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.
Tomorrow (Wednesday): The Power Backs
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