NFL Combine Edition: Top 10 Running Backs in 2013 NFL Draft

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Solid, if not Spectacular RB Class has Ultimate Wildcard Prospect

College Football
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The 2012 rookie class of running backs put up historic numbers, and the 2013 class is unlikely to come close to that type of production.

Three running backs were taken in the first round last year with Trent Richardson going third overall and David Wilson and Doug Martin going at the end of the first round. Martin and Richardson put up stellar numbers as rookies and Wilson started to emerge at the end of the year when he got an opportunity to carry the ball.

However, the biggest rookie contributor at running back was Alfred Morris, a sixth round pick of the Washington Redskins, who finished with 1613 yards and 13 touchdowns and in any other year would have been a rookie of the year. The same can be said for Martin who had 1454 yards with a 251-yard game on his resume and Richardson who had 12 touchdowns while battling injuries all season long.

This year may not see any running backs taken in the first round despite having the NCAA leader in touchdowns, Montee Ball, being in this class and Marcus Lattimore who barring injury looked like a future stud in the NFL.

Day two of the draft figures to be highlighted by the running back position where I project five-six of the ten on this list to be selected. Running backs are known to have an instant impact in the NFL, but expecting anything close to the 2012 class is unrealistic and somewhat unfair to solid if not spectacular group.

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10. Johnathan Franklin-UCLA

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I’m higher on Franklin that others who don’t think Franklin possess the necessary speed to cut it in the NFL as a featured back. He is rumored to run a 4.55 40-yard dash and his time at the combine or pro day could see Franklin move up into the day-two mix if he can run a 4.5. However if that number stays in the 4.55 range, then he figures to be a fifth round selection despite looking much faster on film than his time would indicate. When I watched Franklin at UCLA I saw a player who runs with incredible determination and effort and demonstrated above-average vision and patience to setup his offensive linemen’s blocks. At 205-pounds he doesn’t profile as a short-yardage or goal line back and if he goes to a situation with a bigger back on the roster could be the best way to maximize his talent. One red flag to consider with Franklin is his workload. Franklin has touched the ball a whopping 846 times in college and the tread on his tires could scare some teams off fearing his won’t have a long shelf life in the NFL.

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9. Stepfan Taylor-Stanford

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Taylor’s durability (he has never missed a game due to injury), experience in a pro-style offense and ability to be a receiver out of the backfield is why I am higher on Taylor than some others. I think he will be a starting back in the NFL but will drop in the draft because of first-rate acceleration and speed. He is not a burner, and won’t win any races, but at 215-pounds has some wiggle and quickness to jump in and out of his cuts to find creases and weave his way through the traffic and is a nice option at the goal line and short-yardage. Taylor averaged more than 1400 yards during his final two seasons as a starter for the reigning Rose Bowl champions.

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8. Mike Gillislee-Florida

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Gillislee started out strong in 2012 for the Gators with three-100-yard games in the first five games, but then hit a wall and struggled in the middle of the season showing signs of the fatigue in his first year as a full-time starter. He did turn it back on at the end of the season and had a 140-yard game vs. Florida State. At 5-10 and 210-pounds, Gillislee has good, but not great size and is unlikely to be a featured back, but could have production in a time-share situation early in his NFL career. He scored 20 touchdowns and ran for more than 2000 yards during his Florida career.

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7. Andre Ellington-Clemson

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At 5-9 and 195-pounds Ellington is very undersized and chances are his frame will prevent him from ever being an every-down or featured back. His frame has also gotten him injured on multiple occasions and teams will need to make sure he can hold up in the NFL before investing third round pick on him. He reminds me of 2012 rookie Ronnie Hillman because of their similar dimensions, shiftiness and ability to make defenders miss when he is able to bounce runs outside and could be one of the first players to come off the board in round four. Can be a contributor in the return game, but don’t expect to get Devin Hester-type return skills. What I really like about Ellington is his competitiveness and demeanor which will help him find a niche in the NFL. The diminutive back leaves Clemson with almost 700 touches in college and just shy of 4000 yards of offense and 35 touchdowns.

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6. Marcus Lattimore-South Carolina

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Lattimore suffered a gruesome injury vs. Tennessee in the ninth game of the season and was out for the year. He dislocated his knee that resulted in a torn ACL and LCL. Lattimore also tore his ACL in a game vs. Mississippi State as a sophomore and came back to full strength as a junior prior to the season-ending injury. He had a first round grade prior to his latest injury, but now it’s a big question where he goes. I can envision a scenario where he gets selected on day two of the draft, especially to a team that owns multiple picks in the second or third round and can take a gamble of the health of Lattimore. The six-foot 218-pound running back is as good as any running back in the nation when he has two strong legs underneath him, and football fans are hoping that Lattimore can get back to the form he displayed prior to the injury.

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5. Kenjon Barner-Oregon

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A dynamo in Oregon’s offense, but his 5-8 stature and questions about his skills translating to an NFL style will drop Barner in the draft. He is a better prospect than former Duck, LaMichael James, who has seen limited action for the San Francisco 49ers after he was a day-two pick last year. However, due to his stature and inability to be an every-down back will be a 3rd down back early in his career and a quality backup that could thrive in the right offense. Barner rushed for 3623 yards and 41 touchdowns running in Chip Kelly’s up-tempo offense.

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4. Eddie Lacy-Alabama

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Alabama running back Eddie Lacy had a coming out party in the Discover BCS Championship Game vs. Notre Dame. For those that haven’t see what the 6-1 220-pound Lacy had been doing all season when he totaled 1182 yards--good for third most in the SEC--during the regular season had their eyes opened when the bruising tailback was running through would be Notre Dame tacklers. Lacy finished his evening with 140 yards and a touchdown and added a touchdown reception for good measure. Lacy probably will not get drafted in the first round but figures to hear his name called on day two because he has prototypical size for a running back, above-average vision, agility, and acceleration and incredible production at Alabama against some of the stiffest defenses in the country.

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3. Le'Veon Bell-Michigan State

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Bell is a big back at 244-pounds and was a preseason candidate for the Heisman trophy, but his team failed to live up to expectations this season and Bell did not receive the attention that he really deserved. He is the epitome of a workhorse back and has rushed the ball more than 40 times in a game--which can also be a detriment to him when scouts consider the wear and tear on his body--he has more than 700 touches at Michigan State and is coming off a 382-carry junior season. Not really a receiving threat out of the backfield, but is a punishing runner that can play a complimentary role to a smaller and shiftier back. I think he will need to drop down to the 230-pound range to be at his best.

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2. Giovani Bernard-North Carolina

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Bernard is a bit of a diamond in the rough and a prospect that could rise in the pre-draft process similar to what Doug Martin did a year ago when he rose from relative obscurity to the bottom of the first round. Bernard can run in between the tackles as well as turning the corner and reaching the perimeter on stretch runs while delivering a pop to would be tacklers. The best receiver among this year’s running backs will aid him in the pre-draft process and can carry the load at the goal line. He will enhance his draft stock with his ability to be a punt returner in addition to being a true three-down back. Bernard leaves Chapel Hill with 25 touchdowns and 2481 rushing yards with 92 receptions and 752 yards.

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1. Montee Ball-Wisconsin

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Ball returned to Madison for his senior year after a 39-touchdown season on the ground as a junior because the draft advisory board had him pegged as a 3rd round pick. Started off the season somewhat sluggish as his team had poor quarterback play and teams keyed on shutting down Ball, but turned it on in a big way as the season progressed. Two concerns about Ball is the huge workload he had at Wisconsin where he had a ridiculous 910 carries and his two concussions suffered this season--one on-the-field and one in an off-campus assault. He set the NCAA touchdown record after visiting the end zone 83 times as a collegian. Ball represents the best case for a running back to be a first round selection that makes sense for the Green Bay Packers where those in Wisconsin have seen him star the past four years in college.