Which Late-Round RB Will Be This Year's Alfred Morris?
In the 2013 NFL draft, for the first time since 1963, no running backs were selected in the first round.
There are number of reasons why the running back position has become devalued in the draft, and one of those reasons is that teams have been able to find viable starters at the position in later rounds.
That was demonstrated very clearly a year ago, when sixth-round pick Alfred Morris of the Washington Redskins finished the season second in the NFL in rushing, gaining more than 1,600 yards.
This year, 15 running backs were selected by teams hoping to find such a diamond in the rough from the beginning of the fifth round on.
Granted, there's no guarantee that any of those backs will have the kind of rookie success that Morris did, but here's a look at a handful of the leading candidates to be this year's late-round breakout.
Stepfan Taylor, Arizona Cardinals
In the fifth round of the 2013 NFL draft, the Arizona Cardinals selected Stanford running back Stepfan Taylor, who rushed for more than 1,500 yards and 13 touchdowns for the Cardinal a year ago.
The 5'9", 214-pound Taylor is a straight-ahead runner and capable receiver whom NFL.com calls "possibly the safest back in this class due to his ability to not only pass protect, but to catch the football."
Granted, Taylor isn't exceptionally fast, exceptionally strong or exceptionally agile, but the same thing was said about a certain Florida Atlantic running back when he entered the NFL last year.
That back was Alfred Morris.
Add in that the only players standing between Taylor and significant playing time are the oft-injured Ryan Williams and the oft-unimpressive Rashard Mendenhall, and there's a good chance Taylor will get the opportunity to produce this season.
Joseph Randle, Dallas Cowboys
Oklahoma State running back Joseph Randle topped 1,400 yards on the ground for the Cowboys as a junior, gaining more than five yards a carry and scoring 14 touchdowns.
Now the 6'0", 204-pounder will attempt to carry that production over to whole new bunch of Cowboys.
Randle doesn't have great speed, but he runs with authority and decisiveness and is a solid pass-catcher out of the backfield.
The Dallas Cowboys selected Randle in the fifth round to serve as DeMarco Murray's backup, and while Murray is the unquestioned starter, the third-year pro has also missed significant time in each of his first two seasons.
If Murray goes down again, then Randle is a player who Bleacher Report's Sigmund Bloom wrote "could make some noise if injuries force him into a larger role."
Zac Stacy, St. Louis Rams
The departure of running back Steven Jackson in free agency has left a hole atop the depth chart in St. Louis, and while it was believed that Isaiah Pead and Daryl Richardson would be fighting for the top spot at tailback for the Rams, a new name has entered the fray.
That name is Zac Stacy, who picked up more than 1,100 yards on the ground and scored double-digit touchdowns for the Vanderbilt Commodores in 2012.
Those numbers are doubly impressive given that stopping Stacy was the focal point for SEC defenses a year ago. A powerhouse Vandy ain't, and the 216-pound Stacy was easily the team's biggest offensive weapon.
Meanwhile, Pead was a massive disappointment for the Rams as a rookie, and while Richardson played well, he's not a world-beater by any stretch.
That gives Stacy, who Draft Breakdown says "fits the mold of a short, low center of gravity running back with power and quickness" a legitimate shot at significant snaps as a rookie.
Mike Gillislee, Miami Dolphins
Running back Mike Gillislee won't have to travel far to begin his NFL career.
After starring at the University of Florida, the 5'11", 208-pound Gillislee was selected in the fifth round of the 2013 NFL draft by the Miami Dolphins.
With Reggie Bush now in Detroit, there will be a new lead back in Miami this season, and Gillislee will now compete with Daniel Thomas and Lamar Miller for that role.
Gillislee, whom the NFL Network's Mike Mayock calls "an underlooked, bigger back who does everything well," gained more than 1,100 yards on the ground in 2012, averaging more than 4.7 yards a carry while scoring 10 touchdowns.
Granted, the rookie will need a phenomenal camp to overtake both Miller and Thomas on the depth chart, but given that Gillislee is a more powerful back than Miller and more explosive than Thomas, it's not out of the realm of reason.
Andre Ellington, Arizona Cardinals
It may seem a bit strange for me to say that Clemson's Andre Ellington has the best chance to become this year's late-round breakout ball-carrier, especially because there's already one Arizona Cardinals back on this list.
However, the 5'9", 199-pound Ellington, who topped 1,000 yards for the Tigers in 2012 en route to being named an All-ACC performer, has one thing that sets him apart from the other backs on this list.
Ellington has "wow" factor.
NFL.com compares Ellington to Detroit Lions running back Jahvid Best, stating that he's "very dangerous in space," and that "Ellington has flashed real speed and explosiveness over the past three years when given the opportunity."
Ellington's receiving ability should appeal to new head coach Bruce Arians, and the youngster whom Mike Mayock gave a third-round grade would appear to have been a steal for the Redbirds in the sixth round.
That's also the round that Morris was drafted in, and with a murky depth chart in the backfield in Arizona, Ellington's my pick to have the best shot at surprising the NFL in his inaugural season.