Buyer-beware when drafting these 3 running back prospects

Wes Huber identifies three high-profile RB draft prospects that have plenty questions marks surrounding their play.

| 1 year ago
TUCSON, AZ - NOVEMBER 14: Running back Devontae Booker #23 of the Utah Utes runs with the football against the Arizona Wildcats in the first quarter at Arizona Stadium on November 14, 2015 in Tucson, Arizona. The Wildcats defeated the Utes 37-30 in double overtime

(Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images)

Buyer-beware when drafting these 3 running back prospects

In preparation for the 2016 NFL draft, PFF’s team of analysts has spent the past few months putting together our overall draft board and positional prospect rankings.

In doing so, PFF has identified players at each position who qualify as “buyer-beware” prospects, based on where these players are showing up on most evaluators’ draft boards. Here are three such prospects among this year’s running back class.

1. Devontae Booker, Utah

Click for full scouting report.

Booker is not without an intriguing skill-set, but his value will take a hit if circulating second-round predictions come to fruition. Receiving the third-most carries within the class since joining Utah, the resulting numbers he accumulated highlight some reasons for concern at that juncture of the draft. In addition to the third-highest fumble rate (1.61 percent), Booker registered the 27th-best (out of 30) 15-or-more yard run rate (5.2 percent), and the 25th-highest yards per touch value (5.22).

Should Booker find his way into the fourth round or beyond, his value will see an exponential increase. At that evaluation, a team will take advantage of Booker’s pass protection experience (34.8 percent of passing snaps), 86 percent catch rate (fourth-best), and 1.44 yards per route run (sixth-highest). As it stands, the projection is far too high, as Booker could use additional seasoning after registering the 18th-highest per-snap impact rate within the class since 2014.

2. Kelvin Taylor, Florida

While Kelvin Taylor holds the genetic pedigree of his father, Fred Taylor, he simply did not show enough in college to warrant a draftable grade. Looking closely into running back numbers since 2014, it’s interesting to find that Taylor produced the fourth-lowest yards before contact per attempt (1.98), and third-lowest yards after contact per attempt (2.35) within the class. In addition, Taylor ranked 22nd in this class since 2014 in both elusive rating and breakaway percentage, while accumulating the second-lowest yards per touch (4.47).

Should the running game issues not be enough to sway opinions, consider that Taylor was utilized less in the passing game than any other back in this draft (one target per 11.1 passing snaps), sans Alabama’s Derrick Henry. The reasoning behind his passing game absence was actually appropriate, as Taylor produced the third-lowest yards per route run (0.48), and also displayed issues in pass protection (11 total pressures allowed in 118 snaps in pass protection).

3. Keith Marshall, Georgia

Everyone remembers the impressive display Marshall showcased at the combine. He recorded the most 225-pound bench press reps (25) and his official 40-yard dash time (4.31) was a full tenth-of-a-second faster than the second name on the charts. Marshall was certainly able to gain interest from NFL teams with his combine metrics, but the in-game numbers he produced at Georgia state a different case entirely.

Marshall produced the sixth-lowest yard averages before (2.12) and after contact (2.50) per attempt, and the highest drop rate within the class (37.5 percent). He was easy to tackle (fifth-lowest elusive rating) and—despite the speed mentioned above—was unable to establish himself as a breakaway threat (second-lowest breakaway percentage). Any reasoning independent of combine results toward selecting Marshall in the draft simply does not exist.

| Analyst

Wes is an analyst and fantasy correspondent at Pro Football Focus. He's been with the company since 2014, and his work has been featured on DraftKings Playbook and FantasyPros.

  • AJ

    Marshall is the RB that goes undrafted or in the 7th who never did anything in college but has great physical tools and turns out being a decent NFL RB. Just a feeling that I have. I think the right coaching could turn him into a back worth having on your team

    • Darkwing_duck

      Gurley and Marshall were once pegged as “Gurshall” if anything someone will pick him solely off of his freshman tape or the fact that he was able to take carries away from Gurley. Also, he’s now 2 seasons removed from a torn ACL.

  • Tim Edell

    I don’t see Marshall being a productive RB in fact I think he will be out of the league within 2-3 years. Every year there are these fast RBs who people will hype up and they fail in the NFL. Marshall lacks lateral agility and wiggle and runs in a straight-line.

  • Bruce McCallister

    In defense of Booker – Utah didn’t have a passing game and EVERY opponent knew that. So all of the yards he accumulated were with 9-10 in the box, which is why his yards after contact is a really important stat, and why he is projected that high. The buyer beware comes in from his recent injury, whether or not he can get back to full form.