Pewter Report continues its annual draft preview listing the top players at each position and also offers up two Bucs’ Best Bets, one in the early rounds and one in the late rounds. See where Pewter Report ranks the players and who they think makes the most sense for the Buccaneers. This time it’s the running backs.
WHAT THE BUCS HAVE AT RUNNING BACK The Buccaneers have a very deep stable of running backs at the current time. Third-year runner Doug Martin will be coming back from injury and has been called the starter by head coach Lovie Smith. Martin is poised for a productive season in Jeff Tedford’s offense. Tampa Bay also has promising second year running backs Bobby Rainey and Mike James returning in 2014. Both backs will battle for touches behind Martin. Also on the roster is the speedy Jeff Demps, who is committed to football and the Buccaneers this season. Third year back Michael Smith will have to fight an uphill battle to make Tampa Bay’s roster in 2014, after coming off injury where he tore a ligament in his foot.
WHAT THE BUCS NEED AT RUNNING BACKWith so much talent at the running back position already, Tampa Bay isn’t in a position where they have to select a running back early, or even at all. A lot of the backs on the roster offer similar skill sets, so if the Buccaneers choose to add a running back they might look for a bigger back with more power or speedy back that can work more on third downs.
BUCS BEST BET EARLY (1-3) – LSU RB Jeremy HillThe Buccaneers running back stable is full of backs under 6-feet, the tallest being Mike James at 5-foot-10. Adding a running back with size and speed could potentially be in the cards for Tampa Bay heading into the draft. Hill is an athletic freak with breakaway speed at 6-foot-1, 233 pounds, and could pack a punch that the Buccaneers offense might currently be missing. That being said, the chance that they select a running back on the first two days of the draft is highly unlikely.
BUCS BEST BET LATE (4-7) – West Virginia RB Charles SimsSims has Matt Forte-like talent and could intrigue Lovie Smith and Jason Licht if he falls to the fifth round or later. Since the Buccaneers already have a dynamic workhorse in Doug Martin and two solid all-around backups in Mike James and Bobby Rainey, perhaps Tampa Bay might look for a back that can make an impact in the passing game. Arguably the best receiving running back in the entire class, Sims catches the ball extremely well and would be a threat on third downs. In addition to his receiving skills, he’s a slashing-type runner who has good vision and can make defenders miss in the open field. The Buccaneers had Charles Sims in for a visit at some point during the pre-draft process.
TOP TEN RUNNING BACKS1. RB Carlos Hyde – Ohio State – Senior – 6-0, 230 – 4.58 Hyde is a powerful back that projects as a workhorse back at the NFL level. He moves piles and uses his great leg drive to power through defenders on a consistent basis. Hyde can also make plays in the open field with his agility and movement skills. While he isn’t a great receiver, Hyde is arguably the best pass-protecting running back in the class, showing great strength when picking up blitzes. He should be the first running back to come off of the board, likely in the second round.
2. RB Bishop Sankey – Washington – Junior – 5-9, 209 – 4.51 Sankey is a complete back with excellent agility and showcases incredible change of direction skills. He isn’t incredibly fast but he makes up for that with his ability make defenders miss in the open field and create space for himself. The former Husky is a good blocker and can make an impact as a receiver out of the backfield. Sankey performed incredibly well last year, racking up 1,870 yards and 20 touchdowns for the 2013 season.
3. RB Jeremy Hill – LSU – Junior – 6-0, 233 – 4.60 Hill is a powerful runner that makes his money between the tackles. Showcasing excellent acceleration and fluidity, Hill makes the most of every opportunity and is very hard to tackle with just one defender. The LSU junior set the SEC record for yards per carry in 2013, averaging a staggering 6.9 yards per carry, on his way to 1,401 yards and 16 touchdowns. He’s worthy of an early third round selection.
4. RB Charles Sims – West Virginia – Senior – 6-0, 214 – 4.45 Sims is a shifty and patient runner that will bring a complete game to the next level. Showcasing very good short area quickness, Sims is able to make defenders miss in the hole and at the second level. The West Virginia tailback is a terrific receiver that will be a weapon on third downs and in the passing game. While very talented, Sims still has some raw qualities to his game and will be a 24 year old rookie. The former Mountaineer is projected to go in the fourth round by most scouts but PewterReport.com believes he is worthy of a higher selection.
5. RB Tre Mason – Auburn – Junior – 5-8, 207 – 4.48 Mason is an explosive back that has a nasty edge to his game. Massive production was had by Mason, who totaled a school-record 1,816 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns. Auburn’s feature back wasn’t asked to do much third down work in 2013, so his ability to block and catch will be a cause for concern for NFL squads.
6. RB Devonta Freeman – Florida State – Junior – 5-8, 206 – 4.52 Freeman is arguably the best all-around back in the class, and wins with his great balance and quickness. He isn’t very strong in between the tackles, but if he sees daylight he will make the most of the opportunity. As Florida State’s featured back in 2013, Freeman ran for 1,016 yards and 14 touchdowns. He’d be an ideal fit for a team that employs a zone-blocking scheme.
7. RB KaDeem Carey – Arizona – Junior – 5-9, 207 – 4.69 Carey is a powerful interior runner that grinds out every last yard he can before going down. His North-South running style is complemented by his ability to make defenders miss in the hole by using a quick juke move. The reason Carey isn’t ranked higher is because he doesn’t have great speed, a trait that is vital for an NFL running back.
8. RB Lache Seastrunk – Baylor – Junior – 5-9, 201 – 4.47Seastrunk is an athletic specimen that eludes tackles with his speed and quickness. His ability to accelerate and get to top speed quickly is tremendous, which allows to get through tight windows on the interior. The Oregon transfer doesn’t flash much power, so interior running at the next level could come hard for Seastrunk. The speedy Baylor back totaled 1,177 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2013 as a junior.
9. RB Isaiah Crowell – Alabama State – Junior – 5-11, 224 – 4.54Crowell is an incredibly talented back that has had some off-the-field issues in college. He was arrested on weapons charges while attending Georgia and later transferred to Alabama State. Crowell possesses a rare combination of size and speed at the running back position, and can punish defenders when he wants to. The immensely talented back ran for 1,121 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2013.
10. RB Andre Williams – Boston College – Senior – 5-11, 230 – 4.50 Williams was ultra-productive for Boston College in 2013, breaking school records on his way to 2,177 rushing yards and 18 scores on 355 carries. He’s a bulldozing back that loves contact, but also has some wiggle to make a defender miss once and awhile. Williams doesn’t run with great pad level and isn’t very fast, but he could be a very productive back if given the chance to carry the load at the next level.
BEST OF THE REST RB Jerick McKinnon – Georgia Southern – Senior – 5-9, 209 – 4.38 McKinnon is a solid all-around back that timed extremely well in the 40-yard dash. He had a great Senior Bowl week, where he was solid in pass-protection and catching out of the backfield . McKinnon ran for 1,050 yards and 8 touchdowns as a senior. RB Storm Johnson – Central Florida – Junior – 5-11, 209 – 4.57 Johnson is a grinding back that was very productive for Central Florida in 2013, totaling 1,139 yards and 14 scores. Johnson is tough to bring down in the open field because of his feistiness and drive to get every last yard. He could be a nice late round value.
RB Terrance West – Towson – Junior – 5-9, 225 – 4.53 West created quite a buzz last season after a record-breaking season at Towson. He totaled a ridiculous 2,509 yards and 41 touchdowns during his junior campaign in 2013. West has great vision and makes the most of what is blocked for him. It would help if he fixed his upright running style.
RB Tyler Gaffney – Stanford – Senior – 5-11, 220 – 4.50 Gaffney is a grinding running back that clocked well in workouts. He won’t make defenders miss but he will overpower them. Gaffney racked up 1,700 yards and 21 touchdowns for Stanford last season.
RB James White – Wisconsin – Senior – 5-9, 204 – 4.58 White is one of the most underappreciated backs in the draft. He was overshadowed by Montee Ball and Melvin Gordon at Wisconsin, but he’s a great third down back that can catch and pass protect. He totaled 1,444 yards and 13 scores as a senior.
RB Branden Oliver – Buffalo – Senior – 5-7, 202 – 4.59Oliver is a productive sleeper running back that showcases shiftiness and patience. He can grind in between the tackles in addition to making defenders miss. Oliver is a very good pass protector and can work the flats and middle of the field as a receiver. He finished senior season with 1,535 yards and 15 touchdowns.
RB Antonio Andrews – Western Kentucky – Senior – 5-10, 225 – 4.72 Andrews is a productive, complete running back with athletic limitations. He lacks speed and isn’t great in the open field. Andrews racked up 1,730 yards and 16 touchdowns as a senior.
RB David Fluellen – Toledo – Senior – 5-11, 224 – 4.67Fluellen is a solid runner with good patience, pad level, and takes what his offensive line gives him. He is not very fast or a dynamic runner.
RB LaDarius Perkins – Mississippi State – Senior – 5-7, 195 – 4.45Perkins is an ideal rotational third down back because of his great initial burst and breakaway speed. He’s a very good blocker for his size and totaled 1,024 yards and 8 scores as a junior.
RB Roy Finch – Oklahoma – Senior – 5-6, 177 – 4.44Finch will likely be an undrafted free agent. He’s a jitterbug with incredible short area quickness. Finch changes directions in a flash and has good speed but his extremely small stature will kill his draft stock. He could be an effective kick returner.
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