Preseason Top 10 Big Board for 2013 NFL Draft's Best RBs
After a draft that gave up a top-five overall running back pick and two other first-round backs, 2013 might not even yield one runner in the first 32 picks.
Trent Richardson was the best prospect at the position since Adrian Peterson, and Doug Martin was too much like Matt Forte and Ray Rice for teams to make the mistake of letting him fall to the second like the Bears and Ravens studs did in 2008.
David Wilson is already showing the dynamic, explosive play that induced the Giants to take him in the first round in April.
The 2013 draft-eligible class lacks a flagship talent like Richardson, and a handful of the best talents in the group are coming off of serious injuries. As usual, the SEC leads the way, and the Alabama Crimson Tide have yet another potential star in the making carrying the mail.
1. Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina
Lattimore is the complete package. A workhorse frame, a nose for running the ball between the tackles, great hands out of the backfield and an accomplished body of work as a blocker.
Lattimore always wants the ball, he gets stronger as the game goes on, and he'll break the tackle of any defender that doesn't come correct.
What's more, Lattimore can make tacklers miss with regularity in the open field, which is devastating when he has already worn them down with his strong inside running.
The only question is whether Lattimore can get back everything he had before tearing his ACL last season. If he proves that this year, he'll be a first-round pick and most likely, the first running back off of the board in the 2013 NFL draft.
2. Eddie Lacy, Alabama
The Alabama Crimson Tide backfield is like a video game that has a new bigger, tougher boss every time you finish a level. SEC opponents have had to contend with Mark Ingram, then Trent Richardson and now Eddie Lacy.
The 6'0" 220 pound back is country strong with a thick build, and he rarely loses a collision. His pad level is ideal with a strong base and lots of steps per yard, giving him excellent balance.
Lacy also has an outstanding initial burst for a big back, and most astoundingly, he has a full repertoire of moves in the hole and the open field, allowing him to make big plays with a combination of speed, power and elusiveness.
He has a real chance to make it three consecutive NFL drafts with a Crimson Tide running back in the first round.
3. Christine Michael, Texas A&M
The third-best back in the SEC is my third-best back in the 2013 draft-eligible class, which should come as no surprise. The identity of the back may be a shock to some, especially because Christine Michael is from the newest member of the SEC, Texas A&M.
I love Michael's consistently low pad level and his subtle moves in the hole to find more daylight. He runs hot with a great initial burst and ability to win collisions with larger defenders—again, often because he keeps his pads low, and "low man wins".
Like Lattimore, Michael suffered a torn ACL last year, and will need to show that he has regained his pre-injury burst and explosion.
4. Andre Ellington, Clemson
Watching Andre Ellington will remind you of CJ Spiller, and when you consider that Spiller went ninth overall in the 2010 NFL Draft, you know that's a good thing. The best way to describe Ellington's game is "a big play waiting to happen".
He has the best long speed of any back on this list, and his surprising speed can help him get to the second level and turn on the jets. His acceleration is blinding in the open field, and he is elusive in one-on-one situations.
He is also a patient back who can pick his way through the line and instantly get up to speed when the hole presents itself.
Ellington might not be a lead back in the NFL because he will be overwhelmed on short yardage carries, but he is a good receiver out of the backfield, and could be a middle-class Spiller at the next level.
5. Ray Graham, Pittsburgh
It's very difficult to find a good NFL comparison for Ray Graham. He is one of the most unique running styles I have ever watched on film.
Graham is extremely patient and deliberate as he approaches the line. He doesn't seem to run with urgency, but he is very powerful and breaks arm tackles with ease.
Even though Graham doesn't have an overwhelming initial burst or fifth gear, he breaks off a lot of big plays because he is probably the most elusive back in college football. That is strange considering that his game is predicated on deliberate power running, but there you have it.
Graham has a Swiss Army knife of moves in the open field, and they all come naturally. You'll even see him make multiple tacklers miss on the same play, Barry Sanders style. He also breaks a ton of tackles and has great hands out of the backfield.
Graham joins Lattimore and Michael in his recovery from a 2011 ACL tear.
6. Knile Davis, Arkansas
From a measurables standpoint, Knile Davis has a chance to be a first-round pick and the first back off of the board next April. He is 6'0" 225 with great timed speed.
Unfortunately, Davis doesn't play to that 4.3 timed speed, and he doesn't run with power or conviction to harness the advantage of that thick frame.
Davis runs more like a scatback, avoiding contact and trying to win confrontations with moves that he can't pull off, because he is somewhat stiff and not very sudden in the open field.
Davis can wear down defenses and he clearly has great stamina, but he can also be a frustrating, undisciplined runner who tries to bust everything outside.
He is coming off a broken ankle that he had broken before, so like Lattimore, Michael and Graham, he has a lot riding on this year's performance to prove that he can be the back he was before.
7. Montee Ball, Wisconsin
Ball might be the most productive returning college back, but that doesn't mean that he is nearly the best returning back in college football when viewed through the lens of the pro game.
Ball lacks outstanding size, strength, speed or quickness. His vision is adequate, but not exceptional, and a lot of his success is due to an elite offensive line.
Ball does have some moves in the open field to elude tacklers, and he is underrated as a blocker and a receiver. Still, he is likely a lead committee back in the very best scenario a la Ahmad Bradshaw, and that just doesn't make for a top-five back in most draft classes.
8. Giovani Bernard, North Carolina
Bernard is not well-known outside of the ACC, or maybe even Chapel Hill, but you'll hear more about him as the draft approaches, assuming he comes out this year.
Bernard is a long strider/glider who is reminiscent of Kevin Smith during his heyday at Central Florida. The Tar Heel back would be perfect in a zone-blocking scheme running game where he can pick a hole, stick his foot in the ground, and go.
He's extremely patient and surprisingly strong, with terrific leg drive. Bernard won't make tacklers miss, but he will break tackles and generally run with a lot of fight.
He is a typical mid-round sleeper running back in the draft who is underrated because of the team he played for.
9. Silas Redd, USC
Silas Redd made headlines after his transfer from Penn State to USC, and he could become the top Pac-12 draft-eligible back in the process.
Redd is not feature back material, but his initial burst might be the best in the class. He is a compactly-built north-south runner who gets up to speed right away. Redd runs with urgency, but he can still make efficient moves at full speed.
He is strong in and out of his cuts, and can break tackles even though he is not a big power back. Redd could be a very good change of pace back who can function as a two-down starter for a few games if injuries force him into the lineup.
10. Le'Veon Bell, Michigan State
Bell, like Bernard, would find his best home in a zone-blocking scheme running game, but he brings more power to the table.
Bell is a massive 6'2" 244, and he has a more than good enough burst at that size, and even occasional speed to pull away from defenders.
He is a solid receiver out of the backfield, which tells you that he's not merely a bruiser, although he will initiate collisions, and win them.
Bell needs to show that he can take over games and assert himself as the best back in the Big Ten with Redd at USC. If can put together more dominant performances, his NFL-ready frame could move him up this board very quickly.