MINING THE BACKFIELDS TO FIND THIS YEAR'S Todd Gurley TO SHRED DEFENSES
* 2014 stats
1 EZEKIEL ELLIOTT
Ohio State (6'0", 225 lbs.) 1,821 yards / 23 TDs
What's not to love here? Elliott is a true three-down back, built to withstand the rigors of being a workhorse at the NFL level. He averaged a staggering 6.7 yards per carry during his college career and 7.7 per catch. There is an explosive nature to everything he does, from the way he bursts through a hole to the way he welcomes contact.
Heavy workload (600-plus touches over the past two years). Room for improvement as a blocker.
2 DERRICK HENRY
Alabama (6'3", 247 lbs.) 2,219 yards / 28 TDs
A break-the-mold running back, the mountainous Henry ran a 4.54-second 40-yard dash at the combine, showed off a 37-inch vertical leap and broad-jumped nearly 11 feet. He almost always generates an extra push at the finish of his runs, wearing down defenses in the process. Just let him plant and get upfield—then get out of the way.
Won't shake many defenders in the open field. Limited usage in the passing game.
3 KENNETH DIXON
Louisiana Tech (5'10", 215 lbs.) 1,070 yards / 19 TDs
With his shifty feet, Dixon is an extremely dangerous playmaker outside the tackle box, either as a runner or receiver. Given the explosiveness of his upfield burst, he looks tailor-made for a zone-blocking scheme. As his 87 career TDs show, he was used in all situations.
Lacks size, strength between the tackles. Injuries in 2013 and '15.
4 JORDAN HOWARD
Indiana (6'0", 230 lbs.) 1,213 yards / 9 TDs
Howard's physical traits may not impress alongside some other backs', but he makes up for it with his outstanding vision. He can spot the tiniest hole along the line and exploit it with his footwork—there's little wasted motion. And still: He welcomes contact. His speed isn't great, but he can turn the corner on LBs.
Banged up for much of '15. Limited looks in the passing attack.
5 ALEX COLLINS
Arkansas (5'10", 217 lbs.) 1,577 yards / 20 TDs
Collins's gait can be a little choppy, which would be more of a problem if he weren't so often employing those quick steps to let his blocks set up in front of him. When he makes it through the line, he's very difficult to bring down. He's also a steady option as a blocker and play-action decoy.
Could be quicker to the hole. Never topped 100 receiving yards in a season.
6 PAUL PERKINS
UCLA (5'10", 208 lbs.) 1,343 yards / 14 TDs
Perkins has video-game-level elusiveness in confined spaces—he can cut side-to-side in a heartbeat without sacrificing his balance. His game was well-suited to UCLA's shotgun-heavy offense, as it allowed him to move east-west after handoffs and to slip out as a receiver, where he had 80 career catches.
Lacks size, physicality to be a bell-cow back. Could struggle picking up blitzing NFL LBs.
7 DEVONTAE BOOKER
Utah (5'11", 219 lbs.) 1,261 yards / 11 TDs
He profiles like a poor man's Elliott: He can handle all the same duties as a three-down NFL back, he's just less dominant than the former Buckeye. Booker does not shy from contact, but he's at his best when he's reading a play to find his blocks. Bonus: He'll move the chains as a pass catcher and keep his QB clean as a blocker.
Juco transfer will be 24 in May. Left-knee injury in November required surgery.
8 MARSHAUN COPRICH
Illinois State (5'8", 207 lbs.) 1,967 yards / 23 TDs
Coprich racked up more than 4,200 rushing yards over his final two seasons as a Redbird, so it's a little odd to suggest that his future could be as a pass-catching back. But because he does some of his best work on the perimeter (and doesn't mind picking up a blitzer), he very well could be a change-of-pace option.
Arrested last April on a marijuana charge. Hesitates too long when openings aren't obvious.
9 JONATHAN WILLIAMS
Arkansas (5'11", 220 lbs.) 1,190 yards / 12 TDs*
He makes a lot of defenders miss, not so much with wiggle but with burst and balance. While Williams takes some negative plays trying to shimmy his way open, once he cracks the line, he cruises through arm tackles to the second and third levels. He doesn't mind taking on contact to finish a run.
Sat out all of '15 with left-foot injury. Often gets impatient, misses some holes.
10 DANIEL LASCO
California (6'0", 209 lbs.) 331 yards / 3 TDs
After struggling to stay healthy last season (when hip and ankle injuries cost him five games), Lasco used the combine to remind everyone what a remarkable athlete he is, with a 4.46-second 40, 41.5-inch vertical and 135-inch broad jump. That athleticism is his calling card on the field: He can turn nothing plays into big gains by dodging tackles and stepping on the gas.
Limited to just 65 carries in '15. Vision hindered by desire to find big plays.
2015 FBS rushing yards leader DERRICK HENRY, Alabama 2,219
Top 40 time at combine KEITH MARSHALL, Georgia 4.31
AL TIELEMANS FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED
DARREN CARROLL FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (HENRY)
THEARON W. HENDERSON/GETTY IMAGES (LASCO)