As far as the 2012 class of running backs goes, it's Trent Richardson, and then everyone else.
Despite the devalued state of the position, Richardson figures to be a top five pick on April 26th.
Once the top running back is off the board, there are three players that will be holding their breath hoping to crack the first round. Boise State's Doug Martin, Virginia Tech's David Wilson and Miami's Lamar Miller have been projected to go anywhere from the later portion of round one to the end of round two.
Teams will likely only select a running back in round one if they see the player as an "every-down back."
The most complete running back among the second-tier of backs is Doug Martin. In two full seasons as Boise State's starter, Martin rushed for 2,559 yards and 28 touchdowns. Martin excels as a receiver as well, catching 28 passes and a pair of touchdowns in each of his two seasons as the starter.
Martin showed up at the Combine and impressed scouts immediately with his build at 5'9", 223 pounds. Built like a bowling ball, Martin threw up 28 reps on the 225-pound bench press, which is ten more reps than the draft's top center Peter Konz.
While he doesn't possess blazing speed, Martin posted a 4.55 in 40 yards, which is more than enough straight line speed to be effective when he gets to the second level. For the running back position, quickness is perhaps more important than speed. Doug Martin was clocked at 6.79 in the three-cone drill, which is faster than both Lamar Miller and David Wilson, two guys who are considered to be superior athletes.
Towards the end of round one, several teams could be in the market for an every-down running back. However, players at the position have fallen lower than their projection in recent years. Partly due to health concerns, former Heisman winner Mark Ingram fell to the 28th pick before being selected by the New Orleans Saints.
If I were to compare Doug Martin to an NFL player, I'd say he's somewhere between Mark Ingram and Baltimore Ravens star Ray Rice. Martin has a similar build to Ingram, but he's actually eight pounds heavier than the former Heisman winner, and he's a similar threat to Rice in catching the ball out of the backfield.
There are teams in the same territory that Ingram went last year, that could consider taking Martin in the first round this year. The Patriots, with two first-round picks at 27 and 31, the Packers at 28, and the Giants at 32 all have some uncertainty at the position and could consider a running back with their first pick.
David Wilson is an interesting prospect as well. Wilson is smooth on- and off-field, as he consistently wore a suit to class at Virginia Tech.
Although he only had one full season as the Hokies' starter, Wilson churned out 1,709 yards on the ground to the tune of 5.9 yards per carry. Away from the "underwear Olympics," also known as the NFL Scouting Combine, Wilson consistently looked like the faster player on the field. While he was apparently not at 100 perfect for the Combine, Wilson clocked a 4.49 in the 40-yard dash, but claimed scouts had him between 4.35 and 4.4 at his pro day.
Another attribute that will help Wilson on draft day is that he has shown the ability to catch the football. In his sophomore and junior season, he caught a total of 37 passes and five touchdowns and appeared to be a natural as a receiving threat.
At 5' 9.5", 206 pounds, the biggest knock on Wilson isn't his size, but rather his ability to hold onto the football. Wilson carried the ball 290 times last season and fumbled the ball seven times, losing four of them. For as long as the NFL has been around, ball security has been among the most important traits for a running back.
Despite looking like a natural catching the football, Wilson struggles in another area of the passing game—pass protection. A glaring deficiency such as picking up blitzes could be enough to keep him off the field early in his career, something that will push him down teams' draft boards.
However, I think Wilson may be the best back in the draft when it comes to making people miss in the open field.
Miami running back Lamar Miller is my fourth-rated running back in the 2012 draft. Entering the draft as a third-year sophomore, Miller has taken far less hits than his peers at the position.
At a time when the shelf-life for running backs seems to be declining dramatically, Miller's lack of playing time may actually benefit him to an extent due to having less wear-and-tear on his tires. Miller carried the ball 108 times as a redshirt freshmen, and despite only being the full-time starter for one season, he amassed 1,918 yards on 335 carries in his college career.
His best attribute is his straight-line speed after running a Combine best for running backs 4.40 in the 40-yard dash.
Miller has some added value in the return game, as he could be used as a kick returner early in his NFL career. Although he caught 28 passes in two seasons with Miami, Miller isn't viewed as being on the same level as Martin or Wilson when it comes to catching the ball out of the backfield.
Compared to Doug Martin and David Wilson, I think Miller faces the slimmest odds to crack the first-round. I expect him to be taken somewhere in the middle to late portion of round two, but he could be a steal for a team with other options already in place.
For example, if Miller were to fall all the way to Green Bay at the end of round two, the Packers may be tempted. With starter James Starks and 2011 third-round pick Alex Green in the fold, Miller wouldn't necessarily be viewed as an every-down back and could be brought along slowly to begin his career.
When it comes down to it, I think the most likely scenario is that Trent Richardson will be the only running back taken in round one. However, it won't be long after the first 32 picks before the next back comes off the board and it wouldn't surprise me at all if the New York Giants used the 32nd pick on Doug Martin.
Although it's up for debate, I believe the second tier of running backs is topped by Martin and followed by David Wilson and Lamar Miller.
If Cleveland passes on Richardson and instead goes with Justin Blackmon in round one, the Browns could be in the market for Doug Martin at the top of round two. If Trent Richardson does go to Cleveland with the fourth pick, I think Tampa Bay would strongly consider Martin at the top of round two.
While there may only be a handful of teams that will consider taking a running back in the first round, many more teams would consider adding a value like Martin, Wilson or Miller in round two.
Trent Richardson may very well be the most complete running back in the draft since Adrian Peterson in 2007, but the 2012 class has some other intriguing players at the position. Ray Rice fell to the Ravens with the 55th pick in 2008, and today it seems ridiculous that so many teams could pass him over.
It remains to be seen whether or not Martin, Miller or Wilson will enjoy a similarly effective career, but there is certainly some talent in the first two rounds at the running back position.
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