by David Syvertsen
I devoted the past couple of days to getting the majority of this running back class graded. We are a little more than one month away from draft weekend, and the final board is starting to become more and more clear with each day that passes.
It is apparent to me, more now than ever, that Alabama’s Eddie Lacy is the top running back in this class and the only prospect at the position worthy of a first round pick. He is better than Mark Ingram, but not on the same level as Trent Richardson. The one thing I look for the most in a college back is the ability to break tackles and fall forward. If these guys get through the first line of defenders at the college level, there is no reason to believe they can break the tackles of grown men in the NFL. Lacy rarely does down on first contact, and usually pushes the eventual tackler backward. He blocks well, catches the ball with ease, and has some sneaky explosion once he gets in to the open field. If it weren’t for the nagging lower body injuries, Lacy would have graded as a top 15 player on my board.
However beyond Lacy, who should be the next running back taken? I’ve noticed there are plenty of solid prospects, but they all have limitations. They are all role player-type guys. Not necessarily a bad thing considering that backfield-by-committee approach seems to have been adopted by the majority of teams across the league. Teams will look in to their specific backfield needs and be able to find a more specialized athlete to plug in to their system. Lets take a look at them:
Christine Michael – Texas A&M – 5’10/220
Overlooked back because of the Manziel and company. Top-notch ability as a short yardage/goal line back. Angry runner. Packs a lot of power inside that thick frame. Can make himself small and hard to wrap up. Reaches the line of scrimmage as fast as anyone. Will put his speed within a 10-15 yard box up against anyone. Ran in to some tough luck injury-wise early in his career. Some character concerns that teams will need to look in to. Won’t offer much as a receiver.
Montee Ball – Wisconsin – 5’10/214
Lost about 15-20 pounds before his record setting 2011 season but maintained his physical presence as a runner. Doesn’t have wiggle, but consistently hits the hole hard and breaks plenty of tackles. Savvy runner inside. Finds the small windows. Great vision, anticipation, timing. Average runner in space, but can make a difference in short yardage. Strong player that plays smart. Reliable.
Andre Ellington – Clemson – 5’9/199
The 4.61 he ran at the combine baffles my mind. Ellington was one of the fastest, shiftiest backs I saw in 2012. Runs on ice skate. Seamless transition when changing direction. Times his cuts well and can run past defensive backs. Tough enough to break tackles. Agile enough to make them miss. Fast enough to run away from defenders that have an angle.
Chris Thompson – Florida State – 5’7/192
A lot of questions that need to be answered here. Suffered two serious injuries over his college career. One to his back, one to his knee. But Thompson was the most explosive offensive player in the nation prior to that knee injury this past fall. If he were healthy entering this pre-draft process, Thompson would have been a top five back in this class. The lack of size limits him. But in the right role within the right scheme, Thompson can be a huge difference maker for a team that needs speed and big play ability.
Kenjon Barner – Oregon – 5’9/196
Stronger and more physical than one would think initially. High effort blocker. Can be trusted to be on field for passing plays. Natural receiver that can pluck the ball while moving at full speed like a wide receiver. Can get himself open, a good route runner. Will break a lot of tackles with late movement, outstanding agility. Smart player that sees the field well. Great anticipation and decision maker.
Le’Veon Bell – Michigan State – 6’1/230
Finishes with the second highest overall grade at the RB position. Struggles with the lateral runs and will struggle to locate holes. Should be a better runner that what I see on tape. He has a lot of tools. Physical, quick, agile hips. Doesn’t seem to have that savvy, quick decision making ability though. As a receiver, Bell is very underrated. He catches the ball better than some tight ends and receivers. Strong, sure hands. 67 catches over final two seasons at MSU. On top of that, a top tier pass blocker. Probably the one guy in this class I would trust right away in that role. A lot of value here because of everything he can do.
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