Thursday, January 12, 2012

2012 NFL Draft: Top Players by Position- Running Backs

by John Huffstetler

Because the nature of the position, every running back is overrated. RB's are glorified by flashy statistics and fantasy drafts but gain yards based on the success of the Offensive Lineman who block for them. That being said, this draft is loaded with versatile running backs that can contribute in the running game, passing game, and, in some cases, the return game. Several players have the potential to be great players in the league.


1) Trent Richardson- Alabama- He is a prototype every-down back with the ability to block and catch out of the backfield. As far and away the top running back in the draft, he will be a player many teams with RB needs take a hard look at early in the draft. He deserves consideration from the 20th pick on, but a top-5 pick would be foolish with the level of talent at other, more important positions.

2) David Wilson- Virginia Tech- Like Richardson, Wilson impressed from the moment he set foot on campus but couldn't get full-time work because of solid veterans ahead of him on the depth chart. This year, he finally had his chance to carry the ball full-time and he gained 1,709 yards rushing. He's shifty and elusive as a runner, and he can catch the ball out of the backfield (even though Beamer failed to use him enough in that role). He also has experience returning kicks. He would be a great pick late in the 1st round.

3) LaMichael James- Oregon- He's too small? He's the 5th best running back in the draft? Ridiculous. Great teams make a living drafting guys like James that are overlooked because of some irrelevant factor like his height. After Darren Sproles demolished defenses at Kansas St., teams passed on him for the same reason: he's too small. James will be a stud in the NFL because of his incredible versatility. The one question mark is his penchant for getting nagging injuries. If he stays healthy, someone will get a tremendous football player.

4) Chris Polk- Washington- Polk entered this year already established as a runner, but in previous years he had been overshadowed by standout QB Jake Locker. He handled the spotlight admirably, rushing for 1,488 yards, while also catching 31 passes for 332 yards. His size (222) and speed (4.48) combination is incredible and he shows the potential to be an elite, every-down back. His ranking here is more of an indication of the strength of the runners ahead of him than his weakness. He is late-first round quality and is projected to go in the 2nd round at this point.

5) Ronnie Hillman- SD St.- Hillman is a versatile, elusive runner with tremendous big-play capability. In a pro-style offense, he showed an aptitude for performing on running and passing downs. He might be the most underrated runner in the draft, currently grading as a 3rd-4th rounder, while his ability warrants a 2nd-round pick.

6) Isaiah Pead- Cincinnati- Pead has elite speed and elusiveness, but where he establishes himself as a strong NFL-caliber talent is as a pass catcher. He had 1,578 total yards this past season because of that ability to rack up yards through the air. His role in the NFL will be that of an elite 3rd-down back who excels in every aspect of the game.

7) Cyrus Gray- Texas A&M- Gray is yet another versatile back who can contribute in the passing game. His stats from college don't overwhelm because he always platooned with Christine Michael (which would also be his role in the pros). He is certainly not an every down back, but his ability to catch passes and run in open space gives him value.

8) Lamar Miller- Miami (Fl.)- Many sites have Miller graded out as the #2 running back in the draft, which is absurd. He had a great year statistically, but there are many red flags. His production tailed of toward the end of the season, averaging just 85 yards/game over the last 7. He also struggled as both a receiver and blocker on passing downs. He warrants a 3rd-4th round pick, but the late-first grade he is receiving right now is outrageous.

9) Bernard Pierce- Temple- Pierce is a big, bruising every down back who can consistently moves the chains. He has no ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and struggled when asked to step up in class (50 yards against Penn St.), but he managed to rack up significant yards behind a suspect offensive line. I tend to prefer versatile backs, but on pure between-the-tackles running, he might be the 2nd best in the draft.

10) Robert Turbin- Utah St.- He is a slightly lower version of Bernard Pierce. Read above.

Honorable Mention- Vick Ballard- Miss St., Doug Martin- Boise St.

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  1. I'd have Polk ahead of LMJ and I think Pierce and Turbin are better than Pead and Gray.

    Where do you think Trent goes? Someone probably picks him in the Top 10.

    1. I can see the argument for having Polk ahead of James. I'm actually quite high on Polk, but I think James just has that game-changing ability that you have to value come draft time. I like Pead and Gray because of their versatility, but as pure runners, you're right, Pierce and Turbin clearly have an edge. My gut tells me someone will take Richardson doesn't last past 5. I could easily see both the Browns and the Bucs taking a hard look at drafting him.