This is the first in a series of features on the 2016 NFL Draft, position by position. Today's position: Running backs. The Jets' RB roster synopsis is followed by five players considered top candidates at the position, plus two "sleeper" picks who could be available when the Jets select in Rounds 3-7.
Anything is possible in the NFL Draft, of course, but running back doesn't appear to be a need position for the Green & White. The Jets responded quickly after Chris Ivory left via free agency to sign with the Jaguars, bringing in 30-years-young "Work Horse" Matt Forte, late of the Bears and still a danger to rack up 1,000 rushing yards and plenty of receptions.
They also signed former Saints FA Khiry Robinson, whom Bill Parcells once likened to a young Curtis Martin, and re-signed Bilal Powell, who had a dynamic impact on the offense during the Jets' late-season five-game winning streak.
Zac Stacy also returns from his fractured ankle suffered in Game 9 vs. Buffalo. The speedy Dri Archer and Dominique Williams were signed to reserve/future deals in January.
At fullback, Tommy Bohanon returns for his fourth season and Julian Howsare, an undrafted free agent LB signed last year who then saw most of his preseason snaps at FB, is also back.
Top Five RBs in the Draft
Zeke's No. 1, at least as far as this year's backs class is concerned. Ohio State standout Ezekiel Elliott (6'0", 225) ran for 1,878 yards and 18 TDs in 2014, which he crowned with consecutive 200-yard games in the Big Ten title game, Sugar Bowl and National Championship Game. For an encore, as a junior he ran for 1,821 yards and 23 TDs. He rarely fumbled, but he did stumble after the Michigan game with comments critical of OSU's playcalling. Yet that was a rarity for him and virtually all draft watchers say he could be the only first-round back this year, perhaps going at No. 8 to the Eagles.
Derrick Henry (6'3", 242) filled his trophy case in 2015, his first season as Alabama's full-time starter. The big yet quick-footed back rolled to Southeastern Conference records of 2,219 rushing yards and 28 TDs on a whopping 395 carries. For that he won 'Bama's second Heisman as well as the Doak Walker and Maxwell awards, Walter Camp Player of the Year and SEC Offensive POY. His 5.8 and 5.6 yards/game averages his last two years were very good but not great and he will need to work on his receiving skills. Many peg him as a first-pick-of-Round-2 type of talent.
After Elliott and Henry, the backs in this draft start to clump up in Round 3. Kenneth Dixon (5'10", 212) may be the best of the rest, especially when you consider the Louisiana Tech back held the all-time FBS record for nine days with 87 career touchdowns after scoring four TDs in the New Orleans Bowl, until Navy QB Keenan Reynolds took the record back with three scores in the Military Bowl. Dixon's final toll for Tech: a school-record 4,480 rushing yards and 72 TDs and 972 yards on 88 receptions and 15 TDs. He doesn't have a large frame but there's a place for him in some NFL teams' RBs-by-committee approach.
Alex Collins (5'11", 217) started only last season, as a true junior, in Arkansas' pro-style attack, but he made the most of his opportunities whenever he had the rock in his hands — with 1,026 yards as a freshman, 1,100 as a soph and 1,577 (plus 20 touchdowns) last season, he joined Herschel Walker and Darren McFadden as the only players in SEC history to rush for 1,000 yards in three straight seasons. He's physical yet a quick cutter, with one major issue — too many fumbles — to fix if he wants to excel on the NFL level.
Devontae Booker (5'11", 212) could easily have been slotted higher on mock draft boards, except for two items. One was academics — he started his college career at Washington but moved to junior college in '12 and sat out the 2013 season. The other was an injury — he stormed into Utah's program with 1,512 yards in '14 and probably would've surpassed that last season but for the season-ending knee injury he suffered in Game 11. He finished '15 with 1,261 rush yards and had 21 TDs in 2014-15 combined. Now on to the pros.
Two RB/FB Draft Sleepers
Public opinion is divided on C.J. Prosise (6'1", 220), with projections placing the Notre Damer anywhere from high Round 3 to mid-Round 5. We're guessing that's because in '13 and most of '14 he was a safety and wideout. Then he performed a Music City (Bowl) Miracle of his own with 10 rushes for 126 yards and a TD in the Irish's 31-28 postseason win over LSU. This past year, due to injury, he became a full-time RB and racked up 1,029 yards on 157 carries (6.6 yards/carry) and 11 TDs. He ran a 4.48 40 at the combine.
Might the Jets want a Gronk of their own? Glenn Gronkowski (6'2", 239) is the younger brother of Patriots TE Rob and likely will be the fourth Gronkowski brother to play in the NFL. He was three-time All-Big 12 in his three years at Kansas State, where he established himself as a top blocker and versatile FB who accounted for seven TDs on just 34 college touches (one rush, five receptions, one pass). He's either the first or second FB in most mock drafts and is projected to go in Rounds 4-5 on day three.
Ezekiel Elliott & Derrick Henry Headline This Year's Crop of Runners