2015 NFL Draft Rankings: Running Backs

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Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Day One Starters or Contributors with Starter Upside

Duke Johnson, Miami

Anyone who follows me on Twitter knows that I’m a huge Duke Johnson fan, so it will probably surprise you to see him here instead of the top tier.  As it is, I don’t think Johnson will be able to handle starting from day one and his limitations in protection will probably make teams wary to use him full time.  Otherwise, Johnson has the speed and quickness to break games wide open with a compact running style that minimizes the amount of space he’ll need to create yardage.

Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska

Like Johnson, Abdullah has some pretty glaring issues with protection that by itself probably wouldn’t knock him out of that first tier.  No player has better burst in this draft class, but very few have bigger questions with ball security than Ameer Abdullah.  While he improved in each of his seasons at Nebraska, even at his lowest fumble rate teams will be concerned.  Abdullah is a quick, not fast player, that likely will keep teams like the Lions from picking him early, but whoever drafts him will get someone who can help their team from day one.

Jay Ajayi, Boise State

While Todd Gurley and Tevin Coleman got good news from their combine rechecks, the same cannot be said for Jay Ajayi of Boise St.

The Broncos standout running back can do everything well, from rushing to receiving to blocking.  He doesn’t really do anything great, and didn’t stand out in any one area.  He had a tendency to bounce rushes outside even when the plays were designed inside, which might make some question his field vision, but it wasn’t generally enough to keep him from being productive.  My comp for Jay Ajayi throughout the draft season has been a more athletic Joique Bell, as their running styles are almost identical, and it’s a shame his medicals didn’t check out.

David Johnson, Northern Iowa

Any time you have a small school stand out at a skill position, there are going to be questions, and David Johnson fills that quota for the 2015 NFL Draft.  After tearing up the combine, teams likely went straight back to the tape for David Johnson and they probably liked what they saw.  Like Tevin Coleman and Jay Ajayi, Johnson can do pretty much everything well, but getting up to NFL speed after facing bottom tier competition will take some time and patience from a dedicated staff. 

More from Lions Draft

Jeremy Langford, Michigan State

After posting the best 40 time for running backs at the combine, many fans were salivating over the idea of bringing in a local prospect to lead the Lions rushing attack.  Jeremy Langford doesn’t really win with speed, though, so it was kind of an odd reaction.  That doesn’t mean he isn’t good, though.  Jeremy Langford isn’t the prospect that Leveon Bell was, but that shouldn’t detract from how good he was in his own right.  In a rotation, Langford could have a big day one impact and should be starting somewhere in the NFL by year 2.

Javorius Allen, Stanford

Buck Allen is one of those prospects that scouts seem divided on.   While some view him as a hidden gem in this class, some think the favorable system he played in hid his flaws.  He graded out as only just above average athletically, mostly due to a poor bench score, but his athleticism and size will get him a spot in a team’s rotation out of the gate.   I’m in the camp that thinks he can capitalize on that kind of chance, and put his versatility to good use for a team for a long time.

Next: Tier 3 - The Contributors