Big Board: Running Backs

DeMarco Murray
DeMarco Murray /
2011 is a deep year for running backs.
2011 is a deep year for running backs. /

Despite what some prognosticators like Peter Kings of SI have said, the odds of the Buccaneers selecting a running back early in next month’s draft are pretty minimal. Besides having found a potential stalwart back in LeGarrette Blount last season, the Bucs will look to either add a veteran back-up (most likely through re-signing Cadillac Williams) or to add a back in the later rounds. But make no mistakes about, the Bucs have bigger, more pressing needs. Especially in light of recent concerns about the team’s corners.

Top Five Running Backs:

1.) Mark Ingram, Alabama- Ingram has been the top running back in this draft class for two years. A very talented, multi-dimensional back from Alabama, Ingram looks NFL-ready. There’s not much that Ingram can’t do from a football standpoint, he’s an every down back who can play pass-pro or catch balls out of the backfield. He’s a nice blend of speed and power in a good frame for a running back and he runs with a low center of gravity. The one knock on Ingram is that he’s not truly elite at anything he does, just very good at everything. That’s really not a big concern though. Ingram comes from a pro-style system at Alabama and should be ready to contribute from the outset of his first year. I look for him to be gone by the middle of the first round.

2.) DeMarco Murray, Oklahoma- This is a bit of a deviation from what others might think, but Murray really only has one knock on him: his injuries. Admittedly (and especially for a tailback) that’s a pretty big concern, but Murray’s potential and ability are also frequently discredited too as a byproduct of his injury concerns. Murray has ideal NFL size and athleticism and comes with the pedigree of having replaced a major star (Adrian Peterson) at a major program. Murray can contribute on special teams in addition to taking solid carries. And even with his collegiate injuries his production was still more than impressive. 50 touchdowns and a 4.9 YPC average is not easy to come by at Oklahoma.

Mikel Leshoure is an absolute beast.
Mikel Leshoure is an absolute beast. /

3.) Mikel Leshoure, Illinois- Interestingly enough the guy who replaced Reshard Mendenhall has more than a few similarities to his predecessor. Ron Zook really has a type. Leshoure exploded on to the national scene by decimating the Big Ten on the ground in 2010. Averaging six yards per attempt for just under 1,700 yards and 17 touchdowns, Leshoure proved to be an incredibly versatile runner. In his sophomore season he average a robust 6.8 yards per attempt and he also is serviceable out of the backfield. Leshoure provides an intriguing blend of speed and power in a frame that’s tough to bring down.

4.) Kendall Hunter, Oklahoma State- Hunter is a bit under-sized but more than makes it up for it with his quickness and intangibles. Hunter was one of the players that passed the eye-test in college on a consistent basis. Despite an injury his junior season he posted two 1,500 16 TD seasons as a sophomore and senior and played some of his best games when the national spotlight shone brightest. Hunter lacks the type of dynamic straight-line speed that a lot of coaches dream of in a back his size and his small frame will raise durability issues. But this guy is a gamer pure and simple and I doubt much of that will hold him back at the next level.

5.) Ryan Williams, Virginia Tech- Williams is the kind of player you have to throw out his last year of college and go based on potential to get excited about. After posting 21 touchdowns and over 1,650 yards of rushing last season, this year he fell to below 500 yards and his average fell nearly a yard and half. Williams certainly has the ability to be successful in the NFL and in the right situation should manage to have a good NFL career but I am not without my reservations. Virginia Tech still won the ACC last season so even despite Williams’ injury issues his limited production was still a concern. Also, name the last good Frank Beamer-coached back to the make into the NFL? Lee Suggs maybe? If he counts… The pedigree isn’t there like it would be with a kid coming out of Oklahoma or Illinois. I’m not saying Va Tech’s not a great program, it is. I’m just saying they don’t historically produce good backs.

Noel Devine still has the most impressive HS highlight reel I've ever seen.
Noel Devine still has the most impressive HS highlight reel I've ever seen. /

Best of the Rest:

6.) Taiwan Jones, Eastern Washington– Classic case of an ultra-talented back coming out of a small school and fighting the uphill battle against questions of competition. He averaged 7.7 YPC for his career.

7.) Daniel Thomas, Kansas State– Had a huge senior year, shredding the Big 12 for 19 touchdowns and nearly 1,600 yards. Lacks great speed but has good size to make up for it.

8.) Jacquizz Rodgers, Oregon State– An absolute burner with quickness and elusiveness to make just about anyone blush. Also happens to be just 5’7 and 170 pounds (soaking wet). Durability is a concern, ability is not.

9.) Noel Devine, West Virginia- See Jacquizz Rodgers.

10.) Jordan Todman, UConn- Great production from a player who doesn’t quite fit the prototypical mold for an NFL back. The guy is a grinder though and should find a way to make an impact somewhere on the field.