Kenjon Barner, Oregon
It makes sense that the Green Bay Packers could target a running back with one of their high draft choices next April.
Cedric Benson was only signed to a one-year contract, and neither Alex Green nor James Starks has demonstrated that they're the clear-cut future of the position in Green Bay.
With that in mind, here's a look at several of the potential top running back prospects for the 2013 NFL draft and whether the Packers should consider drafting them.
Eddie Lacy is a redshirt junior and not a guarantee to come out for the draft in April, but he's learned from some of the best in the business.
For the first time in his college career, Lacy is the workhorse back and unquestioned starter in Alabama. In each of the past two years, he's played behind backs who were among the best in college football. Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram in 2010 and Trent Richardson in 2011 were both first-round picks.
Lacy could be the next to be first-round material, but that's still a long way from being decided. The rest of this season has to play itself out and so does a grueling pre-draft process.
If, however, Lacy declares, he has the strength to become a premiere power back. NFL draft writer Josh Norris of Rotoworld.com says Lacy reminds him of Eddie George, a back who's always falling forward.
"He hits the hole hard,'' Norris said. "He doesn't take much time to get up to speed, and thus, he doesn't make many runs for a loss of yards. He's just powerful, and I really like that about him.''
Andre Ellington is sometimes overshadowed by all the other skill-position talent at Clemson.
Quarterback Tajh Boyd and wide receivers Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins are all playmakers in their own right, and sometimes it's difficult to spread the football around.
While the rest of Clemson's elite make their mark through the air, it's Ellington making a name for himself toting the rock.
He's considered to be perhaps the top senior running back in the nation and a fit for the zone-blocking scheme, according to Norris.
He really fits the zone style of running, the slanting blocking. And everyone runs zone-blocking now, some less than others, less than obviously Houston or Washington, but a lot of teams do run it. He's a great backside runner, too. He finds cutback lanes, and his burst and his straight-line speed, he can just outrun everyone.
The Packers have been incorporating power-blocking schemes into their offense more often recently, but still rely heavily on zone blocking.
"One thing I love that he does, he's got great balance in terms of sticking close to his offensive linemen and cutting right off of them," said Norris. "If he feels like he's going to go to the ground, he gets skinny, puts a hand on the ground and keeps going."
Giovani Bernard is only a redshirt sophomore, so he's really a question mark when it comes to trying to determine his draft status, but he will be eligible if he so chooses.
And there's mounting evidence that Bernard will declare. Just last season, both Ronnie Hillman and Lamar Miller were running backs who entered the NFL draft as redshirt sophomores.
Perhaps Bernard will consider what happened to South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore, who recently suffered a serious knee injury and probably saw his draft stock fall as a result, and declare for the draft.
Again, there's a long time between now and April, but if Bernard does decide to leave, Norris thinks he'll be the top running back taken.
I absolutely love his choppy footwork. I think that's what sets him apart. The short strides, being able to cut off of it, and his wide and balanced base is excellent. But with those short strides and that choppy footwork, he can outrun everybody, and he's got the power too because of his low center of gravity.
Bernard is a complete player. He offers third-down ability and the know-how to pass block. And his special teams' contributions come into play as well.
Earlier this season, Bernard made headlines by scoring on a 74-yard punt return with just 13 seconds remaining to break a tie and beat rival North Carolina State.
Le'Veon Bell kick-started his senior season with 210 rushing yards on a jaw-dropping 44 attempts in a season-opening victory over Boise State on national television.
Since that time, Bell's season as well as the Spartans' has been up and down. He's had 77 rushing yards or fewer in five of the past nine games and 121 or more in the rest.
Still, Bell leads the Big Ten in rushing and has solidified his status as a power back. He's among the nation's leaders in broken tackles and yards after contact, according to STATS.
But Norris said Bell is also the type of running back who takes a while to rev the engine from zero to 60, which will hurt him at the next level.
He takes a long time to get up to speed, maybe one or two steps to get to full stride. But once you give him that crease and you give him that lane and he gets to the second level, he's agile. He can make people miss or he can run them over sometimes.
He runs very straight up, but I'm worried about that lack of quickness, that lack of burst before he gets up to speed is really going to hurt him. If he's stuffed at the line, he's not going to really do anything for you.
Joseph Randle plays in a pass-happy offense under head coach Mike Gundy and offensive coordinator Todd Monken, so he flies a bit under the radar.
Last year, all the attention was on quarterback Brandon Weeden and wide receiver Justin Blackmon, but this year Randle has become more of a focal point in Stillwater.
Randle has become a true workhorse back. His 176 carries this season dwarf the teammate with the next-most carries (41). He's taken those carries for 934 yards and nine touchdowns, and he has four games to play.
However, Norris said the question is whether Randle can adjust from Oklahoma State to a pro-style attack at the next level.
He's added an ability to break tackles, and he's got an underrated burst and straight-line speed. And I think it's going to be a challenge coming from that offense, but he has a lot of qualities that you can spotlight.
If the rumors are true, Stanford running back Stepfan Taylor will run a slow time in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine.
"The reason that he might drop is because I've heard he'll probably run in the 4.6 range," Norris said.
But as Alfred Morris has proven this season, a fast 40 time isn't the be-all, end-all factor with NFL running backs.
The sixth-round draft choice out of Florida Atlantic ran a 4.64 40-yard dash at the combine and has gone on to become one of the best rookies in the NFL, rushing for 793 yards and five touchdowns for the Washington Redskins.
Apparently, however, Taylor is doing a good job of quelling any concerns about his speed, because those in the scouting profession are apparently becoming enamored with him. "I heard that scouts love this guy, like they think he's a second-round talent,'' Norris said. "I don't think I see that. What they love about him is he's very powerful, and he's very patient.''
What Taylor is doing is emerging from the shadow of Andrew Luck, rushing for 946 yards in nine games.
Montee Ball has taken a pounding the past few years for Wisconsin. With 307 carries a season ago and 219 so far this season, Ball has been among the most heavily used running backs in the nation.
But it isn't the tread-on-the-tire factor that has Norris concerned. It's a combination of other variables.
More important are the concussions, that he had two earlier this season. And I don't even know how many he's had in recent years. Above all, it's his vision. And for how much room those Wisconsin offensive linemen create for him, for him not be able to see those lanes and runs, that could be an issue.
Despite the drawbacks, there's plenty to like about Ball. He breaks more tackles than just about any running back in the country.
He's also a fantastic receiving option out of the backfield. During his college career, Ball has 58 receptions for 591 yards and six touchdowns, He also has rushed for more than 4,000 yards, making him one of the most decorated players in college football history.
Under head coach Chip Kelly, Oregon is gaining a reputation for churning out speedster running backs.
There's LaMichael James, who was drafted into the NFL this past season, and now Ducks sprinter DeAnthony Thomas.
Then there's Kenjon Barner. To be fair, Barner has plenty of speed to burn, but he's also better at grinding out the tough yards than some of the other Oregon backs.
"A ton of his runs do drift toward the sidelines, but that happens to a lot of college runners," said Norris. "But if a run does go between the tackles, he's not just going to dance and go, he's going to hit it."
Despite the Oregon pedigree and name recognition, Barner is perhaps further down the scouting rankings than many fans might expect.
"When that lane is stopped, when there's someone in his way, I do think he gets more tentative, between the tackles I should say," said Norris. "That's when the issues come up."
At this point in time, Barner might be a mid-round draft choice, but he's definitely picking up steam, especially coming off his most recent effort against USC when he rushed for 321 yards.
Barner has five consecutive games with more than 100 rushing yards and is placing himself firmly in the discussion for the Heisman Trophy.
Brian Carriveau is a Green Bay Packers featured columnist at Bleacher Report. All quotations were gathered first hand.