As the overall draft stock of quarterbacks and wide receivers have risen in the past few drafts, the stock of running backs have seemed to simultaneously plummet like Wile E. Coyote off a cliff. Trent Richardson did everything he could last season to assuage the fear in front offices to use first round picks on running backs, but we will see if it was enough. With the influx of increased passing attempts, running backs have become less important members of offenses and head coaches have shown that they can get by with any BenJarvus Green-Ellis off the street. Nonetheless, running backs will still be taken in this year’s draft and it could be by your team. So let’s familiarize ourselves with the top five 2013 NFL Draft running backs.
5) Jawan Jamison, Rutgers
Rutgers officially has a pedigree of grooming great running backs. It’s funny how that happens after producing a Super Bowl winning running back. Comparing Jamison to Ray Rice may be a bit unfair, as he does not have the same potential entering the draft that Rice had. But, with that said, Jamison is no slouch, either. Like Rice, he has the rare combination of a stocky build mixed with undeniable speed. He has that “make something out of nothing” gene, which will definitely pique front offices’ interest. He is a patient runner who allows his blockers to create lanes for him and not run blindly into a pile of 300 plus pound men. This is crucial for assessing a running back’s potential at the next level.
A great deal of young running backs enter the NFL and think they can use their God-given speed to produce their magic, but NFL defenses are too quick for that tactic. It is promising that Jamison possesses patience at his young age. Last season he used this running style to notch 1,075 yards and four touchdowns on 4.2 yards per carry. He is also dangerous in the passing game, which will definitely help his stock. Jamison could go anywhere from the second round to the third round. It usually has to do with needs whether a capable player slips farther than he should, so it all depends if teams are looking to use their second round pick on a back.
4) Joseph Randle, Oklahoma State
Something about Randle turns me off. From his small frame (6’1”, 200 pounds) to his over reliance on the home run rush to produce fantastic statistics, he turns me off more than Jason Alexander was from the oversized toe girl in Shallow Hal. Randle lacks the power to be able to efficiently eat up yards on early downs. He relies too much on his speed, which will not be as advantageous when he plays linebackers who are just as fast as him. On a positive note, Randle is extremely reliable in the passing game and looked like a wide receiver sometimes on the field last season, rather than a back. At the very least, Randle is a great athlete and could be an added weapon out of the backfield.
As far as a halfback who can produce for three downs, I don’t see him ever being that guy. However, his numbers last season discount everything I have just written. He ran for 1,417 yards and 14 touchdowns, averaging 5.2 yards per carry. 5.2 yards per carry?! Those numbers are so crazy they might just really define how good a player Randle is. But that is where I caution you. Statistics are misleading without proper context, and that is doubly true in college football. Speed kills in the NCAA where defenders lack the necessary speed to catch up to running backs in space. That means it sometimes only takes a speedy back one tackle to break before he is united with the end zone. That is rarely the case in the NFL. Running backs need to be able to eat up yards just as much as be able to break big runs. I have my doubts that Randle can do the former. His big time play last season, though, has earned him considerations for the second and third rounds.
3) Stepfan Taylor, Stanford
Taylor’s first name is not the only thing that is awesome about him. He is 5’9” and 216 pounds and is not afraid of anyone on the defense. That fearless running capability allows him to be able to run up the middle and be efficient on the goal line, but that is not all. Taylor also has elite speed, which is obvious after watching his long track star-like strides. He is a three down back who can also make an impact in blocking, which is very important for young running backs. His numbers last season represent his immense skill, totaling 1,530 yards and 13 touchdowns, while averaging 4.8 yards per carry. Ten years ago, Taylor would be a late first round pick to early second round pick, but that will not be the case this season. He should fall somewhere in the second round to third round like Jamison and Randle. Whoever gets this guy, though, has a stud running back for the next five years.
2) Giovani Bernard, North Carolina
Bernard is the epitome of a complete running back. On tape, his running style resembles Jamison’s but unlike Jamison, Bernard has the elite numbers to back the tape up. He ran for 1,228 yards and 10 touchdowns, averaging 6.7 yards per carry. In other words, like the Wu-Tang Clan, Bernard is nothing to, uhh, mess with. He is also capable of impacting the passing game, totaling 47 receptions and five touchdowns. He is able to eat up yards as well as break off the big runs, which makes him so valuable. For teams looking at him as a potential first round pick, his size may come into issue, as he only weights 205 pounds at 5’10”. But that is something that can easily be improved. Drafting Bernard will mean a team will get a complete back that can start right away with no worries. That peace of mind is a valuable asset for teams looking for a running back in the draft. Bernard has the potential to go in the first round, but may also slip into the second round.
1) Eddie Lacy, Alabama
Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson, and now Eddie Lacy. Nick Saban’s NFL factory down in Alabama is the 2013 version of the early 1900’s Ford. Both have produced quick, slick, and All-American machines. The only difference: Saban’s machines are probably faster than Ford’s. Lacy is just the new and improved version of an Alabama running back entering the draft. Well, maybe not improved because it will be hard for him to duplicate the play of Richardson, but he is still the real deal, nonetheless.
Lacy possesses Marshawn Lynch’s “get off me” attitude, which forces him to run after linebackers just so he can make them look soft as he breaks their attempt of a tackle. He has speed, quickness, elusiveness, and terrifying power all rolled up in a 6’0”, 220 pound frame. He will absolutely be a three down back, although he was not last season at Alabama due to freshman T.J. Yeldon’s excellent season. Let’s be clear, though. Lacy did not need Yeldon to excel, but rather having the two of them wreaking havoc in the same game gave ‘Bama an increased ability to dominate.
Even with the lost touches, Lacy notched 1,322 yards and 17 touchdowns, averaging 6.4 yards per carry. The bottom line is when the ball was in his hands he got the job done. Lacy should go in the first round, but again, the running back position all depends on the teams’ needs. No team is going to add depth to the running back position in the first round, so if no team wants to take a chance on a back in the first round, Lacy will become a steal in the second round.