Draft Is Chock Full Of Running Back Prospects
By Michael DiJulio
Take a look at last year's results, and you will find that four of the league's top six rushing teams employed multiple runners in the backfield in 2010. Kansas City (Jamal Charles & Thomas Jones), Oakland (Darren McFadden & Michael Bush), the New York Jets (LaDanian Tomlinson & Shonn Greene) and the New York Giants (Ahmad Bradshaw & Brandon Jacobs) all featured two runners with at least 145 carries. The "running back by committee" approach has become increasingly popular in the NFL and as a result, I've decided to make this breakdown a little easier and split up the ball carriers into three categories: The running backs, the power backs and all-purpose/change-of-pace runners.
The running backs group is composed of guys that define the position a little more in the classic sense. These guys don't necessarily need to be in a committee and can handle the workload. That's not to say they don't have traits seen in the other categories, but aren't by nature power backs or change-of-pace guys.
The second category is filled with, you guessed it: the big boys. The power backs are your strong runners who specialize in hammering it inside. Some of these guys have enough talent to be every-down backs, while others may be relegated to short-yardage duties in a committee of ball carriers.
The third and final group is made up of two similar kinds of running backs: all-purpose and change-of-pace runners. The all-purpose guys are going to offer versatility and can usually contribute as receivers and/or returners. The change-of-pace runners are the scatback-type, usually defined by speed and elusiveness in a smaller package.
POSITION REPORT CARD: This group is thin at the top and has just one surefire first rounder, but the NFL is trending away from that kind of running game anyway. There are plenty of solid players to be had in the middle rounds. Teams looking to add specific pieces to their committees of running backs have a great chance to do so in the third and fourth rounds. Additionally, a lot of the later-round prospects have injury concerns, but getting in a stable of backs might be just what the doctor ordered. If they can split carries and limit touches, they could make solid contributions while also staying relatively healthy. This group receives a B minus grade.
Today: The all-around running backs
Mark Ingram, Alabama
Good News: Terrific balance and vision…Patient in following his blocking to find the running lanes…Runs with a low center of gravity and consistently maintains a low pad level to break tackles…Great lateral agility to hit creases…Very secure as a ball carrier – fumbled three times on 634 total touches...Solid pass blocker and reliable receiver.
Bad News: Lacks top-notch breakaway speed…Missed the first two games of the 2010 season with a knee injury.
2010 Statistics: Co-Recipient of Alabama's Offensive Player of the Year Award…Gained 875 yards with 13 touchdowns on 158 carries (5.54 ypc)…Added 282 yards and another score on 21 receptions (13.43 ypc).
Prediction: Ingram is only running back in this draft who is assured a first-round selection. The often-heard Emmitt Smith comparisons are legitimate. He's the every-down runner who can be a team's feature back and should expect to hear his name called in the mid-to-late portions of day one.
Ryan Williams, Virginia Tech
Good News: Exceptional vision to find cutback lanes…Good lateral agility and bursts off cuts...Takes advantage of creases with great acceleration…Explosive as a runner…Runs bigger than his size due to effort and pad level…Capable receiver out of the backfield…Lots of tread on tires with just 367 carries in his college career.
Bad News: Hampered in 2010 due to a right hamstring injury…Lacks elite speed, but plays faster than his 40 time…Average size…Must improved as a blocker, which is part of the reason the Hokies redshirted him in 2008.
2010 Statistics: Gained 262 yards with five touchdowns on 74 carries (3.54 ypc)…Added 97 yards and another score on eight receptions (12.13 ypc).
Prediction: Williams has first-round talent but was extremely limited as a sophomore due to a nagging right hamstring problem. He's healthy again and has a good amount of tread left on the tires, which will be appealing when you consider the short life span of running backs. The Hokies tailback has explosive ability and should be gone early in the second round.
JORDAN TODMAN, Connecticut
Good News: Good patience and vision…Methodically picks his way through the defense…Deceptive speed to break the long one…Runs bigger than his size, showing the determination to slip the grasp of defenders...Solid lateral agility and balance.
Bad News: Could be more decisive…Lacks great size and has had some durability concerns…Flashes upside as a receiver but hasn't been overly productive…Needs to improve blocking…Fairly average burst and acceleration.
2010 Statistics: Big East Offensive Player of the Year…Gained 1,695 yards with 14 touchdowns on 334 carries (5.08 ypc)…Added 94 yards on 19 receptions (4.95 ypc).
Prediction: Todman isn't always the flashiest of players, but he delivers solid production. He's been able to handle a heavy workload for a smaller back and plays bigger than his size would indicate, showing the determination to make defenders who don't wrap up pay for their mistake. He also shows good vision and follows his blocking. The Connecticut tailback won't escape the third round.
Delone Carter, Syracuse
Good News: Perfect frame for a running back and well-developed base…Exceptional balance…Bounces off defenders who don't wrap up and can stay on his feet to pick up extra yardage...Shows enough power to run through arm tackles…Good lateral agility to elude oncoming defenders.
Bad News: Lacks great vision…Likes to jump-cut to the hole and does too much dancing at times…Hasn't shown much as a receiver – just eight receptions as a senior…Missed the entire 2007 season with a hip injury.
2010 Statistics: All-Big East second-team selection…Gained 1,233 yards with nine touchdowns on 231 carries (5.34 ypc)…Added 45 yards on eight receptions (5.63 ypc).
Prediction: Carter has that thick build that NFL teams love to see on a running back. Strong performances late in the season and at the East-West Shrine game have really helped his stock and he should be selected early on the third day.
Roy Helu, Nebraska
Good News: Explosive "run to daylight" kind of tailback…Exceptional speed to break the long run…Good acceleration and bursts off cuts…Solid vision to find the cutback lanes…Decent agility and elusiveness…Good balance to stay on feet through initial contact.
Bad News: Doesn't possess the power his size would indicate and not consistent as an inside runner…Has a tendency to hesitate at the line of scrimmage, which will get him into trouble at the next level…Has potential, but wasn't used much as a receiver…Must improve in pass protection.
2010 Statistics: All-Big 12 Conference second-team selection…Gained 1,245 yards with 11 touchdowns on 188 carries (6.62 ypc)…Added 46 yards on five receptions (9.20 ypc).
Prediction: Helu displays good recognition of cutback lanes and his speed is top-notch. However, he doesn't run with the power you would expect from a 219-pound back and isn't going to consistently bang it inside. I'm admittedly not a huge fan of his, but his explosiveness will likely warrant a fourth-round selection.
Bilal Powell, Louisville
Good News: Good balance to stay on feet through contact…Runs with good power for his size and keeps his legs churning…Great start-and-stop skills…Reliable as a receiver…Solid, thick build through the legs.
Bad News: Average top-end speed…Doesn't have great elusiveness…Had just one season of elite production…Hampered during the pre-draft process with a hamstring injury.
2010 Statistics: All-Big East first-team selection…Gained 1,405 yards with 11 touchdowns and 229 carries (6.14 ypc)…Added 158 yards with three more scores on 18 receptions (8.78 ypc).
Prediction: Powell is already flagged as a "one-year wonder" and a nagging hamstring injury that has limited him throughout the pre-draft process has not helped his cause. Still, he's carried just 436 times in his career and has a good amount of tread left on the tires. He offers a good combination of power and big-play ability and should warrant a fifth round selection.
Dion Lewis, Pittsburgh
Notes…Offers vision and patience with great feet and lateral agility, but left school early after a lackluster 2010 campaign.
Evan Royster, Penn State
Notes…Tough inside runner who finished his career as the school's all-time leading rusher, but lacks great vision and runs too high.
Damien Berry, Miami (FL)
Notes…Underrated runner with good vision and determination who could be one of the late steals.
Johnny White, North Carolina
Notes…Offers great value as a late-round pick or free agent thanks to excellent lateral agility, patience and effort.
THE POWER BACKS
Mikel Leshoure, Illinois
Good News: Good balance and power…Can run through arm tackles and bowl over defensive backs in the second level…Exceptionally quick feet and nimble for a player his size…Solid vision to find cutback lanes and great burst allows him to take advantage.
Bad News: Runs too high at times…Speed is good for a player his size but not great overall and won't pull away from a lot of NFL defenses…Will need to improve in pass protection…Flashes productivity as a receiver but catches a lot of balls with his body…Suspended in 2009 for violation of team rules
2010 Statistics: Second-team All-American and Texas Bowl MVP…Gained 1,697 yards with 17 touchdowns on 281 carries (6.04 ypc)…Added 193 yards and three more scores on 17 receptions (11.35 ypc).
Prediction: Leshoure is often compared to his Fighting Illini predecessor, Rashard Mendenhall, due to similar running styles. While I don't believe Leshoure is as good a prospect as Mendenhall, he's still explosive for a power back and has the skill set to be an every-down player. Some view him as a potential late first-round pick, but barring a trade, I really don't see any suitors in that area who need to spend that high of a pick on a running back. It's more likely you will see Leshoure chosen in the second round.
Daniel Thomas, Kansas State
Good News: Powerful downhill runner…Runs through arm tackles and can make defenders who don't wrap-up pay with a nice spin move…Good enough balance to stay on feet through contact…Excellent athletic ability for a player his size, showing the agility to plant and cut up field with decent burst…Plenty of experience in the Wildcat and is a threat to throw the ball as a former quarterback…Solid vision but not elite…Reliable receiver.
Bad News: Has been unable to run in front of scouts yet due to a nagging hamstring injury and does not show good speed on tape anyways…Runs too high at times and leaves himself exposed…Legitimate ball-security issues…Questionable pass blocker.
2010 Statistics: Second-team All-Big 12 selection and Kansas State Offensive Most Valuable Player…Gained 1,585 yards with 19 touchdowns on 298 carries (5.32 ypc)…Added 171 yards on 27 receptions (6.33 ypc).
Prediction: Thomas doesn't display great speed on film and scouts have legitimate concerns. Unfortunately he has done nothing to silence his doubters, as a hamstring injury has prevented him from running thus far in the pre-draft process. When he finally works out, a good day will solidify a spot in the second round while a poor performance could drop him as low as the fourth.
Jamie Harper, Clemson
Good News: Flashes the power to put his shoulder down and bowl over defenders…Good balance to stay on his feet through contact…Athletic for his size, showing nice feet to elude tacklers and burst to break the longer run…Impressive receiving ability – shows incredible body control and can adjust to the football…Good amount of tread on the tires (just 311 career carries).
Bad News: Negates his power by running too high…Needs to run with better pad level more consistently…Fast for his size, but average overall speed…Only average lateral agility and vision…Could improve in pass protection and has the size to be effective.
2010 Statistics: Gained 760 yards with seven touchdowns on 197 carries (3.86 ypc)…Added 328 yards with three more scores on 35 receptions (9.37 ypc).
Prediction: Harper is one of the most underrated big backs available in 2011. He needs to improve his pad level to become more consistent as a power runner, but he flashes fantastic strength and possesses uncanny ability as a receiver. He should be able to contribute early as a third-down back and should be selected in the fourth or fifth rounds.
Alex Green, Hawaii
Good News: No-nonsense runner who immediately gets downfield…Powerful and is willing to lower his shoulder into defenders to gain extra yardage…Bursts through the hole without hesitation…Nimble for his size and flashes quick feet to elude defenders from time to time…Soft hands out of the backfield and can contribute as a receiver.
Bad News: Lacks vision and patience…Straight-ahead runner and isn't going to elude a lot of NFL defenders…Good enough speed but lacks a second gear to pull away from the defense…Likely isn't an every-down back at the next level.
2010 Statistics: Only the seventh Hawaii player to gained 1,000 yards rushing or more in a season…Gained 1,199 yards with 18 touchdowns on 146 carries (8.21 ypc)…Added 363 yards with another score on 27 receptions (13.44 ypc).
Prediction: Green doesn't have the vision and patience to be an every-down player in the NFL, but he can be productive in a committee of backs. His added ability as a receiver makes him an attractive option as a third-down back as well. Teams looking to add a power element can find value in Green during the fifth round.
Stevan Ridley, Louisiana State
Good News: Decisive downhill runner who attacks the line of scrimmage…Lowers shoulders into contact and keeps his feet driving…Strong and consistently falls forward…Good feet and lateral agility…Solid vision to locate cutback lanes.
Bad News: Average speed and isn't going to pull away from defenses…Lacks elusiveness…Limited experience as a receiver…Likely not an every-down back in the NFL…Had just one season of production before leaving school.
2010 Statistics: All-SEC first-team selection…Gained 1,147 yards with 15 touchdowns on 249 carries (4.61 ypc)…Added 61 yards on 11 receptions (5.54 ypc).
Prediction: Ridley emerged as the Tigers' top back in 2010 after registering just 67 carries in his previous two seasons combined. He's the Mike Anderson/Reuben Droughns-type of big back that can excel in a zone blocking scheme. If not in a zone scheme, he could offer a power option in a committee of runners, but his value decreases because he's not going to be an every-down player. Ridley should warrant fifth or sixth round consideration.
Anthony Allen, Georgia Tech
Notes…Powerful back with good balance, but played in a triple-option offense that typically hasn't translated well to the next level.
Allen Bradford, Southern California
Notes…Converted defensive player who can offer power as a physical downhill runner in a committee of ball carriers.
John Clay, Wisconsin
Notes…Huge runner with surprisingly nimble feet, but posted an alarmingly slow 40-yard dash time at the combine.
ALL-PURPOSE BACKS/CHANGE-OF-PACE RUNNERS
Kendall Hunter, Oklahoma State
Good News: Patient, but hits hole hard with outstanding acceleration when he locates his lane…Good vision and decisive as a runner…Exceptional quickness and plays faster than his 40 time…Showed tenacity as a blocker despite giving up weight to linebackers.
Bad News: Lacks size and is not an every-down back…Gives good effort as a blocker, but is simply too small to take on NFL defenders…Could contribute as a receiver, but didn't offer a lot of production in that aspect over the past two seasons…Durability concerns – missed time in 2009 with ankle/foot injuries.
2010 Statistics: Consensus All-American…Gained 1,548 yards with 16 touchdowns on 271 carries (5.71 ypc)…Added 101 yards on 20 receptions (5.05 ypc).
Production…Hunter is the kind of one-cut and go running back that could excel in a zone blocking scheme thanks to his vision and decisiveness. He's not an every-down back in a traditional scheme, but could be a great change-of-pace guy in a stable. Hunter possesses second-round talent, although his lack of size could push him into the third.
DeMarco Murray, Oklahoma
Good News: Possesses breakaway speed and can contribute in multiple areas…Excellent receiver out of the backfield and has experience returning kickoffs…Good burst and acceleration to explode off his cuts…Solid lateral agility to elude defenders…Runs with determination even though he lacks power...Displays pretty good balance.
Bad News: Runs too high to consistently get the job done inside…Has a linear build more suited for a receiver…Leaves himself susceptible to big hits and has durability concerns…Vision is very average overall.
2010 Statistics: All-Big 12 Conference first-team selection…Gained 1,214 yards with 15 touchdowns on 282 carries (4.30 ypc)…Added 594 yards and five more scores on 71 receptions (8.37 ypc).
Prediction: Murray has a linear build and run too tall to consistently bang it inside. He leaves himself vulnerable to taking big shots at the next level and has already had some trouble staying healthy. He does offer a lot as a receiver, however, and the ability to contribute in multiple facets of the game may entice a team to select him in the second or third round.
Shane Vereen, California
Good News: Excellent speed…Decisive runner with nice vision to find the cutback lanes…Solid balance with good burst and acceleration…Great receiver out of the backfield who is used on downfield routes…Reliable as a pass blocker.
Bad News: Doesn't offer a lot of strength as a runner but keeps his legs churning through contact…May lack the size to be an every-down back at the next level…Has had some ball-security issues.
2010 Statistics: All-Pac-10 second-team selection…Gained 1,167 yards with 13 touchdowns on 231 carries (5.05 ypc)…Added 209 yards with three more scores on 22 receptions (9.50 ypc).
Prediction: Vereen is another back whose vision and decisiveness make him a nice fit in the zone-blocking scheme. He could contribute early as a third-down back thanks to his exceptional receiving ability and solid pass protection. Teams will value his versatility and solid all-around game, likely resulting in a third-round selection.
Jacquizz Rodgers, Oregon State
Good News: Well-built despite lack of height…Elusive with exceptionally quick feet…Good vision and knows how to use size to his advantage…Terrific balance and runs with determination…Well-accomplished as a receiver and will contribute in the passing game…Can handle a heavy workload.
Bad News: Durability is always a concern with a player his size, although Rodgers has played in every game over the past two seasons (missed two games in 2008)…Lacks great top-end speed, but is the type player who is quicker than fast…Can dance to the hole a bit too much at times and could be more decisive…Quite a bit of wear for a smaller back (939 touches in three seasons).
2010 Statistics: All-Pac-10 Conference first-team selection…Gained 1,184 yards with 14 touchdowns on 256 carries (4.63 ypc)…Added 287 yards with three more scores on 44 receptions (6.52 ypc).
Prediction: Rodgers may lack great height, but he knows how to use it to his advantage. He patiently hides behind his offensive line and uses his quick feet to find running lanes. Rodgers is also well-accomplished as a receiver and can be an asset in the passing game. He's very underrated and offers a lot of value in the third or fourth round with a chance to contribute early.
Derrick Locke, Kentucky
Good News: Blazing game speed to break off big gains…Can take the edge on the outside run…Solid vision to locate cutback lanes and has the agility and acceleration to take advantage…Shifty and can make defenders miss…All-purpose back that can contribute as a runner, receiver and returner…Good balance and effort…Can run through a few arm tackles on occasion.
Bad News: Smaller back with legitimate durability concerns…Missed time in each of the past three seasons…Simply lacks power as a runner despite effort…Size is going to prevent him from being very reliable in pass protection on third-down…Not an every-down back.
2010 Statistics: Gained 887 yards with 10 touchdowns on 166 carries (5.34 ypc)…Added 318 yards on 34 receptions (9.35 ypc) and 395 yards on 15 kickoff returns (26.33 avg).
Prediction: Locke is a nifty all-purpose runner who can contribute in multiple areas. Although he lacks size and has a history of injury, getting in a stable of backs might be just what the doctor ordered. A team can get a lot of value out of Locke as a change-of-pace back in the fifth or sixth round, and limiting his carries would give him a better chance of staying healthy.
Taiwan Jones, Eastern Washington
Good News: Absolute burner with sprinter speed…Excellent agility and change-of-direction skills…Elite acceleration – can plant and explode up field with tremendous burst…Very good balance and can stay on his feet through poor tackle attempts…Good elusiveness to make defenders miss.
Bad News: Slight frame and tall stature won't allow him to consistently contribute as an inside runner…Major injury concerns – has missed time in four out of the last five seasons dating back to high school (exception was his redshirt year)…Played against lower-level competition…Character concerns regarding maturity.
2010 Statistics: Ranked second in the FCS in rushing yards (145.17 ypg) and all-purpose yards (201.75 ypg)…Totaled 1,742 yards with 14 touchdowns on 221 carries (7.88 ypc)…Added 342 yards with three more scores on 24 receptions (14.25 ypc) and 309 yards on 15 kickoff returns (20.6 avg).
Prediction: Jones might be the biggest wildcard in the draft. He's a phenomenal talent, but has some legitimate durability questions. Jones suffered a broken foot late in 2010 and has been unable to work out in front of scouts thus far in the pre-draft process. He's slated to run on April 14th. If he is as fast as everyone expects (potential low 4.3s), his stock could skyrocket into a third-round selection at the latest. If he is unable to run or ends up being slower than expect, he could slip as far as the fifth round. Teams will take a gamble on his kind of talent, but only if he can back it up and prove his health.
Noel Devine, West Virginia
Notes…Explosive runner with fantastic quickness and elusiveness, but has a slight frame and durability concerns.
DA'REL SCOTT, Maryland
Notes…Offers blazing speed in a bigger package, but has a history of injury.
Mario Fannin, Auburn
Notes…Good size and an excellent receiver out of the backfield, but produced a disappointing senior campaign that included some fumbling problems.
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