A Scout’s Take on the Running Back Class in the 2017 NFL DraftBy Bob Fox
With the exodus of Eddie Lacy to the Seattle Seahawks earlier this week via free agency, the Green Bay Packers find themselves in a bit of quandary regarding their running back situation.
Right now, the Packers only have Ty Montgomery as a sure thing at running back. And that is just a year after taking on that position full-time after being a wide receiver his first year with the Packers.
The Packers can also re-sign unrestricted free agent Christine Michael, who the Packers brought on last season after he was released by the Seahawks. Other than that, the Packers also tendered an offer to exclusive rights free agent Don Jackson, who received a handful of plays last season with the Packers when injuries hit the running back position hard.
Plus, there are still a number of veteran running backs available via free agency. The list includes Adrian Peterson, LeGarrette Blount and Jamaal Charles.
Fortunately for the Packers and any team in need of help at running back this year, the 2017 NFL draft is extremely deep and talented this year at that position.
With that in mind, I wanted to get the opinion of NFL scout Chris Landry on this group of prospects. I once again was able to speak to Landry on 620 WDAE’s Steve Duemig Show earlier this week, which was guest-hosted by Pat Donovan and Aaron Jacobson.
I first asked Landry to talk about what I believed to be great depth in the running back class in this year’s draft and I mentioned Marlon Mack of South Florida.
“I have Marlon as a high third-round pick,” Landry said. “In the upper-tier third round. I think he, Kareem Hunt of Toledo and the kid from North Carolina State, Matthew Dayes, are all high third-round values.
“You could get what I think would be fourth-round value with guys like Samaje Perine of Oklahoma, Jamaal Williams of BYU, Wayne Gallman of Clemson, all juniors. You’re right, there are guys like Brian Hill of Wyoming, who is an outstanding player. If you want a little back who is shifty, which is not what some people want, you have Donnel Pumphrey [San Diego State] is really good. Elijah McGuire of Louisiana Lafayette is a fifth or sixth-round value.
“There are good players in this draft. I absolutely like Marlon Mack. I think he would be great value at the top of the third round if you can get him there. Maybe even the late second round. We’ll see. I don’t think there is a half dozen players at the running back position who are better than Marlon in this draft. One of them is Joe Mixon, and we know that’s going to be an ownership decision.
“So I think that there is absolutely an opportunity to get healthy at the running back position [in this draft]. And most people prefer the younger guys who don’t have as much wear and tear on them.”
The Packers have a number of needs going into this draft. Mostly on the defensive side of the ball. Positions like cornerback, outside linebacker and inside linebacker. But what if one of the top three running backs were still on the board when they Packers had their selection at pick No. 29 in the first round.
I’m talking about Leonard Fournette of LSU, Dalvin Cook of Florida State and Christian McCaffrey of Stanford.
Would general manager Ted Thompson select one of them if that were the case? The answer is yes, if they were the highest-rated player on the Green Bay draft board.
I asked Landry to talk about the Big 3.
“They all have the same grade, but all are different type of guys,” Landry said. “Fournette is the Adrian Peterson power guy. An impact carry back. Needs to have 25 touches or carries a game. Not as good catching the football.
“Like Dalvin Cook, the more complete back. He can run, has more explosiveness and has more make-you-miss skills than Leonard. Much more effective catching the football out of the backfield.
“Christian McCaffrey is the smaller satellite back. You can line him up in the backfield, the wing position or the slot position. If you put him in the receiving group, he might be as good as a receiver as there is in the draft. A great route-runner. Superb hands. Nice returner.
“So listen, it’s really like going to a car lot. Do you want a sports car, a minivan, a SUV or a pickup truck? I mean, they are all good, but what do you want? All these guys to me are first-round talent. I think behind them is Alvin Kamara of Tennessee, who has really good explosiveness with size.
“But I’m going to tell you, that on the football field, I’m not so sure that Joe Mixon is not the best running back in this draft overall. But…fill in the blank on Joe Mixon. That is going to be a very tough decision. And I’m not advocating for him off the field. I’m just saying, football-wise, he’s special.”
I had the Packers taking Mack in my second mock draft, but based on Landry’s current grade on the former Bull, the Packers would most likely have to pull the trigger in the late-second round to bring in Mack, as opposed to waiting until the late-third round.
When I talked with Landry this week, I also brought up Joe Williams of Utah, who I had the Packers selecting in my first mock draft. Williams was a dynamo in the second half of the 2016 season for the Utes when he rushed for 1,110 yards and nine touchdowns (in six games).
In the the Foster Farms Bowl against Indiana, Williams rushed for 222 yards and another score, plus caught a pass for 56 more yards.
Then at the East-West Shrine Game practices he impressed Landry, who said this about Williams:
“Utah RB Joe Williams has an outstanding burst and he was a little bit thicker than I anticipated. He is going to be a mismatch in the passing game as he gains more experience. He looks like an ideal change-of-pace back at the next level.”
Just to show you how deep and talented this running back class is in this draft, Landry currently has a seventh-round grade on Williams.
Bottom line, no matter what the Packers decide to do about bringing in a veteran free agent running back, the upcoming draft can certainly upgrade the depth and talent at the running back position for the team.
About the Author
Bob closely follows the Packers, Badgers, Brewers, Bucks, Golden Eagles and Panthers, but also enjoys sports in Florida as he is a big supporter of the Lightning, Rays, Gators and Bulls, plus enjoys the Bucs, when they aren’t playing the Packers.
Bob always had the itch to return to the media, and he became a writer at a Packer website called ThaPack for a couple of years, before he joined Packer Report, where he was for several years, before joining Wisconsin Sports Online (Packer Chatters) writing about the Packers, Badgers and Brewers.
Bob worked as a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report from November of 2011 into June of 2015, mainly covering the Green Bay Packers, but also did columns for teams like the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Tampa Bay Bucs and the Wisconsin Badgers as well.
Bob currently writes in his Blog at WordPress and also at LandryFootball.com.