A look at the Broncos’ running back options in a loaded 2017 draft

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It’s almost April, and that means one thing and one thing only, focus in the NFL is completely shifted to the draft. Teams are currently in the process of gaining more intel on players with the last rounds of pro days and private workouts and eventually finalizing draft boards.

The first 'need position' we’ve covered for the Denver Broncos is an obvious one as there appears to be a big hole at left tackle. But make no mistake, the offensive line is far from the only issue this offense has had the last few seasons. At full strength and on paper, Denver has a good starting running back in C.J. Anderson and some intriguing young backs behind him in Devontae Booker and Kapri Bibbs. However, it’s been clear the last few seasons that depth and quality are severely lacking once Anderson isn’t available, which has been far too often the past two seasons.

Because of this, running back is a need in the draft. An added bonus, this 2017 class of backs is special, and has been talked about for years now. That, on top of the fact that the position is a young man's game and the Broncos probably should take someone with their ten picks.

With that, here are the best options for the Broncos to solidify the position in the upcoming draft with options at all picks.

Note: Leonard Fournette isn’t included here as he'll likely be selected out of the Broncos reach. A few other collegiate backs aren’t included here also as they’ll be featured in other need pieces focused on return specialist and slot receivers.

Immediate game changers at 20

Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State

Cook has been a phenom in college football for the past three seasons, emerging later in the year as a freshman and becoming one of the greatest backs in Florida State’s history. On film, he’s explosive, with a powerful lower body, and is a threat to hit home runs constantly. Despite being on the smaller side at 5-foot-10 and 210 pounds, he’s a devastating interior runner with some great instincts. Once he finds lanes to break runs to the outside, he’s simply special.

Cook is also an outstanding talent as a receiver and can be flexed out wide and is a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses. His offseason hasn’t gone well as his combine was extremely disappointing and he also has some injury concerns including recurring shoulder problems which could force him to slip. But, on tape, he’s a top 10 talent in this class and would be a coup at pick 20. Cook’s electric talent would add a playmaking dimension that the Denver backfield has been lacking since Clinton Portis and could truly bring back the run game to Denver. At pick 20, while deciding to take an offensive lineman or a playmaker, players like Cook can outweigh the scales as he’s the rare talent who could overcome poor line play to help a running game succeed.

Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford

McCaffrey needs little introduction to fans locally who’ve been in awe of Ed’s son since his days as a high school phenom. As far as the Broncos are concerned, he’s valuable, not just because he’s an electric playmaker but because he could fill multiple needs while creating mismatches across the field.

At right around 200 pounds the former Cardinal is small, but he possesses great vision and patience plus a strong lower body that allows him to be an extremely productive interior runner. He also has big-time athletic talent, can be a beast in the open field and possess the long speed to turn big runs into touchdowns.

In addition to being a major talent at running back, he’s also a very polished and accomplished receiver both out the backfield, or when flexed out in the slot or outside. Thanks to high-level coaching he’s already a polished route runner and has great natural hands. Add to that his dynamic return ability and you can understand why he’s such a coveted talent who might not be around once the Broncos pick in the first round.

With a creative play caller, he could really be a special NFL player.

Alvin Kamara, RB, Tennessee

Kamara doesn’t have the production the two guys above him have, but his potential is real. He’s dealt with a lot in his collegiate career having been a top recruit then transferring from Alabama after some disciplinary issues and landing at Tennesee after a brief community college stint. At Tennessee, he’s shown flashes of greatness but really only started in the second half of this past season.

He’s the definition of shifty and is a nightmare to tackle in the open field. Few are able to regularly embarrass SEC defenders in the open field like Kamara does, he sometimes appears impossible to tackle. He’s also explosive and can break off big gains while showing some growth as an interior runner - though his vision needs to be developed significantly. He’s a major factor in the receiving game as well where he’s racked up 74 receptions the past two season for seven touchdowns and 683 yards. Find ways to get him in space and good things will happen for your team.

By all accounts, he’s been an exemplary student-athlete since his time at Alabama, and his stock couldn’t be higher after some freaky testing numbers in Indianapolis.

With all that said, Kamara would be a luxury pick for Denver in the first round as there will be players who are more ready-made pros at need positions in the 20’s. But given his soaring stock and his major upside, 20th overall is likely the only time the Broncos will have a shot at selecting him. Interestingly enough, Denver met with Kamara at the combine.

Immediate game changers on day two

Joe Mixon, RB, Oklahoma

Mixon is sadly one of the most well-known prospects in this entire draft and for all the wrong reasons. He was all the rage for draftniks by November as he really began to impress on the field showing the upside that made him such a desirable recruit. But his public image has taken a big hit since then after a very public incident his freshman year was released on video showing him punching a young woman. To fans of major college football, the incident has been known for years, and Mixon has behaved himself at Oklahoma after serving a one-year suspension, but the video’s certainly made his perceptions hard to deal with.

That’s why the Broncos and several other organizations are bringing him in for private visits. On the field, the young man is special and every bit as talented as the top three guys on the list. At 220 pounds he’s big but also possesses outstanding athleticism. He’s quick, will make defenders look silly missing tackles with some great lateral mobility, and has the long speed to be a home-run threat. He’s also a major terror as a receiver, particularly in the screen game where his open field skills really shine. If the Broncos go another route at pick 20 and have a plan in place with Mixon, pick 51 wouldn’t be too rich. It will (and should) bother people that he will be on the team, but from a draft perspective being able to get a first-round talent in the second round would be a great value.

D’Onta Foreman, RB, Texas

Foreman is a mack truck of a runner going over 2,000 yards this past season for the Longhorns and playing at around 250 pounds. He's shed weight in the offseason to 233 pounds a good sign that he can manage his weight.

As a runner, he’s surprisingly nimble for a big man runs with a good pad level and is dangerous once he finds a lane breaking plenty of big runs this past season. At his size, he’s also powerful and breaks quite a few tackles. He’s certainly capable of carrying the workload for an NFL backfield and would be a tone setter for any team he joins.

Still a bit raw, he needs to be groomed as a receiver but you know what you get with Foreman who possesses several NFL-ready traits.

Marlon Mack, RB, South Florida

Mack has done well in the draft process showing nicely at the combine. Look at his running style and well-rounded skillset, and there really isn’t much of a difference between him and Kamara.

Mack is explosive, particularly laterally when making cuts in the open field. He’s also a talented receiver out of the backfield and was often flexed out wide. He's shown some nice vision and patience as well while at USF a very important trait to have in the league. He’s far from perfect and needs to be more consistent in hitting the hole instead of bouncing runs outside.

But Mack’s an intriguing talent who could be a valuable offensive weapon in Denver a selection in round two wouldn't be unreasonable. Mack is another player the Broncos have talked to in Indianapolis.

Jamaal Williams, RB, BYU

Williams broke out early in the year with some monstrous performances, and the Broncos interviewed him at the Senior Bowl where he was a standout. Williams’ running style is contagious as he’s a no-nonsense north-and-south runner who averaged an impressive 5.9 yards per carry. A one cut and go type of runner who's very talented in creating positive yardage after contact.

A bit one dimensional, he’d require development as a receiver. He also has some injury concerns as he’s missed time with ankle and knee injuries throughout his career. But his talent is real as he could be an immediate bell cow in the league. He’s fairly explosive but lacks top level long speed which could lower his stock some. 51 might be a bit rich with all this depth, but he’d be a great pick in the third round for Denver.

Brian Hill, RB, Wyoming

Hill has already received interest from the Broncos who interviewed him at the combine. He’s a no-nonsense runner who’s constantly getting positive yards and churning our extra inches on contact thanks to his 220-pound frame. He runs low and really stands out for his patience and vision. Hill’s also impressively nimble and can push a run to the outside with speed to win the corner.

He’s a very complete runner and willing pass blocker who shows well in that area. A developing receiver he wasn’t used much in the passing game as a junior but has 41 career receptions and 403 career yards in two seasons as the starter, there’s certainly promise there. With an impressive 1,860 yards with 22 touchdowns, he jumped on the scene in 2016 and was also one of the faster backs in Indianapolis, especially considering his size, by running a 4.54 40-yard dash. Pick 51 might be high. However, he’d be a great selection with one of the Broncos two late third round selections.

Wayne Gallman, RB, Clemson

Gallman has lost some shine after testing bit slower than expected and measuring lighter than expectations as well at the combine. But the well-rounded body of work is there, and he guarantees you a solid contributor with the potential for more.

Gallman is a powerful runner who’s unafraid to take on contact. A bit of an upright runner, he has some good vision and quickness showing the ability to kick runs to the outside but is also a very talented interior runner. He’s been a big factor as a receiver out the backfield and has been very productive for the National Champions the past two years. Before the draft process he seemed like a likely second round pick, but more realistically now Denver could snatch him up in the third.

Gems for day three

Jeremy McNichols, RB, Boise State

McNichols is a bowling ball, short but packing on lots of weight. He’s very fast and loves to break runs to the outside. He’s also a powerful runner with some great lateral shiftiness. On top of all that he’s a competent receiver with the skills to get defenders in trouble in the open field.

He’s a bit frustrating in pushing runs outside too often when he could attack the interior lanes. Vision and patience will need work, but he’d be a valuable contributor immediately adding some speed and explosion.

Joe Williams, RB, Utah

Williams is famous for having retired earlier in the year and then coming back to simply dominate. In his final six games, he ran for 1,332 yards and 10 touchdowns. He’s also made the best of the draft process showing well at the Shrine Game and then running in the 4.441 at the combine.

Williams is explosive, and he’s unafraid to run up the middle despite a 210-pound frame. He hits a hole and simply breaks away from people. His long speed and explosiveness make him a particularly appealing talent for Denver as the Broncos need a playmaker more than anything.

Kareem Hunt, RB, Toledo

Hunt’s stock was at an all-time high after a great Senior Bowl showing but he was one of the most disappointing backs at the combine and with this group that’ll lose you lots of ground.

The MAC star has played at 220 pounds but showed up in the offseason closer to 205 where he looked shiftier and more explosive. He runs with great balance, is hard to bring down and is also a factor in the receiving game while showing ability in pass protection as well. Maybe not the sexiest pick, but Hunt would be great value from the third round on and bring lots of qualities that would help the running back room.

Summing it up

If there’s one thing this list should show, it's the depth and talent of this class, as it’s truly an elite group. There are several other players that would merit mention but simply didn’t make the cut like NC State’s Matthew Dayes or Mixon’s teammate Samaje Perine. This means that while it might be too rich come draft day to select a running back high, at least one should be picked as the upside is just too tantalizing to pass up this year.

Stay tuned to BSN as we’ll continue our position previews for the Broncos from now until draft day.

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