Eddie Lacy: First-Round NFL Draft Pick or 2013 Heisman Trophy Winner?

Dave RadcliffeContributor IIIJanuary 8, 2013

ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 01:  Running back Eddie Lacy #42 of the Alabama Crimson Tide celebrates following Alabama's 32-28 win over the Georgia Bulldogs to win the SEC Championship Game at the Georgia Dome on December 1, 2012 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

There was no stopping Eddie Lacy in South Beach on Monday night.

The Alabama offense set the tone early in the BCS National Championship Game, riding Lacy and the ground game to jump out to an insurmountable lead and eventually its second-straight crystal ball.

Lacy followed his dominant offensive line and broke his fair share of tackles on the way, which is saying something considering the top-tier Notre Dame defense that the Crimson Tide was facing. 

But on this night, Lacy made that defense and front seven look like that of a Division I-AA opponent, rushing the ball 20 times for 140 yards and one score while also catching a touchdown. On the season, Lacy rushed for 1,322 yards and 17 touchdowns, good for a 6.48 yards-per-carry average.

As a redshirt junior, Lacy has the choice of entering the 2013 NFL Draft or staying for his senior season in Tuscaloosa, where he would likely be one of the preseason favorites to win the Heisman Trophy.

With two National Championships—one of which he was the feature back—and a title game offensive MVP award now under his belt, there really isn't anything left for Lacy to accomplish except to compete for college football's most prestigious award.

A little more shine up on the mantle would be nice, but Eddie Lacy should skip his senior season at Alabama and declare for the NFL draft, where he could be a first-round NFL draft pick.

Lacy's stock is high—perhaps as high as it will ever be. With no clear-cut projected first-round running backs in this year's NFL draft, Lacy could potentially jump in and become the top rated incoming back in part to his performance in the National Championship Game.

The comparisons to Trent Richardson are endless; and Richardson was the third overall selection in the 2012 draft, going to the Cleveland Browns. Even though running backs don't appear to be as coveted in this year's draft, it's possible that the running back class will never be weaker than it is now.

In the NFL this season, running backs saw a bit of a resurgence. Rookie tailbacks Alfred Morris and Doug Martin both came in and did special things, with Morris ending up as the second-leading rusher behind Adrian Peterson, and Martin placing in the top five on the ground.

This can only be promising news for Lacy, and it could cause NFL front offices to reevaluate what direction they want to go in the draft.

Teams near the top of the draft—such as the Detroit Lions, Arizona Cardinals and New York Jets—could all use a new feature tailback. Obviously, these teams also have other prevalent needs, but running back is a need nonetheless.

From the viewpoint of returning to Alabama, freshman running back T.J. Yeldon is only on the upswing, and a risk of Lacy returning would be the Crimson Tide deferring to Yeldon more often, taking away carries from Lacy and hurting his draft stock.

While Lacy had four games earlier this season in which he rushed for below 60 yards, he closed out the season strong, topping 130 yards and a seven yards-per-carry average in his final three games.

A Heisman Trophy is certainly a distinct possibility if Lacy decides to return for his senior year, but look at what happened this season. Lacy didn't even receive the most Heisman hype on his own team—that honor belonged to quarterback A.J. McCarron, who just so happens to be a junior as well.

Several mock drafts don't show a team taking a running back in the first round, and Lacy had been projected as a second-round selection. However, with his performance to close out the season, especially in the National Championship Game, there's no question that his stock has risen, perhaps to as high as a first-round pick if not at least the top available running back.

While it may be more likely that Lacy wins the Heisman rather than be selected in the first round this year, the Heisman Trophy in college football, just like the MVP in the NFL, has become a quarterback’s award.

The decision isn’t all that difficult—it’s time for Lacy to take his talents to the National Football League.