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As we begin the countdown to the NFL Draft starting on April 30,
I will spend anywhere from 4-8 hours to break down the strengths
and weaknesses of at least the top 15 offensive skill-position prospects
available in this draft.
Day 2: Yeldon has a great chance to be
the best back taken outside of the first round in this draft.
A 2011 USA Today High School All-American, Yeldon immediately delivered
on that potential by becoming the first freshman in school history
to run for over 1,000 yards – joining Eddie Lacy as the first
Crimson Tide teammates to reach that mark in the same season –
while also tying Mark Ingram’s freshman program record with
12 rushing touchdowns. Despite missing a late-season game against
Chattanooga in order to rest an ankle injury, Yeldon enjoyed his
finest statistical season in 2013, running for 1,235 yards and 14
touchdowns en route to first-team All-SEC honors. Alabama changed
its offensive identity in 2014 under new OC Lane Kiffin, who focused
most of his efforts on making Amari Cooper one of the most productive
receivers in conference history. Some of the reason for that change
of philosophy could have been due to the fact that Yeldon dealt
with ankle or hamstring injuries for the majority of the season.
He missed one game against another FCS opponent in Western Carolina
to rest those ailments, but didn’t appear to be 100 percent
in either one of the final Crimson Tide’s final two games.
Best Scheme Fit: One-cut zone scheme.
Vision, patience, decisiveness and explosion through the hole
are among the characteristics many good backs that work out of
zone-running schemes share and all are qualities Yeldon has. As
he continues to add lower-body strength, there’s a good
chance he could be equally effective in a power-based scheme as
Patient, efficient and decisive runner that uses
short, choppy steps to avoid dancing in the hole before utilizing
impressive burst to attack the second level.
Extremely light on his feet and impressive COD (change
of direction) skills for a 220-pound back.
Has the lateral agility to make a penetrating defender
miss regularly in the backfield and can string together multiple
moves in open space.
Possesses an innate feel for when the hole or cutback
lane is about to develop and does a good job of setting up the
second-level defender while still in the hole.
Excellent at converting at the goal line (82.3 percent
conversion rate from the 2-yard line or closer over the last
two years; the average across FBS schools in those situations
was 59.3 in 2014).
More accomplished as a receiver than his 46 career receptions
suggest; played the majority of third downs for the Crimson
Runs too upright – a common problem for backs
6-0 or taller – which exposes him to bigger hits and often
leads to ball-security issues for most backs.
Fumbling was a problem throughout his career (10 in
576 carries); managed to improve in his final season (0.9 fumble
percentage in 2014; 1.3 in first two years).
Runs with less power than one would expect for a man
his size and doesn’t break many tackles; doesn’t
typically move the pile in short-yardage situations.
A work in progress in pass pro, but has flashed excellence
in his ability to stone a blitzer cold more than most other
high-profile backs in this draft.
Can be a bit too patient at times waiting for a hole
to develop when a 2-3 yard play is all the play is going to
The Bell comparison may seem to be high praise, but I think it
is pretty close (outside of the fact that Bell is much more proven
as a receiver at the same point of his career – which is
no fault of Yeldon’s). It is easy to forget after an injury-riddled
final season in Tuscaloosa that it was Yeldon – not Eddie
Lacy – who was considered to be the crown jewel of the Crimson
Tide’s annually loaded backfield during their BCS National
Championship run following the 2012 season. The problem for him
is that since his freshman season, I believe he has added weight
to run with more power and, instead, it has taken away his ability
to break long runs consistently. Buying into Yeldon as a top-three
running back prospect requires answering a couple of questions
that cannot easily be answered: 1) How much was his drop in production
in 2014 due to nagging ankle and hamstring injuries? and 2) Does
he want to put on more muscle in the pros in an effort to add
more power to his game or drop weight in order to become more
of a big-play back (again)? Ideally, I’d like to see Yeldon
play lighter (perhaps he has started the process already; at least
one person reported he timed the likely Day 2 pick in the 4.4
range at his pro day). The absence of those runs that flip the
field is about the only area of his game that I think might hold
him back from becoming a feature back. There are plenty of folks
that believe Yeldon may be nothing more than a rotational back
and, while that is a possibility, bigger backs with his elusiveness
are relatively rare. While I don’t think he will take over
the league like Bell did in 2014 anytime soon, I do believe Yeldon
has a great chance to be the best back taken outside of the first
round in this draft and potentially its second-best back overall
behind Todd Gurley.
Doug Orth has written for FF Today since 2006 and appeared in
USA Today’s Fantasy Football Preview magazine in 2010 and
2011. He is also the host of USA Today’s hour-long, pre-kickoff
fantasy football internet chat every Sunday. Doug regularly appears
as a fantasy football analyst on Sirius XM’s “Fantasy
Drive” and for 106.7 The Fan (WJFK – Washington, D.C).
He is also a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.
E-mail Doug or follow
him on Twitter.