NFL teams drafted two running backs in the first round last year. The St. Louis Rams made Todd Gurley the 10th overall selection, and the San Diego Chargers selected Melvin Gordon No. 15.
That followed two years when no running backs were selected in the first round as the NFL has devalued the position.
But Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott is good enough that he won’t wait long on draft day.
“He needs refinement in a few areas on the field, but it’s tough to find glaring weaknesses in his running style,” CBS Sportsline draft analyst Dane Brugler said. “Elliott fits any offensive scheme, which is why he is the top-rated player at his position and one of the top-five talents in the 2016 class.”
Elliott began his career at fullback as a Pee Wee player. He didn’t stay there long.
“I was 7. When you’re 7 you run a wishbone, so fullback is a fullback, but he’s not really a true I-formation fullback,” Elliott said. “I was one of the bigger guys who could run, so he played me at fullback. That was just my first year of football. After that I got moved to halfback.”
Elliott, whose parents played athletics at Missouri, rushed for 3,961 yards and 43 touchdowns on 592 carries in his three-year career. He had back-to-back 1,800-yard seasons to send him off to the NFL.
He also had 58 receptions for 449 yards and a touchdown.
“I think the thing that sets me apart is my versatility,” Elliott said. “I’m a guy that can play three downs. You don’t have to take me off the field. I value blocking more than anything. I obviously love to run the ball, and I think I have great hands out of the backfield.”
The former fullback is a willing blocker, which is half the battle.
“When I first got to Ohio State, I realized I wasn’t going to be the biggest or fastest guy,” Elliott said. “I was only 17, playing with a bunch of 22- and 21-year-old guys, so I was trying to find something that would set me apart, and that day I realized it was just effort. Not everyone is willing to go out there and play with a lot of effort. And blocking is another thing that running backs aren’t really willing to do. That’s a part of my game. I really made it important to me to become very good at.”
Ezekiel Elliott is the clear-cut player at the top of the position. Alabama’s Derrick Henry will follow in the second round, and Utah’s Devontae Booker also could find a home in the second round. But the sweet spot for a running back in this class will fall in rounds 3-5. It’s not an overly strong group, but it’s a solid class with players such as Notre Dame’s C.J. Prosise and Arkansas’ Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams.
The Cowboys missed DeMarco Murray despite Darren McFadden producing the second 1,000-yard season of his career. They discussed a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles to bring Murray back to Dallas, but instead ended up signing free agent Alfred Morris. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones expects McFadden to start and carry the load this season, but he turns 29 this summer and has stayed healthy enough to play all 16 games in only two of his eight seasons. Lance Dunbar returns as the third-down back after tearing his the ACL and MCL in his left knee in Week 4.
Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio State, 6-0, 225, 4.47: He had back-to-back 1,800-yard seasons.
Derrick Henry, Alabama, 6-3, 247, 4.54: He ran for 2,219 yards and 28 touchdowns in 2015 and won the Heisman Trophy.
Devontae Booker, Utah, 5-11, 219, NA: He had 2,773 yards and 21 touchdowns in two seasons, but is coming off left knee surgery.
Kenneth Dixon, Louisiana Tech, 5-10, 215, 4.56: He had 4,480 career rushing yards and 72 touchdowns.
C.J. Prosise, Notre Dame, 6-0, 220, 4.48: A one-year starter, he rushed for 1,032 yards and 11 touchdowns last season.
Keenan Reynolds, Navy, 5-10, 191, 4.56: He was a productive college running back, with three 1,000-yard seasons.
Top Texas ties
Jonathan Williams, Arkansas, 5-11, 220, 4.63: The Allen product could go as high as the third round despite missing last season with a foot injury.
Daniel Lasco, California, 6-0, 209, 4.46: The Woodlands product, projected as a fifth-rounder, missed games with hip and ankle injuries in a disappointing senior season.
DeAndre Washington, Texas Tech, 5-8, 204, 4.49: Projected as a sixth-rounder, had back-to-back 1,000-yard campaigns to end his career.
Aaron Green, TCU, 5-11, 203, 4.58: Green, projected as a seventh-round pick, rushed for 1,272 yards and 11 touchdowns last season.
Tra Carson, Texas A&M, 5-11, 227, 4.54: Could be a late-round pick, rushed for 1,165 yards and seven touchdowns on 242 carries last season despite a big toe injury that required off-season surgery.
Source: Heights, weights and 40 times were compiled from CBS Sportsline draft analyst Dane Brugler.
April 28-30, Auditorium Theatre, Chicago
Schedule: Round 1, 7 p.m. April 28; Rounds 2-3, 6 p.m. April 29; Rounds 4-7, 11 a.m. April 30.
TV: ESPN and NFL Network.
1. Los Angeles Rams (From Tennessee)-
2. Philadelphia (From Cleveland)
3. San Diego
7. San Francisco
8. Cleveland (From Miami through Philadelphia)-
9. Tampa Bay
10. New York Giants
12. New Orleans
13. Miami (From Philadelphia)
15. Tennessee (From LA Rams)
20. New York Jets
27. Green Bay
28. Kansas City
Note: New England forfeited 29th overall pick.