The running back position is constantly changing in today's NFL landscape.
In the late 90's and early 2000's, names like Emmitt Smith and Barry Sanders dominated headlines on Monday mornings. The league eventually changed to quarterback-heavy offenses where passing became everything. Slowly but surely, many people in NFL circles began to chatter about the stock of the tailback position. It felt like it was rapidly declining.
Leave it to Jerry Jones and the Dallas Cowboys to change the narrative. With the No. 4 overall pick in last year's NFL Draft, America's team took a risk by selecting former Ohio State jack-of-all-trades Ezekiel Elliot. Sure, the 'Boys had a stellar offensive line, but Elliott proved the position is still alive and well, dashing for 1,631 yards and 15 touchdowns. The polished rookie also hauled in 32 receptions for 363 yards and one score.
There's no doubt Elliott caught the eyes of general managers and decision makers across the league. His success, paired with an elite crop of ball carriers in the 2017 class will make for an interesting draft weekend come April.
Fournette looked like a NFL back in 2015-16, but took a step back last season while nursing a lingering injury. At 6-foot-1 and 230 pounds, the former Tiger has ideal size and strength to thrive at the next level when healthy.
HERO Sports draft analyst Todd Worly believes so strongly that Fournette is the best player in the draft that he projected him at No. 1 overall in his first few mock drafts. I thought it was straight-up insane at first, but his reasoning is actually pretty sound. He says Cleveland is extremely far from contention, and this draft doesn't have a sure-fire quarterback prospect to take at No. 1, so they should take the best player in the draft — a running back who can make their offensive line look good and help relieve some pressure from whatever quarterback they've got back there. He's since changed Cleveland's pick in his most recent mock draft because it's unlikely the Browns will actually do it, but he has maintained that they should.
NFL.com put together an analysis of Fournette. Here's some of what they had to say:
"Built like a linebacker speed like a receiver. Long, powerful strides get speedy turnover. Click and go runner who hits his second gear faster than most big backs you'll ever see. Tacklers better bring full force and technique. Always the hammer and never the nail."
This is just one portion of the breakdown, but it's obvious Fournette fits the mold of an old-school style bruiser who can also burn defenders in the open field with his legs.
I'm sure you've seen him before, but take a look at this highlight reel:
The knocks on Fournette are almost always centered around his injury history. He was clearly a different player last season while trying to play through an ankle injury and NFL scouts worry that could become a lingering issue. Still, Fournette has the skill set to become the next breakout star in the pros.
Cook is one of those players that electrifies almost every time you watch him. He's shifty, confident and explosive when he breaks away from defensive backs in the second level.
Here's the NFL.com analysis on the former Seminoles back:
"Uses choppy feet and compact stride length downhill. Keeps feet under him and is able to make lateral cuts at a moment's notice. Flourished in zone, gap and power schemes at FSU. At his best running wide while setting up lead blockers. Has a run away gear around the corner he keeps tucked away for special occasions."
Cook's biggest drawbacks focus on his tendency to bounce it outside instead of getting tough and hitting the hole with confidence. He also had 13 fumbles during his tenure in Tallahassee and has been associated with off the field issues.
Take a look at what one executive told NFL.com about Cook.
"Fumbles and arrests are a bad combination. He's got a lot of ability but he has on the field problems with ball security and multiple arrests off of it. You will have to decide if he will be responsible with more money and more time on his hands."
Who do you take?
I've always felt Cook was more talented, but there are very few concerns with Fournette. The LSU star has always been a model citizen off the field and if he can stay healthy, should be an instant force on Sunday. I wouldn't immediately assume Cook will face struggles, though. We've seen players in similar situations (Jameis Winston, Dez Bryant etc.) get to the NFL and silence the critics.
Ultimately, I'd go with Fournette.