I’m not a writer/analyst that’s shy about being wrong; in fact I think an analyst that struggles to see where they made a mistake is an analyst that you probably shouldn’t listen too.
The reason I say that is because of Tuesday’s excellent article by Darren Urban of AZCardinals.com. I was in the camp that believed the Cardinals would be looking for a running back, but one that would be available in the later rounds. That still may be true, but this article made me come back to my Cardinals’ big board (one that I am still formulating and will be unveiling in the next couple of weeks) and look at the running backs again.
I have talked about the later round running backs that I like in Dennis Johnson, Robbie Rouse and George Winn, and I believe that Johnson and Winn are still in the discussion late. But with what Arians and Mitchell said in the article, I wanted to take a look at five running backs that fit what Arians and company want to do.
While I don’t think there’s any way the Cardinals take a running back at seven (in fact I may have a stroke if this happens), this new talk makes me think that a running back in round two or three may be in play and these are the five that make the most sense… to me.
(Note: I did not look at Eddie Lacy, Andre Ellington or Giovani Bernard because I do not see them being available when the Cardinals are on the clock with their second round selection)
Montee Ball, Wisconsin – 5-10, 214 lbs
Ball was the definition of what the Cardinals are looking for in a running back — a reliable, every down back that can carry a huge workload and won’t leave the field.
Of course that was in college, and that doesn’t mean he can do the same thing at the NFL level.
Ball is an effective, patient runner that understands how to wait for his blocks, and then use a deceptive burst to get to and through the hole, and does an excellent job of taking what is given to him and not trying to do too much.
He can catch out of the backfield if needed, but is better off being kept in as a blocker in the passing game. He does a great job of using a cut block to neutralize pass rushers, understands blocking schemes and how to pick up the blitzing defensive player and even more than that, he shows a willingness to stick his nose in and take on the blitzer.
The questions surrounding Ball are simple: how many carries does he have left after racking up almost 900 in college, and can he become a special runner at the next level?
Stepfan Taylor, Stanford – 5-9, 214 lbs
Taylor is another one of the “complete backs” in this draft. He was on the field in every situation in his career at Stanford, and it shows up on film.
He’s a tough, inside, patient runner that comes from a power-based scheme, and should be comfortable in the Arians running scheme.
Taylor, like Ball, isn’t a great athlete, but he shows enough of a burst to get to the hole and through it. He has excellent vision, knows how to bounce a run when needed even if he lacks a consistent burst to get outside on planned outside runs.
While Taylor is a deft receiver out of the backfield (he definitely has better hands than most of the other backs in the class), he also is good in pass protection. He consistently cuts down oncoming defenders, and is effective in blitz pick up.
Ray Graham, Pittsburgh – 5-9, 200 lbs
While Graham may not have the durability of Ball and Taylor, when he is healthy on the field he shows exactly what the Cardinals may be looking for in a running back.
Graham excels on the inside run using great vision, following his blocks and shows a burst that the first two prospects on this list don’t have.
What makes Graham so special is his ability to break through arm tackles when in the hole even though he is a smaller back, and use a good forward lean to always fall forward in the run game.
Like the other two, he is a good receiver out of the backfield and will definitely be an asset in pass protection, as he mirrors rushers well, likes to stick his nose into pass rushers instead of cutting them at the legs.
The question with Graham, and what could push him down some draft boards, is concern about his durability. He runs like a big back in a smaller back’s body. Graham reminds me of Ahmad Bradshaw in this regard, and that could turn teams, including the Cardinals, off.
Joseph Randle, Oklahoma State – 6-0, 204 lbs
Randle is an oddly-built running back. Acually, he looks more like a wide receiver right now and not a running back, but he shows room to add weight and is, in my opinion, the best back in pass protection in the class.
He ran from a shotgun set most of the time at Oklahoma State and will have to learn how to run from a pro-style offense more consistently. As a runner, he is much better running to the outside of the offense right now. Because of his smaller frame; he can be taken down too easily at times.
What makes me think Randle could be a guy that could be a fit in Arians’ offense is his ability to run the stretch play to the outside, either to the tackle or outside of the tackle/tight end — something the Colts did on over 55% of the rushing attempts they had in 2012.
Randle is an escape artist when he gets outside, and shows a natural ability to make people miss and make big plays, something that I am not sure our first three prospects can do.
He is excellent in pass protection, something he had to do a lot of in Oklahoma State’s offense, and understands how to take on defenders, takes good angles and knows how to cut down defenders when he can’t take them on head-up.
Mike Gillislee, Florida – 5-11, 208 lbs
Gillislee was an underutilized part of a Florida offense that struggled at times in 2012 and I don’t blame him for that.
Gillislee is a power runner with adequate vision, an exceptional burst to and through the hole and the ability to hit the home run when running inside or out.
He consistently wins the one-on-one battle in the hole with excellent leverage, and shows a nice wiggle to make defenders miss.
Concerns with Gillislee: his vision isn’t always the best, hence why I used the word adequate above, and will too often bounce outside instead of staying patient and following his blockers.
Gillislee shows willingness in pass pro, but isn’t always effective. He can dive too often at ankles and miss, but that may be something that is correctable and the fact that he seems to like to block, it may just be a technique flaw that he needs to work on.
While none of these backs are Doug Martin or Trent Richardson, there could be a number of effective, every down backs that can answer the bell week in and week out like Arians wants.
I may not be on board with the Cardinals taking a running back on day two — I still think there are too many other needs and the value of players to fill those needs will be excellent, but I understand the philosophy of what the staff is looking for. I feel these are players that can meet those needs.