Cream of the Crop
Trent Richardson, Alabama
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Richardson's running style often has been compared to that of former Dallas Cowboys great and Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith, as he has that low center of gravity and uncanny field vision to easily locate even the slightest of creases to break for daylight. That running style helped the Tide capture two national championships during his three years lettering at the university.
Despite having to share duties with Mark Ingram for his first two seasons and having just 15 starting assignments, he closed his collegiate career ranking fifth on the school's all-time rushing list with 3,130 yards. His average of 5.8 yards per carry is the second-best in Tide history, while his 35 rushing touchdowns and 43 total scores placed third on the Alabama lists.
Compares to: Emmitt Smith, ex-Cowboys — Like Smith, Richardson runs with a low center of gravity, as he combines his quickness with power. He not only averaged 5.8 yards per carry, but ran for 35 scores. He found the end zone seven more times as a receiver, making him the best "complete" back in this draft. Toss in his excellent kickoff return skills (25.71-yard average) and you can see why many teams feel he is the best running back prospect since Minnesota's Adrian Peterson and the only ball-carrier assured of hearing his name called in the first round. There is no question that with his strength, quickness and forward body lean that Richardson has no problems running over initial tacklers or simply sidestepping them.
Best of the Rest
Doug Martin, Boise State
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Regarded as the elite draft prospect among senior-eligible tailbacks, Martin cemented that universal opinion with a stellar 2011 season, capped by an equally impressive performance during the week's practices leading up to his Senior Bowl appearance. Even though he started less than half of the 51 games he appeared in for the Broncos, he closed his college career ranked fourth in school history in touchdown runs (43), fifth in rushing yardage (3,431) and sixth in rushing attempts (617).
While short in stature, Martin displayed excellent leg drive and power running between the tackles. He is a muscular, compactly built ball-carrier who runs at a proper pad level. He consistently lowers his shoulders and drives through contact, evident in the 2010 Idaho clash, when he simply flattened All-American 225-pound safety Shiloh Keo on both of Martin's goal-line touchdown runs.
Compares to: Matt Forte, Bears — Martin's low center of gravity and powerful legs let him bull through arm tackles regularly. He has very good balance to spin off a hit, as 14 of his touchdown runs were for 20 yards or longer. When he stays low in his pads on contact, he shows enough leg drive and jump-cut agility to navigate his way through traffic and into the second level.
Marc Tyler, USC
Perhaps because he's a legacy (father Wendell Tyler was an All-Pac 10 running back at UCLA before playing for the Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco from 1977 through 1986), Tyler received an invitation to the Scouting Combine. He's had several off-field issues that will certainly raise red flags with teams, and in four college seasons, his numbers read 1,751 yards on the ground.
He wasted his one true opportunity to show teams his skills, when he clocked 4.78 in the 40-yard dash, pulled up lame in the shuttle drills (left quad) and had just an adequate performance in the weight room (19 reps). Injuries dating to high school through present, along with his off-field issues and 2011 game suspension (Tyler made comments to TMZ implying that USC players were getting paid) make this once mid-round prospect looking for a job as a free agent.
If any team thinks that he is worthy of being taken on draft day, that general manager deserves to be fired. All they will get in return for wasting that choice is a player with marginal speed, limited acceleration and a stiff-hipped ball-carrier with poor ball security and an unwillingness to work on improving his woefully pathetic pass protection skills.
Robert Turbin, Utah State
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The talented runner had an outstanding sophomore campaign, but an anterior cruciate ligament tear in his knee working out during the winter following that campaign cost him the entire 2010 season. A grueling rehabilitation program seems to have made him even more dangerous as an open-field runner.
Finding the end zone and coming up with big plays became commonplace for Turbin. He is just one of three Aggies to ever score 100 points in a season, holding the rare distinction of accomplishing that feat twice. He set the school career scoring record with 308 points and tied for the USU all-time record with 40 touchdown runs. A vastly underrated receiver, he found the end zone 11 more times behind 67 catches, setting another school mark with 51 total touchdowns.
In just 38 games, including 30 starting assignments, Turbin ranks fifth in school annals with 565 carries for 3,315 yards. His 1,517 yards on the ground last year is the third-best season total in Utah State history, and his 1,296 yards in 2009 rank ninth on that list.
Among active Football Bowl Subdivision players, Turbin is one of four performers to have compiled at least 50 total touchdowns in a career. He also placed 13th in points scored, 17th in all-purpose plays (632), tied for seventh with 16 100-yard rushing performances, 16th in carries, 11th in rushing yardage, sixth in rushing touchdowns, 13th in rushing yards per game (87.24) and 12th in yards per carry (5.87).
Compares to: Arian Foster, Texans — Outside of Richardson, Turbin has to have the most impressive upper-body frame of any running back in this draft. He not only shows patience as a ball-carrier, but that great vision to locate the cutback lanes, along with the explosive burst to get to the second level regularly. With his forward body lean and strength, he lost just 21 yards on 249 carries while picking up 1,517 in 2011.
Bobby Rainey, Western Kentucky
One of the few bright spots for a Hilltoppers program in their infant stages of playing Football Bowl Subdivision opponents, Rainey put together an impressive resume for NFL general managers to analyze leading up to draft day. The "short in stature" tailback has drawn comparisons to Jacksonville's Maurice Drew-Jones for his inside running power that he combines with blazing foot speed turning the corner.
The school's record-holder with 895 carries for 4,542 yards, Rainey placed fourth in WKU annals with 35 touchdown runs. He is a versatile performer, snaring 80 passes for 682 yards and five more scores. Blessed with an impressive arm, he has registered two touchdowns among his three pass completions.
On special teams, the kick returner ranks second in school annals with 63 runbacks for 1,631 yards, placing third with a 25.89-yard average. He chipped in with five solo tackles for the coverage units and has also filled in as an emergency punt returner. He only holds the school career-record with 6,906 all-purpose yards.
Compares to: Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars — Rainey has excellent quickness to the rush lanes, along with exceptional lateral agility to slip through tight areas and in the second level, there is not a linebacker than can catch up to him. He has good patience waiting for blocks to develop, and for a player his size, he's durable, despite leading the NCAA active players with 895 carries.
Dave-Te Thomas has more than 40 years of experience scouting for the NFL. With the NFL Draft Report, Thomas handles a staff that evaluates and tests college players before the draft and prepares the NFL's official Draft Packet, which is distributed to all 32 teams prior to the draft.
Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.