Tuesday, September 3, 2013
Best available: All-purpose backs
By Craig Haubert
There is only one running back category, but that doesn't mean all RBs are created equal. Within this group are prospects that you could classify as more of all-purpose backs, players who might not typically be able to carry the load but whose athleticism and versatility can allow them to contribute in multiple ways. Regardless of how you might classify them, many of the top running backs in the 2014 class have already made a commitment, with only 11 of the top 50 currently undeclared. There is still some talent available -- here's a look at the top five "all-purpose" backs still out there.
This is a back with good size and speed, and while his running style might not allow him to be an ideal downhill load-carrier, he is one the most well-rounded RBs in the 2014 class. With good speed, he can still make plays when you hand him the rock, but he also possesses strong receiving skills. Whether out of the backfield or in the slot, he can be a weapon as a receiving target. The four-star demonstrates he can also be an effective blocker as well and as a total package, Mixon can be a versatile weapon for an offense.
James is a more diminutive back, but when you get the ball in his hands, he has big-play ability. Elusive, with quick feet and breakaway speed, he can be a dangerous weapon when he gets in space. Unless he adds more size, his ability to be a featured back could be limited, but this is still a talented player who can create problems as a change-of-pace back.
Scott is a talented running back, but his greatest asset at the next level could be his versatility. A RB with solid size, good speed and vision, he can pick up yardage when you hand him the ball, but with soft hands and elusive in space, he can also create headaches when you throw him the ball. Whether from the backfield or aligned as a receiver, Scott can present an offense with a dynamic weapon in a multipurpose type role.
You wouldn't label this guy as just a third-down or change-of-pace back, but part of what makes this running back the top player in the nation is how talented and versatile he is. Big and fast, Fournette can certainly carry the load, but with underrated receiving and blocking skills, he has the tools be an excellent every down back. A tremendous athlete, Fournette can attack defenses in multiple ways. There are shades there of another former RB prospect out of Louisiana: Marshall Faulk was an outstanding runner who also created problems with his receiving skills.
Listed as an athlete in the ESPN 300, Autry could find himself labeled as a running back or wide receiver at the next level. Either way, he can be a versatile offensive weapon. Having seen action as a running back, slot and Wildcat QB, Autry has good hands, can reach top-end speed quickly and make defenders miss. Returning this season from a knee injury, a healthy Autry can be a valuable part of an offensive attack in a hybrid RB/WR role.
There is a new era at Oregon with Chip Kelly now in the NFL, but with former offensive coordinatorMark Helfrich now at the helm, little will change when it comes to Oregon's high-powered, fast-tempo offensive attack. A key weapon for the Ducks has been the versatile De'Anthony Thomas who in 2012 rushed for 701 yards and led the team with 45 receptions. In the 2013 class, Oregon looked poised to bring in the ideal multi-purpose weapon to pass the torch to in Dontre Wilson, but late in the process he changed his commitment and signed with Ohio State. The Ducks still have some talented weapons that could potentially help fill that role, such as Byron Marshall, but with Thomas now a junior and the loss of Wilson, something to watch is if they can bring in another potential dynamic multipurpose weapon. Oregon's current 2014 class is small, and while they have a verbal commitment from a very good running back, the bigger Royce Freeman doesn't ideally fit that role. The Ducks are in the mix for several of the top available all-purpose backs in the 2014 class. They are among the finalists for Mixon, James and Autry.