We begin our preview of the players you need to watch at the upcoming NFL Scouting Combine (NFL Network coverage begins Friday, March 3) with the running back group, one of the deepest positions in the upcoming NFL Draft. It's a class that has been highly acclaimed and very much anticipated for the last year or two. There are potential star players at the top of the pecking order, and a lot of depth at this position as a whole. This could result in more players drafted than we've seen in recent years as well as more productive players falling to the later rounds.
To quickly explain the categories below, start first with our Top Pick, the best prospect at each position.
Our Workout Warriors are prospects who you should expect to see perform best in the athletic testing drills (40-yard dash, cone drills, jumps, and/or bench press).
Keep a close eye on our Stopwatch Shockers, participants who could surprise NFL teams with a strong workout out on the turf in Indianapolis.
Trust The Tape players, on the other hand, are talented players who are not expected to test well, so you've been warned!
The Will Kill The Drills prospects may or may not be great athletes, but they will look the sharpest when it's time to get into position-specific drills.
Our Most To Prove selections have a major question to answer away from the playing field, whether it's during the interview process, medical examinations, or even the weigh-ins.
The Most Productive College Players are pretty self-explanatory, while the "Best Story" gives you a person to root for because his journey throughout his career helps set him apart from his peers.
The Philly Connection highlights a player who has a special tie to the City of Brotherly Love or to the Eagles that you should keep a close eye on.
Finally, the Mr. Average chart will give you a snapshot of what the average prospect drafted at his specific position has looked like over the span of the last five years to give you some context when the numbers from Indy start pouring in.
Let's get into the running backs.
Top Pick: Leonard Fournette (LSU)
There are teams and analysts who may slide Dalvin Cook from Florida State into this spot, but barring any kind of medical red flag I do believe that Fournette will be the first back selected in April. Will he go in the top five like Ezekiel Elliott did in 2016? That's unlikely at this point, but I do think they're comparable prospects from a quality standpoint. Fournette's special tools will be put on display in Indianapolis.
Workout Warrior: Dalvin Cook (Florida State)
One of the most explosive ball carriers to come out in the draft the last few years, Cook can go from 0-to-60 in a heartbeat and has jaw-dropping speed in the open field. Cook is a player who has been linked to the Eagles in dozens of mock drafts over the last 12 months. The first-team All-America selection can fit in any offense because of his short-area burst and the fact that he's more physical than given credit for with his 5-11, 213-pound frame. Cook will have questions to answer away from the field, so a good workout will be necessary for him to keep up the first-round buzz.
Stopwatch Shockers: Kareem Hunt (Toledo)
Believed by many analysts to be more of a 4.50-speed rusher, Hunt reportedly has been running closer to 4.40 in the 40-yard dash during pre-Combine workouts (courtesy of our friend Tony Pauline from DraftAnalyst.com). Hunt was also listed in the 230-pound range last fall for the Rockets, but showed up at 208 in January at the Senior Bowl. Can the competitive runner maintain his physical style at the lighter weight? That remains to be seen, but a good 40-yard dash time and, more importantly, an impressive 10-yard split would be a good look for the senior ball carrier. I'd say my "honorable mention" pick for this category would be Oklahoma's Samaje Perine. His numbers won't look all that impressive when stacked up side by side with others in this class, but when you factor in that he's 235 pounds, the numbers will be a bit eye-opening.
Trust The Tape: De'Veon Smith (Michigan)
If you've been following along over the last few months, you know I'm a big fan of Smith's game. A physical runner who flourishes between the tackles because of his violent nature, Smith is an excellent blocker and reliable receiver. He's just not a dynamic athlete. If he were to break the mid-4.5 range in the 40-yard dash, I would consider that impressive. I would venture to guess that his shuttle times will be below average as well. When that happens, don't fret, we already know that isn't what his game is about, so don't knock him twice for it on your draft board at home! I'd say the same for Texas' D'Onta Foreman and Pitt's James Conner.
Will Kill The Drills: Christian McCaffrey (Stanford)
Position drills for running backs at the Combine typically involve running over bags, reacting quickly to movement, and catching the ball out in space. These are areas where McCaffrey should look good across the board. Expect him to look as good as anyone once the position drills start, and I expect him to have a good timing day as well.
Most To Prove: Alvin Kamara (Tennessee)
Fournette has a bit of a hill to climb during his medical check as teams decipher whether or not his 2016 ankle injury is anything to be worried about long term, but I think Kamara has the most to prove to teams away from the field in Indianapolis. The junior was suspended twice and never saw the field during his time at Alabama before leaving the Tide, going to junior college, and transferring to Tennessee for his final two seasons. With the Volunteers, Kamara stayed clean off the field and coaches and teammates have said nothing but good things about him to the media, and was even named a captain his final year as an underclassman. So, which Alvin Kamara will the NFL get? That's the question he has to answer.
Most Productive College Player: Donnel Pumphrey (San Diego State)
Pumphrey put up crazy video game-type numbers throughout his career with the Aztecs, finishing as the NCAA's all-time leader in rushing yards with 6,405. He rushed for at least 1,600 yards in each of the past three years and eclipsed the 2,000 yard mark for the first time this past season. Pumphrey is severely undersized at 5-8, 169 pounds, but he's quick, tough, has good vision, and catches the ball well out of the backfield. His production at the college level speaks for itself, but with his frame he will likely need to prove himself as a special athlete to garner anything more than late-round consideration in this draft class.
Best Story: Elijah McGuire (Louisiana-Lafayette)
McGuire will be taking the field in Indianapolis hoping to get "March Madness" started a bit early. The Louisiana native arrived on campus as a two-sport athlete, doubling as a point guard for the Ragin Cajuns' basketball team, where his athletic ability was put on great display and further carried over to the gridiron. McGuire finished his career as one of two active players in the NCAA with 3,000 rushing yards and another 1,000 receiving. He burst onto the scene as a sophomore, winning the Sun Belt Player of the Year and Offensive Player of the Year honors. After nearly entering the 2016 NFL Draft, McGuire chose to go back to school and finish his degree. He profiles best as a potential matchup problem on third down for an NFL offense with his athletic background.
Philly Connection: Corey Clement (Wisconsin)
A native of Glassboro, New Jersey, just a half-hour south of Philadelphia, Clement was named first-team All-Big Ten in his final season as a starter for the Badgers. After attending the Senior Bowl in January, Clement is looking to showcase his athleticism in front of all 32 teams at the Combine, where he should be able to leverage his quickness, short-area burst, and change-of-direction skills to help boost his stock in a loaded group of ball carriers.
Fran Duffy is the producer of "Eagles Game Plan" which can be seen on Saturdays during the season. Be sure to also check out the "Eagle Eye In The Sky" podcast on the Philadelphia Eagles podcast channel on iTunes. Prior to joining the Eagles in 2011, Duffy was the head video coordinator for the Temple University Football team under former head coach Al Golden. In that role, he spent thousands of hours shooting, logging and assisting with the breakdown of the All-22 film from the team's games, practices and opponents.