With the NFL increasingly becoming a passing league, the value of running backs has decreased in recent years and we are not seeing as many coming off the board in round one.
That pattern should be repeated in 2013 as a limited number of backs have a genuine shot at being taken in the first round. In fact, many NFL Draft experts are suggesting the only back with a very strong chance of going in round one is Eddie Lacy, of Alabama.
But that’s not to suggest this is a poor class of runners. That would be misleading. There is enough talent in this class to satisfy the NFL coaches and general managers – just don’t expect a rush on running backs in the opening round.
Plenty of running backs will hear their names called in April – they just might need to show a bit of patience before finally getting that call to enter the NFL.
Here is the lowdown on the leading running backs up for grabs in the 2013 NFL Draft and what the experts are saying about them.
Name: Eddie Lacy
Weight: 231 pounds
Been compared to… Frank Gore
A powerful back who is not afraid to finish runs, Eddie Lacy has drawn comparisons to San Francisco’s Frank Gore. And like Gore, he is capable of using his light feet to make quick moves to the outside when necessary. For the third year in a row, Alabama should provide the first running back off the board. Having spent time behind Mark Ingram and then Trent Richardson, Lacy enjoyed his one season as a starter in 2012, rushing 204 times for 1,322 yards (6.5 average) and 17 touchdowns. He rushed for 140 yards and 2 touchdowns in the BCS Championship Game win over Notre Dame and cemented his status as the top back in this class. Scouts are viewing Lacy’s sole season as a starter as a positive, believing he is a runner who comes in with limited wear and tear. Nagging injuries have stopped him showcasing his skills in recent weeks but Lacy should still be a first round draft pick in April.
What they’re saying about Eddie Lacy…
“Lacy has what it takes to be a three-down back in the NFL, which is a rarity in today’s game. He had beastly production in his only season as a starter and has limited wear on his body.” – USA Today Sports Weekly.
“While he's a very powerful back with a lot to like about his play, Lacy needs work in a few of the things that many NFL teams look for in their running backs. I could see a team falling in love with Lacy's tape and reaching up a bit, but the more likely scenario is an early second-round selection.” – Doug Farrar, The Shutdown Corner.
“Eddie Lacy is the best running back in this year’s draft. The big back might not be the most elusive player, but he sure is efficient. Lacy will be a solid every-down back who has a good enough burst to reel off some big-gainers. He’s sure to be a top pick due to the lack in depth of running backs in this draft.” – The Bleacher Report.
Name: Montee Ball
Weight: 214 pounds
Been compared to… Curtis Martin
Montee Ball was a touchdown machine at Wisconsin and now he gets to prove he has the physical tools to step up and shine at the next level. Ball ran a fairly pedestrian 4.6 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine but then bettered that mark at Wisconsin’s Pro Day, covering the same distance in 4.46 seconds. Ball claimed he had a sinus infection when competing in Indianapolis. Proving he had a real nose for the end zone, Ball scored 83 touchdowns in 49 college games (32 starts). His best season came in 2011 when he rushed for 1,923 yards and 33 touchdowns and tied Barry Sanders’ NCAA record with 39 total touchdowns as a Heisman Trophy finalist. He followed that up with 1,830 yards and 22 touchdowns in 2012. While scouts are rightly nervous about Ball’s apparent lack of a second gear and the wear and tear brought on by a heavy workload at Wisconsin, it’s hard to ignore such outstanding production, even if much of it came behind a dominant offensive line in a run-first system.
What they’re saying about Montee Ball…
“Montee Ball, without a doubt, has the ability to be a producer at the next level if a team that has a strong offensive line selects him. Nobody questions this man’s toughness, competitiveness or vision as a runner. Where questions lie, regard the physical tools that every great NFL back possesses.” – Alex Brown, The Bleacher Report.
“Ball finishes runs and has a nose for the end zone. He checks in as one of the most productive backs available, though he took a step back at the Combine with a worse-than-expected performance.” – USA Today Sports Weekly.
“Montee Ball is an excellent zone runner who can put his foot in the ground, make a quick decision and get upfield. He is a durable back – he just lacks burst.” – ESPN.com.
Name: Giovani Bernard
College: North Carolina
Weight: 202 pounds
Been compared to… DeAngelo Williams
An explosive and quick running back, Giovani Bernard is going to be worth a roll of the dice as the second or third runner off the board. He has the ability to run and catch and has been very consistent over the past two seasons at North Carolina, topping 1,200 yards each year. That will be music to the NFL scouts’ ears because durability concerns are real with this player. Bernard missed his entire senior year in high school with a hamstring injury and he didn’t play college football in 2010 due to a torn ACL. Bernard is a genuine three-down back who should not need to come off the field if he can master the art of pass blocking, which could be an issue given his relatively small frame. His 25 rushing touchdowns over the past two seasons suggest a decent nose for the end zone and he is a young talent who will only just turn 21 before the start of the 2013 NFL campaign.
What they’re saying about Giovani Bernard…
“Bernard will have some medical questions to answer after citing discomfort in his knee early this season, but the red-shirt sophomore played through the pain, and at a very high level. This class may lack a clear cut, first-round running back, but Bernard is one of a couple ball carriers that has a shot to be selected in the first 32 picks.” – NFL.com.
“Bernard’s style of play, stature and durability concerns remind us of former NFL star rusher Priest Holmes. It would have been brazen to expect Bernard to have a long career as a full-time back, but he could become a beast for a stretch. He could be the second running back taken, but that likely means he will be selected in the second round or possibly the third.” – USA Today Sports Weekly.
“Bernard fits as an every-down back, although there will likely be backs on every roster that do something better than does, so a lead back in a committee might be his NFL destiny. His ability to get up to speed and pick a hole quickly should make him a good fit for teams that want to run read option, and his vision and decisiveness also work for a team with a zone-blocking scheme.” – Sigmund Bloom, The Bleacher Report.
Name: Andre Ellington
Weight: 199 pounds
Been compared to… Jahvid Best
Viewed by some as a change-of-pace back in the NFL, Andre Ellington has something to prove ahead of the NFL Draft after injuring his hamstring and pulling out of the Senior Bowl. Ellington ended his college career at Clemson with back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons. He started 33 of 49 games in college and scored 36 touchdowns.
What they’re saying about Andre Ellington…
“Ellington has elite speed. He has been productive and has shown toughness as an inside runner, but his size and limitations in pass protection will likely leave him as a rotational runner in the NFL. Space players with speed are at a major premium in the NFL, though, and he figures to go in the second round of the draft.” – NFL.com.
“Ellington's injury history and smaller frame are reason enough to wait until the third round before taking a chance on him. His 4.61 in the 40-yard dash at the combine isn't great, either, but Ellington injured his hamstring on his first attempt there and reportedly ran in the low 4.5s while working out for teams since then. Besides, he's quicker than he is fast on film. He doesn't project as a team's primary ball carrier, but Ellington can help a club in a number of ways if he can stay healthy. He's a relentless runner who picks up yard after contact despite his lack of size, a reliable receiver who can produce after the catch, and can contribute as a kickoff returner.” – Steve Muench, ESPN.com.
Name: Stepfan Taylor
Weight: 214 pounds
Been compared to… Benjarvus Green-Ellis
Stanford’s all-time leader in rushing yards (4,300 yards), Stepfan Taylor represents good value in the lower rounds of April’s Draft. He posted three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons to end his college career and then turned heads at the Senior Bowl, where NFL Network Draft analyst Mike Mayock labelled him the week’s best running back. Taylor can excel on passing downs but can also be a power back.
What they’re saying about Stepfan Taylor…
“The Cardinal running back proved this season that he was capable of maintaining his level of play even without Andrew Luck at quarterback. While he isn't exceptional in any one facet of the game, he is technically sound, and well rounded. Taylor is possibly the safest back in this class due to his ability to not only pass protect, but to catch the football, which will make him invaluable on third downs.” – NFL.com.
“Like Green-Ellis, Taylor does not possess any one elite physical tool or attribute, but brings an element of toughness and consistent production as a runner to go with highly-coveted versatility in the passing game as a receiver and blocker.” – CBSSports.com.