The Cincinnati Bengals could use the 2013 NFL draft to round out the already solid offense in place by finding the right prospect at the running back position—which could turn out to be former Alabama running back Eddie Lacy.
Lacy had an electric career while at Alabama and fits the bill for what the Bengals need to effectively run the West Coast offense. He rushed for over 1,300 yards and 17 touchdowns a year ago before declaring for the draft.
Cincinnati attempted to address the position before the 2012 season by signing BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who turned out a productive season with 1,094 yards and six touchdowns.
The problem with Green-Ellis was his 3.9 yards-per-carry average and lack of burst behind what was a stellar offensive line. According to ProFootballFocus. he ranked as the No. 56 overall running back last season with his only positive rating coming in pass-blocking. The list ranked only 60 backs.
Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden has said he wants to find a "gamebreaker" to help the offense; whether that comes via the draft or free agency has yet to be determined. (via bengals.com)
If the Bengals elect to upgrade via the draft, the search should start and end with Lacy. According to NFL.com's Josh Norris, some evaluators in NFL circles believe Lacy is a better prospect than both Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson:
Wow. Bucky Brooks says he was told by one evaluator that they consider Eddie Lacy a better prospect than Trent Richardson and Mark Ingram.— Josh Norris (@JoshNorris) February 23, 2013
While it is debatable if Lacy is a better prospect than last year's No. 4 overall pick, one thing is for sure—Lacy pops on film and runs with an authoritative style similar to Richardson's.
Bleacher Report's Ryan Lownes provided a scouting report that perfectly breaks down Lacy's skill set that makes him worth a first-round pick.
Not only is Lacy a punishing runner, he is nimble on his feet with the football and can make defenders miss in the open field. He displays great vision and can catch passes out of the backfield. His prowess as a pass-blocker will enable him to be an every-down back at the NFL level.
Lacy weighed in at 5'11" and 231 pounds at the scouting combine (Andrew Gribble), but is a bit heavy as he has been recovering from a hamstring injury that will hold him out of participating in the events (ESPN).
While it is true Lacy was fortunate enough to run behind an absurdly good offensive line at Alabama, he should feel right at home in Cincinnati. The Bengals had one of the best offensive lines in the league last year (ProFootballFocus) and could again if they manage to retain free-agent right tackle Andre Smith.
Lacy has also flashed an ability to excel even when his offensive line struggled. Here's Rotoworld's Evan Silva breaking down how Lacy performed against top-tier competition at the second level of defenses:
Lacy consistently won in open-field one-on-one situations in the four games I viewed. I charted him with 16 "wins" compared to just four "losses" when he hit green grass and encountered the initial defender. [Compare this to UNC's Giovani Bernard, whom I charted at 5-of-13 (38.5 percent) one-on-one in the open field.] Lacy forced missed tackles with both power and elusiveness. He is blessed with exceptionally light feet for a big man, and his trademark move is the lateral shake to set up a spin. Lacy made LSU S Eric Reid, Notre Dame LB Manti Te'o, Arkansas LB Alonzo Highsmith, and Notre Dame S Zeke Motta all look genuinely silly on tape. Those four defenders will play on Sundays.
Cincinnati employs the West Coast offense and already has most of the critical elements in place. There's A.J. Green, one of the best wide receivers in football. There is Mohamed Sanu, a receiver who can line up at multiple positions and provide a wrinkle as a running back a la Percy Harvin.
There is also a slew of other receivers such as the ideal slot man and gadget player in Andrew Hawkins, who could split time with Sanu. Marvin Jones could end up being the No. 2 receiver if his brief playing time last season was any indication.
Quarterback Andy Dalton had a down year in 2012 but has the arm and decision-making ability to make the offense work when backed by a solid running game and other options outside of Green.
Lacy could be the missing piece. He is the all-around back Gruden and his staff have been looking to acquire. With the No. 21 overall selection in the first round and two second-round picks, including the No. 3 overall pick in the second round, the Bengals will have plenty of chances to nab Lacy.
A lot can happen between now and the NFL draft, but one thing is certain—Lacy will be off the board in the late first-early second.
Lacy is a back who figures to have a wildly successful NFL career if he lands in the right situation. He is not the fastest back in the draft by any means, but has a complete set of skills that fit the bill for Cincinnati.
The Bengals do not have a lot of glaring issues to address if free agency goes as planned. One area that could use a long-term solution rather than another stop-gap is running back.
If Lacy is there for one of the Bengals' first two picks come April, head coach Marvin Lewis and Co. would be wise to pull the trigger. It is not often a team as well off and ready to take the next step has a chance at fixing a clear issue on the roster with a top prospect.
The Bengals have that chance, and his name could be Eddie Lacy.