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2013 NFL Draft: Running Backs

By: Robert Davis

The running back position is shaping up to be one of the weaker positions for the 2013 draft, in terms of premium prospects. South Carolina's Marcus Lattimore was the lone player to carry a likely first round grade entering the year, but that came crashing down with a serious knee injury suffered against Tennessee. There is quite a bit of talent available, but we may have to wait until Day Two to hear the name of a running back selected.

Alabama's Eddie Lacy brings an impressive blend of skills to the field. Lacy is built very well, with a compact 231lb frame that makes him difficult to bring down. Lacy is an aggressive runner between the tackles. The first defender rarely brings Lacy down, as he has quick feet, and will make decisive cuts getting up the field. He shows the speed and acceleration to see the hole and get through it, and will break off big runs once in space. Lacy has also shown to be a capable receiver when called upon. Despite his power and toughness, Lacy has never been a workhorse back, but has still suffered his share of bumps and bruises. An injured hamstring kept him from working out at the combine as well. It raises legitimate questions about how big of a load he can carry in the NFL, but the tools are there to make an impact in the NFL. If any back cracks the end of round one, odds are Lacy is the guy.

RB RANKINGS
  1. Eddie Lacy, Alabama
  2. Giovanni Bernard, North Carolina
  3. Montee Ball, Wisconsin
  4. Andre Ellington, Clemson
  5. Le'Veon Bell, Michigan St.
  6. Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina
  7. Jonathan Franklin, UCLA
  8. Kenjon Barner, Oregon
  9. Christine Michael, Texas AM
  10. Stepfan Taylor, Stanford

North Carolina's Giovani Bernard may have the most potential of this year's running backs. He is a redshirt sophomore, but in just two years, has proven to be one of the most versatile running backs in the country. Bernard has tremendous quickness and shiftiness, and accelerates quickly to get into the open field. He may not have elite breakaway speed, but he gets into the open field and is rarely caught from behind. That elusiveness is apparent in all facets of the game. Bernard is hard to cover out of the backfield as a receiver, and is a very dangerous punt returner. That type of big play ability and versatility will suit him very well for the way the NFL is trending towards aerial assaults. Bernard will slip some tackles, but he is not the most powerful runner, and is only 5'8 202lbs. There are some minor concerns at this point about durability as well. He redshirted as a freshman in 2010 because of a knee injury, and has missed time this year for another knee ailment. Bernard profiles as a mutli purpose threat out of the backfield, and should be selected on day two at some point.

Le'Veon Bell of Michigan State is a load for defenses to handle. He uses his 230lb frame exactly like you would expect to overpower defenders. Bell attacks the defense and will lower his shoulder and power through the tackler. He is tough to tackle because of his bulk, but also because he does not want to go down. Do not confuse Bell for a plodder that can only pick up the tough yardage. He shows surprising quickness for a player his size, and has the ability to make the first defender miss to pick up bigger chunks of yardage. Once into open space, he has some speed to turn out the occasional pick play. Another area Bell stands out at for a 230lber is in the passing game. He has good hands out of the backfield, and has even been lined up out wide as a weapon. Bell probably won't make a whole lot of long gains in the NFL, but he can be a workhorse back with the ability to slip out of the backfield as a weapon in the passing game.

Wisconsin's Montee Ball is arguably the top senior back available for the 2013 draft. Ball really doesn't stand out in any one physical category, but does have decent tools across the table. He just has a natural feel for finding running lanes and the end zone. Ball was a Heisman finalist as a junior, finishing the year with an amazing 39 touchdowns. He is patient in the backfield, waiting for a lane to open up, but quickly gets upfield once it does. Once he gets going north/south, he is an aggressive runner that will put his shoulder down to finish runs. Ball has quick enough feet to make the first defender miss, but is not the type of shake people in the open field, and won't run by defenders in space. Ball is just a good football player, and in the right system, could be an excellent NFL back.

Marcus Lattimore of South Carolina could be the biggest wild card at the position. He was potentially the one headliner at the position before tearing the ACL and LCL in his right knee near the end of the season this year. That comes a year after tearing his left ACL in 2011. Before the injuries, Lattimore was good size back that was a workhorse between the tackles, but had the quick feet to break off some big chunks of yardage consistently. Lattimore was a natural runner, showing the patience to wait for a hole, but quickly attack it when it opened up. He possessed the quick feet to make the first defender miss and get up field. He has displayed very good hands and was a threat as a receiver as well. He opted to declare for the draft so that he could focus on his rehab and getting back on the field. Doctors are raving about the progress Lattimore is making in his recovery, but there are still questions about what type of impact he will have in 2013 and beyond. How convinced teams are of his health will be the factor that dictates where he is selected. If the rumors are his recovery are true, it is not out of the question to see him selected on day two.

Oregon's Kenjon Barner is one of the more explosive players in this draft, at any position. He has tremendous speed and acceleration and is a threat to score any time he touches the ball. He has great feet and agility, with the ability to consistently juke defenders in the open field and tight space. He gets to stop speed very quickly, and once he is in space, he won't be caught. Barner has also shown the ability to be a factor as a receiver and on special teams, giving him more value. The downside with Barner is that he only goes about 5'9 196, and doesn't run with much power as a result. He may have trouble running between the tackles in the NFL and in pass protection, limiting the amount of time he sees on the field. Barner is definitely limited in terms of being a complete back but does offer big play ability for teams. With the amount of teams opening up their offenses to spread defenses out, Barner may find more teams looking for the skills he brings. He only carries a mid round grade, but could be taken higher for a team looking for what he brings: speed.

Andre Ellington of Clemson is the other senior battling Ball for the right to be the first senior back selected. While most backs above are bigger, more physical backs, Ellington is the big play threat. He is on the smaller side, going about 5'9 199. He has the speed to make up for it though, despite running a 4.61 40 at the combine. Ellington has the quickness, acceleration, and long range speed to consistently pick up big chunks of yardage. He can make the first defender miss, turn the corner, and run away from defenders. Ellington is tough and won't back down from anyone, but he lacks the bulk and strength to consistently break tackles or pick up tough yardage. He has also had durability questions with a number of leg injuries during his career. Ellington does not profile as a true feature back, but he could be a quality second back, if paired with a bigger, more physical runner.

Knile Davis of Arkansas is an intriguing player who only carries a mid round grade at the moment. Davis had a huge sophomore year, rushing for over 1,300 yards but an ankle injury wiped out his 2012 season. The Razorbacks were poised for a huge season this year behind Davis and QB Tyler Wilson, but the entire team has disappointed. Davis appears to be healthy, but isn't running with the same authority. At full strength, Davis has big play ability any time he touches the football. He has tremendous feet and speed for a 220lb back, can consistently turn the corner, and run away from defenders. While not classified as a power runner, he will finish runs, and put his shoulder down when needed. Davis didn't close out his career as he had hoped, but he opted to take his chances at sticking in the NFL. He showed off his rare blend of size and speed, clocking a 4.37 40 at the combine, while weighing 227lbs. If Davis can regain the form he displayed earlier in his career, he could be a massive steal on draft day.

UCLA's Johnathan Franklin has been a steady runner for years, but has become a more complete back as a senior. Franklin has very good speed, and routinely gets into the open field, making things happen. He has the quick feet and elusiveness to make defenders miss, and the speed to turn in big gains on a consistent basis. Franklin only has average size(5'10 205), but plays a bit bigger because of his aggressiveness. He attacks the defense and isn't afraid of contact. He's been a workhorse for UCLA over the years, so there aren't any questions about his ability to carry the ball a number of times. The area Franklin has improved the most in this year has been in the passing game. He needed to show he can catch the ball consistently, and he has come a long way in that regard. While he won't be lined up out wide in the NFL, he is developing into a guy who can make plays out of the backfield. The most pressing issue with Franklin may be his propensity to put the ball on the turf. Definitely an area that could make or break a players career in the NFL. Franklin probably lacks the upside as a sure fire starter or feature back, but the talent is there to make an impact in the NFL in a tandem role.

Stepfan Taylor of Stanford is the typical Stanford back: physical. He runs extremely hard between the tackles, and refuses to go down easy. He isn't the biggest guy in the world, but he has a low center of gravity at 5'9 and at 215lbs, is big enough to deliver a blow to the defender. Taylor keeps his feet moving, and constantly falls forward at the end of runs. He's showing this year that his success in the past was not due to the guys around him. Andrew Luck, David DeCastro, Jonathan Martin, and Coby Fleener are off to the NFL, and Taylor is still making plays. Taylor isn't a threat to run away from many defenders, but he does have above average quickness in short bursts. He hits the hole quickly and will make the first guy miss, but big plays really aren't a part of his game. Helping his cause in today's NFL is his ability to catch the football out of the backfield. Taylor probably lacks the type of big play game and size to be a high draft pick, but he's the type of guy in the mid rounds that could be a steal in the right offense.

Other names to keep an eye on: Joseph Randle(Oklahoma St), Jawan Jamison(Rutgers), Mike Gillislee(Florida), Christine Michael(Texas AM) and Ray Graham(Pittsburgh)

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