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2012 NFL Draft Preview: Top 10 Running Backs

Trent RichardsonWith the 2012 NFL Draft right around the corner (April 26th, 2012), I continue to look at some of the top prospects by position. We first looked at the top QBs and saw many differences in styles, sizes, and ability. Now it is time to look at RBs, and we will learn that many of them are very similar in size, speed and strength.

Many of the experts will tell you that RB is a position which is becoming less important in today’s game and there are many talented veterans who are still looking for work on the free agent market. I for one will never down-play the position, and believe the ability to run the football is the gateway for everything else on offense. It keeps defenses on their toes, and sets up play-action passing as well.

So here I will take a look at the top 10 RBs in the 2012 draft, and some of their positives and some of the down sides. Come check it out and feel free to comment.

1. Trent Richardson, Alabama: Clearly the best of the bunch, and possibly by a wide margin. His pro day was fantastic as he showed power, speed, great hands, and even excellent blocking skills. At the combine the 5’9″, 228 pound Richardson ran a 4.52 40-yard dash which is decent speed, and plenty enough for all his upside. Coming into the game with a classy personality, a National Championship under his belt, and the pedigree of an excellent program it is hard to imagine Richardson missing on the NFL level. Experts will say that RBs can be had anywhere, and they rarely pan out as a top 5 pick, but they never saw a guy quite like Richardson. He is the kind of player that can take the season opening hand off and set the pace for his offense. If the Browns don’t move from their pick position, they should take Richardson and let him become the face of that franchise.

2. David Wilson, Virginia Tech: Wilson and another top back prospect, Doug Martin could be listed as 2A and 2B as far as talent. Wilson could find his way into the late first round or early second. He has explosive speed with a 4.47 40-yard dash, but also has decent power running ability in his 5’10” 206 pound frame. In 2011 he racked up over 1,700 rushing yards, and played against some good competition so many see him as NFL-ready. His hands are decent and pass blocking has been an issue, but as far as an overall talent, Wilson is worth the risk.

3. Doug Martin, Boise State: Martin has loads of skill, and great potential at the next level. His 40 time of 4.55 states that he is not an explosive runner, but he has good moves, and good hands to make him one of the most well-rounded backs in this draft. He is built a lot like Richardson with a 5’9″ 223 pound frame, and is a strong runner inside the tackles and can grind out the extra yards. The knock on him is that he may not have faced the toughest of defenses during his time at Boise State, and the ability to comeback after big hits has become a big deal in today’s game. Martin is easily a second-round pick, and will be a great asset in a 2-back system.

4. Lamar Miller, Miami: Miller comes at us with the prototype Miami assets. He ran a 4.40 40-yard dash at the combine, has good height for a back at 5’11”, and at 212 pounds has some strength. Once he hits the open field he is a dangerous weapon, and a threat to take it the distance every time he touches the ball. His knock is that he does not have great footwork, so he relies much more on the quick step over power and finesse. Miller’s durability is also a question, and the scouts wonder how he can handle the big hits. However when you look at the history of Miami backs of recent like Willis MacGahee and Frank Gore, we see that Miami generates good RB talent, and Miller can be next in line. He is a guy who is well worth the risk in the third-round do to his explosive upside.

5. LaMichael James, Oregon: A guy that certainly brings the bang for his buck, James ran an excellent 4.45 40 yard dash, and is a home run threat when touching the football. The upside on James is that he had 1,800 rushing yards and 18 TD’s in 2011 which are some of the best numbers of the top 10 backs. What are the concerns? At just 5’8″ and 194 pounds, injury and durability can be a concern. Also he has been known to have problems hanging on to the football, and an elbow injury did not do much to help that cause. If James is used as a change of pace back he has excellent upside. Not an every down guy, but a guy well worth having in a skilled offense.

6. Chris Polk, Washington: Polk is one of the best all around athletes at the position in the draft. He comes in with good hands, good work ethic, and the ability to run between the tackles and gain the tough yards. In 2011, he rushed for 1,488 yards and also caught 31 passes which shows his versatility. Polk will most likely find his way in the league as a power back due to his lack-luster speed of just a 4.57 40 yard dash. At 5’11” and 215 pounds he has nice size and will expect to get bigger. Polk is also seen as a good blocker which helps raise his stock. Seen as a possible fourth round pick, some team with proven speed at back could sneak up and grab him in the third.

7. Chris Rainey, Florida: At just 5’8″ and 180 pounds Rainey is not the big back type that is more evident in todays NFL, but there is plenty to like. AT the combine he ran a quick 4.45 40 yard dash, and has great route running skills in the passing game. He has been compared to another former Florida player in Minnesota’s Percy Harvin. Also has the scat back skills and screen pass catch skills of a Darren Sproles. Rainey can be a good returner in the kicking and punting game too. He had some off-field issues which makes some question his character, and it may hurt his draft status, but he can be a good weapon with hard work and a good scheme. Fourth round seems to be his landing point, and he would be seen as a pick used for the best player available and not so much by a positional need.

8. Ronnie Hillman, San Diego State: Every draft has its long shots, smaller college players and projects, and all of that can describe Hillman. He ran a great 4.45 40 yard at the combine, and at 5’8″ and 200 pounds he has decent size. In 2011 he mounted 1,711 yards and scored 19 TDs. As far as the downside, he is a guy that usually falls after first contact and is not a back that fights for extra yards. He is also a bit of a liability in the blocking game and is not the kind of guy that will slow down charging linebackers. However, he has that third-down back potential and has good enough hands to make the big plays. With the weaker type of competition he played many wonder how he will work in the NFL, and for that he will be selected late, but could get some playing time.

9. Isaiah Pead, Cincinnati: If a team has the “need for Pead” it will come with the upside of a player with excellent on field vision and a guy who knows the game. However he has plenty of knocks against him. Many say he has a poor overall attitude, has bad hands, and has little interest in pass blocking. He does run well, and put up a decent 4.47 40 yard dash at the combine. He did post 15 TDs in 2011, so he does have a nose for the end zone, and his poor attitude that he is known to have will need to be turned into more of a “run with attitude” style to cut it in the NFL.

10. Cyrus Gray, Texas A&M: One would say that Gray has all the right stuff to be a good NFL back, and a guy that can be utilized in any kind of offense. He has good hands and plays the screen game well, and runs with real strong legs to grind out the extra yards. He ran a 4.47 40 yard dash, has decent size at 5′ 10″ and 206 pounds. At A&M he worked in a pro-style offense and also saw time on special teams as a returner. The problems are banking on him staying healthy and pass blocking. Although a lot of guys on this list have similar marks for and against, Gray seems to be the biggest risk to keep on the field. If he stays healthy he can be more of a top 5 back than at the bottom of the top 10.

So here is the second installment, with one more to go as we will look at the top Wide Receivers next. Who would you like to see your team draft? Comment here and share your interest.

If you’d like to hear anything else from me on topics or ideas I can be reached at [email protected]

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Eric G.

Eric is the owner and editor-in-chief of the Camel Clutch Blog. Eric has worked in the pro wrestling industry since 1995 as a ring announcer in ECW and a commentator/host on television, PPV, and home video. Eric also hosted Pro Wrestling Radio on terrestrial radio from 1998-2009. Check out some of Eric's work on his IMDB bio and Wikipedia. Eric has an MBA from Temple University's Fox School of Business.

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