Many teams are going with a tandem backfield, rather than pin their entire rushing attack on a workhorse. That is limiting the premium value of a running back at the top of the draft, but raises the value of players outside of the first round. Last year, Mark Ingram was the only back to be selected in the first round. His former backfield mate, Trent Richardson is a sure fire first rounder, but there are some intriguing options after he comes off the board.
Alabama's Trent Richardson is without question the headliner at the RB position this year. He is the complete package, and the type of back that can be a true workhorse, and carry the rushing load for his team. He has a short, but sturdy frame with tremendous lower body strength. That helps him bounce of tackles consistently, and deliver a blow to defenders quite often. What sets Richardson apart from other powerful backs is that he combines that with quick feet, and the ability to turn the corner and out run defenders to pick up big chunks of yardage. He could go as high as #4 to Cleveland, but won't last much longer if he doesn't.
Trent Richardson, Alabama
Lamar Miller, Miami
David Wilson, Virginia Tech
Doug Martin, Boise St.
LaMichael James, Oregon
Bernard Pierce, Temple
Chris Polk, Washington
Isaiah Pead, Cincinnati
Ronnie Hillman, San Diego St.
Robert Turbin, Utah St.
Lamar Miller of Miami is a big play waiting to happen. His quickness, agility, and speed are all top notch, and he's a threat to take it the distance any time he touches the ball. He suffered a shoulder injury during the season, which limited some of his power and willingness to finish runs, but playing through the pain and rushing for over 1,200 yards speaks about his toughness and ability to run between the tackles. He'll never be an overpowering runner, but he can carry the ball between the tackles to balance out his big play ability. By declaring after just his redshirt sophomore season, some teams want want to develop his all around skills such as receiving and blocking before making him their featured back, but he has the natural rushing skills to be one. While he adjusts to the NFL level, he can also provide a boost on special teams, because he is a dangerous kick returner as well. Miller clocked the best 40 time among all RB's at the combine, while checking in at 5'11 212lbs. His potential and big play ability could allow him to slip into the back end of round one.
Virginia Tech's David Wilson is the only other RB that has a chance to crack the first round, though he is a safer bet in the second round. He's another big play back, with quick feet and the speed to take it the distance. Wilson is also a very aggressive runner for an average sized back. He will attack the line of scrimmage and defenders, and is not afraid of contact. The toughness and willingness to run between the tackles and pick up tough yardage is there, but there are some questions about how well his 5'10 205lb frame will hold up. Wilson is more than a speed/change of pace type back, but he'll probably be paired with a bigger, stronger back to take some of the physical wear off of him, and allow him to maximize his big play ability in space.
Doug Martin of Boise State impressed some at the combine. Always regarded as a tough, physical runner that could do everything well, he answered some questions about his physical ability. He came in jacked up, at a rock solid 5'9 223lbs, and displayed good enough speed, clocking a 4.55 to show he's more than just an interior runner. That extra weight should help him take abuse at the next level, because he is at his best running between the tackles. He quickly gets to the line and will waste no time in finding a defender to punish and move backwards a couple yards. When the opportunity is there, he does show the feet to make the first defender miss, but he won't shake people in the open field, nor will he run away from them. Martin also has very good hands, and is the type of back who should be able to step in from day one and be a legitimate all around threat. A team will likely utilize him as the power back in a tandem role, which is a role he is well suited for.
LaMichael James was one of the bigger names in college football the past couple seasons because of his big play ability. At just 5'8 194, he is the change of pace type of back that will also make his mark as a receiver and special teams. James is as electric as any player in the draft, and has an innate ability to make defenders miss and take it the distance. He is more physical than his frame suggests, but it is unlikely that his body would allow him to hold up as a feature back in the NFL. He has the experience on special teams, the hands, and the speed to be a dangerous threat in a variety of roles, so he will be an attractive option in the second or third round on draft day.
Temple's Bernard Pierce has been one of college football's most productive backs over the past three seasons. He has rushed for over 3,500 yards and 53 touchdowns during his career, and is ready to take his skills to the NFL. He doesn't jump out at you physically, but he is the type of back that gets better as the game goes on. He is a physical runner between the tackles, but has surprisingly quick feet for a near 220lber, and can make defenders miss and turn the corner on occasion. He lacks the extra gear to be a consistent big play threat, and is virtually untested as a receiver, but his natural running skills are above average, and could surprise if he falls too low on draft day.
Chris Polk of Washington is another jack of all trades, master of none. He has a sturdy frame at 215lbs, and is a physical and aggressive interior runner, but he isn't going to run over defenders and punish them at the end of runs. He has quick feet and can get to the outside, but is not a big play threat out of the backfield. His best trait may be his hands out of the backfield, but he doesn't have the speed or quickness to fully utilize that as a receiving threat. Polk will probably never be a feature back in the NFL, but his ability to do a lot of things well will make him a contributor at the next level.
Ronnie Hillman of San Diego State is far from a finished product, but his big play ability jumps out at you. In just two seasons as an Aztec, he ran for 3,200 yards and 36 touchdowns on the ground. Hillman has quick feet with the ability to routinely shake defenders in the open field, excellent acceleration, and speed to burst into space with even the slightest opening. At just 5'8 200lbs, he will need to become a factor as a receiver on and special teams to maximize his ability, but his ability with the ball in his hands is big time, and is a player to watch from the mid rounds of this draft.
Cincinnati's Isaiah Pead is next in line, among big play backs. He the quick feet, burst, and straight line speed to cause match up all over the field. He is a tough runner, but has more of a receiver build at 5'10 197lbs. That could make him the type of back that has the ability to line up all over the field to find the biggest mismatch and take advantage of his ability in the open field.
Day three of the draft will also have some talented rushers available. Cyrus Gray(Texas AM), Terrance Ganaway(Baylor), Bryce Brown(Kansas St), Robert Turbin(Utah St), Lennon Creer(Louisiana Tech), Tauren Poole(Tennessee), Edwin Baker(Michigan St), and Marc Tyler(USC).