In 2016 Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott was selected fourth overall in a selection that is likely to define the Dallas Cowboys for years to come. Two days later the Chicago Bears selected Indiana’s Jordan Howard in the fifth round with the 150th overall pick. Both went on to Pro Bowl performances as rookies. Although most of the attention has been paid to this year’s top four or five running backs, there could be another Jordan Howard waiting to de discovered in the mid to late rounds. Here are a few candidates:
James Conner 6’2” 235 Pittsburgh (3rd or 4th Round Projection)
Most people have heard James Conner’s story of resilience. An injury suffered early in his junior season led to an early diagnosis and in turn his triumph over cancer. In 2016 he rushed the ball 216 times for 1,092 yards and 16 touchdowns. While Conner’s play this season was good enough to get him drafted, he was even more productive as a sophomore when he rushed the ball 298 times for 1,765 yards and 26 touchdowns. Worst case scenario, Conner is a fighter and a situational bruising change of pace back. However, if Conner was not yet back to 100% for the 2016 season as I suspect, the sky could be the limit for him and he could be a huge steal.
Jamaal Williams 6’ 211 BYU (4th Round Projection)
Jamaal Williams is a physical runner who runs upright. Many people see that as a negative, but it has worked for others in the past and works for Williams who rushed for 1,375 and 12 touchdowns in his senior season. Williams could be an excellent value pick for someone looking for a downhill runner to compliment their ground game.
Brian Hill 6’1” 219 Wyoming (4th or 5th Round Projection)
Brian Hill was super productive over the last two years at Wyoming. Carrying the load for Coach Craig Bohl’s pro style offense, Hill had 281 rushes for 1,631 yards and six touchdowns in 2015 and followed that up with 349 rushes for 1,860 yards and 22 touchdowns this season. Hill is a 3-down running back who can catch the ball out of the backfield and takes pride in his ability to protect the quarterback.
T.J. Logan 5’9” 196 North Carolina (5th Round Projection)
Elijah Hood is the North Carolina rusher that most people have heard of, but the versatile T.J. Logan could big time play maker in the NFL. Logan rushed for 675 yards on 120 carries and had seven touchdowns in 2016. He caught 29 passes for 244 yards and three more touchdowns and added 690 yards and two more touchdowns as a returner. Although he weighs less than 200 pounds, his 4.37 40 and ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and return kicks will make him a valuable addition for someone.
Chris Carson 6’ 218 Oklahoma State (5th or 6th Round Projection)
Chris Carson is an interesting prospect. Although he certainly has the build you look for in a running back, he never had a great season at Oklahoma State. After excelling at Butler Community college, Carson transferred to Oklahoma State for his junior year. That year he was pretty mediocre. He showed a lot of potential as a senior, but was only able to play in 9 games due to a thumb injury. He did however average 6.8 yards per carry on the season. Carson adds to his value with his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and the fact that he had zero fumbles in his two years with the Cowboys.
Elijah McGuire 5’10” 214 Louisiana-Lafayette (5th or 6th Round Projection)
Elijah McGuire is a balanced back, who has the size to carry the workload on early downs and the receiving ability to stay on the field on third downs. In his four years at playing for the Ragin’ Cajuns McGuire rushed for 42 touchdowns and 4,301 yards averaging 6.1 yards per carry. He also caught 130 passes for 1,394 yards and 10 more touchdowns.
Jahad Thomas 5’10” 190 Temple (6th Round to Free Agent Projection)
Jahad Thomas is a multitalented back who can contribute in the NFL as both a change of pace back and a kick/punt returner. In the last two seasons Thomas has carried the ball 483 times for 2,215 yards and 30 touchdowns while also contributing 55 receptions for 634 yards and seven more touchdowns. He is very quick and has excellent hands.
Tarik Cohen 5’6” 179 North Carolina A&T (6th Round to Free Agent Projection)
With is slight stature, the main knock on Tarik Cohen is “can he take the punishment.” It is a fair question, particularly since he played at a small school. Cohen however did not just play at the FCS level, he carried the load for his team for four seasons. He rushed the ball at least 195 times per season and after his freshman year caught at least 25 passes per season as well. Cohen rushed for 5,619 yards on 874 carries in his career and missed only one game due to injury. Cohen is extremely shifting and makes cuts that seem physically impossible. Tarik Cohen reminds me of a smaller version of Danny Woodhead. Woodhead was also an extremely productive multi-year starter at a small school. Like Woodhead, Cohen may work best as a change of pass back. However, Cohen’s shiftiness may allow him to develop value as a kick returner at the NFL level.