NFL Draft 2013: Grading the Potential First-Round Running Backs

Charlie Potter@@Charlie_PotterContributor IIIMarch 26, 2013

NFL Draft 2013: Grading the Potential First-Round Running Backs

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    The 2013 NFL draft is now less than a month away, and teams are scrambling to decide which player to choose with their first-round pick on April 25.

    This year’s draft is top heavy with offensive linemen and defensive players, but there are plenty of running backs who deserve to be chosen in the first round. But many teams are not projected to choose a running back in the first round, according to a panel from NFL.com.

    Last year, three running backs were selected on the first day, with Alabama’s Trent Richardson being selected third overall by the Cleveland Browns.

    This year the crop is significantly deeper with some familiar names at the top of the list.

    Here we grade the backs that have the potential to crack the first round and carry the rock for an NFL team.

Giovani Bernard, North Carolina

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    “Gio” Bernard is a smaller running back, standing at 5’8” and weighing 202 pounds, but his quickness and pass-catching ability will make him attractive to some of the more pass-happy teams in the league.

    In 2012, Bernard rushed for 1,228 yards and 12 touchdowns. He also accumulated 490 receiving yards with five scores. He’s a very versatile back who is capable of breaking a big run at any moment with a 4.53 second 40-yard dash time.

    He can also be a factor in the return game. Last season, he returned 16 punts for 263 yards and two touchdowns.

    The only question mark or red flag about Bernard is the health of his right knee. In 2010, he tore his ACL and was forced to redshirt the remainder of the season. He showed signs of discomfort in the early goings of the 2012 season but fought through the pain.

    If he can persuade teams that his knee is not an issue, Bernard has a good shot of breaking into the first round.

    Grade: A

Eddie Lacy, Alabama

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    Lacy finally got his chance to lead Alabama’s backfield last season after sitting behind Trent Richardson on the depth chart in 2011. He still split carries with freshman T.J. Yeldon, but finished the season with 1,322 yards and 17 touchdowns.

    Lacy is a 6’0”, 231-pound workhorse who is agile for the power running style he uses. His patented spin move shows the balance and fluidity he is capable of achieving when he is not powering through arm tackles.

    Most running backs are worn out toward the end of the year, but Lacy finished the 2012 season with three consecutive 100-yard games and six total scores. He had two monster games in the SEC Championship game and the BCS National Championship game.

    His strong, churning legs and bigger frame make him desirable to NFL teams. Having been coached by Nick Saban and developing at a business-like program like Alabama benefits Lacy when compared to other running backs.

    He needs to improve on his pass-blocking, but that should not keep him out of the first round.

    Grade: A

Montee Ball, Wisconsin

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    Ball was a touchdown machine at Wisconsin. As a four-year contributor, Ball racked up 77 rushing touchdowns during his career as a Badger, 33 of them coming in his 2011 Heisman Trophy-finalist season.

    Although he did not put up the record-breaking numbers he did in 2011, last season was still a successful year for Ball. He rushed for 1,830 yards and 22 touchdowns in his senior season.

    But the one downside to his lofty touchdown totals is the amount of carries Ball received at Wisconsin. Last season, he carried the ball 356 times, 49 times more than in 2011. He has a lot of mileage on his legs already, but has shown he is durable enough to still perform at a high level.

    He is a patient back who waits for his offensive line to open up a hole for him to squeeze through. He’s a fluid pass-catcher out of the backfield, but he’s also not afraid to stand in the pocket and provide extra blocking for his quarterback. That will transfer well to the NFL style of play.

    Don’t be surprised if Ball’s durability pushes him into the top 32 picks.

    Grade: B+