Running backs don't have a tendency to shoot up draft boards like offensive lineman or the highly-skilled quarterback. However, with the shelf-life for an NFL RB at an all-time low and this year's class devoid of a big name star, that's exactly what could happen.
The 2013 NFL draft is home to many big names, but those big names belong to defensive stars and the occasional offensive stud that will try and help change the franchise to which he is arriving.
Running backs aren't really there when it comes to those offensive studs, especially since there isn't one big name that jumps off the page at you. Alabama RB Eddie Lacy and North Carolina RB Giovani Bernard headline the position heading into the NFL Combine, but they are far from the only options for teams to consider.
The NFL has officially invited a new crop of players to the 2013 combine, and during the event we'll get a chance to see what kind of measurables and attributes that the running backs entering the draft pool have when it comes to impressing NFL scouts.
Here's a look at three guys that will start to shoot up draft boards after their appearance at the combine, or at the very least make scouts jot some significantly longer notes when filling out a profile for the team board.
UCLA RB Johnathan Franklin
From top to bottom, Franklin (5'10", 201 pounds) has NFL back written all over him.
His current head coach, Jim Mora, Jr., has NFL experience as a head coach and his former head coach, Rick Neuheisel, also served in significant positions in the NFL before joining the Bruins' coaching staff.
He has also played for UCLA for the past four seasons, but hasn't had to carry the load like a Marcus Lattimore or Stepfan Taylor type. That being said, he has plenty of experience to boast as he prepares for the combine, including a 2012 season in which he ran for 1,734 yards and compiled 15 total TDs.
When his pro day and combine invite come to fruition, the first thing that scouts will notice is his lack of power, but that can be fixed with a few more pounds of muscle. At worst, he should be in the mix for the third-down back job wherever he goes, a sentiment that is shared by college scout Josh Liskiewitz on Twitter:
Don't think Johnathan Franklin has the power/explosiveness to be a feature back, but he's going to be a VG 3rd down back - love his competes— Josh Liskiewitz (@JoshLiskiewitz) February 3, 2013
Mark it down—Franklin is projected as a mid-round back by many but will end up selected well before the end of the third (maybe even the second) after he jumps out at scouts at the combine.
Auburn RB Onterio McCalebb
The former national champion and absolute speedster didn't get much burn in 2012, as the Tigers were busy trying to convert back to a more pro-style offense under former head coach Gene Chizik.
It's really a shame that he's graduating from school, because returning coach Gus Malzahn would have had a field day moving him around in different formations, different positions on the field and in the special teams game.
NFL coaches will capitalize on Auburn's misfortune.
McCalebb (5'10", 164 pounds) has been clocked as low as 4.28 in the 40-yard dash (h/t NFLDraftScout.com), and has played all over the field for the Tigers during his time with Auburn. He had a kick return for a touchdown in 2012, and would likely be a kick-returning specialist as he learned the other ins and outs of the position.
Much like Dexter McCluster in Kansas City, McCalebb could be an impact player strictly because he would always be one of the fastest guys on the field. A hamstring injury forced him out of the Senior Bowl (h/t AL.com), but if he posts elite speed at the combine he'll be worthy of a mid-round pick that a team has some room to gamble with.
Michigan State RB Le'Veon Bell
He went from Heisman contender to falling out of the national talk all together, but Bell's size (6'2", 244 pounds) will place him in the conversation with many teams because of his blend of raw power and athleticism.
Those kind of measurements will keep people interested, as will his 40 time. If he runs a good mark, then you can bet he'll be a second-round lock for a team like the New York Giants or St. Louis Rams—both of which are expected to fill holes at the position via the draft.
What kind of runner do you see Bell developing into at the NFL level?
Bell led the nation in carries with 382 for an offense that really missed Kirk Cousins, but still managed to contribute 1,783 yards with defenses keying on his production and allowing a freshman signal-caller to beat them.
After his huge game against Boise State to open the season, Bell cooled off considerably, but he has a high ceiling as an NFL back, and there will be plenty of teams that inquire into his character and football IQ as we head down the stretch towards the April meet-up of all 32 teams.
He's not getting much press right now, but Bell could be the steal of the draft if he goes in the second round. It starts with his pro day and the combine, but there's no doubt he and these other two backs have the skill sets to pull it off.
Each year, plenty of prospects do.