Giovani Bernard or Eddie Lacy, Who Takes the Cake as Top RB in the NFL Draft?

Brandon HolsteinFeatured ColumnistFebruary 13, 2013

Giovani Bernard or Eddie Lacy, Who Takes the Cake as Top RB in the NFL Draft?

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    QUICK! 

    Best baseball movie of all-time, Bull Durham or Field of Dreams?

    Okay, maybe you're more of a Major League fan?

    Or, better yet, you prefer a classic like The Sandlot?

    Point is, we all have our preferences when it comes to all-time great sports' movies. What we may constitute to be a great movie because of its unique story and ability to capture our imaginations, may not be the case for someone else.

    The same came be said when it comes to evaluating players in the NFL Draft. Tiny degrees of separation lead us to favoring one player over another, for reasons we are not even entirely sure of. All we know is it matters to us, and because of that we are ready to cross-check anyone who say's or thinks otherwise!

    We are picky and we know what we like—and let's face it, we are stubborn to a degree when someone does not share the same opinion as us. It's human nature to disagree, however debate is truly one of the best ways to fuel our creative spirits and get us all into thinking outside the box.

    After all, it was legendary coach Bill Walsh who coined the phrase, "If we are all thinking alike, then no one is thinking."

    Two players causing the biggest discord this year are running backs Giovani Bernard and Eddie Lacy. Because of their contrasting running styles, popular opinion seems to be split on who is the best and teams will certainly value these two players differently come draft day—as they should.

    One only has to look to this year's Super Bowl game between Jim and John Harbaugh to understand why finding players that fit your scheme is imperative to winning.

    We may be splitting hairs here with these two prospects, however football is and will always be a game of inches, where one key decision can have drastic implications and ultimately be the difference between destiny or despair.

    So who is the best overall running back in this class? Well, that depends on what you are looking for...

The Case for Giovani Bernard

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    There's not much to complain about with a back like Giovani Bernard.

    At what appears to be a small 5'10", 205 pound undersized back, Bernard packs a punch with his squatty and well-developed frame.

    His compact build is a blessing in disguise, as his low center of gravity and excellent balance gives him a natural advantage to stay on his feet and consistently fall forward to create yards after contact.

    The buck doesn't stop there, however, as Bernard routinely combines his playing strength with an excellent blend of patience, vision and lateral agility as well.

    Bernard's ability to read his blocks and set up defenders is second to none, and his cut-back quickness and excellent footwork is just one of the reasons he is such a dangerous open field runner and return threat.

    Add to this the fact that Bernard can also pass protect and catch the ball out of the backfield, and its no wonder why Bernard is so valued, despite what many assume is an inferior sized back who lacks long speed.

    Typically a back that gives up nearly 30-40 pounds to opposing linebackers will struggle when asked to pass protect. Bernard, however, refuses to back down, consistently showing clean technique and competitive desire to take blocks head on.

    There's a reason why Giovani Bernard is considered one of the best backs in the draft. Not only is he a highly dynamic and versatile player—averaging just under 200 all-purpose yards per game—but he is also one of the most complete and fundamentally sound as well.

    Great backs come in different shapes and sizes, and Giovani Bernard is assuredly an exception to the rule that all NFL running backs must be big, fast, strong and physical. 

    Watching Bernard play, it's easy to see similarities and make comparisons to another talented back who was once also considered too small when coming out of Rutgers.

    Of course I'm speaking of Ray Riceand I'm sure we all know how that's turning out.

The Case for Eddie Lacy

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    Comes from a BCS school.

    Check.

    Played in what is arguably the most talented conference in college football.

    Check.

    Performed admirably in key games and produced on the biggest of stages.

    Check.

    Everyone knows the key role Eddie Lacy played in helping Alabama win a second straight national championship. They also understand he is a bad, bad man, who runs with violent intentions and is not the guy you want to see charging toward you like a battering ram.

    Determined, powerful and balanced, it's no joke—Eddie Lacy is without a doubt one strong dude to take down one-on-one.

    However, it's not just his downhill, full head of steam, derailed-train-type running style that suits our fancy—but also his underrated agility and footwork that leaves evaluators speechless and taken back to the days of another back named Eddie...George, that is.

    Although he may not have the same freakish ability of George, it goes without saying that Lacy displays the same type of physicality and light feet that makes for such a deadly combination. 

    Lacy's surging running style and ability to also change directions and run with good forward lean and balance is very rare for such a big back.

    At 6'0", 220 pounds, Lacy displays qualities that make him more than just a straight-line power back. He's also got one-cut potential to square his pads to the line of scrimmage and burst upfield at a moment's notice, with some wiggle in the process.

    Though he's not quite the receiver or dynamic overall threat that Giovani Bernard is, there are things Lacy can do that are simply impossible for other backs to accomplish—and that makes him a completely unique and dangerous back in his own right.

The Case Against Giovani Bernard

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    There's a new trend emerging in the NFL, and it's not good for collegiate running backs looking to cash in and become their team's feature back. 

    The value of the running back position has been devalued so much in the NFL that teams can now hit the jackpot with late round guys like Alfred Morris or even undrafted players, as was the case with Arian Foster.

    These concerns about longevity and durability are well warranted, considering the relatively short shelf lives of today's NFL running backs and potentially career altering injuries that can strike down even the most talented of collegiate runners like Marcus Lattimore and Ray Graham.

    Unfortunately, we are likely to start to see yet another trend begin to emerge in the collegiate ranks. As Giovani Bernard and Rutgers running back Jawan Jamison proved this year—if you're three years removed and have enough good tape, it's probably smart to make the jump.

    In Bernard's case this move makes sense as his value was not likely to change between this year or next, no matter what he was able to accomplish due to his injury history and smaller stature.

    In 2010 Bernard missed his entire true freshman season with an ACL injury and had troubles again just this past season with a separate knee aliment that caused him to miss time.

    The inability to stay healthy and durability concerns are always factored in and especially troublesome for smaller backs like Bernard. 

    Because of this, despite Bernard's upside and dynamic versatility, there is still plenty of cautions to consider before spending a high draft pick on a running back who has gotten nicked up in the past.

The Case Against Eddie Lacy

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    Although he's usually the one dishing out the blows and punishment, its not crazy to think that Eddie Lacy's violent and aggressive running style will eventually catch up with him. 

    I mean, how many hits and collisions can one player handle before he starts to break down physically—especially a running back?

    Certainly there is only so many times you can run through the thorn brush before the pain starts to set in—and Lacy has already begun to show signs of deterioration with nagging foot injuries.

    The other big knock against Lacy comes from the luxury he had in running behind one of the most talented offensive lines the SEC and college football has ever seen.

    Between road-grader Chance Warmack, technician/utility man Barrett Jones and powerful in-line blocking D.J. Fluker, its safe to say that Eddie Lacy had it better than most backs out there.

    While this issue is hardly in Lacy's realm of control, it is something that warrants consideration, as all three of the aforementioned Alabama offensive linemen are expected to be top-50 picks.

    In addition to this, Lacy must also prove at the NFL Combine next week that he has enough straight-line speed to break away, as there are questions in regard to his big-play ability.

    Nobody doubts what Eddie Lacy can do, it's what his ceiling will look like after all the potentially adverse risks associated with his play are factored in.

Final Say

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    Combine the talents of both Giovani Bernard and Eddie Lacy and you have a nearly unstoppable force of speed and power.

    Unfortunately, this realm of thinking is both unpractical and inefficient—but we can always dream, right?

    When it comes down to it, teams must ultimately trust their guts and base their decisions on past experiences and specific preferences they value in a runner.

    Do you go with the grinder who can wear down a defense, extend drives and close out games by breaking the will power of his opponent?

    Or, do you value the elusive back with versatility and the added ability to create mismatches and score from anywhere on the field?

    That's the beauty of the NFL draft—there simply is no right or wrong answer. 

    What works for one team may not work for another. Just as, what appears to be a good fit for one player may turn out to be an entirely different story all together. 

    John and Jim Harbaugh know and understand this all too well—it's just one of the reasons their teams were able to make it all the way to the Super Bowl. 

    Difference is, John got Bernard Pierce in the third, whereas Jim spent a second rounder on LaMichael James in last year's draft. Hardly the ultimate reason the Ravens won and the 49er's lost; however, one can't argue which rookie runner had the bigger overall impact for his team and played the bigger role.

    So who will take the cake as this year's top back in the NFL Draft?

    Eddie Lacy or Giovani Bernard?

    Again, that all depends on what you're looking for.