In a previous article, I highlighted two big backs who could help the Green Bay Packers replace Eddie Lacy in the middle rounds of the upcoming NFL draft: Texas’ D’Onta Foreman and Oklahoma’s Samaje Perine. However, there are multiple options for the Packers even in the middle to later rounds.
James Conner – Pittsburgh (6-1, 233) Projected 4 – 5 round pick
Conner is a tough young man, having overcome Hodgkin’s lymphoma during his collegiate career. Conner is a bruising back with great balance for a taller runner. That gives him the opportunity to bounce off of tacklers and reliably succeed in short-yardage and goal line situations. He’s tall and runs very upright but still somehow manages to break tackles. Rather than an enforcer he looks like a commercial for a Weeble (“Weebles wobble but they don’t fall down!”). Also, unlike some of the backs on this list, he’s capable in pass protection, which we know is a nearly must-have asset for the Packers’ offensive scheme.
Conner is not very fast (he ran a 4.65 40) nor is he overly agile, but, save for Foreman, no one on this list is. Moreover, if the Packers are taking a mid-round running back, they’re likely looking for a depth back behind Ty Montgomery that can carry the load if injury strikes (rather than a mere goal line back). Although he lacks a significant second-gear, Conner is just quick enough to perhaps be viewed by some teams as something more than a mere short-yardage guy. Plus, Conner is a strong runner and a team captain with leadership ability and a hard work-ethic.
Corey Clement – Wisconsin (5-10, 220) Projected 5 – 6 round pick
Badger fans will remember Clement as the injury-plagued successor to Melvin Gordon who finished his collegiate career strong with 1,375 yards and 15 TDs for Wisconsin in 2016. Clement has good size and a physical running style, but he’s not a bruiser in the Eddie Lacy mold. While he’s certainly more agile than the other backs on this list (employing a nifty jump cut that often throws off defenders), he’s not really spectacular in any one aspect of his game. He’s not fast (his 4.68 was slower than Conner’s even though he’s nearly 15 pounds lighter, however a short look at the tape shows that he’s certainly the quicker of the two), nor is he over-powering as a runner. Clement is closer to a poor man’s three-down-back than a short-yardage role-player. In that sense, he’s not a perfect replacement for Lacy, but he might be a nice value pick as depth behind Montgomery.
Still, Clement is probably more well known for the knocks on him as a player than for his strengths. He’s struggled with injuries throughout his career, his work ethic has been questioned by many even within his own organization, and he’s had off-the-field issues (including punching an individual and lying to Wisconsin coaches about it). He was also often removed from third down play.
De’Veon Smith – Michigan (5-11, 223) Projected 6 – 7 round pick
Smith runs straight forward and bounces off of tacklers. His best asset may be his decisiveness as a runner. He doesn’t run around aimlessly, miss holes, or try to do too much with his body. He’s a natural runner. At only 223 pounds, he lacks the body mass that you would expect from a player who projects to the NFL as a short-yardage role player. However, he derives some good power from a strong upper body (putting up more reps on the bench press  than anyone else on this list) and legs that are continually churning through contact.
Still, he’s not as strong or as big as you might like in a short-yardage back. My concern is that he won’t be big enough to reliably push piles in the NFL, leaving a team with a very limited runner who will struggle to carve out a role for himself. He could succeed with a very-talented offensive line, but may not be skilled enough to make plays on his own.
Elijah Hood – North Carolina (5-11, 232) Projected 7 round pick or undrafted free agent
Hood has the desired size and nose for contact that you’d want from the position. He constantly falls forward and is a very adept blocker in both the passing and running game. While he lacks NFL speed, I think that he’s underrated in regard to his agility and quickness. Unlike Smith, I think that he could rattle off the occasional medium-sized gain behind a decent offensive line. He also has the ability to make some catches out of the backfield.
In a system like Green Bay which often employs a fullback in all phases on the game, Hood could be a valuable piece. He could certainly fill a hybrid RB/FB role for the Packers, providing depth and versatility behind both Montgomery and Aaron Ripkowski. At the very least, he looks to come cheap.——————
Taylor O\'Neill is a Packer fan born and raised in Oshkosh, WI. He currently lives in Florida and is pursuing his PhD. Taylor is a writer with PackersTalk.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @TaylorONeill87 for more Packer news.