NFL Draft 2012: Ranking the Top 10 Running Backs in the Class

Daniel BarnesCorrespondent IIIFebruary 28, 2012

NFL Draft 2012: Ranking the Top 10 Running Backs in the Class

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    The NFL Combine is over for running backs, and what a combine it was. It definitely had a huge impact on everyone's big boards.

    Trent Richardson, the consensus No. 1 running back, made news by not participating in the drills. For some prospects this would be an issue, but for Richardson, it doesn't really affect his draft stock.

    There were plenty of other surprises too. Read on to see how the rankings have been shaken up.

    Also, for more prospect rankings (that are a little older), check out my take on defensive ends, offensive tackles and cornerbacks.

1. Trent Richardson, Alabama

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    This should come as a shock to no one. Trent Richardson was a finalist for the Heisman for good reason.

    Richardson averaged 5.9 yards per carry and scored 21 touchdowns, but that isn't his most impressive stat. Over 48 percent of his yardage this season (he had over 1,500 rushing yards) came after initial contact with one defender, showing both his power and his ability to shed tackles.

    For an NFL comparison, Arian Foster is the best running back in the league at shedding tackles, and he's got the production to prove it. Until last year, the second best running back at getting past first contact was Chris Johnson.

    Trent Richardson has a high floor and an even higher ceiling. I will be shocked if he falls past the Chiefs at No. 11.

2. David Wilson, Virginia Tech

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    David Wilson was either No. 2 or 3 on everyone's big boards before the combine, and he had a great one.

    He ran a 4.40-second 40-yard dash, recorded a 41" vertical jump and an 11' broad jump. He also had great measurables, standing 5'10" and weighing in at 206 lbs.

    Even better, he looked fantastic in the receiving drills, so he'll be a reliable dump-off receiver to the team that drafts him.

    Wilson had a lot of great tape in college, and he was a day-two prospect before the combine. But it was his great performance there that made him into a potential first rounder.

3. Doug Martin, Boise State

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    What a workout warrior Doug Martin has turned out to be. He showed up to the combine weighing 223 lbs, but then turned in a very good 40-yard dash time of 4.47 seconds. Even better, he benched 225 lbs 36 times, which tied him for first at the position.

    Martin has proven that he has the size, strength and speed to be an every down running back in the NFL, and there's little chance he'll escape the second round.

    Of course, he also had great on-field production in college as well, rushing for 1,299 yards and 16 touchdowns in his senior year.

    All that strength packed into a 5'9" frame will make Martin a powerful runner with a low center of gravity and will make him difficult to tackle.

4. Lamar Miller, Miami

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    Before the combine, I had Lamar Miller as the second running back on my big board, but even though he had a pretty good combine, the players below him just dominated, which drives his stock down.

    That said, Miller still has all the makings of a feature back in the NFL. Miller had a blistering 4.38 40-yard dash and weighed in at 212 lbs. He did not participate in the bench press or broad jump, though, which is what makes his performance a mixed bag.

    Some teams might still prefer the slightly faster and taller Miller over the pass-catching powerhouse that is David Wilson or the short powerful runner Doug Martin. They could go in any order; it just depends on what the teams drafting them value.

5. Chris Polk, Washington

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    Chris Polk's stock went way down after a poor performance at the Senior Bowl. He looked heavy and slow, and he really hurt himself.

    He apparently had been hitting the gym pretty hard since then, because the Polk that showed up to the combine looked much more athletic. Polk weighed in at a comparatively slim 215 lbs. That's nine pounds lighter than he was at the Senior Bowl.

    He further proved his athleticism by running a 4.46-second 40-yard dash. Not the fastest time, but definitely better than most.

    He also has 9-and-3/4" hands, one of the bigger sets among running backs, which also helps him. He'll end up a third-round selection.

6. Isaiah Pead, Cincinnati

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    Cincinnati's superstar running back Isaiah Pead was named the MVP of the Senior Bowl a few weeks ago. He solidified his status as a second-day pick at the combine.

    He has small hands, measuring only 8-and-5/8" across, but everything else was great. Pead was just short of 200 lbs, ran a 4.41 40-yard dash and a one-and-a-half-second split (best among running backs).

    Pead is a little small to play every down at the next level, but he's big enough to be more than just a speed back. He could definitely split the load in a smash and dash running back combo and be very successful.

    The momentum from his Senior Bowl performance will carry him into the third round.

7. LaMichael James, Oregon

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    Despite being undersized, LaMichael James had a good combine. He weighed in at 194 lbs, which didn't surprise anyone. His 40 time was just what people expected as well—fast. James made 40 yards in 4.37 seconds, faster than anyone else at his position.

    He also had a 35" vertical jump and a 10'3" broad jump, among the better results of the year.

    James is a one-dimensional back, and everyone knew that heading into the combine, but performing well in the areas he was supposed to makes it clear that if teams draft him for speed, then he will produce.

    He'll be a fourth rounder.

8. Bernard Pierce, Temple

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    Standing 6'0" even and weighing in at 218 lbs, Bernard Pierce is already a running back to take notice of. Furthermore, he had a great combine, notching a 10'3" broad jump, a 4.5-second 40-yard dash and a 36.5" vertical jump.

    His height is a slight problem, since it raises his center of gravity and makes him easier to tackle, but it also gives him a longer frame to add weight and power, so it's a give and take.

    With a good combine, he's a mid-rounder; he'll probably go the fourth or early fifth round.

9. Robert Turbin, Utah State

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    Robert Turbin is another stout running back that performed well in the combine. Turbin showed both strength and speed by running the 40 in 4.44 seconds and getting 28 reps on the bench.

    He showed explosiveness in the jumps and has pretty big hands (9-and-3/4"). He had very good production in college, but it was mostly against lesser competition.

    Turbin is a sleeper prospect and could jump up the draft boards in the next few weeks. For now, he's a fourth to fifth-round prospect, but don't be surprised if his name starts showing up in three-round mocks.

10. Cyrus Gray, Texas A&M

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    While he had a disappointing senior season, Cyrus Gray is still a top 10 running back.

    In his senior season, he was a 1,000-yard rusher and had 15 total touchdowns. A little disappointing, but far from bad.

    He had a very good 40 time of 4.41 seconds and a split time of 1.57 seconds. He also had a respectable 21 reps on the bench.

    The potential is there, so teams might draft him a little higher than the other running backs with his numbers and hope he outperforms them. Outside of that, he's probably a late fifth rounder.