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2015 NFL draft position analysis: Running backs

In this Nov. 15, 2014, file photo, Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon (25) breaks away from Nebraska's Corey Cooper for a 62-yard touchdown run during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Madison, Wis. The experience, potential and skills of Georgia’s Todd Gurley and Wisconsin’s Gordon ought to entice a couple of teams to end the unprecedented two-year absence of running backs from the first round. The guys carrying the ball on the ground still matter in this increasingly aerial game.  (AP Photo/Morry Gash) NY155
In this Nov. 15, 2014, file photo, Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon (25) breaks away from Nebraska's Corey Cooper for a 62-yard touchdown run during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Madison, Wis. The experience, potential and skills of Georgia’s Todd Gurley and Wisconsin’s Gordon ought to entice a couple of teams to end the unprecedented two-year absence of running backs from the first round. The guys carrying the ball on the ground still matter in this increasingly aerial game. (AP Photo/Morry Gash) NY155
Published Apr. 26, 2015

Who the Bucs have

Charles Sims, RB (6-0, 211): Missed eight games with injury and averaged only 2.8 yards per carry, but coaches want to see him healthy after full offseason in system.

Doug Martin, RB (5-9, 223): Led the team with 494 rushing yards despite injury, showed promise with 108 yards in finale against Saints. Is starting job still his?

Bobby Rainey, RB (5-8, 212): Disappeared at end of season despite 33 catches and 406 rushing yards. Might be limited to special teams if the team drafts a back.

Mike James, RB (5-10, 223): Totaled 32 yards on 20 touches last season — handled short-yardage role well but needs to show more value to keep spot on roster.

Jorvorskie Lane, FB (5-11, 258): Used sparsely last season after 54-yard run in opener. Could have expanded role since new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter likes using fullbacks.

Top five draft prospects

Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin (6-1, 215): Heisman runnerup rushed for 2,587 yards and 29 touchdowns. Should be a first-round pick, perhaps to Cowboys.

Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia (6-1, 222): Knee injury is only thing keeping him from being unquestionably the top back in draft. Will a top 20 team gamble on his health?

Tevin Coleman, RB, Indiana (5-11, 206): Rushed for 2,036 yards and averaged 7.5 yards per carry but less known because Hoosiers dropped six of last seven games.

Jay Ajayi, RB, Boise State (6-0, 221): Best pass-catching option among top backs with 50 catches last fall. Still rushed for 1,823 yards and 18 TDs. Second-rounder?

Duke Johnson, RB, Miami (5-9, 207): Smallest of the top backs but rushed for 1,652 yards and added 38 catches. Also strong on returns with Hurricanes.

Under the radar

Zach Zenner, RB, South Dakota State (5-11, 223): Small-school star topped 2,000 yards as junior and senior. He and North Dakota State's John Crockett could both be late-round steals.

Free agency

The Bucs return all their backs from 2014, giving Bobby Rainey a one-year, $1.5 million tender as a restricted free agent. They're unlikely to exercise Doug Martin's fifth-year option for 2016, and they could further complicate things by drafting another back. Don't presume anything at this position.

Best guess

The Bucs could use a bigger back for short-yardage work — it's unlikely they draft a running back until the third day and later rounds. We could see Tampa Bay going local in the sixth round and taking former Armwood High and Gators standout Matt Jones, one of the biggest backs in the draft at 6-2, 231 pounds.