After Alabama's Trent Richardson in the 2012 NFL draft, the running back position has a lot of deep talent in the middle rounds.
Even Miami's Lamar Miller is a potential first-rounder, but he'll at least get selected by Round 2, while other guys like Oregon's LaMichael James and Boise State's Doug Martin will go early on as well.
There are, though, some potential free-agent running backs that franchises must keep an eye on. Considering that having a strong two-back tandem is key in pro football, the following ball-carriers can certainly provide some reliability.
Lance Dunbar, North Texas
This man was the North Texas offense. In his final three seasons for the Mean Green, Lance Dunbar gained 4,046 rushing yards and caught 85 passes for 983 receiving yards. He accounted for a total of 47 touchdowns during that three-year span and was as consistent as anyone in the game.
Now, he's obviously going overlooked as North Texas plays in the Sun Belt conference; which doesn't compare to the SEC or Big Ten. Plus, Dunbar is a but undersized at just 5'9", 205 pounds, however, he knows how to slither through a defense even when the box is stacked against him.
On a team where Dunbar was the key to defeating the Mean Green, Dunbar's high level of consistency proves that he deserves a shot in the pros. He has great speed, acceleration and field awareness to make cuts on a dime and evade defenders.
Dunbar also is a reliable receiving back on screens and check downs. Provided he also presents the ability to return kicks (as he did in 2008 and '09), Dunbar would only increase his odds of suiting up next fall.
Alfred Morris, Florida Atlantic
Although he's not as much of a dual-threat back as Dunbar, Florida Atlantic's Alfred Morris is a Brahma Bull that gets solid yards through the interior line.
From 2008-11, Morris compiled just over 3,500 rushing yards, caught 30 passes for 300 receiving yards and scored a total of 31 touchdowns. At 5'11", 220 pounds, Morris would make an excellent short-yardage situation back.
His ability to slam the trenches will draw up linebackers and make the play-action pass more efficient, which then sets up for better production inside the red zone. Despite his size, Morris is faster than given credit for, and has good ball-carrier vision.
As long as he can develop more in the passing game, he will have a better shot at contributing as a rookie.
Offenses want to possess multiple running backs who can each present a different threat. Put a quarterback in the shotgun between two backs and the defense still needs to be concerned about playing man coverage.
Jonas Gray, Notre Dame
He may have only had one solid season to hang his hat on, but Notre Dame's Jonas Gray did perform well in 2011.
There, Gray had accounted for almost 800 rushing yards, but averaged seven yards per carry. In addition, he scored 12 touchdowns; which equates to one score every 9.5 carries.
He definitely needs to prove more consistency, because Gray didn't contribute nearly as much between 2008 and 2010, and wasn't much of a factor in the passing game. Although, the Irish juggled between multiple quarterbacks, making it difficult to establish receiving threats.
Still, Gray has a nose for the end zone and can act like a BenJarvus Green-Ellis-type player. With good size at 5'10", 225 pounds, Gray can hit the line hard and simply push it forward.
He needs to get healthy and build some explosiveness, but Gray's determination near the goal-line could earn him an opportunity.
2012 First-Round NFL Mock Draft
1. Indianapolis Colts: Andrew Luck, QB (Stanford)
17. Cincinnati Bengals (From OAK): Janoris Jenkins, CB (Northern Alabama)
2. Washington Redskins: (From STL): Robert Griffin III, QB (Baylor)
18. San Diego Chargers: Alshon Jeffery, WR (South Carolina)
3. Minnesota Vikings: Matt Kalil, OT (USC)
19. Chicago Bears: Stephon Gilmore, CB (South Carolina)
4. Cleveland Browns: Justin Blackmon, WR (Oklahoma State)
20. Tennessee Titans: Dontari Poe, DT (Memphis)
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Trent Richardson, RB (Alabama)
21. Cincinnati Bengals: Cordy Glenn, OG (Georgia)
6. St. Louis Rams (From WAS): Morris Claiborne, CB (LSU)
22. Cleveland Browns (From ATL): Courtney Upshaw, LB (Alabama)
7. Jacksonville Jaguars: Riley Reiff, OT (Iowa)
23. Detroit Lions: Zach Brown, LB (North Carolina)
8. Miami Dolphins: David DeCastro, OG (Stanford)
24. Pittsburgh Steelers: Mike Adams, OT (Ohio State)
9. Carolina Panthers: Melvin Ingram, LB (South Carolina)
25. Denver Broncos: Fletcher Cox, DT (Mississippi State)
10. Buffalo Bills: Dre Kirkpatrick, CB (Alabama)
26. Houston Texans: Kendall Wright, WR (Baylor)
11. Kansas City Chiefs: Michael Brockers, DT (LSU)
27. New England Patriots (From NO): Whitney Mercilus, DE (Illinois)
12. Seattle Seahawks: Devon Still, DT (Penn State)
28. Green Bay Packers: Nick Perry, DE (USC)
13. Arizona Cardinals: Jonathan Martin, OT (Stanford)
29. Baltimore Ravens: Dont'a Hightower, LB (Alabama)
14. Dallas Cowboys: Quinton Coples, DE (North Carolina)
30. San Francisco 49ers: Stephen Hill, WR (Georgia Tech)
15. Philadelphia Eagles: Luke Kuechly, LB (Boston College)
31. New England Patriots: Jerel Worthy, DT (Michigan State)
16. New York Jets: Michael Floyd, WR (Notre Dame)
32. New York Giants: Dwayne Allen, TE (Clemson)
John Rozum on Twitter.
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