Summary: Alabama has been a factory for NFL running backs for many years now. There have been some duds like Trent Richardson and Glen Coffee, and there have been some stars like Eddie Lacy. Yeldon will keep the tradition going in this draft, and in speaking with league contacts, the general feeling is that Yeldon won't be a bust like Richardson, but may not be as good as Lacy is for Green Bay.
Yeldon was a freshman sensation in 2012. He received only 175 carries that season, but totaled 1,108 yards and 12 touchdowns. He also caught 11 passes for 131 yards and a score. While Lacy was a large downhill runner, Yeldon had some explosiveness. He ripped off a number of big gains with mismatch speed. That season Yeldon was lighter, around 200-210 pounds, and he showed off a very fast first-step to explode through the hole and to the second level. He looked like he was a step ahead of the defense that season.
As a sophomore and junior, Yeldon added 15-20 pounds of bulk to handle a heavier work load. While he played well, he didn't have the same burst he displayed in his freshman season. Yeldon averaged six yards per carry in 2013 for 1,235 yards with 14 touchdowns. The sophomore chipped in 18 catches for 160 yards, too. As a junior, Yeldon averaged five yards per carry for 979 yards with 11 touchdowns. He had 15 receptions for 180 yards and a touchdown through the air. Yeldon also lost some carries to Derrick Henry.
Yeldon is a very smooth runner who doesn't seem to be running at full speed, yet he weaves his way through a defense. He is quick to hit the hole and accelerate to the second level. Yeldon has the power to run through tackles, pick up yards after contact, and finish his runs well. He has superb vision, balance and quick feet to move through a defense.
In the NFL, Yeldon should be a one-cut downhill runner in a zone-blocking scheme, or dart his way around blocks and tackles in a man scheme. He has a real combination of size, quickness and running ability. Yeldon needs to improve his ball security and cut down on the fumbles. He also will need work on blocking, and another negative is his tendency to get banged up enough that his playing time can sometimes be limited.
I think that Yeldon could be a good three-down running back in the NFL. In my opinion, he would be better off following the example of Le'Veon Bell and dropping some weight. That would make him faster and more dynamic like his freshman season.
In speaking with sources, they feel that Yeldon is being underrated and someone is going to get a nice value with him. He has the skill set and tape to warrant consideration early in the second round of the 2015 NFL Draft.
Player Comparison: Arian Foster. In terms of running style and skill set, Yeldon is similar to Foster. Both are big, smooth runners who weave their way through a defense. They also are able to make plays as receivers and hurt defenses through the air. However, both of them also get consistently nicked up with injuries that force them to miss playing time and/or games. Foster went undrafted, but teams had a second-round grade on him. Yeldon also is grading out in Round 2 by many teams.
NFL Matches: Minnesota, Oakland, Miami, New York Jets, New England, Detroit, Houston, Jacksonville, Indianapolis, San Diego, Arizona
There are a lot teams that could use help at running back. The Vikings could be a good fit for Yeldon as a potential replacement for Adrian Peterson, if the veteran is successful in forcing his way out of Minnesota. Yeldon and Jerick McKinnon could give the Vikings a nice backfield.
The Raiders need another running back because Maurice Jones-Drew and Darren McFadden are gone. Latavius Murray ran well for Oakland in 2014, but the team could use another back to pair with him.
Detroit had one of the worst rushing offenses in the NFL in 2014 and adding a feature back would make sense. Yeldon would be a good long-term replacement for Reggie Bush.
In the AFC East, Miami could use a feature back, and Yeldon would make a lot of sense in that role. He is also a good fit for the Dolphins' offense. New England has used a number of running backs, but it would make sense to find a stable presence for the backfield. The Jets tried to see if Chris Johnson had anything left in 2014, but clearly, he was done. They could use a another back to pair with Chris Ivory.
The Texans got a great season out of Arian Foster, but could use another running back as Foster has had injury issues every year. Houston will probably miss out on a quarterback, so having depth in their rushing attack is mandatory. Staying in the AFC South, the Colts could use a runner for Andrew Luck as Frank Gore is just a temporary fill-in. The Jaguars also need a starting running back badly. Denard Robinson is just a backup change-of-pace ball-carrier, while Toby Gerhart was a disappointment.
San Diego could use a back like Yeldon. He would be a good runner and receiver to pair with Philip Rivers.
The Cardinals want a back to pair with Andre Ellington, and Yeldon could be a nice fit for them.