As we delve further into the Pittsburgh Steelers offseason, our attention has begun to shift towards the draft. Like we’ve done in the past, these reports will cover the prospects of the 2015 NFL Draft, placing an emphasis on those who could help the Steelers the most.
Steelers second year running back Le’Veon Bell was named team MVP for the 2014 season, in lieu of Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown who set multiple Steelers records. Bell, however, was a huge part of the Steelers success in 2014 while setting the franchise record for yards from scrimmage.
The Steelers realized how vital Bell really was when he was out against the Baltimore Ravens in the wild card round. Bell would’ve struggled just like Josh Harris, Ben Tate, and Dri Archer against that vicious Ravens front seven but could’ve been Big Ben’s outlet when under duress. The Steelers can’t afford to have a sub par running game and no decent receiver out of the backfield.
The Steelers have Harris and Archer but will likely grab a running back somewhere in the draft and if the right running back falls in the draft they could take one in the first three rounds. Today we’re looking at Alabama running back T.J. Yeldon.
#4 – T.J. Yeldon/RB – Alabama – 6’2” 221 lbs.
– Good height and decent weight (could stand to add a little)
– Great vision in the backfield and open field
– He’s patient in setting up blocks and finding running lanes (great zone runner)
– Extremely agile and flexible
– Capable receiver out of the backfield
– Very durable in college
– Excellent lateral agility
– Slippery against tacklers
– Knows how to find narrow holes and get skinny
– He can run through and around traffic
– Superb nose for the end zone
– Great production throughout college career
– He runs very upright (so does Bell)
– Not the most powerful runner. A little too much finesse in his game at times
– Strong upper body but not enough power in his lower body to push the pile
– Below average pass protector
– Ball security isn’t very good
– His patience in setting up blocks sometimes leads to hesitation causing busted plays
– Initial burst isn’t great and explosiveness in space doesn’t wow you either
– Five star recruit coming out of Daphne, Alabama
– 37 career rushing touchdowns
– He is the only player in Alabama history to rush for at least 1,000 yards in his first two seasons
– Ran track in high school
– Averaged 5.76 yards per carry in college
Yeldon is one of my favorite players to watch on tape this year. There are a lot of traits that show up on his tape that translate well in the NFL: Quickness (not necessarily long speed), vision, toughness, and general athleticism.
Yeldon’s upright running style is, of course, the first thing that pops out (he can lower the boom when needed though). However, you can also see his superb vision almost immediately.
He has a great understanding of gap vulnerabilities in defenses. I think his cutback and jump cut abilities can make him a real threat at the next level.
His pass protection really is bad. He shows poor technique at times, poor effort other times, and sometimes it’s both, which is really scary for a guy you’d like to have on the field for third downs. Often times he appears to give up on the play after a quick chip if he’s not going to be the receiver on the play. In fact, he seems a little lackadaisical in general when he’s not featured in a play.
He does better on inside zone runs than outside. He’s not elite when turning the corner but he can work through the trash at the second and third level incredibly well.
Yeldon has a great nose for the end zone and is willing to extend himself to get the TD.
His athleticism is decent but he’s not as athletic as Bell. He’s smooth in his movements though and has a gliding, long-striding gait as a runner.
This is what will keep Yeldon off the field on third downs in the NFL. He shows decent technique and power initially but doesn’t show enough tenacity. He doesn’t keep himself square against the defense and literally watches his quarterback get blown up. Disheartening blocking effort here.
Yeldon’s not the most powerful runner. He’s not going to bust through the first level and this could limit him as a short yardage back. However, when he gets a full head of steam at the second and third level he’s a lot harder to break down. He has a habit of cutting the run back inside to gain more yardage. That’s a great quality to have. On this play he gets the first down and is about to go out of bounds but sees an opportunity to gain more, cuts it inside, and drags the tackler with him.
On this play, Yeldon follows his blocks to the outside but doesn’t have the speed to beat the outside defender so he tries to shake him with a juke and run outside. He trips up a little and the defender gets hands on him. Ideally you’d like to see him turn the corner and show some burst at the next level.
Smallish hole on this play but Yeldon bursts through with authority. He cuts to the outside and shows his athleticism with a dive that helped him cross the plane with the ball. Plays like this make him look like a first round back.
He may not have as much power as a guy like Eddie Lacy but he never lacks in effort when carrying the rock. He keeps his legs churning here and gains an extra couple yards. That could make all the difference at the next level. I count about four extra yards after first contact with at least three tacklers on him.
Yeldon fails to see an open hole between the right guard and right tackle. He tries to bounce it outside to the left and gets wrapped up. This is not an easy play for a back to turn into a positive one but if he had more power derived from his lower body he’d likely break the tackle and make a good gain.
Beautiful jump cut here by Yeldon. Works his way to the third level and rips off a great long run. He’s out in front of all the defenders he just doesn’t have the long speed to take one to the house.
This play is a great example of Yeldon seeing a hole and getting skinny. He gets a big gain up the middle. Easier said than done, but he could’ve hurdled the defender who was going low on him.
I think Yeldon is being largely underrated for three reasons.
First, some fans and league personnel are soured a little on Alabama running backs thanks to Trent Richardson and Mark Ingram. Ingram has been good at times but not lived up to expectations while T-Rich has been a dumpster fire after his rookie year. People are forgetting about the success of Eddie Lacy, although he’s been banged up.
Second, a lot of draftniks and front office types don’t like his upright running style. Backs who run like that tend to take more punishment than is considered necessary. Steven Jackson and Le’Veon Bell are two of the very few examples of runners who have excelled despite having an upright running style.
Finally, he has been labeled as “not even the best back on his team” due to splitting snaps with sophomore running back Derrick Henry. This wasn’t as much of an indictment on Yeldon as it is a compliment to how good Henry was and will be.
Yeldon is the fifth-best back in this class to me due to his well-balanced game, his vision, and lateral agility. He could be an excellent back as part of a running back by committee. I think he could even start on a team with a good zone blocking offensive line.
He’s only 21 years old so he’s still got some room to grow and some time to develop. Splitting carries this season might’ve actually helped him long term because he has a little less tread on the tires.
I don’t think he’s going to blow anybody away at the combine with his numbers but he might be able to showcase his hands and receiving ability. This is a deep running back class so he might drop but I can’t see him dropping out of the fourth round.
It’s unlikely the Steelers will draft a running back in the first three rounds due to having one of the best backs in the league but they would have to at least consider Yeldon if he drops to them in the 4th round. He could be a high end backup and rotational back to Bell.
Projection: Late 2nd to early 4th round
Games Watched: 2015 – vs. Ohio State (Sugar Bowl) 2014 – vs. Missouri (SEC Championship Game), vs. West Virginia, vs. Florida, at Ole Miss, at Tennessee, at LSU, vs. Mississippi State, vs. Auburn, 2013 – at Virginia Tech, vs. Oklahoma
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