T.J. Yeldon, RB Jacksonville
Weight: 226 pounds
40-yard dash: 4.61 seconds
Vertical: 36 inches
Broad Jump: 117 inches
3-Cone Drill: 7.19 seconds
20-yard shuttle: 4.22 seconds
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A decisive runner, Yeldon has the tools to be (as well as looks the part of) an NFL lead back. Standing 6’-1” and weighing 226 pounds, he has the size to handle a full workload and the body to take the punishment associated with it.
Very smart when taking the ball in the backfield, Yeldon has good burst to the line of scrimmage to hit the hole with authority. With extremely quick feet for a back his size, an impressive jump cut, and great vision and anticipation to find holes made by his offensive line, he’s a good both as a between the tackles and perimeter runner. Despite his height, he’s shown the ability to slide through even the smallest creases, lowering his body to make himself a smaller target for defenders.
At the second level of the defense, he is deceptively elusive. With a good shoulder fake and the ability to change directions quickly, he’s able to shake linebackers and defensive backs bearing down on him from the secondary. Although he doesn’t have breakaway speed when he reaches the open field which he proved at the combine when he ran a 4.61 second 40-yard dash, Yeldon has good game speed and regularly pulled away from chasing defenders. He also displayed a dazzling spin move at times to go along with incredible jump cut.
The biggest weakness in Yeldon’s game is his inability to break tackles. Because of his quick feet and ability to make defenders miss, he hasn’t developed a power running style to take a hit and continue to churn his legs for extra yardage. In fact, he makes too many moves from time to time, giving backside defenders the time to catch him from behind.
Despite his size and largely due to his insistence on trying to juke defenders rather than run through them, Yeldon also struggles at times as a short yardage runner. Instead of running behind his pads and delivering a blow at the goal line he runs as if it’s first and ten from midfield, waiting for a crease rather than creating his own space when nothing is there.
Despite having the 30th ranked run blocking offensive line a year ago according to www.footballoutsiders.com, the Jags made some big additions along their front by adding former Cowboys backup right tackle Jermey Parnell and former Raiders center Stefen Wisniewski to shore up the run blocking. Parnell was impressive when called upon a year ago to fill in for the injured Doug Free in Dallas and Wisniewski is recovering from shoulder surgery but has been a quality center since he entered the league and should be ready for the start of the season. Jacksonville also selected former Gamecock A.J. Cann in the third round of the draft to compete with Zane Beadles at left guard.
All of the additions along the offensive line as well as the lack of talent on the backfield depth chart with the likes of only 2014 surprise Denard Robinson and 2014 disappointment Toby Gerhart as returnees made Jacksonville one of the most desirable potential landing spots for a top rookie tailback.
So who’s most likely to be the featured back for the Jags in 2015?
At this point, it’s difficult to see any other tailback in Jacksonville having a significant role in the offense which leaves Yeldon as the most logical answer. Although Robinson had a strong second half of the season, he’s much more suited to be a change of pace option for the Jaguars. There is the possibility that he becomes the favorite to come on the field in passing situations but reports out of Jacksonville have indicated offensive coordinator Greg Olson sees Yeldon as a three down back.
Despite his retched season a year ago where he fought through an ankle injury and averaged just 3.2 yards per carry, Gerhart is the only other viable option for early down work in Jacksonville. Because he struggled so badly in his first season in Jacksonville, most have written him off and don’t see him as a threat to Yeldon but he fits Olson’s system well so it’s unlikely Gerhart will become an afterthought in the offense. At the very least, he should be a factor in short yardage where Yeldon struggles.
As for the rest of the tailbacks on the depth chart including Storm Johnson and former Raven Bernard Pierce, Yeldon is simply a better player so they form little competition for playing time.
Although Yeldon isn’t all that fast and doesn’t have the kind of power you like to see from a tailback his size, he’s easily the most talented runner on the Jaguars’ roster so the opportunity for him to become every down back is very possible.
Despite his faults, Yeldon fits well in Jacksonville’s zone running system where he’ll be asked to make quick reads and one cut before accelerating through the hole, which are all strengths of his. Behind a revamped offensive line in an offense that will need to control the clock with Blake Bortles still learning how to be a professional quarterback, he’s in line to see a significant amount of carries as a rookie.
Although the Jaguars’ offense certainly won’t be blowing anybody out, it should be at least modestly improved which should keep them in games long enough for Yeldon to get enough carries to be an RB2 as a rookie. If he’s able to stay on the field on all three downs and Bortles and the rest of the passing game can make some strides which would give Yeldon some red zone work, he may even max out as a low-end RB1 in his first season.
Although Yeldon doesn’t have the pedigree of a franchise tailback, he absolutely has the tools to be a quality all-around lead back that stays on the field for all three downs and posts consistent RB2 numbers. With great vision, excellent footwork and a quality burst to blast through a crease along with good hands out of the backfield, there’s no reason to think that if he stays healthy he won’t continue to put up those types of numbers.
I’ve heard comparisons to Frank Gore with Yeldon but he reminds me much more of former Vikings tailback Robert Smith who had a similar upright running style and could handle himself well as a pass catcher but struggled at times as a short yardage runner much like Yeldon. Smith took a few years to develop but averaged 4.8 yards per carry for his career and ended his time with the Vikings with four consecutive 1,000 yard seasons. Yeldon won’t take nearly as long to develop and should start putting up similar numbers to Smith’s latter years as early as his rookie season.
Rookie Draft Advice
Over the last month, Yeldon has been one of three running backs lumped together near the end of the first round of rookie drafts. Typically being selected between picks seven and ten overall, many have struggled to choose between him, Ameer Abdullah and Tevin Coleman. Personally, I feel like Yeldon is the obvious choice to be the third running back taken in rookie drafts and is currently seventh on my board behind Amari Cooper, Melvin Gordon, Todd Gurley, Kevin White, Devante Parker and Dorial Green-Beckham. I’d also have no problem with those taking Nelson Agholor over him in leagues that value wide receivers greatly over running backs.
Overall, any running back needy owner picking in the second half of the first round should be happy to get their hands on Yeldon. He’s sure to be an instant fantasy starter which is exactly what you want out of a first round pick.
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Love the analysis, Dan – I’m of the mindset that Yeldon will be a better pro than he was a college player.
Question – how big of a gap do you see between Gordon and Yeldon?
Great question, great answer. I agree with Jeff on this one and I’m glad someone asked what I would have asked.