with a smooth change of direction ability that finishes runs. Most of his yards come after contact. Cobb’s downhill running style would fit in well with the Ravens as a complimentary back.
Jay Ajayi, Boise State There is one player that comes to mind when watching Ajayi, that player is Marshawn Lynch. Ajayi is a punishing running back that has a similar physical, downhill running style to Lynch. He is capable of doing everything that an every down running back could be asked to do. Ajayi can catch the ball out of the backfield, take on blockers in pass protection and is a punishing runner at the goal line. He will have some questions to answer about his past during interviews but he has shown that he has progressed from his 2011 arrest. Ajayi will be a solid three down back for whatever team that drafts him.
Two to check out: Gus Johnson, Stephen F. Austin and Trey Williams, Texas A&M
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