2013 NFL Draft Rankings: Running Backs
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1. Eddie Lacy (Alabama): My admiration for Lacy actually began when he was backing up Trent Richardson in 2011, ripping off 7.1 yards per carry and scoring seven touchdowns on only 95 carries. I was thrilled to see how Lacy would handle a larger workload in 2012, and he didn't disappoint. His 1322 yards and 17 touchdowns on 6.5 yards per carry without being hindered by injury suggests he can handle a lead back role at the next level. He showed great explosiveness in 2012, which was much improved from his previous seasons. He has enough speed and lateral quickness, and is a smooth runner. What I like most about Lacy, however, is his brutality and balance when fending off tacklers. You can't look away when you think he's being taken down, because he'll probably fight for at least a couple more yards. A lot of his game reminds me of Marshawn Lynch, who has obviously been very successful in the NFL. Lacy's ability in the passing game as both a receiver and blocker also boosts his stock.
2. Giovani Bernard (UNC): There isn't really anything to love about Bernard, but there is nothing to dislike either. He's pretty much good (but not exceptional) at everything a running back is asked to do. He'll run between the tackles and plunge into a linebacker to push for some extra yards, or bounce to the outside to use speed and quickness to move the ball. He has a quick first step and gets going quickly, then decisively and effectively makes quick cuts through the correct holes. Vision is one of his greatest strengths. He is a solid pass blocker, and his 92 catches over the past two seasons tell you all you need to know about his ability as a receiver. He's a complete, every-down type back that has a shot at being the first at his position to be drafted.
3. Mike Gillislee (Florida): Like Bernard, Gillislee is a player who doesn't blow you away in any one area, but can do a lot of different things well. My favorite thing about him is his aggressiveness with the ball in his hands. He always appears to be ready for contact, and keeps his legs moving at all times, creating yards after contact. He gets going quickly after taking the handoff. What he will need to work on is more often taking a short gain rather than trying (and failing) to create a big play. He has good hands and is effective as a receiver. He is an effective blocker in the passing game. He'll likely be a good fit for a power running scheme, in which he can be decisive with one cut and fight his way downfield.
4. Le'Veon Bell (Michigan State): It's a little risky ranking Bell this high, because he is a load of a runner who may or may not have enough explosiveness to succeed at the next level. However, I was encouraged by his 4.60 forty-yard dash and 6.75 three-cone drill (third best among running backs) at the combine, so I'm willing to rank him here. This is a guy that forces defenders to swallow their pride and expose themselves to a big collision. You've got to have some guts to stand in front of Bell and try to take him down, and if you try to step aside, he'll drive right through your arm tackle and keep on trucking. If you try to go at his feet, he won't hesitate to leap right over you. He finished 2012 with 414 touches, proving he can handle a massive workload. What he'll need to improve most is his vision. I like him as a guy who could play the bruiser role in a backfield rotation, a la Marion Barber when he was sharing the backfield with Julius Jones (and later Felix Jones).
5. Christine Michael (Texas A&M): Due to a spotty injury history and off-field concerns, it's risky to rank Michael this high, but his talent is undeniable. He racked up 844 yards and ten touchdowns as a freshman, showing tons of promise, but then broke his leg as a sophomore and tore his ACL as a junior. He wound up in head coach Kevin Sumlin's doghouse due to off-field issues as a senior, resulting in only 88 rushing attempts over 11 games, though he still managed 12 touchdowns and 4.7 yards per carry. Michael is extremely explosive, and is very powerful when engaged head on by a defender. He also maintains his balance very well, and is quicker than you would think by looking at him. He ran a solid 4.54 at the combine, and finished top-five among running backs in bench press, broad jump, vertical jump, three-cone drill, and twenty-yard shuttle. NFL Network's Mike Mayock considers him "at least" a second-round talent. Once again, injuries and off-field issues are the biggest concerns when it comes to this prospect.
6. Montee Ball (Wisconsin): Everyone knows Ball thanks to an absurd 39 touchdown campaign in 2011. He's a decisive runner who finds holes and hits them hard, then finishes his runs well. He has enough quickness to make defenders miss in the open field on occasion. His decisive, powerful running style keeps him from losing yards very often, even if a hole doesn't open. What concerns me is that he didn't stand out much when forced to squeeze through a tight hole or make a defender miss at the line of scrimmage. Most of his impressive plays came when massive holes were blown open and he had time to get a full head of steam. He won't see as many holes like that in the NFL, and will need to improve his burst to get through small holes quickly.
7. Andre Ellington (Clemson): I'm not as high on Ellington as some people because I don't like his lack of strength and finishing ability, and also am concerned with how his speed advantage will translate at the next level (he only ran a 4.61 forty at the combine). That being said, I still think he has a shot at being an effective back, in large part due to his ability to be patient and read blocks. He finds holes well and accelerates through them quickly. While he won't put his shoulder into a tackler and drive him backwards for an extra couple yards, he does have good balance that requires defenders to wrap up to bring him down.
8. Johnathan Franklin (UCLA): UCLA's all-time leading rusher finished off his career very strong with 1734 yards, 13 touchdowns, and 6.1 yards per carry. He's a speedy runner with some strength to fight off tacklers, especially when they go after his upper body. He has displayed nice explosiveness, getting up to speed and firing through holes quickly. My biggest concern is that, like Montee Ball, many of Franklin's most impressive plays came when he had huge holes to run through. He doesn't create much when there is not a sizable hole in front of him. He'll also need to improve his ability as a receiver. His best fit would be in a power scheme in which he could be a one-cut speedster who hits holes hard and drives piles - sort of a poor man's Darren McFadden.
9. Joseph Randle (Oklahoma State): Randle has been extremely productive over his past two seasons, but he's really been more of a product of Oklahoma State's high powered offense than a bona fide elite runner. He has some explosiveness to get through holes, but lacks finishing ability and doesn't break tackles the way a lot of these other prospects do. He runs too straight up and will need to correct that at the next level. He is very effective in the passing game, and will likely find most of his NFL success as a receiver out of the backfield.
10. Stepfan Taylor (Stanford): Taylor found success in college with a balanced running style, bringing decent speed and decent strength combined with good vision to gain yards. A lot of his success, however, came as a result of running behind an exceptional offensive line. He didn't create many plays without having big holes to run through, and was sometimes even too slow to make plays when he had space ahead of him. In case you missed it, he had a terrible combine, running a 4.76 forty, putting up only 17 bench reps, finishing bottom-three in both vertical and broad jump, and not finishing near the leaders in any other drill. He is a good pass catcher and a reliable blocker, which should give him some value on third downs in the NFL. His tough running style could help him produce on the ground as a pro, but his mediocre strength combined with a lack of explosiveness, speed, and quickness makes me wary of his potential production.
For quarterback rankings, click here.
For wide receiver rankings, click here.