NFL Draft Outlook: Running Backs

The Browns' current running back situation —Montario Hardesty, Brandon Jackson and Chris Ogbonnaya — does not appear poised to become a standout unit.

Admittedly, the ability to become a 1,000-yard rusher in the NFL is as easy as averaging 62.5 yards per game. (Thanks, iPhone calculator!)

The Cleveland Browns did go 20 years without producing such a back. In 2005, Reuben Droughns rushed for 1,232 yards becoming the first Browns' running back to do so since Kevin Mack and Earnest Byner both topped 1,000 yards in 1985.

Since 2005, Jamal Lewis (2007) and Peyton Hillis (2010) also reached the 1,000-yard plateau. Both back are no longer with the Browns and entering the 2012 season, the team is in need of help at running back.

The NFL's current trend to use a running back by committee approach has severely diminished the demand for running backs at the draft. Last season, only Alabama's Mark Ingram went in the first round, and that was at No. 28.

In 2010, C.J. Spiller was the first back at No. 9; in 2009 the first back, Knowshown Moreno, was selected at No. 12. The last top-five running back drafted was Arkansas' Darren McFadden in 2008. Heck, even Adrian Peterson was selected seventh in 2007.

The Browns' current running back situation —Montario Hardesty, Brandon Jackson and Chris Ogbonnaya — does not appear ready to implement the running back by committee plan.

If the Browns turn to the NFL Draft to select a back, which one could it be?

Running Backs
First Night Potential

Trent Richardson – Alabama

That's it? One? Welcome to the current NFL where running backs are beginning to become as demanding on draft day as kickers and punters. That may be a bit of an exaggeration, but Alabama's Trent Richardson is the only back in this year's draft worth of a top 10 pick. He is an option for the Browns at No. 4.

Richardson is considered a better pro prospect than his former teammate, Ingram, who was the only first-round back selected in the 2011 NFL Draft. At his pro day, Richardson (5-9, 227) ran unofficial 40-yard dashes of 4.58 seconds. More importantly, Cleveland Browns running backs coach Gary Brown witnessed first-hand Richardson is more than a speedy ball carrier.

In his first and only season as a starter at Alabama, Richardson rushed for 1,679 yards and 21 touchdowns on 283 carries. Richardson is a three-down back, meaning he can run, catch and block, as evidence by the video above.

While he may not have home-run type speed like a Chris Johnson (not many do), Richardson would be an added weapon to a Browns offense that brings pencils to a knife fight.

Second Day Talent

LaMichael JamesOregon
Lamar MillerMiami
Doug MartinBoise State
Chris PolkWashington
David WilsonVirginia Tech

If the Browns pass on Richardson at No. 4, it is likely they won't select a running back at No. 22. So, it is onto the second and third rounds, where these players could be a selection.

James is a flat-out burner. He ran a 4.45 40-yard dash at the NFL combine only behind Miller (4.40). Either back would be quite a boost to the Browns' offense that not only lacks a playmaker, but speed. While James has speed, he lacks size (5-8, 194) and durability concerns. James suffered a dislocated elbow last season and scouts do not project him as an every-down back in the NFL. Miller may be a little bigger and faster, but he does not have great hands.

Polk (5-11, 215) has excellent size for the NFL and is at best when he's running between the tackles. But, like James and Miller, there are questions if Polk can be an every-down back. Polk struggled in college and at the Senior Bowl in blitz pickups.

Meanwhile, Wilson and Martin are more every-down backs like Richardson. If the Browns pass on Richardson in the first-round, both Wilson and Martin could be available at No. 37 in round two. The Browns want a back who can catch the ball out of the backfield, as required by the West Coast offense. That would give Wilson and Martin the edge.

Wilson (5-10, 206) was named the ACC Player of the Year, which is like being the college basketball team that wins the NIT. Still, he is strong, quick and ran a 4.49 at the NFL Combine.

In Wilson's video, you can see his speed and explosiveness, but also his tendency to run with a high pad level.

Martin (5-9, 223) does not excel in one certain area, but he has the look of a polished NFL back. Although he is more than 220 pounds, Martin clocked a 4.55 40-yard dash.

Warning: You may feel compelled to do the dougie while watching Martin's highlight video.

Wilson shows excellent vision whether he taking a handoff or catching the ball in the flats and he has a mean stiff arm.

Late-Draft Stabs in the Dark

Terrance Ganaway (6-0, 239) – Baylor
Pros: Hey, the Browns may get a Baylor player after all. Could serve as Browns new hybrid fullback/running back, replacing Peyton Hillis.
Cons: Isn't experienced at catching passes

Cyrus Gray (5-10, 206) – Texas A&M
Pros: A back who can do it all – run, catch block, good size, at best in the screen
Cons: Does not possess breakaway speed

Isaiah Pead (5-10, 197) – Cincinnati
Pros: Good speed, ability to run between tackles
Cons: A bit small, questions if he can handle feature-back role

Benard Pierce (6-0, 218) – Temple
Pros: Good vision for a zone-blocking running back
Cons: Weaker competition, ran for only 50 yards vs. Penn State

Tauren Poole (5-10, 205) – Tennessee
Pros: Experienced back, good size who thrives at running between tackles
Cons: A project who lacks explosiveness, home run ability

Robert Turbin (5-10, 222) – Utah State
Pros: Good speed for his size (4.5 40)
Cons: Unknown coming from Utah State, struggles with pass blocking

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