By Dan Pompei, Chicago Tribune reporter
8:17 PM CDT, April 10, 2013
This running back class has a little depth, but very little top-end talent. In fact, scouts agree this could be the first draft in 50 years in which no running back is chosen in the first round. Alabama's Eddie Lacy appears to be the only first-round possibility, and many teams rate him as a borderline first-/second-rounder.
1. Eddie Lacy, Alabama, 6-1, 231: He's a powerful back with a nose for the end zone. Lacy, a tough, straight-line runner who does his best work from tackle to tackle, runs erect with good vision. His speed is nothing special. He split time at Alabama and never was asked to carry the load. Still, he had multiple injuries. His ability to stay healthy is an issue for NFL teams. Scouts question if he will be effective in the passing game. "He is good," an AFC scouting director said. "I don't know if he's great." Added a national scout, "He's getting a half-round to a full-round bump because of (Alabama coach) Nick Saban. He's not special."
2. Le'Veon Bell, Michigan State, 6-1, 230: He is a big, strong, downhill runner who also can get small when he needs to. He has lateral quickness and can jump over defenders. Bell gets yards after contact. He dances a little too much, according to one scouting director. He also can contribute in the passing game, because he has really good hands and he runs good routes. The junior eligible played behind a mediocre offensive line in college and could do better with consistent blocking. "Teams were geared to stop him, and he still gained yards," the scouting director said. Bell is not considered a breakaway threat.
3. Montee Ball, Wisconsin, 5-11, 214: A highly productive college player, Ball has proven he can be a workhorse. He has enough power, speed, vision, determination and instincts to make NFL teams believe he can be a solid starter. "Natural run skills," define him to one scout. Some question if some of his yards were the product of a great offensive line. "His skill set doesn't live up to his rare production," a high-ranking AFC executive said. "He didn't wow me." Another front office man described Ball as "not fast, but explosive." But a general manager said he wished he saw more burst from Ball. He has the skills to contribute to the passing game.
4. Giovani Bernard, North Carolina, 5-9, 202: He is a short, compact back with good instincts. His vision is keen. His elusiveness and power help him break tackles. He probably is not going to have a lot of long runs, however. One scout compares the junior eligible to Bucs second-year man Doug Martin. Bernard is shorter than ideal, and some see him as only a complementary back. "If you start him, he'll get the hell beat out of him," one scout said. "But if you use him the right way, he can play a long time and be productive." He has good receiving skills. Bonus: Bernard is an accomplished punt returner.
5. Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina, 5-11, 221: He would have been the first back selected if not for torn ACLs in both knees. Now, he is a draft wild card. In addition to proving he can come back from his latest ACL tear, Lattimore also has to answer questions about whether he can stay healthy. But he was a special talent, with size, speed, burst, instincts and hands. Said one college scouting director, "He has it all if he is the back he was." NFL teams also rave about his intangibles. "He's an unbelievable guy," one longtime front office man said. "He's probably the best guy I scouted this year. He was Steve Spurrier's favorite guy ever. He's a great leader."
6. Mike Gillislee, Florida, 5-11, 208: He may be only a complementary back because he is not the most powerful, but he has good burst and quick feet. Gillislee runs hard and can outquick defenders. In space, he is especially dangerous. He shows no fear running inside. Vision and balance are attributes. He can catch the ball well. Gillislee didn't play much before last season.
7. Andre Ellington, Clemson, 5-9, 199: If he were bigger and stronger, he could have been a first round pick. But scouts see Ellington as more of a change-of-pace back. He has excellent speed, home run speed. One veteran talent evaluator called him a "poor man's Chris Johnson." Ellington is very shifty and fast. He isn't a very patient runner in terms of setting up blocks. He can be a weapon as a receiver out of the backfield. He has had numerous durability issues. He isn't going to break many tackles or block very well.
8. Joseph Randle, Oklahoma State, 6-0, 204: The question is whether he is more than a situational back who plays in nickel situations. Randle isn't special between the tackles, but he was very productive. He is a lean back who sometimes runs upright. Scouts say they expected a better 40-yard dash time than the 4.59 he turned in at the scouting combine. But the early draft entree plays faster than that.
9. Johnathan Franklin, UCLA, 5-10, 205: He has some all-around ability and running skill. Franklin has decent speed. He is elusive and can make defenders miss. He was a four-year starter who put up impressive numbers. Franklin might have to be part of a running back rotation in the NFL. He doesn't have ideal bulk and power. Fumbling has been an issue. He needs to develop as a pass catcher and blocker.
10. Knile Davis, Arkansas, 6-0, 227: At one point he was considered one of the best backs in the class. But he didn't have a good season. He had fumbling problems and lost his starting job. Davis is big and he runs fast, really fast. One AFC talent evaluator wondered if he can revive himself in the NFL like Arian Foster did. He has too much ability to slide too far in the draft.
11. Rex Burkhead, Nebraska, 5-10, 214: He is a tough, physical runner with some size and speed. Burkhead has vision, balance and instinct. He probably is a backup in the NFL. His combine performance was disappointing. He also has some knee issues. He will need to have the right scheme in the NFL.
12. Stepfan Taylor, Stanford, 5-9, 214: Coaches love this running back with top intangibles, but he is limited athletically. "He won't create much on his own," an AFC college director said. "Nothing wows you." Taylor is well-rounded, as he can block and catch. He didn't show well at the combine, and his lack of speed (4.70 40-yard dash) will affect his stock. He has some natural inside running ability and he can carry the load.
13. Michael Cox, Massachusetts, 6-0, 220: This transfer from Michigan has been productive. He has some instincts and agility, but lacks a special trait. Cox was not invited to the combine, but he jumped 37 inches vertically at his pro day. His stock subsequently has risen.
14. Kenjon Barner, Oregon, 5-9, 196: He has quick feet and can make defenders miss. Barner can catch the ball. He doesn't give you much as an inside runner. Some scouts think he benefited by playing in Chip Kelly's offensive system. Because of his size, he will have to be part of a running back by committee in the NFL.
15. Christine Michael, Texas A&M, 5-10, 220: He has enough talent to warrant a second-round pick, according to a few front office men. He is not expected to be drafted that high because of his behavioral history. At the combine, he overslept and missed meetings. "Something is missing with him," one national scout said. Added a college scouting director, "He is a little hard to figure out." Michael did not have a great 2012, and was benched. He does not have exceptional power or speed, but he has a good package of running skills. He accelerates quickly and hits the hole hard, and has a good feel for short-yardage running. Michael is a good cutback runner, with vision to find the lane.
16. Onterio McCalebb, Auburn, 5-10, 168: He was an ultra-productive college player, but at 168 pounds, McCalebb might struggle to find a role in the NFL. "He got his ass pounded against teams like Alabama and LSU," one front office man said. "He might not translate well to the NFL." McCalebb does have exceptional speed (4.28 in the 40-yard dash) and can avoid defenders. He should be able to be a kick returner, but some NFL front office men wonder if he can hold up even as a special teams player.
17. Jawan Jamison, Rutgers, 5-8, 203: He is a versatile workhorse who can get yards between the tackles. He is short and not very fast, however. Jamison, who left school early, has put up impressive numbers. He can contribute as a receiver and could be part of a rotation in the NFL. Jamison is considered a poor man's Ray Rice.
18. Miguel Maysonnet, Stony Brook, 5-9, 209: He ran for a lot of yards against a lower level of competition, but he also performed impressively against Syracuse. "He flashes talent," one scout said of the Puerto Rico native. Maysonnet isn't quite as big or as fast as scouts prefer, but could develop as a rotational back in the NFL.
19. Spencer Ware, Louisiana State, 5-10, 228: He is a big, solid back with vision and instincts. He is at his best inside the tackles, but can bounce it outside. He is a violent runner. Ware also is a decent receiver out of the backfield. He never became "the man" at LSU before leaving with a year of eligibility remaining. He also played baseball in college.
20. Theo Riddick, Notre Dame, 5-10, 201: With ordinary speed and size, Riddick is a marginal NFL prospect. But he has played wide receiver and is an excellent receiving back. He also plays with determination and toughness, and can avoid defenders. He could carve out a role as a nickel running back in the right scheme.
21. Zach Line, Southern Methodist, 6-1, 232: He is more of a running fullback than a halfback. As a runner, he is a straight-line pounder. Line has been very productive. He is thick and powerful, and his runs often end in big collisions. Coaches say they love his toughness. He is not very fast.
22. Kerwynn Williams, Utah State, 5-8, 195: He is a fantastic return man with 4.44 40-yard dash speed. Williams has good burst and lateral movement ability, but doesn't run away from a lot of defenders. He is a little like McCalebb in that he can't be expected to take handoffs up the middle because of his size and lack of power, but he can do some good things on the perimeter. He also is a legitimate receiving weapon. Williams competes hard.
Dennis Johnson, Arkansas
Ray Graham, Pittsburgh
Cierre Wood, Notre Dame
Michael Ford, Louisiana State
Zac Stacy, Vanderbilt
Latavius Murray, Central Florida
With Matt Forte and Michael Bush as running backs 1 and 1A on the Bears' roster, the team is not expected to take a running back in the early rounds. However, if a running back slips with good value in the later rounds, the team could add another to increase depth. As of now, Armando Allen is the only other running back on the roster. A change-of-pace style back who could compete with Allen might be appealing.
Next: Tight ends
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