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NFL Draft

Building The Best Running Back In NFL

  • The Draft Network
  • May 17, 2020
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Running backs aren’t held in the highest esteem; many chalk it up to running backs don’t matter — at all.

I don't fully believe that, but there has been plenty of talk of running backs value and which traits matter more towards where the NFL is going.

With the mold and roles of rushers around the league more diverse than ever, there are a plethora of rushers who should be considered elite with certain traits for certain usages.

But what if we took every running back in the league and threw the best together in a lab to create the almighty rusher teams would never have to take off the field and never have to worry about using?

Here's what that running back would look like.

Lower Body/Speed: Saquon Barkley, New York Giants

For this entire list we could honestly just have some combination of Saquon Barkley and Christian McCaffrey and get out of here in time to beat traffic to make it back home in time for the last two episodes of The Last Dance. But that wouldn't be any fun (the first part, at least).

Barkley's lower body truly mind-boggling; it looks like he has redwood tree trunks for legs. Normally when that’s the case, the rusher is a true bruiser who uses power as about their only trump card when going up against defenders. But somehow Barkley uses those massive legs as speed components too.

His 4.4-second 40-yard dash and 41-inch vertical jump show his long speed and explosiveness, and you better believe that shows up on his tape.

Upper Body/Stiff Arm: Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans

Derrick Henry was stiff-arming people into the ground well before the unbelievable run you see below, but with three devastating stiff arms in one play, it was the best of what Henry offers.

Henry is basically a defensive lineman who somehow has amazing balance through contact, so much so that he embarrasses those on the defensive line instead.

Core/Balance: Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints

There are very few who have the kind of contact balance Alvin Kamara does. Even at Tennessee, my favorite trait of his was the fact that he truly was like a pinball with defenders. It was as if he was wearing the Black Panther suit that takes hits from bad guys and disperses it right back at them.

Kamara knows how to find his center so well. His core strength, in that regard, is nearly unmatched. If a defender arm tackles him, Kamara won't go down. If a defender tries to just lower the shoulder, Kamara will take the hit and keep going. Unless someone physically stops his feet from moving, he'll be by them in a second.

Feet/Agility: Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers

If we had to take one attribute from Christian McCaffrey's game, for this exercise, it would be his fancy feet.

Whether it's moves in the open field or route running out of the backfield, very few defenders can seems to keep up with McCaffrey's precise movements. If a team puts a safety or linebacker on him, chances are its defense is cooked from the start. He puts opponents in such a tough position because they really have to have one of their fastest, best coverage players watching him at all times — and not many teams have that luxury.

He's made a living out of breaking ankles.

Hands: Austin Ekeler, Los Angeles Chargers

McCaffrey could have easily been the choice for hands. He has some of the best, most used hands out of the backfield. But Austin Ekeler gets the nod here.

Ekeler was the Chargers' pass-down specialist in 2019, and he did not disappoint. He caught the second-most passes for any running back last year behind McCaffrey. Ekeler's 108 targets and 92 catches showed a high volume rate, and his 85% catch rate showed reliability with that heavy load.

Ekeler was a natural in that role, and he deserves the shoutout.

Vision: Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys

Even going back to his Ohio State days, Ezekiel Elliott has been able to see the future of trench movement like Dr. Strange viewing alternate realities before fighting Thanos in “Avengers: Infinity War.”

Ohio State did a lot of pulling and split zone work when Elliott was there, but the movement and organized chaos never seemed to phased him; he thrived in it. That has not changed in the NFL. Elliott has never averaged less than four yards per carry in a single season, and in 2017, he even averaged 4.1 yards per carry in only 10 games.

Elliott often knows the best possible result in a play, even if it isn't a home run. Not only does he know how to hit the lanes with the biggest payoff, he knows when and how to take the yards in front of him and live to run another down.

Pass block: Jamaal Williams, Green Bay Packers

Jamaal Williams came on strong as a pass blocker during the 2018 season. He not only has good core strength to take on blocks, but he also has the mindset. Williams will often throw his body at defenders with far more size and momentum than what he has and will stand his ground as best he can regardless of the odds of the outcome.

There are a handful of other running backs who could be in this category. Mark Ingram, Le'Veon Bell and Nick Chubb come to mind. But I'll give the nod to Williams to recognize the selflessness of his game.

Author's note: it feels super weird not having Nick Chubb anywhere on this list. He's in the conversation for the categories of lower body, upper body and pass blocking. Didn't have him as one of the choices, but wanted to point out that he easily could have been in many categories.

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