Many will tell you that the running back position has been devalued in the NFL today thanks to the increased use of multiple backs and more emphasis on the passing game. While this is true, there's still a place in the NFL for a running back who can consistently pick up tough yards and wear down a defense.
Enter Eddie Lacy.
The Alabama running back has a chance to be the first player off the board at his position, but what will NFL teams see when they start breaking down film?
Power is what Lacy does best. He's built to be a road-grader in the run game, and NFL teams who need a one-cut, downhill runner will love his ability to be aggressive on the ground.
Lacy has a strong lower body, and he runs with a low enough center of gravity that his legs can power him through tacklers.
Powerful as he is, Lacy isn't a burner. His 5'10", 220-pound frame is much better suited to running over defenders as opposed to running past them. That's not to say Lacy doesn't have the ability to run away from would-be tacklers.
When Lacy gets going, he possesses enough speed to pull away in the open field. He's not shifty, but he makes up for that with an explosive quality to his running.
A poor 40-yard-dash time at the NFL Scouting Combine could hurt Lacy, but he shouldn't be expected to register much better than a low 4.5-second time. If he can meet that expectation, he will be fine.
Lacy shows very good vision in picking and choosing his spots, but he is a much better fit in a man-blocking scheme that lets him run through pre-designed holes as opposed to a zone scheme that asks him to be patient and find a crease.
Lacy may do well in a zone scheme, but he's game-day ready for a man-blocking scheme. With good balance and lower-body strength, he could quickly transition if drafted by a team like the Atlanta Falcons or Kansas City Chiefs, both of whom run said scheme.
It may not be heavily publicized, but it's worth noting that Lacy is likely leaving early because he would have likely lost carries to T.J. Yeldon in 2013. Nick Saban is a loyal coach, and Lacy has earned his stripes, but Yeldon has emerged as the best all-around running back on the team.
That, plus an already high draft stock, has put Lacy in a position where he has very little to gain by returning for his senior season.
With added carries and the risk of injury a possibility, Lacy's best place in 2013 will be in the NFL.
NFL Comparison: Kendall Hunter, San Francisco 49ers
Like Hunter, Lacy doesn't have great speed, but he's an instinctive, powerful runner who will eat up yards by lowering his head and driving through defenses. He's not a quick back who you want to get out in space. Instead, Lacy will make his money between the tackles.
NFL Draft Projection: Second Round
No running back currently carries a first-round grade on my big board, and Lacy won't change that. He does have a chance to be the first running back drafted if he can perform well at the NFL Scouting Combine and prove to teams that his powerful running style still fits in today's spread-out NFL game.