Running backs are increasingly asked to do more things as the NFL gravitates more and more towards the passing game. This year’s crop of rushers isn’t strong, and it’s possible that no one goes in the first round. As with running backs in seemingly every draft though, there could be some value found in the late rounds, especially in players like Marcus Lattimore, who have first-round talent but have injury concerns. The turnover rate and short careers of running backs lead to teams not wanting to invest high picks on the position, so they look to the later rounds in the draft to solve their needs.
Here’s a look at the best running back prospects in the draft:
THE TOP PROSPECTS
Eddie Lacy, Running Back, Alabama (5-11, 231 lbs.) The latest power back from the Crimson Tide, Lacy has the best chance to be the first running back taken. He ran for 1,332 yards and 17 touchdowns in his first and only season as a starter. A lack of versatility may hurt Lacy, however, as some questions remain about his ability as a blocker and receiver. He was unable to work out at the combine due to injuries, but his rushing ability speaks for itself.
Giovani Bernard, Running Back, North Carolina (5-8, 202 lbs.) Bernard ran for 1,228 yards and 12 touchdowns in his redshirt sophomore season, one in which he showed scouts how he could perform in the Tar Heels’ pro-style offense. He has had some knee problems, starting with a torn ACL in his freshman season, that could make teams wary. Still, he’s a competitive back who is solid in every aspect.
Joseph Randle, Running Back, Oklahoma State (6-0, 204 lbs.) Randle rushed for 1,417 yards and 14 touchdowns and added 28 receptions. A disappointing 40-yard dash time (4.63) could hurt him, as he is lean for a running back. Randle won the Pony Express Award in 2011 with Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon, given to the most productive teammates in college football. He is expected to be a second-day pick.
Andre Ellington, Running Back, Clemson (5-9, 199 lbs.) A small, speedy back, Ellington impress in his senior season at Clemson. Despite a 4.61 40-yard dash, Ellington seems to play faster, and has the vision to break off big plays. He is probably not an every-down back, given his size, but could provide a team with a change-of-pace option and receiver out of the backfield.
Marcus Lattimore, Running Back, South Carolina (5-11, 221 lbs.) Lattimore, as you may remember, suffered a disgusting knee injury back in October. He might have been the best running back in the draft if not for that. He’s expected to be a late-round pick with the injury concerns, but has the talent to ensure that a team will gamble that he can return to near-full effectiveness.
Montee Ball, Running Back, Wisconsin (5-10, 214 lbs.) Ball doesn’t do anything exceptionally well, but knows how to gain rushing yards. He surprisingly returned to school after an outstanding junior season, one in which he was named a Heisman finalist, and his draft status may suffer for the decision. Teams will wonder just how much he has left after four seasons of heavy workloads for the Badgers. Ball is expected to be a mid-round pick.
Knile Davis, Running Back, Arkansas Stepfan Taylor, Running Back, Stanford Johnathan Franklin, Running Back, UCLA Christine Michael, Running Back, Texas A&M Le’Veon Bell, Running Back, Michigan State Mike Gillislee, Running Back, Florida
Cincinnati Bengals: BenJarvus Green-Ellis is serviceable, but lacks any semblance of a big-play threat. The Bengals need that in the backfield.
Denver Broncos: Knowshon Moreno has not shown much in the NFL and Willis McGahee does not have much left in the tank.
Green Bay Packers: The Packers have struggled to find a true starting running back since Ryan Grant missed almost the entire 2010 season.
Miami Dolphins: The Dolphins let Reggie Bush walk as a free agent, leaving Daniel Thomas and Lamar Miller manning their backfield, which is not a good situation.
New York Jets: The Jets lost Shonn Greene and now have literally nothing at running back. Good thing Mark Sanchez does not need any help.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Rashard Mendenhall left for Arizona, leaving Jonathan Dwyer and assorted backs as the Steelers’ rushing options.
San Diego Chargers: Ryan Mathews cannot be trusted to do anything but get hurt. The Chargers need to either replace him or find a reliable backup.