2012 NFL Draft: Ranking the 10 Best Running Backs

Amelia AhlgrenContributor IIIApril 24, 2012

2012 NFL Draft: Ranking the 10 Best Running Backs

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    It's looking like Trent Richardson will be the first running back picked in the 2012 NFL Draft, and deservedly so. But which running backs make up the top 10 in this year's draft class?

    With excitement mounting as pro football journeys to Radio City Music Hall mecca, it's as good a time as ever to talk ground game. 

    Move over Andrew Luck and RG3—here are the 10 guys teams are zeroing in on for their backfields. 

1. Trent Richardson, Alabama

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    ESPN named 2011 the year of the quarterback, an apt title for a league that has shifted over to the pass. 

    With the draft scouts starting to view running backs as more of an afterthought, it's possible that Trent Richardson is the only running back who will come off the board in Round 1.

    No surprise there.

    Richardson racked up 1,679 yards rushing for the Crimson Tide in the 2011 season. What's more, he caught 29 passes for 338 yards, hauling in three touchdowns.

    With great speed and sure hands, he has earned a spot atop this year's running back draft class.

    Possible Landing Spots: Cleveland Browns, St. Louis Rams

2. Doug Martin, Boise State

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    Doug Martin's versatility makes him an asset on any team.

    Not only did Martin run for over 1,200 yards in each of his last two seasons at Boise State, he also boasts experience on defense and special teams.

    In 2009, he took snaps at safety, and last year he took a kickoff to the house.

    This makes him an enticing pick for teams that like to experiment with players in various roles.

    Of course, Martin is proven in the running back slot and is a surefire bet in the backfield.

    Possible Landing Spots: Pittsburgh Steelers, New England Patriots

3. David Wilson, Virginia Tech

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    David Wilson could be the engine of any offense. The Virginia Tech product never stops churning the wheels to fight for the extra inch.

    The deadly combination of determination and power makes Wilson a potential three-down back.

    Wilson is the guy I would want want at the goal line in a short situation, finding a hole before stiff-arming his way to six points.

    Wilson also has the potential to be a good blocker, making him useful as an all-around back.

    His work ethic is evident off the field as well, where he has stood out academically, making the ACC Honor Roll for the 2010-11 academic year.

    Possible Landing Spots: Denver Broncos, New York Giants

4. Isaiah Pead, Cincinnati

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    Isaiah Pead tends to be underrated because of his size. NFL.com's combine report, for example, explains that Pead's leaner frame is worrisome because his durability has gone untested in college.

    But while size is certainly a concern, Pead brings a skill set that should make NFL recruiters salivate at the possibility of taking him off the board.

    Pead has good anticipation and does a great job faking guys out. He makes moves out of tackles and causes defenders to whiff trying to take him down.

    This quickness also allows Pead to get separation in man coverage on pass plays, where he can uses jukes to gain yards after the catch.

    Pead's shiftiness as a runner and versatility as a receiver up his draft stock.

    Possible Landing Spots: New York Giants, San Francisco 49ers

5. LaMichael James, Oregon

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    LaMichael James is all about speed and acceleration.

    At Oregon's Pro Day, he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.41 seconds. James also has quick feet, which he uses to change direction without losing momentum.  

    He weighs in at under 200 lbs., which may facilitate his speed, but he will likely need to add some muscle so that he doesn't get thrashed in the NFL.

    Still, the 5'8" running back will turn heads bursting out of an NFL backfield.

    James tallied 1,805 yards on the ground and 18 touchdowns in last season alone. He's also pretty decent with his hands, faring well during receiving drills at the combine.

    My only concern about James is his off-the-field issues. In December of 2010, he assaulted his girlfriend and later served a 10-day jail sentence for it.

    Oregon coach Chip Kelly sticks by James' character, however, calling it "The best character you can have." 

    Possible Landing Spots: San Diego Chargers, Denver Broncos

6. Lamar Miller, Miami

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    University of Miami's Lamar Miller has generated plenty of buzz leading up to the draft, with some draftniks ranking him as a top-three running back. While I disagree that he deserves that high of a ranking, he certainly belongs on the top 10 list.

    I am not sold that a guy who spent just one year as a feature back and amassed just 335 career carries could master an NFL playbook, so if I were in the war room on draft day, I would be wary of overvaluing him.

    Still, you can't deny Miller's appeal.

    His 1,272 rushing yards last season place him third atop the Hurricanes' single-season all-time list—no small feat given Miami's rich football history.

    He amassed those numbers playing through a left shoulder injury sustained early in the season that plagued him all year.

    And make no mistake, Miller is as fast as he is tough. 

    Miller passed the most sacred test of them all with flying colors, running the 40-yard dash in 4.40 seconds at the combine.

    Possible Landing Spots: Denver Broncos, Cincinnati Bengals

7. Chris Polk, Washington

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    Chris Polk put up consistent numbers in his last three seasons with the Huskies.

    After getting just 20 touches in 2008, Polk exploded onto the scene in 2009, crossing the 1,000-yard threshold. He put up over 1,400 yards in each of his two seasons since, displaying his dependability as a feature back.

    And if Polk's infamous drop at the Baylor 11-yard line during the Valero Alamo Bowl dropped both your jaw and your confidence in his hands, it shouldn't have.

    Despite the high-profile nature of that spill, Polk fumbled just one of 324 touches in 2011.

    Possible Landing Spots: Philadelphia Eagles, Green Bay Packers

8. Bernard Pierce, Temple

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    Bernard Pierce put up 1,481 yards on the ground last season despite a faulty hamstring and head injury that curbed his productivity.

    Nagging injuries could be to Pierce's disadvantage when it comes to the draft.

    Further, Pierce has a reputation for having poor catching skills. 

    Nonetheless, the upside he presents with his explosive first step and ability to stay standing is tough to ignore. 

    Possible Landing Spots: Atlanta Falcons, New York Jets

9. Tauren Poole, Tennessee

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    After spending the latter half of last season limited by a hamstring injury, Tauren Poole could be this year's sleeper prospect at running back.

    He's high-risk to the extent that we were unable to see him peak at Tennessee. The numbers he produced there are lackluster at best (1,898 yards on just 423 attempts in four season as a Vol).

    Former Tennessee head football coach James Webster tendered his resignation at the end of UT's 2009 season, right as Poole's college career was maturing.

    The transition presented yet another hurdle for the tailback.

    Because of these bumps, Poole's NFL potential is shrouded in shadow and impossible to predict.

    But Poole shows instinct and resolve. He doesn't give up on plays and doesn't stop pushing against defenders.

    As the 2012 NFL season develops, we will get to see just how undervalued Poole was in the draft—if at all.

    Potential Landing Spots: Washington Redskins, New England Patriots

10. Robert Turbin, Utah State

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    Robert Turbin's physique can best be described as "thick." He brings power to the backfield, and yet he is quick for 222 lbs., recording a 4.50s 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine.

    Turbin also shows resilience. He missed all of the 2010 football season due to a torn ACL and bounced back the following season with his best year to date, notching 1,517 yards and 19 touchdowns.

    Turbin developed impressive leadership qualities at a young age and would be a sterling addition to an NFL team in search of a running back.

    Potential Landing Spots: San Diego Chargers, St. Louis Rams