The 5 Most Underrated Running Backs in 2012 NFL Draft

Brandon BurnettContributor IIIApril 23, 2012

The 5 Most Underrated Running Backs in 2012 NFL Draft

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    The 2012 NFL draft may not contain more than one surefire first-rounder at the running back position (Trent Richardson being that one), but it's not for a lack of talent.

    The ever-increasing focus on the passing game has done its part to hinder the value of the running back in today's NFL, but the teams that haven't lost sight of the ground game altogether would be wise to take a deep look at the backs in this class.

    Of course, Richardson (Alabama) is a one-of-a-kind find, and Doug Martin (Boise St.), David Wilson (Virginia Tech) and Lamar Miller (Miami) figure to be off the board before we sink too far into draft weekend as well.

    However, as we delve into late Friday night (Rounds 2-3) and Saturday's (Rounds 4-7) final four-round draft-a-thon, the value at the position doesn't drop off as much as one would think.

    In fact, as you probably know, mid-round running back selections have panned out for NFL teams perhaps just as much as any other position on the gridiron. 

    In 2011 alone, third-rounder DeMarco Murray and fourth-rounders Kendall Hunter and Roy Helu all paid immediate dividends for the teams that drafted them.

    In the slides to come, you'll see five underrated running backs in the 2012 draft class who can have a similar impact throughout their rookie seasons and beyond.

Robert Turbin, Utah State

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    Although Turbin wasn't competing in front of SEC or Big Ten crowds on Saturdays, he demanded the attention of those who were in attendance.

    The 5'10", 216-pound back has it all.

    Speed. Power. Production.

    The only thing you won't find in the equation of Turbin's draft stock is a top-tier level of competition, which is why he more than likely can be found anywhere from the third to the fifth round. 

    This touchdown machine sniffed out the end zone 40 times via the ground in three seasons at Utah State, and another 11 through the air.

    In 2011—Turbin's junior year—he piled up 19 of those rushing touchdowns to go with 1,517 rushing yards and a 6.1 yards-per-carry average.

    He's got good hands (67 career receptions) and ran a 4.50 40-yard dash at the NFL combine. And after an injury-free collegiate career, he's got the durability factor as well.

    What's not to like?

    If Turbin can become a more consistent blocker, he's going to make one of the few teams that actually values an every-down back very happy in this year's draft.

Tauren Poole, Tennessee

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    Poole is a guy that's slowly becoming my favorite post-first-round ball-carrier in this year's draft.

    A victim of a coaching carousel at Tennessee, Poole saw three different head coaches during his four seasons with the Volunteers. He was recruited by long-time Vols coach Phillip Fulmer and his staff, but Fulmer was fired after Poole's freshman year.

    Regardless, Poole put forth a promising campaign in his junior year, his first atop the depth chart.

    The 5'10", 215-pound back tallied 11 TD's on 1,034 yards in 2010, including a couple of stellar 100-yard performances against SEC stalwarts Alabama and LSU.

    Poole's senior season, however, was a bit of a disappointment. Tennessee's offense was absolutely abysmal in 2011 and the back gained just 693 yards on 187 carries.

    That said, Poole now has a chip on his shoulder as he enters the NFL. 

    He undoubtedly got off to a good start, particularly at the 2012 East-West Shrine Game, taking home the Pat Tillman Award. This award is presented to the player who best exemplifies character, intelligence, sportsmanship and service.

    Those types of intangibles can take you somewhere in the NFL.

    Poole is a fearless runner, always looking to get up the field as fast as possible. He's not afraid of contact, yet displays excellent vision and patience as well.

    He does have rather small hands, but managed 43 catches in his final two seasons despite this concern.

    Outside of consistent production at the collegiate level, there's not much working against Poole and his NFL hopes. 

    Look for Poole to fall somewhere in the fourth or fifth round and make a surprising immediate impact in his rookie season.

Chris Polk, Washington

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    I find it rather shocking that Polk isn't valued as a first-round pick in this year's draft.

    The 5'10", 215-pound back has all the college production you could ask for (despite playing for a subpar Washington squad) and his style of play translates perfectly to the next level.

    Because he can pretty much do anything.

    Polk doesn't have elite speed in open space, but he's faster than most give him credit for. The early-entry junior exceeded the 1,000-yard rushing mark in each of his final three seasons for the Huskies and a whopping 4,049 rushing yards for his career.

    Polk has big hands and played a significant role as a receiver out of the backfield, and he's a serviceable blocker as well.

    He's expected to be had somewhere in the late-second or third round, but whoever does take Polk is getting a well-rounded prospect primed for a promising NFL career.

Vick Ballard, Mississippi State

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    Whatever you do, don't judge Ballard solely on his rather comedic effort in the 40-yard dash at the NFL combine.

    Judge him by his college production, and you'll have a much higher understanding of what he can do at the next level.

    Ballard ran the pigskin all the way home 29 times in his final two seasons at Mississippi State, including a Bulldog school-record 19 TD's in his junior season.

    He put together some impressive performances despite playing inside the defensive-minded SEC and piled up 180 yards and two TD's in a Music City Bowl win over Wake Forest in 2011.

    Ballard measures up at 5'10" and 219 pounds. He's an instinctive, physical back with large hands that will make him a nice check-down option in the passing game. His blocking is sound enough already to make Ballard an immediate option in third-down situations, but don't be surprised to see this hard-worker garner a handful of carries during his rookie season as well.

    A lack of elite speed means Ballard can be found in the later rounds of the draft, but he'd be a great pickup for a team looking for a power option with sound blocking techniques.

Chris Rainey, Florida

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    When you think of Chris Rainey, Percy Harvin should come to mind.

    Rainey is a lightning-fast, quick-twitch athlete with the potential to score from anywhere on the field.

    That said, the 5'8", 180-pound former Florida running back comes with a few concerns. 

    Like Harvin, Rainey's small stature makes him extremely susceptible to injury, and there are durability concerns aplenty. 

    However, there's no doubt Rainey has the elusiveness that scouts drool over. His stop-and-go ability is possibly second to only the great Barry Sanders—yeah, it's that good—and he's got a full arsenal of moves to make guys miss.

    Rainey also drew praise at Florida's pro day for his blazing times (4.3 flat and 4.33) in the 40-yard dash. 

    Plain and simple, you never know what this guys going to do next. 

    If Rainey can overcome questions of character and durability at the next level, I know one thing he'll be doing:

    Making a name for himself as a star in the NFL.

    He can be that good.

     

     

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