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2017 NFL Draft: Analyzing every potential running back prospect for the Patriots

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With the NFL Draft a matter of weeks away now, it’s time to take a look at one of the biggest needs for the Patriots coming into the event: running back. We will take a look at some of the prospects that could fit what the reigning Super Bowl champions are looking for and why they would fit as well.

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While it may seem like the Patriots have made moves this off-season to improve their running back depth, it remains one of their biggest needs coming into the NFL Draft. They have James White and Dion Lewis already under contract while re-signing Brandon Bolden and D.J. Foster this off-season. Along with those four, the Patriots added former Bengals running back Rex Burkhead this off-season on a one-year, $3.15 million dollar contract (that included a solid $1.1 million dollar signing bonus). Burkhead profiles as a running back capable of handling early down work while being able to catch out of the backfield and contribute on special teams. While the team is five deep at running back right now, there are reasons as to why they still need help at the position.

For starters, the Patriots are without lead running back LeGarrette Blount, who finished with a league-leading 18 rushing touchdowns this past season. Various reports indicate that there is interest between Blount and the Patriots to work out a new contract. But recently, a report from the Boston Herald’s Jeff Howe indicated that Blount has “no plans” to sign the proposed contract offer from the Patriots. So there continues to be a need for someone to take over the role Blount had occupied for the past couple of seasons.

The other major reason why the Patriots need depth at the running back position is because of their contract situation(s) with the running backs on roster. Burkhead, Foster and Bolden signed one-year contract deals this off-season while White and Lewis are playing under the last year of their contracts. So as it stands, the Patriots have no running backs on roster at the moment signed beyond 2017. It isn’t out of the question that the team attempts to re-sign/extend one or more of their current running backs during the 2017 season or next off-season, but it is still a problem right now. Drafting a rookie running back provides a cheap and younger option under contract control for four seasons.

With that being said, let’s take a quick look at the history of running backs drafted by the Patriots since Bill Belichick took over as head coach in 2000. The team has taken eight running backs with only three coming in the past six drafts (Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen in 2011 and White in 2014). Of those eight, six of them have been selected in round three or later (where the Patriots are slated to pick for the first time in the 2017 NFL Draft). Those six are Ridley (2011, round three), Justise Hairston (2007, round six), Cedric Cobbs (2004, round four), Antwoine Womack (2002, round seven) and J.R. Redmond (2000, round three). So it’s not crazy to think the Patriots could take a running back in a loaded class considering they haven’t taken one in the past two drafts as well.

Now finally, here are 10 running back prospects who could very well hear their name called during the draft being drafted by the Patriots.

D’Onta Foreman

School: Texas

Height & Weight: 6’0”, 233 lbs

  • Foreman is likely the prospect on this list on that will get drafted first. However, in such a deep class at running back, it’s possible Foreman may slip into day two and even into round three. The leading rusher in college football in 2016 (2,028 yards) had quite the breakout season. Along with his 15 rushing touchdowns, Foreman was awarded the Doak Walker Award as the nation’s best running back. Despite his accomplishments, there has been a wide range of opinions as to Foreman’s prospects in the NFL.
  • NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein says Foreman has “outstanding athleticism for a big runner” and “proved he can shoulder a heavy workload while cranking out consistent production from week to week”.
  • CBSSports.com’s Dane Brugler mentions Foreman “struggles in the mental of pass blocking” while highlighting that he has “strong ball security concerns with six fumbles in 2016, averaging one fumble every 55 offensive touches as a junior”.
  • Foreman has met with the Patriots at length during draft season, reportedly meeting with him at the NFL Draft Combine and at Texas’ Pro Day.
  • SteelersDepot.com’s Alex Kozora even said that Foreman “compares well to LeGarrette Blount.”
  • Overall, Foreman seems like a strong candidate (if drafted) to fit right into the “Blount role” that the Patriots need as an early-down power back who can set the tone on offense.

Samaje Perine

School: Oklahoma

Height & Weight: 5’11”, 233 lbs

  • Another productive college running back, Perine finished with 1,060 rushing yards to go with 12 touchdowns while splitting work with teammate Joe Mixon in 2016. The highlight of his college career may be rushing for 427 yards (school record) and five touchdowns in 2014. Like Foreman, Perine is a larger back who wins with power and the ability to play in between the tackles.
  • NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein said of Perine, “Short yardage winner and doesn't have much wasted motion as a runner.”
  • An AFC National Scout also said this to Zierlein about Perine: “I love Perine. Great kid, hard worker, reliable. He's a team-first player who will fit into a committee approach or can handle all the work.”
  • Zierlein also said that Perine “Could have troubles getting to the edge against NFL speed.” and mentioned his reliance on being a bruiser with “very little ballerina” to his game.
  • Perine will likely be picked within the top 10 running backs but could slip into the fourth round. His high character is something the Patriots would likely look for as well. While his play style may come as one-dimensional as a “bruiser”, it is certainly the Patriots are looking for right now.
  • Be sure to read up more on Perine as PatsPulpit’s own Michael McDermott profiled him back in February.

Kareem Hunt

School: Toledo

Height & Weight: 5’10”, 216 lbs

  • A highly productive and even prolific “small school” running back, Hunt is an intriguing prospect. He garnered first team All-MAC honors as a senior with almost 1,900 yards from scrimmage and 11 total touchdowns. Hunt was a work-horse while at Toledo, racking up nearly 800 carries (782) for just under 5,000 career rushing yards (4,945) and 44 rushing touchdowns to go with 73 catches for 555 receiving yards and a touchdown. In this loaded running back class, Hunt profiles as a potential three-down back at the next level.
  • According to Pro Football Focus, Hunt forced 98 missed tackles in 2016, second best in the nation. They also praised his ability when taking contact, “Outstanding balance through contact, able to stay up through hits that bring down most RBs.”
  • NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein did raise concerns over Hunt’s play style as he said Hunt “Gets too cute in the hole when run comes to a close. Looks to spin rather than finish with authority. “
  • CBS Sports (as of 4/10/17) has Hunt ranked as their number seven running back and has him going in the third or fourth round.
  • The Patriots have certainly done their homework on Hunt, who have reportedly met with the running back both at the NFL Combine and at Toledo’s Pro Day.
  • Hunt is picking up steam in the draft community and has the potential to be picked before day two is over with. The Patriots have two third round picks, so it’s possible he could be available at pick 96 (their second of two third round picks). His three-down versatility could definitely appeal to the Patriots, who always looks to get the most out of their players.
  • For more, check out our own Michael McDermott’s scouting report on Hunt here.

Brian Hill

School: Wyoming

Height & Weight: 6’1”, 219 lbs

  • Hill comes from the University of Wyoming, which is even more “small school” than Toledo. But like Kareem Hunt, Hill is coming off a very productive 2016 in which he had over 1,800 (1,860) rushing yards and 22 touchdowns on 349 rushing attempts (5.3 yards per carry). While he boasts incredible numbers with rushing the ball, Hill has seen his receiving stats dip from his freshman season (13 receptions, 204 yards) to his 2016 junior season (eight receptions, 64 yards). Hill boasts the size and attributes to be an early-down running back in the NFL but has questions about whether he can play third down effectively.
  • While he may not have the receiving ability needed to be an every third down player, he did tell Sporting News’ Eric Galko in March that, “I take pride in my blocking...I didn’t want him (quarterback Josh Allen) to take too many hits.
  • One thing that stands out when watching film on Brian Hill is that he is not afraid to make contact with defenders. Whether it is fitting through a tight running lane or hitting a defender at the second level, Hill doesn’t back away from hitting his opponent.
  • A weakness for Hill may be his inability to be productive outside the tackles as NEPatriotsDraft.com’s Mike Gerkin said Hill “has the physical makeup I look for in a between the tackles runner” and “had some success running outside the tackles in college, but that will not be the case in the NFL”.
  • Overall, Hill is a very physical running back who seems ticketed for an early-down, inside-the-tackles role in the NFL. He only had five career fumbles on 816 touches in college, so he has solid ball security. Hill will likely be drafted on day three, giving the Patriots the option to sit on taking someone later in the draft if Hill is a target for them.

Wayne Gallman

School: Clemson

Height & Weight: 6’0”, 215 lbs

  • On a championship winning Clemson team featuring Deshaun Watson and Mike Williams, Gallman may not have gotten the same attention as his teammates. Gallman was a starter for Clemson ever since his redshirt freshman season, finishing with 3,429 career rushing yards and 34 touchdowns. He has finished with at least 1,100 yards rushing and 13 touchdowns over his final two seasons with at least 20 receptions and 150 yards over all three of his collegiate career.
  • NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein spoke highly of Gallman’s effort on runs, saying he “runs with plus effort every time he touches the ball.”
  • While Gallman put up decent receiving numbers in college, Gallman may not be ready to be a three-down back in the NFL on day one. Walter Football’s Charlie Campbell said “Gallman will need to be tutored on blitz protection before he can truly be a three-down starter as a pro.”
  • Gallman isn’t the quickest running back in this class (ran a 4.60 at NFL Combine) but can “gain his top speed in a hurry”, per NFLDraftScout.com’s Dane Brugler.
  • Gallman isn’t expected to drop to day three as he is very much in third round talks right now. A player who gives it his all on the field and has a winning pedigree, Gallman could be someone the Patriots try to scoop up with one of their first draft picks.

James Conner

School: Pittsburgh

Height & Weight: 6’1”, 233 lbs

  • Conner brings a terrific story of perservance to this draft class. Diagnosed in late 2015 with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, Conner overcame cancer and returned in time for the 2016 season. He would finish with 1,092 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns on 216 attempts (5.1 yards per carry) along with 302 receiving yards and four touchdowns on 21 receptions.
  • Conner’s running style can be described with two words: brute force. He is known for his physical running style that allows him to take contact head-on and win. His ability to stay balanced and explosive through contact along with being able to finish runs by dropping his shoulder to gain extra yards makes him an ideal early-down tone-setter.
  • Not only can he run the ball, he can catch out of the backfield and is known to have a mean streak in pass protection. NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein said of Conner’s ability on third downs, “Willing blocker in pass pro and showed ability to come out of backfield in wheel routes, swing passes and outs.”
  • Zierlein also made sure to point out Conner’s “mental toughness” and “heart, work ethic” as positives.
  • However, Conner ran a 4.65 forty yard dash at the NFL Combine and did not test well in agility drills. His physical play style is certainly welcomed in the NFL, but it begs the question if that is all he is as a running back.
  • Conner’s pedigree (work ethic, team captain, perservance) makes him someone that would be a target by the Patriots. Not expected to be picked until mid day three, Conner could prove to be a steal for whatever team does choose him (which very well could be the Patriots).

De’Angelo Henderson

School: Coastal Carolina

Height & Weight: 5’7”, 208 lbs

  • At only 5’7”, Henderson is certainly one of the smallest NFL Draft prospects in this entire class, let alone among running backs. Despite that, Henderson was a very successful college running back at Coastal Carolina, finishing with 4,036 rushing yards and 52(!) rushing touchdowns over his last three seasons. Don’t let his size fool you, Henderson can certainly ball.
  • NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein said of Henderson’s play style, “Runs bigger than his listed size. Unafraid to drop the pad level and get it on with would-be tackler.”
  • Zierlein also talked about Henderson’s “home run ability” by talking about him as a “Good pass catcher with long speed and open-field shiftiness to hit the big play out of the backfield.”
  • Henderson’s size does raise some concerns as he missed three games with a shoulder injury in 2016 and may be wearing down after having 818 touches over the past three seasons (none being on special teams, either).
  • CBSSports.com compared Henderson to former Patriots (and fellow small running back) Danny Woodhead because his ability to play despite size limitations and be a solid pass catcher.
  • Overall, Henderson is a solid running back prospect despite size limitations and facing “lesser” competition by playing at Coastal Carolina. He has a strong chance of getting drafted, but it wouldn’t be before mid day three. As we saw with current Patriots running back Dion Lewis (listed at 5’8”) and Woodhead, New England isn’t afraid to take a chance on smaller running backs, making Henderson a candidate to be the next in line.

Jamaal Williams

School: BYU

Height & Weight: 6’0”, 212 lbs

  • Williams come into draft season as a bit under the radar. He finished his 2016 season with 1,375 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns on 234 attempts (5.87 yards per carry) for Brigham Young despite missing three games because of an ankle injury. Williams’ collegiate career is an interesting one during his time at BYU. As for his ability on the field, Williams has a lot of great attributes to his game.
  • Williams has a few moves up his arsenal, as NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein pointed out, “Uses his stiff arm as a weapon to escape tackles on an angle.” and “Has a functional spin move he uses to spin out of tackles and grind out a few extra yards.”
  • While Williams has the size and strength to be an early-down back, he has a ways to go before being discussed as a three-down back. Pro Football Focus says of Williams, “Little experience as a receiver out of the backfield in the passing game.” and “Will need some work on pass protection, but at least does attack and is physical with pass rushers. Shows potential as a pass blocker.”
  • Williams violated a few team rules while at BYU under their “Honor Code” that caused him to be suspended during his junior season. On top of that, he revealed to Bleacher Report’s Ty Dunne that he was forced to sit out the entire 2015 season due to violations of the Honor Code.
  • For Williams, he has the chance to make an impact on day one as an early-down thumper while he works on his third down skills. With the opening on the Patriots depth chart for a “true” early-down back, Williams could be a candidate on early day three.

Elijah McGuire

School: Louisana-Lafayette

Height & Weight: 5’10”, 214 lbs

  • Another “small school” prospect, McGuire was a three-year starter for the Ragin’ Cajuns. He finished with 4,309 rushing yards and 42 touchdowns along with 1,383 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns on 129 receptions. Arguably one of the better receiving running backs in this class, McGuire is not lacking by any means in the athleticism department either.
  • CBSSports.com’s Dane Brugler raved above McGuire’s receiving ability, saying “McGuire's most impressive trait might be his receiving ability with strong hand-eye coordination to pluck the ball out of the air and quickly create” and “He doesn't just run screens or take advantage of dump-offs, McGuire will run routes and occasionally line up in the slot as a receiver.”
  • McGuire’s decisiveness and occasional “over-patient” running style leave something to be desired as a runner. NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein mentioned that McGuire “runs too close to defensive linemen when open area is available.”
  • Another concern for McGuire is that, according to Zierlein, he never finished with more than five broken tackles in a season. It does raise some concerns about his ability to face contact and keep going.
  • All in all, McGuire has the chance to contribute on third downs in the NFL immediately. He is a polished pass catcher who can line up in the slot and/or catch out of the backfield. He also has experience on special teams as he has fielded 28 punt returns over the past three seasons as well. Both of those traits could be needs for the Patriots very soon. McGuire isn’t expected to be taken until the mid-to-late part of day three, giving New England time to grab him after making some upgrades at other positions.

Dalton Crossan

School: New Hampshire

Height & Weight: 5’11”, 204 lbs

  • Last but certainly not least, Dalton Crossan. Having played at local University of New Hampshire, Crossan has flown under the radar up until recently. According to NESN.com’s Doug Kyed, Crossan worked out recently for the Patriots. Since the news, the obvious New England connection has sparked some interest in the Wildcats running back.
  • Crossan impressed at his Pro Day, running a 4.46 forty yard dash and a 6.84 three-cone drill, according to Kyed. Because of his dual sport pedigree (played lacrosse at UNH), Crossan has been compared to current Patriots wide receiver Chris Hogan. In his 2016 season, Crossan finished with over 1,500 yards from scrimmage and 14 total touchdowns.
  • Crossan certainly doesn’t lack the adequate size to be a running back at the next level as he is nearly six feet tall and is over 200 lbs.
  • Not only did Crossan run the ball effectively during his time at UNH, he also caught the ball well and played special teams all four seasons as well. NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein had this to say about Crossan’s receiving skills: “Has experience running routes from the slot. Adequate run-after-catch ability. Natural pass-catcher possessing supple hands to pluck-and-tuck quickly.”
  • Crossan is a candidate to possibly transition to another position in the NFL (possible wide receiver) due to his limitations as a ball carrier. Regardless, his position versatility is certainly something that could appeal to the Patriots. He is not likely to be drafted but very well could be a priority undrafted free agent for the Patriots to give a shot in training camp.