Alabama Crimson Tide running back Mark Ingram might wish he had been eligible to come out for the 2010 NFL Draft. After the 2009 season in which Ingram, a sophomore, won the Heisman Trophy and led his Alabama teammates to a national championship, he would certainly have gone within the top 10 selections. Alas, he needed one more year at the college level before he would be draft-eligible.
The 2010 campaign did not go as well for Ingram: Alabama has lost three times already, and Ingram has scarcely more than half his rushing yardage from last season. In the meantime, other running backs from across the collegiate map have stepped up and become serious draft prospects in the first round. Read on for the five best runners on the board, regardless of their projected draft slot or college stats.
Williams has fewer than 500 yards rushing on only 106 carries this season, but he has become an elite prospect nonetheless thanks to his punishing frame and solid open-field burst. Williams packs roughly 205 pounds of pop onto his five-foot-ten frame, and racked up nine touchdowns in only nine games of action this season, interspersed with injuries.
Speed backs tend to look a lot slower on Sundays, but guys like Williams who rely on a mixture of acceleration and power can thrive right away.
Even after missing the first two games of the season and getting shut down in key losses to South Carolina and Auburn, Ingram stands tall as an elite runner in this draft. He weighs in at 215 pounds, adds explosiveness as a receiver out of the backfield and has averaged 5.6 yards per carry even in this tough season.
Ingram also proved something this season, even if he does not seem to be quite the dominant force he was as a sophomore. He continues to carry himself well on and off the field, and runs intelligently enough to make guys miss without needing to burn or juke them.
The physical comparisons between Murray and Oklahoma alumnus Adrian Peterson are inevitable: They both stand 6'1" and weigh roughly 210 pounds, both run very upright and use their arms to create space. Both have speed and can lay out smaller defenders once they reach the second level. Murray may even be a better receiver than Peterson out of the backfield.
Of course, there are drawbacks. Murray is not the same sort of speed demon Peterson was; he is less a physical specimen than a crafty playmaker. The questions about whether he can sustain his excellent production with fewer opportunities on the next level are legitimate. Still, Murray has all the tools to be a serious threat on the ground in the NFL.
Thomas is the kind of big, bruising back who can succeed in the NFL only so long as he remains agile enough to make the occasional play with quick feet. He has been equal to that task in the tough environs of the Big 12 this season, running for nearly 1,500 yards. His speed is not superb, but he is light on his feet and has the size and strength to be an every-down back.
If there were any doubt about Thomas's ability to take over a game, it should have evaporated on Nov. 27. That day, the Wildcats narrowly beat North Texas, 49-41. To get the win, Thomas put the team on his shoulders, rushing for 269 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 36 carries.
There is a decidedly non-zero chance that Rodgers will stay for his senior season with the Beavers, where he has eclipsed 1,100 yards on the ground in each of his first three years. Rodgers is that prototypical shifty back that few believe will translate into a star at the next level, as he stands only 5'7" and weighs about 190 pounds.
Rodgers has great field vision, though, so he could well find a niche as an excellent cutback runner at the next level. He takes one blocks well enough for a small back and catches the ball well, so he is well-rounded enough to at least get some looks in the second round.