When evaluating the 2012 NFL Draft class many focus on the two Quarterback prospects and rightfully so. But even in today’s NFL where offense’s are scoring at a record pace and doing it through the air, a solid running game is needed. A running game completes the offense and will take an even more potent offense out of the game by keeping them off the field.
The running backs in the 2012 draft has a little bit of of everything, but only one true “bell cow back” in Alabama’s Trent Richardson. What this draft does have is a unique group of backs that can do specific things and a certain skill set to contribute to the team that selections them.
Here are my Top 10 running backs for the 2012 NFL draft class:
1. Trent Richardson- Alabama- 5-9 – 228:
Trent Richardson is the most complete running back prospect to enter the NFL since Adrian Peterson (who was selected seventh overall in 2007 by the Vikings). Trent Richardson is a classic workhorse back who put Alabama’s offense on his shoulders in leading the Crimson Tide to a National Championship season in 2011. The Doak Walker Award winner as the best running back in college football, Richardson is only a one year starter after splitting time with Mark Ingram during the first two years of his career. Owning rare strength for the running back position (475 pound bench, 650 pound squat, 365 pound clean), Trent is built like a bulldog, who is a thick, powerful running back with Redwood tree trunks for legs and an ideal combination of size, strength, and speed for the position. A workhorse back capable of shouldering the load in the run game, Richardson is one of the best between-the-tackles runners to enter the NFL in the past five years. He displays rare patience to wait for his blocks to develop while staying at full steam in order to accelerate through the hole the second that it opens up. Richardson is a true “bell cow back” who owns the power and strength needed to run through tackles with ease; he does a fabulous job of running behind his pads, and with his center of gravity and pad level, he’s almost always the lowest man at the point of contact with the defender. Trent has natural vision down the field, finding open cutback lanes with ease while owning the burst and acceleration needed to hit it consistently. He’s shown the ability to stick his foot in the ground and cut up the field or bounce the run to the outside after reaching the second level. A versatile all-purpose athlete capable of running, catching, and returning, Richardson brought a complete package of tools to Alabama. A natural receiver out of the backfield, Trent caught 68 passes for 730 yards and seven touchdowns over the course of his career.
2. Doug Martin – Boise State – 5-9 – 219:
One of the most complete running backs available in this year’s draft, Doug Martin leaves Boise State after having been a valuable weapon on offense for the Broncos. A two-year starter in Boise, Martin finished his career having rushed for 3,435 yards and 43 touchdowns on 616 carries, good for a 5.6-yards per carry average; his best statistical season came as a senior in 2011 when he produced 1,299 yards rushing and 16 touchdowns on 263 carries (4.9-yards per carry). A compact, downhill runner with a terrific combination of strength, agility, and quickness to take the ball the distance from 30 anywhere on the field, Martin has a habit of making defenders miss once he reaches the second level and is given room to work with in the open field. A patient runner with very good vision through the hole, Doug’s decisive running style and fantastic cutback ability are reasons why he has been a very hard player for opposing defenses to bring down. In addition to providing the shiftiness and elusiveness to make a defender miss in the open field, Martin runs low to the ground with good leg drive, and when you combine that with his great strength and balance as a runner, he’s proven that he can also run through defenders at the second and third levels. A very good yards-after-contact back who does not go down easily, Doug does a good job of running behind his pads and turns into a tough, powerful back through the hole once he reaches his top speed as quickly as does. His explosion and burst through the hole and down the field is excellent and I love his ability to stop and start on a dime when redirecting at the second level. Although not elite, Doug has shown that he has more than enough speed to beat a defense as a home run threat. What makes Martin such a complete back is his reliability as a pass blocker as well as when he’s catching the ball out of the backfield. He’s polished as a blocker with the overall strength to consistently take on and neutralize defenders at the point of attack. Having caught 67 passes for 709 yards and four touchdowns throughout his career at Boise State, Doug has displayed the soft, dependable hands needed to be a terrific check down or safety net.
3. Lamar Miller – Miami (FL) – 5-10 – 212:
Emerging at the national level in 2011, Lamar Miller took advantage of being handed the starting job and ran with it at Miami (FL). A one-year starter with just 13 career starts for the Hurricanes, Miller rushed for 1,272 yards and nine touchdowns on 227 carries (5.6 yards-per-carry) during his redshirt sophomore season; he finished his career at Miami having carried the ball 335 times for 1,918 yards and 15 touchdowns. A downhill, one-cut back with the agility needed to stick his foot in the ground and make a defender miss, Lamar owns the straight-line speed needed to take it the distance any time he touches it. Owning a fine frame for the position, Miller will need to continue to add weight and get stronger at the next level. With very quick feet to and through the hole, Lamar offers very good acceleration upon reaching an opening and shows the burst needed to pick up speed and run away from a defense. Between the tackles, he offers enough bulk needed to bounce off of tacklers, however not enough to physically run through them with power; he runs more upright than you’d prefer, not doing a good enough job yet of running behind his pads at the point of contact. Lamar shows the quickness at the second level needed to make a defender miss with one cut to get the ball outside and into the open field. Miller owns the explosion that you look for in short areas, making him a very difficult player to bring down for just one defender, as he’s more than capable of either evading or sliding off the tackle. He’s not quite a quick-twitch back who will make defenders miss on a consistent basis, but has the type of light feet where it comes natural to him to change speeds without hesitation to create separation.
4. David Wilson – Virginia Tech – 5-9 – 206:
When Ryan Williams and Darren Evans both declared for the 2011 NFL Draft, many expected David Wilson to come in and be a fine replacement, however not many could have expected him to rush for 1,709 yards and nine touchdowns on 290 carries (5.9-yards per carry) as well as being named the ACC Player of the Year in his first season as the Hokies’ starter in 2011. That standout season resulted in a one-and-done situation in which Wilson opted to declare for the draft himself, making it three Hokie backs in two years to enter the NFL. Over the course of his three-year career at Virginia Tech, David rushed for a total of 2,662 yards and 18 touchdowns on 462 carries (5.8-yards per carry). One of the top all-around athletes in the country at any position, Wilson proved in 2011 to be one of the most elusive backs in college football, capable of sticking his foot in the ground and getting up the field very quickly. An explosive and agile runner with great vision, David has very light, nimble feet with excellent quickness to find the hole and pick his way through it; he does a great job of tip toeing his way through traffic with good patience while also showing the suddenness, acceleration, and burst needed to dart in and out of holes in the open field. Wilson’s explosiveness was more than evident at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis where he had a standout performance (41 inch vertical, 11 foot broad jump) which has helped his draft stock. Wilson is a far more effective runner in the open field than between the tackles, David is an effective east/west runner who gets outside to the perimeter quickly on stretches and sweeps and has proven to be a dangerous threat in the open field who is very difficult for defenses to contain. He’s a very balanced runner who has shown on numerous occasions that he has the skills needed to create on his own. Between the tackles, Wilson does a fine job of following his blocks through the hole before sticking his foot in the ground to cut outside once he reaches the second level; he has little trouble side-stepping linebackers in the hole and offers the fluid athleticism and flexibility needed to redirect on a dime to take a different angle down the field.
5. Chris Polk – Washington – 5-10 – 224:
The second-leading rusher in Washington school history, Polk proved to be a bell cow for the Husky offense throughout his career, finishing his four-year stay with 4,049 yards and 26 touchdowns on 799 carries (5.1-yards per carry); his most productive season came as a senior in 2011 when he carried the ball 293 times for 1,488 yards and 12 touchdowns (5.1-yards per carry). A workhorse back capable of carrying the full load in the run game, Polk offers an excellent combination of size, strength, balance, and speed for the position. In the last three years, Chris has 20 games where he carried the ball 20+ times, including 10 as a senior in 2011; his ability to shoulder the load in the run game and allow for his offense to run him into the ground and still gain production is something that I really like about him. He’s a dependable and reliable back who his team could lean on when they needed to pick up yardage. Chris is a north/south runner who possesses enough shiftiness and agility to make a defense respect his ability to make defenders miss. Although not very explosive or quick, he’s an agile player with light enough feet to tiptoe his way through traffic and make a cut to elude a defender. A big yards-after-contact back who runs with power, Polk is capable of running through arm tackles at the second level when given the chance to gain momentum with an open hole. He’s not one that owns the quick-twitch ability to create on his own in the backfield, however when he has the opportunity to hit a hole, he does so with good acceleration, giving himself the chance to bounce off of defenders down the field. I also like the fact that he churns his legs to pick up extra yardage after contact; it’s almost rare when one defender brings him down by himself, often needing swarming teammates to assist with the tackle. Chris is a very patient runner who consistently waits for his blocks to develop up front before entering the hole; there are times when he’s almost too hesitant, which will result in him being caught behind the line or being stonewalled at the line of scrimmage. One of the most underrated parts of Polk’s overall game is his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. A natural receiver with soft hands, Chris hauled in a total of 79 passes for 683 yards and four touchdowns throughout his career with the Huskies. (Note: I have watched play since he was in High School at Redlands East Valley HS in Redlands, California)
The Next 5
6. Robert Turbin – Utah State
7. Isaiah Pead – Cincinnati
8. LaMichael James – Oregon
9. Cyrus Gray – Texas A&M
10. Terrance Ganaway – Baylor
Overrated: LaMichael James: I am not as high on James as others. He had inflated stats at Oregon, a few incidents that NFL teams have to really look into closely and was dinged up a lot.
Underrated: Chris Polk: He’s a guy that may end up being the second best back in this draft when it’s all said and done. He’s a guy that can do it all and just produced on every level he has played at. He seems to come up big when his teams need him too.
Small School Sleeper: Alfred Morris – Florida Atlantic: An underrated running back prospect who possesses the size, strength, and power to be an effective between-the-tackles runner at the next level.