2017 NFL Draft Running Back Watch List: Big Ten

In the past two years of the NFL Draft, two running backs have been selected in the first round. As NFL defenses get smaller in order to defend the pass, teams are looking to run the football more often. The 2017 NFL Draft running back class is the deepest in many years, and will provide NFL teams with the opportunity to pick up fantastic running back talents in various rounds. More than one back will likely go in the first. Matty Brown shares analysis on the running backs on his watch list for the 2017 draft, with this piece focusing on Big Ten prospects. 

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Devine Redding, Indiana, Junior

Redding is the lesser known, lesser publicized 1,000-yard rusher Indiana produced last year. Now he has the opportunity to run without current Chicago Bears back Jordan Howard receiving the spotlight. He will definitely benefit from receiving touches, being a back who grows into the game the more reps he is given. He has a nice hurdle move and impressive balance, but lacks breakaway speed. One worrying fact is that Redding rushed for only 3.5 yards per carry through the Hoosiers’ first 10 games.

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Corey Clement, Wisconsin, Senior

Clement was supposed to be one of the best college running backs in 2015. Second on the depth chart behind Melvin Gordon in 2014, he ran for 949 yards at an average of 6.5 yards per carry. He eclipsed the 100-yard mark seven times in his first two years with the Badgers. Yet the big expectations never materialized in 2015, as Clement was hampered by injuries including a sports hernia in late August. From the 48 carries he took in in 2015, he rushed for just 221 yards and five touchdowns.  

Now fully healthy and with walk-on, once cornerback, Dare Ogunbowale helping to ease the load, the breakout year that Clement should have had in 2015 could happen in 2016. Historically associated with great run-blocking offensive lines, Wisconsin’s line struggled last year with its relative inexperience. This year, 62 career starts return on the offensive line. Clement’s nice, physical burst to the second level, ability to get small at the line of scrimmage, and reasonable patience should see him become a formidable weapon running behind it. In the open field, he has quick feet and great balance at 5’11” 220 lbs but he lacks lateral quickness, despite being able to make people miss occasionally. It is fair to say that Clement is a runner who takes what is blocked for him, lacking the ability to create yardage. That suits Wisconsin just fine, but questions remain over drafting Badgers running backs; The program churns out productive running backs, but they have largely disappointed in the NFL

He also appears to have matured thanks to his injury, and also following his citation for two counts of disorderly conduct in November, where he instigated a fight in his apartment complex and lied to head coach Paul Chryst and running backs coach John Settle about the incident.

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Justin Jackson, Northwestern, Junior

In one of the nation’s worst passing attacks, particularly last season, Jackson has managed back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons. In 2015, he rushed for 1,418 yards and five touchdowns. His low 4.5 average yards per carry can only improve, as the Wildcats’ passing game can not realistically get any worse. A bit of consistency would yield some improvement on its own. Handing off to the 5’11” 190 lbs Jackson 25 to 30 times a game is definitely not the best approach and, hopefully — for the sake of his health — he will be better managed this year. The quick-footed and nimble Jackson is elusive in space and caught 21 passes. He would be great to pair with someone in more of a power back mold.

Follow Matthew on Twitter @mattyfbrown. Check out Matt’s piece on Kenneth Dixon and what the Ravens should expect from him this season.

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