In the 2016 NFL Draft, the Minnesota Vikings could find themselves in line for a running back. It would be incredibly surprising. . .though not totally out of the realm of possibility. . .that they take one early on. If they took a player in the later rounds, it could prove to be beneficial. In today's NFL, you can find a lot of instances of productive running backs being taken late in drafts, such as Arizona did with David Johnson this past year.
We'll take a look at half a dozen names to keep in mind for the Vikings on draft weekend at the running back position. We'll look at a couple of guys the purple and gold would have to take early on if they were interested in them, a couple of players currently projected in the mid rounds, and a couple of late round prospects.
Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio State
On most boards that I've seen across these vast interwebs of ours, Elliot is the consensus top running back available in this year's draft. He averaged an impressive 6.3 yards/carry for the Buckeyes in 2015, and found his way to the end zone 23 times. Given the inconsistency of the Buckeyes' passing attack last season, the fact that Elliott was able to be that productive speaks to the level of talent he has.
Elliott has everything you'd want out of a first round pick at the running back position. He's got good size, good speed, he's a fairly good receiver out of the backfield, and even showed above-average blocking skills when called upon. At this point in the pre-draft process, he appears to be the only player at the running back position that's a lock to be taken on the draft's first night.
Derrick Henry, Alabama
The 2015 Heisman Trophy winner, Henry was the centerpiece of the Crimson Tide's national championship squad. As far as running backs go, Henry is huge, standing 6'3" and weighing about 245 pounds. That definitely affects his running style, as he has a very upright running style. When compared to Elliott, who has good elusiveness, Henry is as much of a power back as you're going to find in this year's draft class. After he's done running over people, however, he has enough speed to get away from opposing defenders.
He's not a great pass-catching back, although that might be because he wasn't called upon to do much of that sort of thing for Nick Saban's team. What I'd worry about more than anything is the fact that Alabama ran Henry into the ground this season. In fifteen games this season, he carried the ball 395 times, including 146 in Alabama's final four games. That's a huge workload for anybody, but that could be mitigated somewhat if Henry spent his rookie campaign basically carrying Adrian Peterson's pads and not doing much else. Henry and Jerick McKinnon in a "thunder and lightning" sort of rotation in the future would be a sight to behold, but the Vikings would have to spend a first or second round pick on Henry to make that happen.
C.J. Prosise, Notre Dame
Prosise had a bit of a long, strange trip to the NFL Draft. He was recruited by Notre Dame as a safety, moved to wide receiver, and finished his career at running back. That means he's a bit of a "project" at running back, but the year he had in 2015 with the Irish shows that he has some decent potential as he continues to grow into the position.
Prosise averaged 6.6 yards/carry for Notre Dame this past season, and his wide receiving abilities showed a bit as he averaged nearly 12 yards/reception as well. He's got decent size at 6'1" and 220 pounds, but certainly isn't going to be a "plug and play" sort of player at this point. If the Vikings think they can show some patience with him and let him develop, he could be a solid contributor for this team down the track. He could sneak into Day 2 of the draft, and at this point I'd expect him to be a fourth rounder at worst.
Paul Perkins, UCLA
Perkins is one of the more dynamic running backs in this class, but has a running style that isn't going to fit every offense. He's not going to run over many people, but he's going to make a whole lot of guys miss. He's very patient, and has the vision to find the hole and get through it quickly. He also has good enough hands to stay on the field on third downs, though he might not be as good a pass blocker as you'd like.
Perkins' biggest drawback might be his size. He was listed by the Bruins as being 210 pounds, but he certainly doesn't look that big. That's where a lot of his issues with pass blocking come into play, and it's only likely to get worse against bigger NFL players. Still, there's a place for Perkins in the NFL. . .it might not necessarily be with Minnesota, but he's a name to keep in mind.
Tre Madden, USC
Our friends over at Vikings Territory have Madden listed as a "Super Sleeper," and for good reason. Madden is projected to be a late-round pick on most big boards, and has plenty of size and talent. He has speed and the ability to make players miss, and he's still learning the position, having started at USC as a linebacker before moving to running back.
As VT points out, the biggest issue with him is going to be his injury history. Madden missed two full seasons as a member of the Trojans (2012 with a knee injury and 2014 with turf toe), and has had nagging injuries that have kept him out of parts of other seasons as well. Still, the sixth or seventh round is where you take chances on a guy like Madden, and if he can somehow shake the injury bug, he could be a solid contributor.
Keenan Reynolds, Navy
Yeah, I'm throwing the Navy guy in here, because why not? Reynolds was a record-setting quarterback for the Midshipmen, including setting the Division I record for total touchdowns in a career with 85. Still, his best fit in the NFL is going to be at the running back position, and his ability to run with the football in college gives him at least a chance to make a transition to the running back position at the next level.
Still, he is going to be making the transition from quarterback to running back, which means he's going to be a significant project. He's going to have to learn pass blocking and catching the ball out of the backfield (he had only one college reception) as well as the nuances of being a running back at the next level. Even with all of that, I wouldn't be against the Vikings throwing a seventh-round pick at him. It's either someone takes a flier on him or Bill Belichick drafts him and has him making Pro Bowls in three years. We don't want that, do we?
But there are a half dozen names to keep in mind at the running back position as we move towards the Scouting Combine and the 2016 NFL Draft. Do you have any favorites that we didn't touch on?