There aren’t any top-10 running back prospects in the 2013 NFL draft class, but that doesn’t mean struggling teams won’t be able to find help at the position.
If we learned anything last April, it’s that no pick is guaranteed, as Trent Richardson, Cleveland’s No. 3 overall selection, was outplayed by Doug Martin. Martin, of course, was picked at the bottom of the first round.
Teams like Dallas, Cincinnati and Arizona have all battled running back injuries and inconsistencies at the position over the past couple of seasons. They’re in need of running backs who can break games open with one carry as well as run hard and productively throughout a 16-game season.
Here’s a list of the top three backs who will be able to help turn some of these struggling franchises around in their first season in the league.
Giovani Bernard, North Carolina
Redshirt sophomore Giovani Bernard has been shooting up draft boards since his decision to declare for the NFL draft.
The versatile and young back proved he can help a team in a variety of ways, as he led the ACC in all-purpose yards, punt return yard average and total scoring in 2012.
Bernard’s biggest positive is that while he only played two seasons of college football, he spent time in Butch Davis’ pro-style offense. This gives him visible credentials for his ability to run between the tackles.
Overall, he’s an explosive runner with extremely quick feet in the mold of Buffalo’s C.J. Spiller. Like Spiller, he is a huge threat to catch passes out of the backfield and make big plays in space.
Johnathan Franklin, UCLA
The multi-skilled running back had a very good showing during 2013 Senior Bowl practices, demonstrating why he exploded in his senior season with 1,734 yards rushing and 13 rushing touchdowns.
While the 5’10”, 201-pound back isn’t the most bruising in this class, he is capable of delivering blows to defenders as well as taking them. He isn’t small by any means, even though he has a smaller frame and possesses excellent quickness. UCLA leaned heavily on the senior running back, and he answered by averaging 6.1 yards per carry.
Nothing he did all season was as impressive as his 194-yard outburst against Stanford in the Rose Bowl. He exhibited his excellent mix of speed, strength and lateral quickness that will make him a sought-after commodity in April’s draft.
Joseph Randle, Oklahoma State
Oklahoma State lost its quarterback and top wide receiver in the 2012 NFL draft, but Randle came back for his junior season and helped the team to stay on track. He capitalized by producing at a high level for the second season in a row, racking up 1,417 yards on the ground and scoring 14 rushing touchdowns.
Randle’s 6’0”, 200-pound frame isn’t ideal, but he could easily add more bulk in an NFL strength and conditioning program. Despite size concerns, he seemed to do a good job withstanding the workload of an every-down back in college, albeit in a conference that isn’t know for its defensive prowess.
He has the field vision to hit holes quickly and with immediacy. This allows him to accelerate quickly and early before linebackers and second- and third-level defenders can close on him. This ability is something NFL teams covet and will lead to his immediate success in the NFL.