4. Ohio State RB Ezekiel Elliott
6-foot-0, 225 pounds
Key stat: In four-game span to close out the Buckeyes’ 2014 national-title season — against rival Michigan, Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game, and Alabama and Oregon in the two playoff games — Elliott rushed 93 times for 817 yards (8.8 yards per carry) and 10 touchdowns.
The skinny: An elite prep track and football star, coached by former NFL quarterback Gus Frerotte, who chose Ohio State over Mizzou, where both his parents were alumni. Elliott averaged 8.7 yards a carry as a true freshman in a part-time role and then broke out as a sophomore in 2014. Despite suffering a broken left wrist in the preseason, Elliott carried the ball in his right hand and amassed nearly 2,100 yards from scrimmage and scored 18 TDs on the season, capping it with title game MVP honors in a 246-yard, 4-TD rushing game against Oregon.
Elliott scored 23 TDs in 2015 as a junior and was held below 108 yards rushing in one game — the Buckeyes’ loss to Michigan State before which he spent two days in the hospital with a leg infection and a 103-degree fever. After the game, Elliott complained about the coaches not giving him the ball more in the game that ended OSU’s unbeaten season. He scored at least one TD in 17 of his final 18 games, ran for 100 yards or more in 17 of 18 games and lost only four fumbles in 653 college touches.
Best-suited destination: Put him in a man- or a zone-blocking scheme. Line him up in I-formations or single-back sets. Run quick-hitting stuff or more slow-developing plays. Elliott has done it all, and there isn’t much he’s not good at. He could be featured more as a receiver in the pros than he was in college, and Elliott is one of the best pass-protecting backs in recent memory. Elliott has the makeup of a player who could and should step into an NFL lineup — no matter the system — and be a factor from Day 1. Any team that values toughness, smarts, versatility and exceptional vision in its backs would love to have him.
Upside: If teams draft strictly for talent, he should not wait long to hear his name called. The breakout of Todd Gurley (following an ACL injury, no less) showed that rare talents at running back are the exceptions to the don’t-draft-an-RB-high argument. Elliott has that kind of ability, and other than a nagging wrist injury that he’s played through, there is not a big durability concern with him. Elliott routinely turns potential losses into gains, will fight through tiny cracks, is a great short-yardage runner and is a three-down contributor. He has very few limiting or discernable weaknesses.
Downside: Many teams, especially those that throw the ball 60 percent or more of the time, are not likely to see the same value of a running back in the top half-dozen picks of the draft. Are they going to take a pass blocker, part-time runner and four-catch-a-game back that high? It has been a pattern in the NFL for lower-round picks (or undrafted players even) at that position to have success that’s way out of whack from their draft status. Elliott called out his coaches in the heat of the moment, and his passion for the game and self-confidence might not sit well with a hard-line, old-school coach.
Scouting hot take: “Best back I’ve scouted in years. I’ll admit I was all in on [Trent Richardson], too. But this one is different. He could be a Marshall Faulk-like back in a few years.” — AFC college scouting director
Player comp: There might never be another LaDainian Tomlinson, but Elliott is the closest thing since him