As we wrap up our potential draftee segments, we touch on a position that is by no means “needy,” but is still a major question mark. In 2015 Seattle Seahawks fans saw Thomas Rawls explode onto the scene as an undrafted free-agent who snuck onto the roster and made an immediate impact. With Marshawn Lynch being injured and heading towards retirement, Rawls had an opportunity as Seattle’s feature back. However, after 13 games and an 830-yard season in which the rookie averaged 5.6 yards per carry, his season was cut short by a broken ankle.
Rawls cementing his place as starter in Seattle faded quickly with early injuries in 2016. Christine Michael took over the lead role but was released midway through the season with the return of Rawls. Rawls struggled after returning (except for one glorious playoff game against the Detroit Lions), averaging just 3.2 yards per carry on 109 carries in nine games.
C.J. Prosise had a very promising showing in six games, including helping the Seahawks defeat the New England Patriots in Foxborough, but was injured himself the game following the Patriots. Prosise missed the rest of the year.
The Seahawks are entertaining free agents such as Adrian Peterson and Jamaal Charles, among others. For stability, Seattle may choose to sign one of these players instead trying to help the running back group from the National Football League draft. However, if the Seahawks do choose to take a running back or two in this year’s draft, here are ten college prospects who could challenge Rawls and Prosise for their jobs.
1. Alvin Kamara, Tennessee
Kamara is not the biggest or strongest runner in this draft, but he may be the most elusive. Prosise showed many Seahawks fans last season that a power-runner is not the only style of ball-carrier that can be effective in Seattle’s system. Kamara may be an even better pure finesse runner than Prosise. He has elite speed and lateral quickness to beat defenders. He possesses unmatched acceleration going down-hill, and reaches top speed in seemingly instantly. He is unafraid of contact and is bigger than he appears on screen. He is an outstanding route-runner and pass-catcher out of the backfield, as well as effective special teams returner. One aspect he needs to work on is his ball security.
2. Joe Mixon, Oklahoma
Any person who has paid attention to college football over the last year knows the talent that Mixon would bring to any N.F.L. team. However, the question everyone is asking is whether that talent outweighs his sometimes-troubling past. Mixon was involved in an altercation in which he punched a woman in the face after she pushed him in 2014. He was suspended and redshirted by the University of Oklahoma the entirety of that season. An outstanding athlete, Mixon has the build of an N.F.L.-ready running-back. He has all dimensions to his game; running, catching and blocking. At six-foot-one 226 pounds, he also can run a 4.5-second forty-yard dash, which is nothing short of exceptional.
3. Wayne Gallman, Clemson
Gallman is one of the ball-carriers that does not necessarily do anything perfectly, but he does everything well. In short-yardage situations, he can put his head down and power through for the first down. In open-field runs, he can outrun defenders. A tough and physical runner, he is still more than a grinder. He is the type of back that tends to make it in today’s N.F.L. He is also an underrated pass-catcher and blocker. He needs to work on keeping his pad level low when running up the middle at the next level, though.
4. Samaje Perine, Oklahoma
One of the most physical runners in this year’s draft, Perine will add immediate production to any team that selects him. Keeping his balance and always through contact, the five-foot-ten runner uses his 235-pound frame to his advantage and simply bullies defenders. He lacks much elusiveness and ideal breakaway speed, but uses his powerful style to burst through holes and scare defenders into missing tackles. Perine will need to work on his pass-blocking technique in the next level, however.
5. D’Onta Foreman, Texas
Foreman is an outstanding athlete who has size and strength. He is a bit taller than six-feet and weighs 233 pounds. He is still surprisingly shifty and elusive for his build, but often tries to use that ability too often. Most teams would like to see him put his shoulder down and bull over defenders instead of attempt to go around them when one is a back the size of Foreman. He has good awareness of where he is on the field, and converts most of his short-yardage opportunities. He needs to improve on pass-protection immensely, as that may be his biggest struggle. Ball-security is also clear issue as Foreman committed seven fumbles in 2016.
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6. Jamaal Williams, BYU
Leading BYU in rushing each of his four seasons at the school, Williams is a proven starter. He is very comparable in strength and build to his future N.F.L. counterparts, and runs with determination between the tackles. He has patience as he takes the handoff, but is also very decisive and quick about where he wants to go. Able to finesse defenders with jukes and spins, but he never overdoes it to get himself in a stagnant motion. He protects the football very well, having just five fumbles the entirety of his college career. Williams took a year off in 2015 after his junior season for personal reasons, but returned in 2016 and recorded a career high 1,375 yards on the ground. He has some balance issues when running up the middle, as he often leans too far forward. Straight ahead speed may be a concern as he clocked just a 4.59 40-yard dash at the combine.
7. Kareem Hunt, Toledo
A compact bowling ball of a running back, Hunt packs 216 pounds into a five-foot-ten frame. Despite his weight and shorter build, he maintains great agility, but not so much elite speed. Clocking a 4.62 at the combine, Hunt possesses decent acceleration getting to the edge but struggles to recover his momentum after evading a would-be tackler. He is effective at finding holes on the outside, and has overall excellent vision. He is a good pass-catcher out of the backfield, and shows great elusiveness after the catch. He needs to get better when running inside as that is where many N.F.L. teams would want a back of his size and speed to go a majority of the time.
8. Donnel Pumphrey, San Diego State
One of the most historic ball-carriers in FBS history, Pumphrey rushed for 2,133 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2016. That was enough to lead the nation last year. Pumphrey shows outstanding breakaway speed and acceleration despite only showing a 4.48-forty at the N.F.L. combine. The issue with Pumphrey is his size: he is just five-foot-eight and weighs 176 pounds. It would be an amazing feat to see his raw talent and football skills lead him to a successful career at the next level. A large gamble for any N.F.L. team despite immense production, but he could pay off big.
9. James Conner, Pittsburgh
Perhaps the most fearless runner in this year’s draft, Conner shows an outstanding knack for being flat out unafraid of defenders. Not only that but he makes many defenders scared of him. He is known for his leadership, which helps his stock when a team is looking for a starter. He shows good speed getting around the edge and turning the corner. He is an elite power rusher that can overpower seemingly anyone who attempts to take him down. Sometimes Conner relies too much on blockers, leading to ineffective edge runs. He often lacks vision on inside runs and allows himself to sit in gaps too long. If Conner can translate his truck-like style of play into the N.F.L., he could have a very promising career.
10. Jeremy McNichols, Boise State
An excellent change-of-direction runner, McNichols is another small back who shows N.F.L.-level potential. He runs with 4.49 speed, and gets to the edge well with acceleration quicker than most defenders can compete with. He will likely encounter issues down the road with durability as his lower body strength does not seem on par with N.F.L. runners. His pass catching ability out of the backfield makes his stock rise a bit as he is a multi-dimensional player.