2012 NFL Draft: Potential Running Backs for the Pittsburgh Steelers

Todd Swoope@ToddSwoopeContributor IIIApril 15, 2012

2012 NFL Draft: Potential Running Backs for the Pittsburgh Steelers

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    The tradition in Pittsburgh has always been to run the ball. You run the ball control the flow of the game, you run the ball to control the clock and you run the ball to impose your will on the other team.

    Pittsburgh has long been known as a run-first franchise with great running attacks and the backs who power them. In recent years, however, the rushing attack has fallen by the wayside. Some of the decline can be attributed to Ben Roethlisberger becoming one of the best passers in the NFL and to the young unit of wide receivers that Pittsburgh has come in possession of. The decline should also be attributed to the lack of quality running backs in Pittsburgh.

    When Rashard Mendenhall fell to the Steelers in the draft, people were ecstatic that the Steelers would have a young and powerful running back to complement "Fast" Willie Parker.

    In his second year, Mendenhall became the starter and showed good signs during the second and third years of his career, but declined last season. He finished the season by only having two 100-yard games and tearing his ACL, which kept him out of the playoffs. Mendenhall was also never the physical power runner that most thought he would be, instead opting to try and bounce runs to the outside instead of fighting for the tough yards up the middle.

    With his future uncertain, many experts predict that Pittsburgh will use an early draft pick to get a new running back. Here are the top three possible choices...

LaMichael James, Oregon

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    LaMichael James was the stud Duck at Oregon, no pun intended. During his career at Oregon, he was the school's first two-time All-American at running back, and was one of the big name running backs in college football.

    James has exceptional quickness, which allows him to get to top speed quickly, and hits the hole very fast and with considerable authority for his smaller frame. He has great hands and can catch the ball out of the backfield and make plays with the open space.

    At Oregon, he was feared for breaking the big play every time he touched the ball, a trait that has been missing from Pittsburgh since before Willie Parker broke his leg in 2007.

    While James doesn't have the ideal size for an every-down back, the Steelers wouldn't use him as such. If drafted, he would be paired with Isaac Redman, and would add the lightning to his thunder. His ability in the passing game would also help Ben Roethlisberger move the chains with swing routes out of the backfield.

    There are some concerns with his smaller size, but if Pittsburgh took him with a third-round pick, it could pay off in a big way for them.

Doug Martin, Boise State

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    Boise State's Doug Martin is the the type of running back you picture when you think of the Steelers. As much as Boise State relied on Kellen Moore to lead them to victory, they often rode the strong legs of Martin to the end zone as well.

    Martin is a bruising, run-to-daylight power back who isn't afraid of contact. His great vision and quickness allows him to navigate the traffic of the line of scrimmage and finds places to run even if there isn't one.

    While he wasn't usually utilized in the passing game, he displayed solid hands when he was. Martin is one of the rare backs these days that has the potential to be an every-down back for the team that drafts him.

    Martin seems to lack top-end speed that the NFL covets though; he is quick to get to that speed, but there just isn't much to it. He is also a little headstrong when it comes to his running and doesn't wait for his holes to open up. He would need to learn a little bit of patience at the next level and to improve upon his vision.

    While Pittsburgh already has Redman and John Clay, both of whom feature this style of running, Martin would be a great addition to the Steeler backfield and provide that toughness that Pittsburgh likes in its backs.

David Wilson, Virginia Tech

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    David Wilson of Virginia Tech has been one of the most solid running backs in college football during his time with the Hokies. Every year he has played, he has gotten better and better.

    Wilson is considered by many to be one of, if not the, fastest running backs in the draft. A former All-American track star, Wilson will have no trouble running away from defenders at the next level. To go along with his incredible speed, he also has quickness to spare. Wilson has the ability to hit the hole fast and take off. He has solid hands out of the backfield and would be an option in the passing game.

    Wilson has a little bit of the Barry Sanders syndrome; he likes to dance at the line of scrimmage. There were plenty of times he got away with it at the college level, but in the NFL he won't have to time to try and reverse a lot of runs. While he will make plenty of outstanding plays, he is sure to have a few negative ones as well.

    Pittsburgh has a great need for a fast back like Wilson, someone to complement the other, more powerful backs on the roster. Wilson would be a great addition in the second round and would have an immediate impact if given the chance.