Round-by-round ranking of 2016’s best NFL RB prospects

Gordon McGuinness breaks down and ranks every back available in the 2016 NFL draft.

| 6 months ago
(AP Photo/LM Otero)

(AP Photo/LM Otero)

Round-by-round ranking of 2016’s best NFL RB prospects

We’ve already taken a look at quarterbacks and wide receivers, so now it’s our turn to cast our eyes over the ball carriers in this year’s NFL draft. It’s a class that contains a Heisman trophy winner who is probably lower down that many would have expected, and is led by a pro-ready, three-down back.

Here are the top wide running backs in the 2016 NFL draft:

Round 1

  1. Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio State

We like Elliott enough that we have him at No. 8 on the latest big board released this week. While he’s not the best pure runner in this class — ending 2015 with the fifth-highest running grade amongst draft eligible running backs — he is the most pro ready and has the ability to play on all three downs from day one. He graded positively as a runner, receiver, pass blocker, run blocker and screen blocker in 2015, proving that he can do it all. While there are concerns that he was “just” fifth in terms of his grade as a runner this year, he was second behind only Melvin Gordon in 2014.

Round 2

  1. Kenneth Dixon, Louisiana Tech

Dixon is another player who will impress teams in the NFL with his ability to contribute as a runner and as a receiver out of the backfield. Dixon averaged 5.4 yards per carry, with 3.3 of those yards coming after contact. His ability to make things happen beyond the help of his offensive line is a big plus, and he forced 54 missed tackles on 197 carries, and 16 on 34 receptions to finish second in this draft class with an elusive rating of 99.2.

  1. Paul Perkins, UCLA

Dixon had the second-highest elusive rating in the class, and the only player he trailed was UCLA’s Perkins at 114.7. He led the draft class with a rushing grade of +29.0, averaging 5.6 yards per carry and 3.6 yards after contact. It was a big jump from Perkins, with a rushing grade of +9.9 in 2014 and really the only thing that separates him and Dixon at this point is that he has graded slightly negatively as a receiver in each of the past two seasons.

Round 3

  1. Jordan Howard, Indiana

With 196 carries in 2015, just one running back inside our top 10 had a lighter workload, but Howard made the most of his opportunities finishing the year as the fourth-highest graded runner in this draft class. He forced 35 missed tackles on running plays, which isn’t the type of number that wows you, but he did average 3.7 yards per carry after contact, the highest mark in the class. Howard was also a big-play threat in college, with 20 of his 196 carries going for 15 or more yards. One concern with Howard is that he graded at +22.3 in his four best games in 2015, and -0.5 in the other five, but two of those big games did come against Iowa and Michigan, so it’s not like he was just racking up good performances against lesser opponents.

  1. Alex Collins, Arkansas

Collins saw an increased workload in 2015 and very much made the most of it. His 271 carries were 69 more than he had in 2014, and in turn he averaged 5.8 yards per carry after averaging 5.4 the year before. He forced 58 missed tackles as a runner, and had the ninth-highest rushing grade in the class. What we haven’t seen from Collins is much work as a receiver, with just 13 receptions over the past two seasons.

Rounds 4-7

  1. Derrick Henry, Alabama

The second-highest rushing grade in the class, 76 missed tackles forced as a runner, almost 1,400 yards after contact. So why is the Heisman trophy winner only the seventh-best running back in this draft class? Well, consider his workload of 395 carries and suddenly those 76 missed tackles are impressive, but not quite as impressive as the number suggests when presented in isolation. To put it into context, he averaged a missed tackle forced once every 5.19 carries, while it was one every 3.2 for Perkins and 3.6 for Dixon. What Henry does offer however, is the ability to be a power runner who could form a potent one-two punch with the right partner. He’s tough to bring down, averaging 3.9 yards after contact per carry, and while he graded negatively as a receiver and in pass protection, he can still have an impact at the next level based purely on his ability as a runner.

  1. Devontae Booker, Utah

The improvement we saw from Booker between 2014 and 2015 is one of the more interesting find in this draft class. After grading at just +0.1 as a runner in 2014, he exploded to finish 2015 as the third highest graded rusher in this class. His quickness and his ability to cut helped him force 57 missed tackles and averages 3.1 yards after contact in 2015, and he added another 14 missed tackles forced on 37 receptions out of the backfield.

  1. C.J. Prosise, Notre Dame

Injury really hurt the end of Prosise’s 2015 season, but when healthy over the first seven weeks of the year he was a dynamic playmaker for the Notre Dame offense. He benefited from an offensive line that had four of its five starters earn positive grades, with 3.8 of his 6.6 yards per carry average coming before contact but he did make the most of his opportunities with the seventh best elusive rating in the class at 74.7. He also showed off the ability to make big plays, with 49.7% of his carries going to 15 yards or more, the fourth highest percentage in this class.

  1. Kenyan Drake, Alabama

The “other” Alabama running back saw just 287 snaps on the field in 2015, but has the kind of big play ability that is going to intrigue a lot of teams. His carries mean the sample size is a little bit too small, but with 22 missed tackles forced on 77 carries, and another 15 on 29 receptions, he had an elusive rating, which would have been good enough to top every other running back in this class outside of Perkins. Add in the fact that he can create big plays on special teams, as evidenced by his kick return for a touchdown against Clemson in the National Championship and it’s easy to see why people are excited about his pro potential.

  1. Daniel Lasco, California

Just one of the six offensive linemen who played 400 or more snaps for the Cal offensive line finished the season with a positive grade, so it’s no surprise that when you dig into Lasco’s film, you find plenty of plays where he’s faced with defenders in the backfield. Injuries limited his 2015 season, but over the past two years he has produced a +18.4 rushing grade and allowed just three total pressures in pass protection. Add that to his nine missed tackles on 32 receptions in 2014 and I’d expect Lasco to at least be able to contribute as a third-down back early in his career.

  1. DeAndre Washington, Texas Tech

Texas Tech’s Washington saw 43.1 percent of his carries go for 15 yards or more, the 10th-highest percentage of anyone in this class. He was tied for 12th in the class with a rushing grade of +13.2, averaging 6.5 yards per carry, with 3.5 of those yards coming after contact. A small back at 5-8, Washington’s work after contact, coupled with his 67 missed tackles forced on 230 carries and 41 receptions saw him finish 2015 with the third best elusive rating in this class at 86.1.

  1. Wendell Smallwood, West Virginia

Just five running backs in this class had a higher rushing grade than West Virginia’s Smallwood at +21.1, with the Mountaineer averaging 6.4 yards per carry in 2015. With a 4.47 forty yard dash time he looks to have average speed for a running back, which fits nicely with the fact that 32.7 percent of his runs in 2015 went for 15 or more yards. That mark put him 27th amongst the 51 running backs in this class with enough qualifying carries, suggesting that he’ll have some big plays, but it won’t be how he makes a name for himself.

| Analyst, Lead Special Teams Analyst

Gordon has worked at PFF since 2011, and now heads up the company’s special teams analysis processes. His work in-season focuses on college football, while he is also heavily involved in PFF’s NFL draft coverage.

  • JudoPrince

    Derrick Henry rounds 4-7? lol

  • RaiderRoss75

    Henry would be an interesting pairing with Latavius Murray in Oakland….

    • TJ Smith

      Henry and Murray are identical players.

      • Tito Puente

        To be clear, you said Henry is awful (paraphrasing), he runs upright, he has no wiggle, he can’t catch, and he can’t get yards behind a bad offensive line — making him identical to Latavius?

        I’m not a big fan of Henry, but saying he and Latavius are identical is either wrong, or lazy, whichever you prefer? They do have some similarities, but for someone claiming to be an RB draft scout –seems like you missed some obvious differences.

        Derrick Henry had 602 carries during his college career, with just 17 catches. (That’s one catch for every 35 carries!!!!!!)

        In college Latavius had 53 catches and 453 carries (one catch for every nine carries). With the Raiders Latavius has had 58 pass receptions and 348 carries (that’s one catch for every six carries).

        In fact, Latavius had the 16th most catches in the entire NFL last season among RBs.

        3-cone drill (aka wiggle): Latavius 6.81 secs, Henry 7.20 (Latavius’ 3-cone would’ve been the best by any RB at this year’s combine).

        40-yard dash: Latavius 4.38, Henry 4.54 (Murray would’ve been the second fastest RB at this year’s combine – Henry wasn’t Top 10.)

        Hmmm? What about getting up to speed?

        10-yard split: Latavius 1.48 secs, Henry 1.64 seconds

        (Not certain, but i believe Latavius’ split is faster than any RB at this year’s combine).

        And even if they were identical, why would drafting him be a bad thing? Latavius averaged 5.2 yards per carry as a rookie — not behind strong blocking, but behind the worst O-line in the league, DMC averaged 3.4 ypc, and MJD averaged 2.2 ypc behind the same line that season — and then Murray made the Pro Bowlin his first full season as a starter.

        So drafting Pro Bowlers in the 4th round (as Henry is projected here) isn’t a good idea?

        Especially when the Raiders need either a 2nd feature back, or a big thumper to lessen the load on Murray (Murray had 266 carries, no other RB on the Raiders had more than 24 — they actually don’t need a scat back or someone different from Murray, they need a backup who may become the starter some day)..

        They do both have upright running styles and they’re tall, I’ll give you that, but calling them identical is, well, just wrong, or lazy.


        “Royce Freeman weighs as much as Henry and is 5’10.”

        fyi.. Freeman is 5’11, he weighs 220 — Henry weighs 247 pounds.

        • Rodney Hungerferd

          Tito, thank you for all that information. I couldn’t have said it better myself even if I had tripled up on my Adderall this morning and washed it down with a couple iced espressos. Have you ever thought of writing about sports perfessionally? I think you have some skills. I’m going to give them titties four thumbs up!

          • Tito Puente

            Thanks Rodney, you kinda flubbed your lines just a bit there at the end, but you’re pretty f’ing funny.

            w atch?v=5OERYl6jU1U

    • Anthony

      We need a back that mainly receives out of the backfield and carries the ball about 8 times per game. That’s not Henry.

  • Backinmd

    Henry, I feel, will be drafted in 3, 4th round and will be a better RB in the NFL than PFF gives him credit ..He seems a tad faster than he’s timed & seems to have plenty of stamina left in the 4th qrt … Kinda reminds me of Jerome Bettis without the happy feet ..

    • TJ Smith

      I just don’t get why everyone keeps comparing Henry to big backs that break tackles. Henry doesn’t run like Bettis at all. Bettis was 5’11 250. Henry’s body mass isn’t even that big. He is just tall. People are going to be upset if they think DH is this big physical back.

      • shaunhan murray

        He was weighed at 247 pounds

        • TJ Smith

          So. He is 6’3. Brandon Jacobs who wasn’t that great of a back was 30 lbs bigger at that height. Really its irrelevant. He doesn’t run like a big back. Which is why the comparison is nuts. I heard one scout describe him perfectly. He runs like a sprinter not a power back. It is like those that see Eddy Lacy and see 5’10 250 and think well he will run like Marshawn Lynch. He will show you power once in awhile. He is much more a run around you guy than run over you guy.

          • shaunhan murray

            I would say with prett heavy conviction that both run u over quite a bit, I dont think Henry will succeed in the nfl but for different reasons

          • TJ Smith

            I don’t see it. He has some fall forward ability but his run you over ability isn’t special. Great stats but just not impressive runs. I think it actually alarming how easy he goes down at times. He is no way a make a hole type of player. Comparing him to all time great big physical backs is just laughable. PFF has been saying all year that DH doesn’t break many tackles at the college level.

          • shaunhan murray

            He finishes runs very well and in that process destroys the legs of defenses and he rips them up from there. I personally don’t see him doing that in the nfl , he isnt Marshawn Lynch and lacks any jump cut or one cut brutality that an Adrian Peterson or a leveon bell have

          • TJ Smith

            He has a good lean in his runs but he goes down in any quarter. What he does is he dangerous when get gets up to full speed. For me he is a third or fourth round talent at best.

  • zinn21 zinn21

    Elliot is a talent. Henry I think will struggle at the pro level. Could be wrong. Guys like him tend to get pounded up. I like Lasco who played injured last season but at full strength is very athletic can juke some and has power. I like DeAndre Washington a lot. Very fast twitch muscle type of runner.

    • Aiden

      Thank you for recognizing the fact that Texas Tech finally had a good runner who is rated low because of size alone he is going to be a steal for whoever gets him

  • TJ Smith

    Henry is the most overrated back in years. All the overrated Bama backs Richardson is the only one I like least. Henry has gotten way overrated because he didn’t share carries like many past Bama backs. Plus defenses in the SEC have been down the past few years and he didn’t have to face his own defense.

    Why I don’t like Henry. He has no wiggle. He can’t catch. He just fast in a straight line. He doesn’t break tackles. He doesn’t have great feet. He is big but doesn’t really run big. He runs like a fast little guy. Which he really is but since he is 6’3 people keep comparing him to big backs. Royce Freeman at Oregon was a big physical back. He weighs as much as Henry and is 5’10. He breaks tackles and I’m shocked he didn’t come out.

    Henry is a clone to Latavius Murray. Both tall upright runners that aren’t much out of the backfield as receivers. Murray doesn’t break tackles. If you have strong blocking both will get you yards. They both are fast but take a long time to get up too speed.

    Henry is going to be a safe pick for someone who wants a big name but not really a difference maker. He will have a few thousand yard seasons but not really scare anyone. Murray went in the 6th round but probably would have went in the 4th if he went to a bigger school. Henry is a 4th round talent that going to get over drafted because he played at Alabama and was given the Heisman. Despite the fact there are probably 5 college backs that are better than Henry. He was probably a 4th or 5th round pick until the last half of the college year.

    Lacy and Ingram are the only Bama backs that I have liked. I loved Lacey because he has incredible feet for a man that weighs more than Henry at 5’10. IMO if Lacey got his head on straight and kept his but in shape he could be a HOFer. Ingram I like and he one RB in the league that could breakout if he played in a run first offense. Most of the other Bama backs have been straight line athletes who don’t break tackles and need great blocking.

    • Iam Raged

      “Plus defenses in the SEC have been down the past few years and he didn’t have to face his own defense.”

      He did face seven top 25 defenses though and performed well against all but Florida. He easily faced some of the toughest competition of any RB in the nation; it wasn’t even comparable to someone like Dixon who faced nothing but mid-majors or the Pac 12 guys who play in a conference that plays no defense whatsoever.

      Henry is actually a natural pass catcher. He just didn’t have many opportunities because his QB didn’t see the field well and essentially refused to look his way often times. Reportedly scouts liked what they saw at his pro day as far as his receiving ability.

      • TJ Smith

        Please. Henry at the combine caught the ball like a 12 year old letting his body doing all the catches. People see what they want to see but there kidding themselves if they think he be anything more than a dump down to the back receiver. He has had multiple QBs in his years at Bama.

        It depends on what you would consider did well. If your going by numbers you would be excited. My issue is he doesn’t break tackles. When you play on a team with a dominate offensive line that is fine. In the NFL he not getting those kind of holes. So what has people seen in his ability when the defense is strong to do much of anything? All we have seen is big whole watch out.

    • Darnell

      Alexander a better Alabama RB than both Lacy and Ingram.

      • TJ Smith

        As a Seahawk fan I would disagree. Lot of others as well would also. As Shaun Alexander was voted the most overrated player in Seahawk history by Walter Jones said any back could run behind him and Steve Hutchinson. That Marshawn Lynch was a superior player. Which pretty much anyone in Seattle probably agree with.

        • Darnell

          Marshawn was definitely better, and Walt is right about the dominance of himself and Hutch.

          But Alexander is for sure better than any Bama rb to come along after him.

        • Michael

          Alexander was too productive to be considered overrated.

          • TJ Smith

            The city he played in. Players he played against. Players he played with thought he wasn’t that good. Literally everyday in Seattle people screamed that Shaun went down so easy without any fight. When he wasn’t running to the right behind Jones and hutch he was just average player.

            In the NFL players get overrated all the time based on system production. Especially running backs paying behind great offensive lines.

    • Michael

      TJ, you make some solid points yet I think you miss Henry’s strengths. He is big, has speed, is durable (never to be under-valued) and productive. He did it at Alabama.

      I do think him being so tall and running upright will make it tough on him. He’s no Eric Dickerson.

      I like him better than Ingram coming out of school. Trent Richardson bombing surprised me, but not Jim Brown.

      Henry needs the right fit to be successful.

      I don’t see a star right now but a guy who will have a career.

      • TJ Smith

        Everything you said is similar to myself. Which why I compared him to Latavius Murray. Who is a solid running back. Big but not physical. Fast but not quick. Runs up right. Not going to change the game as a pass catcher. Murray went 6 round. Should have went probably two rounds earlier. Henry Was a 4th round talent at best at the start of the year. Nothing has changed.

        • Michael Toebe

          I think things have changed, with all due respect. Henry proved how much of a workhorse, a durable one, he can be. He showed big-play capability. He was reliable. He, to me alone maybe, a superior prospect to what Mark Ingram was, even though Ingram went in round one. Not predicting superstar status for Henry and he could bust yet with the right team/system/teammates he will be productive. Go to the wrong organization, sure, he can bust. And there is nothing wrong with L. Murray. He did good things in Oakland and hasn’t yet reached his ceiling.

          • TJ Smith

            What would be the basis that Henry is better prospect than Ingram. Who was first round and people compared to Emmitt Smith. Henry being compared to Brandon Jacobs. Henry going first two rounds might be a stretch. Ingram actually has some top notch running back skills I think on another team Is a pro bowler.

            Think you make many bust selections if a few weeks change your mind on a prospect. Henry was always fast and could break a run. The thing about Henry is what he does without elite blocking on a play. The facts have been not much. If he gets great blocking he might do more than another back. Just like Chris Johnson. Not as fast as him.

            The idea that he can be a workhorse is fine. Unless he shows he can catch he not a every down back. If this was the 90s maybe that has value. Right now we’re talking about a back that might need 30 carries too have success. Has shown no impact when he isn’t getting a hand off.

    • Kenny Wilson

      shocking, that now well after the fact and nothing to really hold you accountable, you just happened to like the 2 Bama backs that have had success in the league, and the only one you liked less than Henry, was the only one touted more highly than him that has been a huge bust so far. Man, you’ve been absolutely on point with your projections that are actually hindsight reactions to what we’ve seen. I mean, just like I loved Antonio Brown coming out of the draft…. Share your thoughts on Henry – fine. We’ll see. But talking about how you “knew” about these other guys to add credibility to yourself when theres absolutely no way anyone can hold you accountable or check the validity of what you thought at the time – its just stupid.

      • TJ Smith

        Your lost on my point. Your point is living under a circumstance like everyone loved all Bama backs and my opinion is unique. Outside of Trent many were considered overrated at the time of the draft. I didn’t liove any Bama backs except for lacey. The only one I like least was Richardson. I like lacy because he had great feet and unlike other Bama backs didn’t run like a robot. He had serious we elusive moves. For a man his size that was impressive.

        I think your problem is you fall in line obviously with what your told from mainstream media. My opinion is not unique. Unless you are part time espn scout who thinks When you wear crimson you must be great. I’m sure next year you say it’s hindsight on Henry. No it’s reality. Every Bama backs runs like Nick Sabin is controlling them with his xbox. Straight line without showing any vision our decision making. Over and over again the guys you obviously listen too say wow what a great player. Tell me why Trent was a great player in Bama? He the exact same player now than he was then. If you can see why he isn’t good now why couldn’t you see it then. People love Trent because he tested amazing and he was Bama productive.

        I didn’t hate Mark in school and in terms of Bama backs I liked him more than all but lacey i wouldn’t have taken him in first either.

        Your talking like 10 backs went first round. Trent is only one highly sought after. All the other were considered second round our third. Mark was somewhat a reach in the first. So unless you’re a Bama fan I think the reality had been people having doubts about them.

  • Ron

    Where is Ervin from SJSU

  • Ron

    Raider’s need a Darren sproels or Dave megget RB who is elusive and has good rec skills, a third dwn back who creates mismatches

    • calling all toasters

      So… Roy Helu?

  • BobKatopolis

    “Dixon had the second-highest elusive rating in the class, and the only
    player he trailed was UCLA’s Perkins at 114.7. He led the draft class
    with a rushing grade of +29.0, averaging…” Wait… who led the draft class with a rushing grade of +29? The subject of the first sentence is Dixon. The subject in the second sentence appears to be Dixon also… but it isn’t.

  • Ned

    Thoughts on Jonathan Williams? Probably would have been in the Round 2 discussion without his injury. Was just as productive as Collins when the two of them were splitting the workload at Arkansas. Think he’s going to be a tremendous value for someone in the round 3-5 range

  • Brian D

    Still can’t believe Henry won the Heisman over Christian McCaffrey. Anyone who has watched both players know this is a joke. Switch their stats and Henry would have won in the biggest landslide in the history of the Heisman.