Casual fans tend to turn off the NFL draft after the first round; some will stick around for the rest of the first day, but by Day Two the draft viewership is strictly hardcore fans. But there are plenty of diamonds in the rough as scouts and GMs mine for the next Tom Brady or Marques Colston.
Here are a handful of running backs expected to hear their name called on the second day of the draft but who have the potential to make the team that selects them look very smart for doing so.
Of this group, Virginia’s Cedric Peerman is the one climbing the draft board rapidly enough that he may hear his name called at some point on Saturday. It doesn’t hurt his cause that the back he’s drawing comparisons to is the Steelers’ Willie Parker: a somewhat-overlooked ACC back with very good speed. Looking to avoid making the same mistake twice, Peerman has seen plenty of attention from scouts and impressed them with his skills.
Peerman has decent size (5-10, 215) and is a strong inside runner. He also has good top-end speed (clocked in the 4.3s over 40 yards) who might best fit a one-cut-and-go zone blocking type of offensive scheme. Peerman a high-effort player with kick return experience with zero character red flags. So what’s not to like? Durability is the biggest concern. Peerman’s junior season ended just six weeks in, and he underwent Lisfranc surgery in the offseason; he also missed a game as a senior with a foot sprain. And then there is the issue of Peerman’s small hands, which scouts are concerned will contribute to fumbling problems in the NFL. Despite the little mitts Peerman is a decent receiver who could wind up in a third-down/change-of-pace role as a rookie.
Nobody likes a complainer, which is why Purdue’s Kory Sheets may still be on the board on Day Two. A versatile back with decent size and speed and a nose for the goal line, Sheets left school as the Boilermakers’ second-leading rusher and top-scoring back. However, midway through his senior campaign Sheets attempted to take on another role as offensive coordinator, letting the media know the team would be more productive if he got more carries and struggling quarterback Curtis Painter threw less. That didn’t sit well with Purdue’s other coaches, and it may raise a character concern in draft rooms.
Sheets’ overconfidence aside, there’s no questioning his productivity. At 5-11, 208 he could add a few pounds without losing quickness, and his 54 career touchdowns establish his ability to find the end zone. He’s a natural runner with good burst and vision, has experience in the return game, and never missed a game at Purdue due to injury. And while he appeared to put fumbling concerns behind him with just one turnover as a senior, a history of ball security issues and the aforementioned worries about his emotional maturity may prevent some teams from giving Sheets an opportunity.
Glen Coffee might have benefited from a final year at Alabama, but he opted to enter the NFL after a junior season in which he matched Shaun Alexander’s 1,383 rushing yards—good for second on the Crimson Tide’s all-time list. He provides an intriguing combo platter of size (6-0, 210) and decent speed, but Coffee’s real attributes are vision, burst through the hole, and willingness to run over defenders.
The former Florida high school power-lifting champ does have some injury issues in his past, but the most serious ones—athletic hernia, severely sprained MCL and ACL—date back to 2006. Still, it’s a concern for pro scouts given his aggressive running style. A punishing runner with good burst, Coffee should at minimum have a chance to play his way into a complementary role as a short-yardage/goal line back and has potential to develop into perhaps even a little bit more.
James Davis was considered a potential second-round pick prior to last year’s draft; instead he opted to return to Clemson for his senior season, where he produced a mildly disappointing 751 yards and 11 touchdowns as part of the Tigers’ two-headed backfield with C.J. Spiller (more on him next year). It’s not as if Davis got smaller or slower, and some scouts believe a subpar surrounding cast had more to do with Davis’ subdued numbers than any lack of talent.
Davis is more complementary piece than full-fledged feature back, and he’ll be drafted as such. It’s also somewhat disconcerting that for a back who’s destined to be an inside/short yardage guy in the pros he’s not a particularly overpowering runner. What Davis offers is good size and burst and better speed than you might expect from a guy labeled a power runner. He’ll need work as a receiver and pass-blocker, but those may not even be roles he’s asked to fill in the NFL.
With a 40 clocking in the 4.7 range, Colorado State’s Gartrell Johnson won’t run away from many pro defenders. But that’s not his game; Johnson is more of a bruising power back, a 220-yard battering ram who runs hard and low. Ask Fresno State how much fun they had absorbing Johnson’s 285-yard, two-touchdown beatdown in the New Mexico Bowl.
While Johnson has played some fullback in college, he has the vision and burst of a tailback; he’s also a decent pass-catcher, which might just make him a very nice fit for a West Coast offense fullback. And teams looking at Johnson as a goal line option have to love the fact that he fumbled just once in 310 touches last year. After a solid showing at the East-West Shrine Game, Johnson should see a Day Two call to join a backfield rotation or maybe even be used as a clock-eater like the Ravens used Le’Ron McClain last year.