RB sleeper options for Dolphins in draft

Jan 2, 2016; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Georgia Bulldogs quarterback Greyson Lambert (11) hands the ball off to running back Keith Marshall (4) in the first quarter against the Penn State Nittany Lions at EverBank Field. Mandatory Credit: Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 2, 2016; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Georgia Bulldogs quarterback Greyson Lambert (11) hands the ball off to running back Keith Marshall (4) in the first quarter against the Penn State Nittany Lions at EverBank Field. Mandatory Credit: Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports /

The Miami Dolphins need a running back after losing Lamar Miller in free agency. Miami plans to take one in the upcoming draft.

More from Dolphins Draft

The Miami Dolphins cannot seem to catch a break in regards to running backs this offseason. As expected, they lost lead back Lamar Miller in free agency after his signing with Houston. Miami would have liked to keep Miller but the price tag was too high.

Miami seemed to have resolved the issue when they signed restricted free agent C.J. Anderson to a four year, $18 million offer sheet. However, the Broncos surprised many and elected to match the offer sheet, keeping Anderson in Denver. The Dolphins then had talks with guys like Chris Johnson and James Starks but both decided to re-sign with their former teams on short-term deals.

In late March, the Dolphins did bring Arian Foster in for a visit. However, Foster is coming off a torn Achilles tendon, which he suffered in a game against Miami that ended his season in 2015. It was a non-contact injury that occurred late in the game of a Miami blowout. Foster won’t be 30 until August, but a heavy workload throughout his career in Houston has plagued the former four-time Pro Bowler with injuries.

Foster left his initial visit in Miami without a contract offer but he was never expected to receive one. It’s still a possibility that the Dolphins could offer him a deal, if and when, he’s declared healthy. There are still other available free agents the Dolphins could take a look at, but the field is getting thinner and Miami is running out of options.

Miami will now turn to the draft to address their need for a running back. The Dolphins had hoped that they wouldn’t have to make running back such a primary need in the draft but here we are. It’s no secret that the Dolphins love Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott and if he’s available at pick 13, Miami is expected to take him.

There’s a good chance, however, that Elliott will be off the board by the time Miami selects in the first round. Dallas, Baltimore, and the N.Y. Giants, have all shown interest in Elliott and will select ahead of Miami. Philadelphia had shown Elliott the most interest but after trading up they are expected to take a quarterback. The Dolphins have not shown interest in Alabama’s Derrick Henry and are not expected to take him in the second round if he is available.

Miami is not ready to give second year back Jay Ajayi the lead role just yet. The Dolphins could still decide to make a trade for an already proven running back. Even if they do make a trade, Miami would be smart to select a running back late in Day 2 or Day 3. The following are a few sleepers that the Dolphins could have their sights on come draft weekend.

Kenneth Dixon, Louisiana Tech

Dixon has pushed himself to be considered a top 5 back from this draft so he is hardly a sleeper. Still, he’s projected to go somewhere in round 3 or 4. Miami will be looking for a back with size and power that can still be quick and allude potential tacklers. Dixon fits that profile to a tee. He excels at yards after contact with a knack for finding the end zone, scoring 39 rushing touchdowns since 2014.

Miami would also like to involve Dixon in the passing game should they elect to draft him. In his senior season, Dixon recorded 34 receptions for over 460 yards and seven touchdowns. Dixon is a great route-runner that can take over the receiving back role that Lamar Miller had in Miami. He will need to improve on his ball security but Dixon could be a nice consolation prize should the Dolphins miss out on Elliott.

Jordan Howard, Indiana

Jordan Howard is one of the bigger backs in this draft at 5-11 and 230 lbs. He started his collegiate career at UAB but after the Blazers shut down their football program Howard transferred to Indiana. Despite his size, Howard was the workhorse for UAB and Indiana. As a junior, Howard averaged an impressive 6.2 yards per carry. His larger size allows him to run through tackles and helps make him one of the better pass protectors in this class.

Howard leads all running backs of this class in yards after contact at 3.69 yards per carry. That average makes him a great option on third or fourth-and-short situations. Think of former Dolphin Lousaka Polite. His size limits his speed as he can be run down but he can still be effective in the passing game.

Jonathan Williams, Arkansas

Teams will be cautious about selecting Jonathan Williams after missing the entire 2015 season with a foot injury. With his foot now healed, Williams is ready to get back into the action. His draft stock hurts some because of the injury but Williams could be a steal for the Dolphins in the mid-rounds. Like Howard, Williams is great at yards after contact. He forced 44 missed tackles in 2014.

With his ability to catch the ball and pass protect, Williams has the ability to be a three-down back in this league. However, he’d likely benefit on a team like the Dolphins in a committee approach coming off his injury and missing an entire season. His pro day drew a lot of comparisons to Kenneth Dixon’s combine results. Had Williams declared after the 2014 season, he would have been projected to go in round 2.

Kenyan Drake, Alabama

As mentioned, Miami has not shown much interest in Alabama’s Derrick Henry. Instead, they’ve turned their attention to his collegiate teammate, Kenyan Drake. One of the first things that jumps out at you about Drake is his speed. At the combine, Drake ran an impressive 4.45 in the 40. Drake also has the size to go with that speed at 6-1 and 210 lbs.

Drake is not an every-down back and not the type of back that can punch it in at the goal line. However, Drake makes the most of his opportunities as he showed at Alabama. He never stops moving his feet and has that second gear speed that makes him difficult to tackle in the open field. With great hands as well, his speed allows for him to lineup as a slot receiver in certain scenarios.

C.J. Prosise, Notre Dame

In addition to size, Miami will be looking for a back who knows how to catch the football with the ability to get downfield. All of the backs on this list have that ability, but probably none more than C.J. Prosise. In 2014, he led his Fighting Irish teammates with 17.8 yards per reception.

Prosise’s ability in the passing game does not limit his ability to run the ball either. He only spent one full season as a running back but he managed to rush for over 1,000 yards on just 156 carries. At the combine, Prosise impressed many with his 4.48 speed. He’s drawn some comparisons to players like David Johnson and Matt Forte, who possess the ability to do it all.

Keith Marshall, Georgia

No running back ran a faster 40 this season than Keith Marshall. At nearly 220 lbs. Marshall ran an incredible 4.31 at the combine. This is a guy that’s coming off some major knee injuries too, including a torn ACL in his sophomore season. Unfortunately for Marshall, his knee injuries and behind Nick Chubb on the depth chart prevented him from seeing the field as much as he would like.

If you can believe it, teams are expressing that he doesn’t look as fast as he did before he tore his ACL. However, his combination of size, speed, and intelligence, makes Marshall a candidate to become one of the bigger draft day steals if he can stay healthy. Miami may want to take a chance on him on Day 3.