The 2013 NFL draft is less than three months away, and the top running backs in the class are beginning to separate themselves from the pack.
There's no Heisman winner at the position, but there are a few players ready to come in and perform at the next level.
For the third straight year, the University of Alabama is expected to have a running back selected in the first round. Eddie Lacy is turning pro after helping his team win back-to-back championships.
Montee Ball leaves the University of Wisconsin as one of the best backs to ever play college football. He set numerous records in his four-year career with the Badgers.
The top of the class features several good running backs. Who will be the first back off the board?
He didn't have the type of career that former Alabama running backs Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson had, but he has the talent to be a first-round pick.
Like Richardson, he keeps his legs moving to pick up extra yards. He can get out of tackles with his strength or by his athletic moves.
Lacy finished his junior season with 1,322 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns.
In the BCS National Championship Game against Notre Dame, he was named the Offensive Most Valuable Player. He finished the game with 140 yards on 20 carries and added a touchdown. The junior also caught a touchdown in the blowout.
The Crimson Tide were the best team in football, and Lacy was one of the main pieces to the offense.
If there's an award for a running back in college football, Montee Ball probably has it. Not counting the Heisman, he won pretty much every accolade.
The two-time All-American won the Big Ten Running Back of the Year twice and the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, made two All-Big Ten teams and won the Doak Walker Award.
His 77 rushing touchdowns are the most in the history of college football, and his 39 touchdowns as a junior tied him with Barry Sanders for the most in a single season.
Records in college doesn't guarantee success, but Ball looks like he's ready for the next level.
The 22-year-old can change directions easily and get to the outside. He doesn't have great speed, but he can fight for the extra yards.
With over 300 carries in each of the past two seasons, he has absorbed a lot of hits already. Despite all of those carries, he only lost two fumbles in his career. Ball security is the key at the next level, especially early in a player's career.
Overlooked during his career at the University of North Carolina, Giovani Bernard could be a steal in the draft.
As a redshirt freshman, he was named a Freshman All-American and made the All-ACC first team (also made it as a redshirt sophomore). In his second year playing, he won the ACC Offensive Player of the Year and was a third team All-American.
Bernard ran for over 1,200 yards in both seasons, and he averaged nearly seven yards per carry in his final season.
He has also shown the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. The running back caught at least 45 passes in both seasons in Chapel Hill.
Unlike the other two prospects mentioned above, Bernard can also return punts. He is a multi-purpose player. He was fourth in the nation with 198 all-purpose yards per game, according to CBSSports.com.
Had the Tar Heels been eligible, they would have challenged Florida State for a shot at a BCS bowl. Playing in that game would have helped boost his draft stock.
Lacy and Ball have each played in at least two BCS bowls and had the chance to show the nation what they can do. Both backs have had great careers at their respective schools, and they should both turn into good NFL running backs.
Bernard, on the other hand, has been overlooked for much of his career. He is a riskier choice, but he has tremendous upside. Lacy and Ball are both bigger than Bernard, so they are better prepared to take a pounding at the next level.
While the two well-known players are traditional backs, Bernard has the ability to catch passes and return punts. He gives a team versatility and would be a nice change of pace for a team that already has a power back.
Lacy will be the first one off the board, then Bernard with Ball shortly after.
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