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NFL Scouting combine muddles running back picture

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NFL Combine - Day 3 Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Just a week ago, there was a pretty clear hierarchy in the 2017 NFL draft’s running back class: Leonard Fournette was the best, followed by Dalvin Cook and then, generally, Christian McCaffrey.

But with the NFL Scouting Combine under way and the backs going through drills yesterday, things are becoming slightly more muddled. All three backs ran similar times in the 40-yard dash: 4.48 seconds for McCaffrey, 4.49 seconds for Cook and 4.51 seconds for Fournette.

That was still a clear win for Fournette, given that he weighed in at 240 lbs. compared to Cook’s 210 lbs. and McCaffrey’s 202 lbs. But things changed rather quickly in different drills. Most notably, McCaffrey dominated the agility and explosiveness drills. Per SB Nation’s Adam Stites:

His 37.5-inch vertical was far better than Fournette’s 28.5 or Cook’s 30.5 jumps. He also posted a time of 6.57 seconds in the three-cone drill, one of the best ever marks in the drill.

Meanwhile, Fournette had a pretty bad day, bombing the vertical jump and generally posting lackluster numbers in everything except the 40-yard dash. Cook’s numbers fell in the middle.

All of that muddles the picture a little bit. Not too much, of course, because combine numbers aren’t the same thing as game film — they’re complementary data that help create a full picture. But this will lead some evaluators to go back to the tape and see if they missed something.

That may lead to some interesting re-evaluations. Dan Kadar, for instance, thinks Dalvin Cook is the best back in the draft — and he thought that before the combine numbers came out.

This muddled picture does suggest one thing, though: if the Bucs do want to draft a running back in the first round, they can probably just wait for one of these guys to fall to them. No need to panic or target a particular player, because the differences don’t seem significant enough to warrant a massive investment when you can just wait, instead.