2011 NFL Draft: Rankings the Top Running Back Prospects in College Football

Keet Bailey@@KeetBaileyCorrespondent IINovember 17, 2010

BATON ROUGE, LA - NOVEMBER 06:  Mark Ingram #22 of the Alabama Crimson Tide avoids a tackle by Karnell Hatcher #37 of the Louisiana State University Tigers at Tiger Stadium on November 6, 2010 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

As the college football season starts to dwindle down, NFL Soup is preparing more and more for the NFL Draft. We are getting things set up with the running backs eligible in the 2011 draft class.

A great running back can be the difference between a Super Bowl team and a playoff team. Every team is looking for the next Chris Johnson or Adrian Peterson. Those are two running backs that seem to get five yards or more on every hand off.

Running backs are crucial to the offense for many reasons, and one of the biggest is to open up the passing game. A legit running game can often make a mediocre quarterback into a top notch passing threat.

We’ve witnessed young guys like Colt McCoy and Sam Bradford succeed because the opposing defenses have to account for the running back by putting another man in the box.

But, without further haste, NFL Soup presents its 2011 NFL Draft Running Back rankings.

1) Mark Ingram- Alabama*- 5’10" 222

There aren't many negatives when mentioning Mark Ingram. Ingram is a tough north/south runner with good acceleration. He's also an effective blocker in third down situations, and is a true every down NFL running back.

He doesn’t run out of bounds and can take the hard hits, throwing the shoulder into opposing defenders and bruising them. He can break a long touchdown at any time and has the hands to catch the ball out of the backfield.

Projection: Top 15 pick.

2) Daniel Thomas- Kansas State- 6’2" 227

One of the most physically gifted players in the NCAA, Thomas can do it all. He can run, he can catch and he can run the ball down your throat. With another great season for the mediocre Kansas State Wildcats, Thomas could solidify himself as a top running back in the entire nation, and potentially end up a firsrt round pick.

He’s extremely talented and runs hard. He’s very quick and slippery, but is also very good between the tackles.

Projection: first round.

3) LaMichael James- Oregon**- 5’9" 189

James is only a redshirt sophomore and he’s already blowing up the college world. James is averaging over 6.7 yards a rush for his young career, and he’s scoring double digit touchdowns.

He has the hands to make an impact in the passing game, but his elusive running style makes him one of the best open field running backs of the 2011 draft class. He has excellent burst up field and is a shifty runner. He could work on his north/south running ability a bit more, but he’s one of the most explosive runners in the country

Projection: first round

4) DeMarco Murray- Oklahoma- 6’1" 207

Murray is a fast running back and a very special player. However, he hasn’t been able to have the success that Oklahoma has wanted after suffering injuries in his freshman and sophomore seasons. Even then, he averaged over five yards a carry (six yards per carry as a redshirt freshman), and got into the end zone quite a bit. Murray is excellent out of the backfield as a receiver and could easily be the best overall running back in this class. His health issues are reminiscent of former Top 10 pick Adrian Peterson, but he has been known to have nagging injuries.

Projection: first round.

5) Kendall Hunter- Oklahoma State- 5’8" 197

Hunter is sneaking up on 2011 draft boards with his exceptional running ability. While he’s on the small side, he has a lot of positives that will make him a coveted running back in April.

Hunter is very quick, shifty and his best attribute is his patience in letting the blockers set up. He has a fantastic burst off the plant, often cutting off of a block and excelling up the field quickly, making defenders miss.

Projection: 2nd round

6) Shane Vereen- California*- 5’10" 204

Shane Vereen is almost identical to Jahvid Best in terms of overall ability. He’s an excellent open field runner and is a threat to make a play catching the ball out of the backfield. He’s blessed with exceptional speed, and has a knack for making defenders miss. He needs a bit of work in pass protection, but in a two running back league, he could fill a big role for many teams.

Projection: second round

7) Roy Helu Jr.- Nebraska- 6’0" 220

Say Helu to this powerful running back who has solid downhill speed. Roy Helu Jr. is a powerful downhill runner who has the speed to break a play into the secondary. He’s had a stellar career consistently breaking big runs. He’s a disciplined runner who can also make an impact in the passing game. Helu Jr. is one of the better overall running backs in the 2011 NFL Draft.

Projection: third round

 8) Jacquizz Rodgers- Oregon State*- 5’7" 191

Rodgers is a shifty runner who can make plays out of the backfield. He’s a bit on the small side, but has the speed to take it the distance. Rodgers utilizes his small stature in sneaking between the tackles and is often hard to spot.

His explosiveness gives him the ability to break a long run in the open field, and he makes tacklers miss with his agility when he’s got green in front of him

Projection: third round

9) John Clay- Wisconsin*- 6’1" 255

Clay is a big, punishing north/south running back. His 255 pounds make his speed just mediocre, and he draws a lot of comparisons from former Wisconsin standout Ron Dayne. Clay is not an every down back and struggles in pass protection, but he's a Brandon Jacobs type guy who finds the red zone. If you try to tackle this guy head on, you will be punished as he will lower his shoulder

Projection: third round

10) Noel Devine- West Virginia- 5’8" 180

Devine is a slippery runner who has the initial burst to get into the secondary quickly. He can be a force in the passing game as he can catch four to five balls a game and make plays after the catch.

He’s a great screen runner and has the ability to be a home run threat with his top end speed. Despite his lack of size, he doesn’t go down as easy as expected, often breaking arm tackles with ease and driving his legs.

Projection: third round

11) Evan Royster- Penn State- 6’1" 229

Royster has been a reliable running back for Penn State in his career. He’s not very fast, but he’s a powerful downhill runner

Projection: fourth round

12) Darren Evans – Virginia Tech*- 6’0" 224

Evans is a bigger back with good speed once he reaches the second tier of the defense. He’s has solid patience and can break a long gain on every touch.

Projection: fourth round

13) Delone Carter – Syracuse- 5’10" 215

Carter is a smaller guy with decent speed. He is good between the tackles and can break tackles with amazing balance

Projection: fourth round

14) Graig Cooper- Miami (Fl.)- 6’0" 205

Cooper is an underrated runner with excellent vision who makes good cuts off his blocks. He never lit the NCAA up in rush stats in a crowded backfield.

Projection: fourth round

15) Allen Bradford- USC- 6’0" 233

Bradford is a bigger back who is excellent between the tackles. He’s a tough runner that doesn’t go down on the first tackle often

Projection: fourth round

16) Ryan Williams- Virginia Tech**- 5’10" 202

Williams is a surprisingly powerful runner with the speed to break a play outside. He has excellent hands out of the backfield as well

Projection: fifth round

17) Mikel Leshoure – Illinois*- 6’1" 230

LeShoure is a big back in the mold of his predecessor Rashard Mendenhall. He is tough between the tackles, but lacks ideal speed

Projection: fifth round

18) Caleb King- Georgia*- 5’11" 217

King has an excellent blend of size and speed, making him a versatile option in the Bulldog offense.

Projection: fifth round

19) Vai Taua- Nevada- 5’10" 220

Taua is a hard nosed north/south runner who doesn’t go down very easily. He has decent speed, but lacks explosiveness

Projection: sixth round

20) Shaun Draughn – North Carolina- 6’0" 205

Draughn is a decent third down back who can block well and catch out of the backfield. He struggles between the tackles

Projection: sixth round

21) Mario Fanning- Auburn- 5’11" 225, fifth

22) Da’Rel Scott- Maryland- 5’11" 198, sixth

23) Emmanuel Moody – Florida- 5’11" 215, sixth

24) Brandon Saine- Ohio State-6’1" 220, seventh

25) Derrick Locke – Kentucky- 5’9" 190

26) Matt Szczur – Villanova- 5’11" 205

27) Armando Allen – Notre Dame- 5’10" 205

28) Baron Batch – Texas Tech- 5’10" 210

29) Matt Asiata -Utah-  5’11" 220

30) Anthony Allen – Georgia Tech- 6’0" 230

31) Eddie Wide – Utah- 5’10" 195

32) Nic Grigsby – Arizona- 5’10" 190

33) Derrick Washington- Missouri- 6’0" 215

34) Donald Buckram – UTEP- 5’10" 195

35) C.J. Gable – USC- 6’0" 205

36) Josh Nesbitt – Georgia Tech- 6’1" 215

37) Vondrell McGee- Texas- 5’10" 205

38) James Montgomery- Washington State- 5’10" 200

Be sure to visit NFLSoup. com for all of your 2011 NFL Draft coverage! 

Follow us on Twitter at @NFLSoup@NFLSoupTaylor@NFLSoupKeet and @NFLSoup_Kevin.


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