Even with a pair of running backs expected to go off the board in the first round for the first time in three years, there will still be talent at the position when the NFL Draft reconvenes for Day Two. So if you—like the NFL—prefer to wait on your running backs, which will give you the most bang for your second-round bucks: Boise State’s Jay Ajayi and Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah?
At 6-0, 221 pounds Ajayi is the bigger of the two backs, built more like a prototypical NFL runner. He may also be the most versatile; last year he became the first FBS back ever to rack up 1,800-plus rushing yards and 500-plus receiving yards in the same season. A misspent youth playing soccer at least left Ajayi with nimble footwork, though he does have a penchant for too much dancing in the backfield rather than just hitting the hole and going north/south. Ajayi also has some ball security issues to work through, though some of that comes from fighting for extra yardage (which you certainly don’t want to discourage) and some from carrying the ball in the wrong hand (which can be corrected).
Abdullah has some ball security issues of his own; that combined with his somewhat diminutive size (5-9, 205) and versatility have Abdullah drawing comparisons to Tiki Barber. Like Ajayi, Abdullah has receiving skills—73-690-7 during his Cornhusker career—which makes him another candidate for every-down work. Abdullah isn’t a freakish athlete, nor does he have jaw-dropping speed, but he has excellent vision and a knack for finding the hole—plus, he finishes runs with a strength that belies his stature. At worst Abdullah projects to a Giovani Bernard-type of playmaker in a committee backfield; at best, he adopts Tiki’s “high and tight” method of carrying the football and becomes Barber 2.0—the rare undersized (yet effective) feature back.
So which back has the brighter fantasy future? NFL destination will have much to say about the final answer, but between two versatile backs with fumbling issues expect the bigger back to have the quickest path to touches—and the best chance to hang on to them. That puts Ajayi in the drivers seat… for now.