The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are likely to draft a running back at some point in the draft. Which makes Football Outsiders’ annual attempt to distill college production, athletic tests and other metrics into a useful projection of draftable running backs particularly interesting.
This year Football Outsiders revamped their projection, and it leads to some interesting results. They agree with the draftniks that Leonard Fournette is the best back in the draft by some distance, but things change a little from there.
Assuming that you want to draft a running back and Leonard Fournette isn’t available, Football Outsiders makes a pretty good case that Florida State’s Dalvin Cook should be your guy.
Dalvin's Cook's projection is so high because he sports an unusual combination of usage and efficiency. When a college running back is the focal point of his team's offense, his opponents will scheme against him. Although the running back can still be efficient, it would take a unique talent to post peak efficiency numbers while carrying an unusually large load.
There have been plenty of running backs who have been used as heavily as Cook or have been as efficient as Cook, but only one running back ever who has been used as heavily and been as efficient as Cook. Ricky Williams is the only other running back prospect to ever score an AOEPS above 20 percent and to average more than 6.0 yards per attempt.
In fact, they even suggest that Cook may be a better prospect than Fournette. Apparently the latter’s profile fits some high-profile busts, while there are few busts who resemble Cook—and even if he does disappoint as a runner, there’s probably room for him in an offense as a receiving option.
Of course, Cook may still fall because of off-field concerns after a series of incidents, including one where he was charged with battery of a 21-year-old woman, but found not guilty. That may scare away some teams, and we don’t know how the Bucs view that aspect of his game, either.
Interestingly, BackCAST is not a particular fan of Christian McCaffrey, though mostly that just means they think he’s a good prospect who isn’t at the level of Fournette or Cook. He’d still be a solid late first-round pick.
Intriguingly, though, the same is true for Wyoming’s Brian Hill, Oklahoma’s Samaje Perine, South Florida’s Marlon Mack, and Boise State’s Jeremy Nichols. If the Bucs want to wait a little while on drafting a back, targeting one of those players in the second round would make a late of sense.