Beast, monster, force of nature—those are just a few of the terms that came to my mind when I watched Alabama star running back Trent Richardson plow his way through defense after defense during the Tide’s run to a national championship last season.
Last year, Richardson displayed the type of rare combination of power, speed, balance, vision and explosion that you only see in truly elite backs, as he bulldozed his way for 1,679 yards on the ground and seemingly victimized and embarrassed as many would-be-tacklers as he possibly could.
Richardson, who earned a third-place finish in the Heisman voting for his efforts last season, is clearly the best running back prospect since Adrian Peterson was coming out of Oklahoma back in 2007, and you can even justify making the statement that he’s the best running back prospect since the turn of the millennium.
The 5’9’’, 228-pound wrecking ball hasn’t been able to work out for scouts as of yet, as he’s been resting and rehabilitating his knee after having it scoped back in February, but that surely won’t stop him from being a Top 10 pick in this year’s draft.
Teams like the Browns, Bucs and the Rams should all have a strong interest in Richardson, and one of them will likely pounce on him early on draft night.
There’s no disputing that Richardson is the best running back in this year's draft, but since he’s likely to be gobbled up within the first few picks, the question that still remains is who is the next best back available?
Well, there appear to be three legitimate contenders for the No. 2 position—Virginia Tech’s David Wilson, Boise State’s Doug Martin and Miami’s Lamar Miller.
Wilson, Martin and Miller all enjoyed stellar 2011 campaigns, as Wilson led the ACC with 1,709 rushing yards, Miller finished second behind him with 1,272 yards and Martin finished second in the Mountain West with 1,299 yards on the ground.
All three backs are physically built to be featured runners in the NFL; however, all of them are unique in their own way, as each offers up a different intriguing skill set.
Wilson is a 5’10’’, 206-pound junior who has the type of top-end speed to slash through a defense and create big plays. However, he only spent one season as a starter in Blacksburg, and he’s still relatively raw and in need of some refinement.
Martin is the most complete back out of the three, as he’s shown that he can be both an effective runner and receiver out of the backfield.
The 5’9’’, 223-pound senior is a tough, stout and compact runner who has the strength to pound it inside the tackles, and the quickness to make things happen in space.
Miller, who posted a 4.4 flat 40 time at the NFL combine, is the most naturally gifted out of the three, and he possesses the type of physical package that NFL teams are looking for.
The 5’11’’, 212-pound still has a lot of developing to do, though, and he’s not the type of back who you just instantly throw into a starting role and expect to excel.
There are a bunch of teams, including the Jets, the Bengals, the Browns, the Lions, the Steelers, the Broncos and the Giants that could be looking for running back help in the mid to late first-round range, so it should be interesting to see how many running backs actually get selected on the first night of the draft.
Right now, you would have to figure that Wilson will be the second back to come off the board, but Martin and Miller have the potential to sneak into the latter part of the first round as well.
Last year, we only saw one running back, Mark Ingram, who was selected by New Orleans with the 28th overall pick, go in the first round, which is the first time that only one back has been taken in the first since 1984 when the Buffalo Bills selected Notre Dame's Greg Bell with the 26th overall pick.
It seems like so long ago that we saw three running backs—Ronnie Brown, Cedric Benson and Cadillac Williams—each get picked in the Top 5 of the 2005 draft. Since then, much has been made about the “devaluation” of the running back position in today’s pass-happy NFL.
While it’s true that two-back systems have become the norm in the league today, that doesn’t necessarily mean that a team in need of a featured rusher should pass on a top-notch running back prospect early in the draft.
Trent Richardson may be the only elite back in this year’s class, but Wilson, Martin and Miller have all proven that they deserve to be considered in the first round of the draft as well.
What teams will have to do is figure how much of a gap there is between those three and the prominent Day 2 running back prospects like Oregon’s LaMichael James, Washington’s Chris Polk, Baylor’s Terrance Ganaway and Utah State’s Robert Turbin.
Really, it’s ultimately going to come down to which backs fit into which teams’ systems.
All three have obvious starter potential, but each of them is different, and each of them will be valued differently by teams.
If I were the GM of a team picking in the late teens—early 20’s area of the first round, personally, Doug Martin is the prospect who I would hone in on, because I truly think he has the chance to be a Ray Rice-Ahmad Bradshaw mix at the NFL level, and his potential really excites me.
In the end, though, David Wilson is the back who I would expect to be taken after Richardson in the first round, and I think teams like Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and Denver will all take a good, hard long look at him if he’s available.
It should certainly be interesting to see how Wilson, Martin and Miller will all fit into the first round mix, as all three backs should be coveted commodities by teams who will be looking for a young stud running back.
Here’s how I would rank the Top 15 running backs prospects for the 2012 NFL draft based off of their value.
1. Trent Richardson, Alabama: Top 10 pick
2. David Wilson, Virginia Tech: Mid-First Round
3. Doug Martin, Boise State: Late First Round
4. Lamar Miller, Miami: Early Second Round
5. LaMichael James, Oregon: Mid-Second Round
6. Chris Polk, Washington: Mid-Second Round
7. Terrance Ganaway, Baylor: Early Third Round
8. Robert Turbin, Utah State: Early Third Round
9. Isaiah Pead, Cincinnati: Mid-Third Round
10. Bernard Pierce, Temple: Late Third Round
11. Cyrus Gray, Texas A&M: Early Fourth Round
12. Edwin Baker, Michigan State: Mid-Fourth Round
13. Ronnie Hillman, San Diego State: Mid-Fourth Round
14. Chris Rainey, Florida: Late Fourth Round
15. Vick Ballard, Mississippi State: Early Fifth Round