NFL draft: Should NFL teams wait until 2017 for running backs? (Shutdown Corner)

We were struck by something a college scouting director said to us, off hand, a few weeks ago. “I like some of those [running backs in the 2016 draft],” he said, “but I might be inclined to wait. The next year could be really special.” The 2016 crop of running backs could include potential bell-cow backs such as Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott and Alabama’s Derrick Henry, if he chooses to come out. There are other potential impact runners such as Utah’s Devontae Booker, Notre Dame’s C.J. Prosise, Arkansas’ Alex Collins and UCLA’s Paul Perkins. [ Yahoo Daily Fantasy Football: First place wins $100K in our $500K contest for Week 10 ] But the 2017 class could be an all-timer. One reason Henry might declare after this season is because the following draft might include a who’s who of talented college backs: LSU’s Leonard Fournette, Florida State’s Dalvin Cook, Oregon’s Royce Freeman, Georgia’s Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, Pitt’s James Conner (assuming he doesn’t come out after tearing his ACL this season), Wisconsin’s Corey Clement and others. Elliott, Henry, Prosise, Collins and Perkins are all juniors and theoretically could return to school, too. “I’ll be very curious to see the underclassman list this year,” the director said. “Every spot, but definitely running back. [There are] some interesting decisions there.” His struggles against Bama notwithstanding, Fournette still has star written all over him. The next group of backs — especially Cook, Freeman and Chubb — has similar potential. So if you’re a team in need of a young runner, say the Dallas Cowboys … do you wait a year? Using the 2015 class as a barometer, we’ve seen one first-round pick (the St. Louis Rams’ Todd Gurley) become an almost immediate star — with next season appearing even more exciting given that he’ll be more than a full year removed from ACL surgery. Fellow first-rounder Melvin Gordon, who was taken five picks later, has struggled behind a banged-up San Diego Chargers offensive line and has yet to flash his big-play ability from college, also fumbling four times. Some of the lower-round backs, such as Buffalo Bills fifth-rounder Karlos Williams and the Seattle Seahawks’ Thomas Rawls (undrafted), have shown just as much immediate impact. The jury remains out on Detroit Lions second-rounder Ameer Abdullah, Arizona Cardinals third-rounder David Johnson and Atlanta Falcons third-rounder Tevin Coleman. Second-rounder T.J. Yeldon has been solid for the Jacksonville Jaguars. The 2016 class reads, at least at first blush, like a similar strength of class. There were eight backs taken in the first 95 selections this spring, and it could be a similar distribution this season. Way too early to say about 2017, but there might be a renaissance of runners as the league — always cyclical — slowly trends away from the 40-passes-per-game approach and perhaps more toward the ground attack. Fuller return thins out WR class The news on Wednesday that Notre Dame WR Will Fuller said he would return to school in 2016 is huge news for the Irish but a bit of a blow for the 2016 draft crop of receivers. But this is still a class that has some top-tier talent even with Fuller back on campus next fall. Right now, it appears that Ole Miss’ Laquon Treadwell is the cream of the crop. The 6-3, 216-pound Treadwell has had a phenomenal season after a cool start coming off a devastating leg injury last season. He now has a streak of five straight games with at least 100 yards receiving and a touchdown and appears to be a complete product. But the breakout season of Baylor’s Corey Coleman — and that school’s incredible success producing NFL pass catchers — makes up for the loss of Fuller in this class. TCU’s Josh Doctson also has built on his impressive college resumé and opened talent evaluators’ eyes to the point where neither Big 12 receiver appears to be purely a product of their teams’ explosive offenses. Ohio State’s Michael Thomas hasn’t produced eye-popping statistics but is on pace to approach his 2014 numbers and has scored in all but two games this season for the Buckeyes, who have shuffled quarterbacks back and forth this season. Thomas, Keyshawn Johnson’s nephew, has the stature — 6-3, 210 — that NFL teams seek, along with the hands, route-running ability and hands to be taken high if he tests well. Rutgers’ Leontee Carroo, Pitt’s Tyler Boyd, Cal’s Kenny Lawler, Colorado State’s Rashard Higgins, Oklahoma’s Sterling Shepard, South Carolina’s Pharoh Cooper, LSU’s Travin Dural and even Ohio State’s Braxton Miller make up the next wave of talents at the position — which looks like a solid group, depending on which underclassmen declare. So while Fuller returning takes a top-50 talent, and perhaps a possible first-round pick, out of the mix, there could be a decent pool despite it. – – – – – – – Eric Edholm is a writer for Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at edholm@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Eric_Edholm

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