The NFL Draft is the time of year where you learn the most about NFL teams. Their views on weaknesses, willingness to deal with off-the-field issues, and overall team direction. As fans, we wonder why an NFL club would pick one position over the next, especially if there is a greater and more immediate team need throughout the draft process. However, a lot of NFL teams are building for the future, and aren’t planning to throw their rookie crop into the fire unless they have too. In this column, I am going to review my top-5 running backs who gained value from the 2017 NFL Draft.
Turning a weakness into a strength is never an easy thing to do, but the Chargers are definitely trying their best. Starting with free agency, the Chargers have signed Russell Okung, an improvement over King Dunlap on the left side, and draft two starters, or soon to be starters, in the NFL Draft (Forrest Lamp and Dan Freeney). Combine the invest in the offensive line with little competition on the roster for touches (Branden Oliver, Kenneth Farrow, and Andre Williams), Gordon is in store for all of the touches he could ever want.
The first person you should meet in Buffalo is their new offensive coordinator Rick Dennison. The name may not be familiar, but the new offensive coordinator has helped with some of the best rushing teams since 2010 (4 top-10 rushing teams since 2010). With the new offensive coordinator comes a new, but not foreign, zone blocking scheme. An offensive strategy Shady is familiar with, Andy Reid ran a zone blocking system and gives McCoy the ability to better use his lateral agility. The offensive line in Buffalo is getting healthy again in Buffalo as Cody Glenn continues to rehab and Richie Incognito builds on his strong 2016. Also, the Bill drafted in the second round OL Dion Dawkins who spent most of his rookie mini-camp playing left tackle. I would expect Dawkins to flip to the right side of the line and be the starting right tackle on day one of the 2017 NFL season.
After the Rams’ terrible 2016 campaign and having no 2017 first round draft pick it can be hard to put on the rose colored glasses with this offense. With that said, I do believe Sean McVay and company already understand the franchise foundation running back they have in place and are building around him. With an upgraded offensive line (Andrew Whitworth recently signed and Greg Robinson being moved inside to left guard), high volume of touches (carries and receptions), improved offensive game plan, and little competition for touches, Gurley should return to top-15 running back status in 2017.
Before injuring his foot in Week 2 of the 2016 NFL season, Ameer Abdullah was getting the featured back treatment in Detroit. Through Week 2 Abdullah was averaging over 5.5 yards per carry, involved in the passing game, and no one else in the Detroit backfield was seeing a carry. Fast forward to 2017 and the Lions have brought in no competition for carries, invested first round picks on the offensive line in 2015 and 2016 (Laken Tomlinson and Taylor Decker respectively), and just signed two high priced free agents to man the right side (T.J. Lang and Ricky Wagner). The new Detroit offensive line looks ready to protect Matt Stafford and move piles for Ameer Abdullah.
One of my favorite running backs to watch in 2016 was Isaiah Crowell. He showed incredible burst, balance, vision, and the ability to break tackles. He did all of this while shuffling through six different passers in seven weeks and Cam Erving being abused at every offensive line position he was placed at. Moving into 2017 the story should be different for The Crow. His offensive line has gone from one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL to one of the best and deepest offensive lines, on paper. The Browns have brought in center JC Tretter from the Packers, former Bengals guard Kevin Zeitler and drafted Roderick Johnson out of Florida State University as a developmental tackle. With massive upgrades to the offensive line, better quarterback play (Brock Osweiler should be an improvement on any quarterback the Browns rolled out in 2016), and a better defense to keep the game script favorable, the Browns are positioned to have one of the best rushing attacks, led by Isaiah Crowell, in the NFL.