Running Back prospects to keep an eye on during the 2014 college football season

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A few weeks back I began preparation in earnest for the 2015 NFL Draft. I wrote about a number of quarterbacks who fit what the Saints are looking for in a quarterback and who could one day take the reins of the New Orleans offense.

I then promised that I’d follow that up with a look at running backs who could fit nicely in the Saints offense in 2015. It only took six weeks, but we’re here.

Quickly, it’s important to note that with the Saints currently only having one running back under contract for 2015 (assuming they cut Pierre Thomas after this year, which sadly seems likely), the draft—and undrafted free agency—figures to yield one or two of the Saints’ stable of rotational running backs in 2015.

Without further ado, here are a few that I’ve had a chance to scout thus far, and who are worthy of consideration for the Saints in 2015.


Shifty, Flex Backs

If the Saints want to find a new Reggie Bush, Darren Sproles-type back, here are a few who currently project in that mold.

 

Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin, RS Jr.

NCAA Football: Capital One Bowl-Wisconsin vs South Carolina

Gordon looks a bit small “on the hoof” but plays bigger and faster than his measurables indicate. He’s a home run hitter who will get his first chance to be the primary ball-carrier this year at Wisconsin.

With the Badgers he’s lined up in the slot and been used similarly to brand new Saint Brandin Cooks as an end-around specialist. But he’s also lined up in the backfield and hammered the ball down the throat of the defense.

Either way his speed, quickness and agility stand out. This is a running back class with some big play guys. None of them, though, possess the breakaway speed of Gordon.

Still, Gordon is a strong runner, despite regularly playing with a high pad level. More needs to be seen from Gordon as a pass protector and receiver at the college level. As of now, though, he projects as a second- or third-round pick.

That could be the perfect spot for the Saints to find a playmaking rotational back for 2015.

 

Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska, Sr.

NCAA Football: Gator Bowl-Nebraska vs Georgia

When looking at Gordon, the average scout would call him small. But as a contrast, Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah is a shrimp. His listed 5’8” height is probably generous.

But like a former New Orleans Saint, the diminutive height does not prevent Abdullah from playing big. He is more than willing to hit a run up the gut, while “pinching” the hole effectively to then get outside where his natural speed can take over.

In Nebraska’s offense Abdullah has experience lining up in the slot—sometimes four yards or less from the tackle (guess that makes him a tight end)—and catching the ball out of the backfield. He has good hands and projects as a Pierre Thomas type of receiver at the next level.

Abdullah is probably a fifth- or sixth-round prospect at this point.

 

Tevin Coleman, Indiana, Jr.

NCAA Football: Indiana at Michigan State

Tevin Coleman looks an awful lot like Demarco Murray, which means he looks a lot like Reggie Bush. With that similar body type and running style, it should come as no surprise that Coleman projects currently as a playmaker.

His open field speed is the closest thing in this class (that I’ve seen as of yet) to Melvin Gordon. Like Abdullah and Gordon, it appears that Coleman will have little trouble lining up all over the field to catch the football and make plays in the passing game.

As of this moment, Coleman projects as a fourth- round prospect.

 

John Crockett, North Dakota State, Sr.

NCAA Football: FCS Semifinals-New Hampshire at North Dakota State

It’s not exactly a secret that Sean Payton and the Saints’ front office excel at bringing and developing small school running backs. Of the undrafted free agent backs to make the Saints’ roster in the Payton era—and four is a very high number—only one of them came from a power conference. Heck, only one of them came from Division I.

On the surface Crocket isn’t the same type of back who has made it with the Saints. The Saints have a type—a beastly, stout athletic player who would just as soon run through you as around you.

There are plenty of backs in this class who fit that description. But remember, the Saints will likely be looking for two backs in next years’ offseason. They can afford to find one who doesn’t necessarily fit the mold—plus the most recent version, Timothy Flanders, doesn’t fit the usual mold either.

Crockett had a long of 71 yards in 2013 and averaged 6.7 yards per carry. He also has some experience as a kick returner.

Most impressively, he looks ready to handle the rigors of NFL pass protection, and can more than hold his own as a receiver.