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2016 NFL Draft position watch list: Devontae Booker, Ezekiel Elliott among running backs to watch

The 2016 NFL Draft is a long way off, but with college football getting started in a couple weeks, it is time to figure out who we should be watching. We opened with quarterbacks, and now move on to running backs.

The San Francisco 49ers are only midway through their 2015 preseason schedule, leaving them two preseason games and 16 regular season games (and hopefully some playoff games!) until we reach the next offseason. While the NFL season is only just beginning, it is never too soon to start draft coverage! In the past, we have put together weekly prospect reports for college games on a given weekend. We have also done some work with prospect rankings later in the season.

This year, we're adding something new. I thought it would be helpful to come up with a preseason watch list for each of the main positions on both sides of the ball. We still don't even know what the 49ers roster will look like in two months, let alone next offseason. However, some folks are already going to be looking at next year's draft. And so, I wanted to get started with some top prospects at each position.

We have a change in our writing crew this year. Nick and Trevor are not going to be able to assist this year, so I have two new writers helping out. This year, Greg Valerio and Jake Narayan will be taking on the task of helping prepare for the 2016 NFL Draft. To get things started, they will alternate offering up position watch lists. We opened with quarterbacks on Monday, and Jake is now here to run down some running backs of note. He sent along this intro, and then the list of names and commentary below. The list of names is not meant to be all-inclusive, but rather some of the big names to help get things started. Additionally, this depends on some of the players declaring for the draft, so again, it is just looking at some potential top options at each position.

My name is jake Narayan and football is my life, I can't get enough of it! I would like to thank David Fucillo for the opportunity to write for Niners Nation. I want to provide you guys with great insight and I won't let you down!

A lot can change between now and next April, but it seems likely the 49ers will invest heavily in the running back position. Carlos Hyde is hopefully going to develop into a long-term starter, and the team invested a fourth round pick this past year in Mike Davis. Reggie Bush and Kendall Hunter are only signed to one-year deals, and we don't really know what will happen with Jarryd Hayne. While running backs are losing their value in the draft, they are still intriguing to consider for college football season. And so, here is a look at a few of the more intriguing potential draft prospects.

Devontae Booker

Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

#23 | Senior | Utah Utes | RB
Height: 5'11" | Weight: 213 | Age: 23
2014 Stats: 292 ATT, 1512 YDS (5.2/carry), 10 TD
First-Team All-Pac-12 Running Back

Strengths: Devontae Booker is my favorite player in all of college football for the reasons I am about to list, I also believe he is the most underrated running back. His great vision, accelerating through the hole while staying low with incredible balance, leading up to his decisive breakaway speed, is what I think makes him the best running back in not only the Pac-12, but all conferences. His quick feet and the willingness to put his shoulder down for additional yards is also a great attribute to his game.

Weaknesses: There is not many flaws in booker's game besides him needing to be more patient and wait for the hole to develop. He can also improve his pass protection on passing downs/situations. Devontae can also help his game by selling the play action more effectively.

Conclusion: As I mentioned above this I my favorite player in college football. He is a complete running back and has great hands to catch the ball out of the backfield that many running backs do not have. He does not take a play off, has great character and is very smart on and off the field. Booker is an undervalued back, but if he has another great year he should be a 2nd-3rd round draft pick in the 2016 draft.

James Conner

Credit: Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

#24 | Junior | Pittsburgh Panthers | RB
Height: 6'2" | Weight: 240 | Age: 20
2014 Stats: 444 ATT, 2564 YDS (5.7/carry), 34 TD
First Team All-American

Strengths: James Conner made a name for himself in his sophomore year rushing for 2,564 yards on 444 carries, earning the right be a First Team All-American. Second effort yards is what I believe makes Conner so great. He is a power back more so than a shifty one, which why he has underrated long speed once he see's some daylight. He is a 1-cut runner with good patience.

Weaknesses: Well, nobody is perfect. I do see some things that Conner can improve on to elevate his game to another level. The first is catching the ball out of the backfield (which we rarely see him do). Second, his 3rd down presence as a pass blocker. Third, and I think the most important, is his explosion through the hole. We know what he can do once he out in the open, but he needs to make that 1-cut and come down-field hard into the hole.

Conclusion: Overall, I think James can be a great running back in the NFL with his huge frame and excellent power. If he duplicates or tops his sophomore year performance, he could potentially be a 1st round draft pick.

Ezekiel Elliot

Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

#15 | Junior | Ohio State Buckeyes | RB
Height: 6'0'' | Weight: 225 | Age: 20
2014 Stats: 273 ATT, 1,878 YDS (6.9/carry), 18 TD

Strengths: We all know what Elliot did in the CFB playoffs last year. Many people believe Elliot is a favorite to win the Heisman Trophy this year. He is the nation's returning leading rusher, in terms of yards gained. Ezekiel also had 52 carries of 10 yards or more, which ranked 2nd in the nation. Elliot's combination of his speed, physicality, and his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield make up who he is a player. Elliot is great runner between the tackles and keeps his legs moving after initial contact.

Weaknesses: As we know Elliot is great runner, however there are parts of his game that can be coached up or fixed. Ezekiel could stand to be more patient some of the time. He also needs to learn when not to bounce a run outside.

Conclusion: I see Elliot being a fantastic NFL runner and could go down as one of the best college football running backs we've seen. If he can run as well as he did last year, he will most likely be a first round draft pick.

Paul Perkins

Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

#15 | Junior | UCLA Bruins | RB
Height: 5'11" | Weight: 210 | Age: 20
2014 Stats: 251 ATT, 1,575 YDS (6.3\carry), 9 TD

Strengths: Paul Perkins is an all around football player for UCLA. He is a versatile running back who can turn the corner and make multiple defenders miss. Last year, Perkins led the Pac-12 in rushing, and hopes to do it again this year. In a recent interview Perkins said, " I just want to be the best running back in the nation and win the national championship."

Weaknesses: Paul Perkins is a pound-for-pound running back but needs to accelerate through the hole quicker when he sees the opening. He also needs to pass block better but that is an easy fix.

Conclusion: Perkins has the opportunity to be a great back and excel at the next level. I see him being drafted in rounds 3-5. I look forward to see what he can do this year at UCLA!

D.J. Foster

Credit: Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

#8 | Senior | Arizona State Sun Devils | RB
Height: 5'11" | Weight: 195  | Age:
2014 Stats: 1081 YDS, 9 TD
Second-Team All-Pac12

Strengths: D.J. Foster is one of the most versatile players in the country. He was the only player last year to rush for over 1000 yards and receive for 600 yards. Foster can catch the ball out of the backfield, which I think makes a true running back complete, and let me tell you, he can do that. He is a very fast and physical runner that will pound it for the extra yards.

Weaknesses: It was a smart decision by Foster to stay at Arizona State for his senior season. Foster has the opportunity to be really dominant if can be more consistent on the ground. If he can put a good 100 yards per game rushing and 20 receiving, Arizona is going to be a really dangerous team.

Conclusion: Foster is in the conversation for the most complete players in the country, and I think that NFL teams value that. If Mike Bercovici can put up good numbers in the air, and we already know how good their defensive line is, they have a good chance to be contending in the Pac-12 championship game this year. As for Foster, I believe he will be a 3rd round and up selection in the draft this year.