With 2016 NFL Scouting Combine upon us, Bucky Brooks is ranking the top prospects at key positions. Today's focus: running backs.
Strengths: Explosive downhill runner with exceptional vision, balance and body control. Elliott excels running between the tackles, but also flashes the speed and quickness to turn the corner on outside runs. He displays the versatility to contribute as a receiver or blocker in the passing game. Despite finishing his three-year career at Ohio State with only 58 receptions, he might have the best hands of any running back in the draft and his route-running ability could make him a dynamic weapon to feature in a diverse offense. Considering his solid skills as a pass protector, Elliott is the most complete back in the 2016 class by a significant margin.
Weaknesses: Elliott is a remarkable runner with explosive short-area speed and quickness, but he is not necessarily a speed demon on the perimeter. Despite notching a number of big runs throughout his career, Elliott is more of a grinder than big-play back.
Strengths: Big-bodied ball carrier with outstanding straight-line speed and burst. Henry is a high-volume runner ideally suited to plow between the tackles as a "one-cut" back in a zone-based scheme. As a big, physical runner with imposing dimensions (6-foot-3, 242 pounds), he needs 25-plus carries to make his mark as a workhorse due to his "grind it out" style. Thus, he is a better fit for a run-first offense that's committed to giving the feature back a heavy workload. If Henry lands with right squad (a team that features a power-gap or zone-based scheme), the 'Bama product could quickly develop into the NFL's ultimate hammer in the backfield.
Weaknesses: For all of Henry's positive attributes as a runner, he needs a bit of a runway to be an effective weapon in the backfield. He lacks the "pitter-pat" and lateral quickness to create in the hole, which makes it essential for him to play behind a solid offensive line. In addition, Henry has an upright running style that could make him susceptible to big hits from linebackers and safeties in the hole. After finishing his career with just 17 receptions, Henry remains a bit of a question mark as a receiver and playmaker in the passing game.
Strengths: Rugged runner with extraordinary vision, balance and body control. Collins is a classic workhorse with the strength and power to blow through contact on inside runs. He attacks the hole with a low pad level, which makes him nearly impossible to bring down for a negative gain. In addition, Collins is a durable guy with a penchant for posting 100-yard games (17 in three seasons, including 10 last year) when given a heavy workload against elite competition. With three straight 1,000-yard seasons on his résumé as the focal point of a blue-collar offense, Collins is an intriguing option for teams looking for a gritty runner with immense upside and potential.
Weaknesses: Collins' lack of experience as a receiver in the passing game could be a concern for offensive coordinators hoping to feature a versatile playmaker in the backfield. Although Collins earns solid marks for his ability to hold his own in pass protection, he is a question mark as a pass catcher (27 career receptions) and must show evaluators that he has a basic grasp of the passing game as a route runner. In addition, Collins must address his ball-security issues (17 fumbles at Arkansas, with nine lost) and convince coaches that he is a dependable runner in clutch moments.
Strengths: Smooth runner with a nifty style and superb vision. Booker is a patient playmaker adept at finding creases in the middle of the defense. He has a tremendous feel for the timing of the play, flashing explosive short-area quickness and burst when the hole opens between the tackles. Booker is also a sticky pass catcher with sneaky route-running skills on the perimeter. He is a big-bodied multi-purpose threat capable of tallying 100-plus scrimmage yard consistently as part of a diverse pro-style offense. Given the importance of acquiring running backs with versatile skills, Booker's well-rounded game makes him an ideal dot back in a West Coast offense.
Weaknesses: Despite Booker's production as a one-man show at Utah, scouts will harbor concerns about his speed and big-play potential. He simply lacks the home-run speed to take it the distance from range, which made him more of a "dot to dot" playmaker for the Utes. Although some teams prefer a grinder, Booker's lack of explosiveness, injury history and ball-security issues could be a problem for some evaluators.
Strengths: Versatile running back with quick feet and exceptional body control. Although he shined as an inside runner on draws and delays in the Bulldogs' spread offense, he is at his best when used as a dynamic pass catcher out of the backfield. Dixon runs routes like a receiver in space, exhibiting outstanding patience and body control while setting up defenders on option routes. Additionally, he shows explosive quickness separating from coverage out of his breaks. With more teams searching for a mismatch player in the passing game, Dixon offers tremendous value.
Weaknesses: Dixon lacks the size, strength and hard-hitting running style to be a full-time RB1. He doesn't run with the force or pad level to break tackles in the hole. Dixon also lacks the physicality and toughness to hold up in pass protection. When forced to protect against blitzing linebackers in the backfield, Dixon repeatedly gets overwhelmed in the hole and his inability to stone defenders makes him a liability in pass pro. While those deficiencies don't outweigh his positive traits as a playmaker, Dixon's status as a role player could drop his value on some boards.