Experts have concluded that the 2013 NFL draft doesn't possess that one can't-miss running back prospect. They say "there are no Trent Richardsons or Doug Martins" in this class.
There is no doubt in my mind, especially after sifting through hundreds of hours of prospect videos, that while these experts might be right about the running back class not being "top heavy," there are going to be a number of solid every-down running backs enter the NFL in 2013.
After all, where did most of us rank Alfred Morris last April? He wasn't even on the radar of scouts late in the draft. Once the Washington Redskins made him the 173rd overall pick, many on the outside asked a simple question. Who?
The Florida Atlanta product went on to record over 1,600 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns in helping Washington earn a trip to the postseason. I fully expect a running back out of the group of mid-round prospects to make a similar type of impact in 2013.
That being said, there is a consensus No. 1 running back in the class. Former Alabama standout Eddie Lacy would have been considered a first-round lock if it wasn't for a series of unfortunate events that forced him to miss the Senior Bowl and combine. Now he is considered a second-round prospect.
This definitely doesn't take away what Lacy brings to the table and how he can make an immediate impact in 2013. Today's article is going to focus on why I have him as the top running back in the 2013 NFL draft class.
Balance is key for running backs in the NFL. If they're able to maintain a strong level of balance at the line of scrimmage and combine that with raw power, they are going to be in a much better situation to drive the pile and gain the tough yardage between the hashes.
This is something I noticed with Lacy when I watched tape on him over the last few months. While not incredibly low to the ground, Lacy's feet and lower-body movement enables him to fend off the tackles of stronger linebackers and gain those most difficult yards.
If you notice the photo above, Lacy does a great job of creating holes by himself. While those Crimson Tide offensive linemen gave him a lot of green to run through, Lacy's legs and balance enable him to run through what promises to be smaller holes against superior competition in the NFL.
Our very own Ryan Lownes had the following to say about Lacy in his scouting report back in February:
A punishing downhill runner, Eddie Lacy is at his best running between the tackles. With a combination of power, vision, patience and balance, he shows the capability to grind out the tough yards and move the chains.
Strength is something that all teams look for in a running back. Lacy showed that he had this strength to a national audience when Alabama trampled Notre Dame in the championship game this past January.
When looking at the above video it is important to note just how darn good the Notre Dame defensive line was in 2012. It had four future NFL players and some of the strongest run-stuffers in all of college football. While some of that was negated by an equally impressive Crimson Tide offensive line, this video gives you just a sampling of how strong Lacy is.
His legs keep on churning at the point of contact, which makes it nearly impossible for a single defender to bring him down. Even when Notre Dame attempted to gang tackle Lacy, he would pile drive the line an extra yard or two.
It's key to not get wrapped up in highlight films when it comes to scouting NFL draft prospects. That being said, what you see above from Lacy is something that he consistently did against upper echelon talent in the SEC. He can literally run over a defender between the line of scrimmage. In this, Lacy reminds me a great deal of Adrian Peterson.
You simply will not see him thrown backward at the point of initial contact. This makes him an obvious choice to be a workhorse, much like many experts thought with fellow Alabama product Mark Ingram back in 2011.
As it relates to overall play, I have Lacy as a higher-rated prospect than I had Ingram a couple of years back.
Lacy is a fall-forward running back. This means that whoever drafts the Alabama product can expect him to handle the short-yardage duties. He will get you that yard or two on 3rd-and-short. In essence, this saves the team from having to use a roster spot on a "bulldozer" as I call them.
By indicating this, I am not saying that Lacy is a reincarnation of Mike Tolbert or Anthony Dixon. Instead, his wide array of pro-ready talents make him a much better all-around option. It's the idea that you are getting a two-for-one deal.
Pad level increases a running back's ability to go out there and drive the pile. I know this has been a consistent theme throughout this article, but it's something to really look at when scouting Lacy. By virtue of his running style, his pads make contact with the defenders before the rest of his body. This enables Ingram to beat the would-be tackler to the point and drive him back. You couple this with pure strength and it's easy to tell why Lacy is the consensus No. 1 running back in the draft.
Another important aspect of success in the NFL for a running back is pass protection. This is what separates two-down players from full-time players. When it comes to Lacy, he excels in pass protection. He does a great job picking up blitzes from the outside and doesn't get too high at the point of contact. Equally as important, Lacy's field vision enables him to understand what is going on prior to the snap.
If Lacy is tasked with staying in the backfield to protect in the huddle, he rarely misses an assignment and usually stays with the guy he is told to fend off. Of course, it doesn't hurt that Lacy possesses the strength to take on larger defenders and the lateral speed to loop around and block edge-rushers.
A team that is in need of an every-down running back such as the New York Jets, St. Louis Rams and Pittsburgh Steelers could take a long look at Lacy because of this particular strength.
That is probably the best comparison anyone could have drawn to Lacy. Jamal Lewis had the ability to completely take over a game with his intelligence on the field, pass-blocking ability and strength. This is what I see from Lacy.
If you want to compare other running backs in the class, Giovani Bernard comes the closest to Lacy. His receiving ability and field vision is what separates the North Carolina product from the other prospects in the draft.
With that in mind, Lacy seems to put himself in another category because of all the skills he combines. He possesses surprising speed, can get to the second gear in relatively short order and will not be brought down behind the line of scrimmage a vast majority of the time.
Think about the following statement for a second.
If a running back can gain four yards per rush without being brought down behind the line of scrimmage a vast majority of the time, he is doing his team more of a service than the Chris Johnson types. It might not be as pretty on tape, but it sure the heck is more effective.
|Rush||Yards||AVG||TD||1st Down PCT|
If a running back can have that type of success on short-yardage situations, he is going to be a damn good professional.
A lot of "experts" want to bring up the fact that Lacy was playing behind NFL-caliber blockers at Alabama, but that is discounted because of the competition he was playing against in the SEC. It isn't like Alabama was playing against Arizona State and Oregon State in the Pac-12.
There are, however, worries about Lacy's ability to make an impact at the next level as a regular running back. He has yet to participate in a pre-draft event, which has led to concerns about durability within the scouting community.
Daniel Jeremiah @MoveTheSticks
Eddie Lacy reminds me of Jamal Lewis. Lewis had more top speed but they are both violent, angry runners.2013-1-8 04:01:52
In addition, Lacy lacks the ability to follow lead blockers and isn't the greatest pass catcher. Both of these things may come back to haunt him at the next level.
That being said, we aren't comparing him to Trent Richardson or Doug Martin. If Lacy had entered the 2012 NFL draft, an impossibility, he would have likely been the third running back off the board.
With the quantity of decent running back options available in 2013, some may make the decision to wait in order to find a steal later.
While that is a solid plan in today's NFL, Lacy is a step above every other running back prospect in the draft. This alone should tell us what we need to know about the Alabama product.
Any team that nabs Lacy in the late first or early second will get itself a running back who can compile over 1,200 yards and double-digit scores on a consistent basis.
This is why he is my No. 1 overall running back prospect in 2013.
Vincent Frank is an NFL featured columnist here at Bleacher Report. He was hired prior to the 2011 season and couldn't be happier working with a great group of individuals here. In addition, Vincent is the head sports editor over at eDraft ,co-host of eDraft Sports Radio, which airs every Monday and Wednesday from 3 to 6 p.m. ET and is a fantasy writer for Pro Football Focus
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