The running back crop for the 2012 NFL draft was already deeper than Jerry Jones’ pockets, and it got deeper with the announcement that Oregon’s LaMichael James is throwing his recognizable name into the ring as well.
Fantasy football owners have to pay attention to what happens at the draft in April. Even though fantasy football has now become a quarterback-driven hobby, running backs are still vital to championship success.
You need to keep track of which college running backs are drafted by which NFL teams and if these backs will be starters, backups, waterboys, etc.
So here are some possible destinations for Mr. James and three other highly touted running backs who will be available in the 2012 NFL draft:
LaMichael James, Oregon
James’ college numbers prove he can do it all. He was second in the NCAA in rushing yards in 2011, scored 57 total touchdowns over his three seasons at Oregon and had countless highlight-worthy, long-gaining plays that helped fantasy college football owners in distance leagues.
The 5'9", 185-pound James does not have the size to be an every-down back in the NFL, though. Unless he adds another 25 to 30 pounds onto his frame like Baltimore’s Ray Rice, James’ body will break down if he is a No. 1 RB.
The Arizona Cardinals have the oft-injured Beanie Wells and the still-injured Ryan Williams at tailback. Both have knee problems they have to overcome, and neither scares any defense’s front seven right now.
If Arizona added James to the mix, however, opposing teams might get as scared as Terrell Owens’ accountants. Wells could be the primary ball carrier, James could be the change-of-pace/home run back and Williams could take all the time he needs to recuperate.
Factor in also that James is well known out West thanks to his Oregon exploits, and a James-Arizona marriage could work out for both parties as well as Beyonce's and Jay-Z’s.
David Wilson, Virginia Tech
It is no shock to anyone that Wilson declared early for the draft. The juke-filled junior ran for 1,709 yards this season, including an astonishing 10 100-yard-games. But even though many draft pundits project Wilson could go late in the first round, he does have flaws.
After Wilson scored a trio of touchdowns in his first game of the season, he only scored seven the rest of the way, and Virginia Tech’s schedule was not exactly littered with tons of top-10 teams.
Wilson’s other problem is his lack of receiving skills.
He had only 129 receiving yards in 2011, so unless he does some serious work with the likes of Marshall Faulk or Roger Craig in the offseason, he will not be on the field for many third-down plays in the NFL.
The Cleveland Browns rarely use high draft picks on skilled position players—that is one of the main reasons why their offenses have been so lousy the past five years.
But they are sorely lacking game-breakers, and Wilson is a speed demon who can take the ball all the way every time he’s handed it.
Cleveland could very well draft Alabama’s Trent Richardson with the fourth pick overall. Richardson has not announced that he is coming out yet, so if he stays in school or Cleveland decides to trade down (or trade up from the second round), maybe Wilson could be in their future.
Lamar Miller, Miami (FL)
Miller is a late first-round, early second-round player. Even though he only started for one season at Miami, the super sophomore showed he had NFL-type talent by running for 272 yards in two games against top-15 teams, Virginia Tech and Kansas State, along with 184 yards against Ohio State.
Miller is a breakaway threat who has a lot of Willis McGahee (another former Miami product) in him in terms of shiftiness. That’s why I could see Miller fitting nicely with the Cincinnati Bengals, who could have used some explosiveness from their backfield against the Houston Texans this past weekend.
Cedric Benson is a straight-forward runner who is about as shifty as a person with one leg. Backup Bernard Scott is supposed to be “the fast RB,” but his 3.4 yards per carry this year suggests he’s no greyhound. Miller could step right in for Cincy and turn his 10-15 touches per game into a lot of yardage.
Cincinnati has some extra draft picks to play with thanks to its Carson Palmer trade with the Oakland Raiders. Do not be surprised if one of the Bengals’ picks is put towards a running back like Miller.
Chris Polk, Washington
Polk is an inside runner who steadily improved in several fantasy facets throughout his college career with Washington. He had a career-high 12 touchdowns as his nose for the end zone grew longer, and he caught a personal best 31 balls for 332 yards, although he will never be confused with Darren Sproles as a pass-catcher.
The New York Giants likely will sever ties with longtime big back Brandon Jacobs, as his ridiculous quotes and short-yardage stumbles have gotten more attention than his production over the last two years.
Ahmad Bradshaw is better with a running partner than as a full-time starting tailback, so a guy like Polk could be a nice complement. Polk could handle the runs between the tackles and downs near the goal line, while Bradshaw could handle the runs outside the tackles and the third-down screens and safety valves.