2011 NFL Combine: Mark Ingram and The Top 11 Running Backs in Indy

Josh BenjaminCorrespondent IFebruary 14, 2011

2011 NFL Combine: Mark Ingram and The Top 11 Running Backs in Indy

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    Despite the slow progress on the talks between the NFL and the NFLPA, the NFL Combine is drawing closer and closer.  Soon, most of the elite college players will be showcasing their talents for NFL scouts in the hope of becoming a top draft pick.

    At this year's combine, the one position that is sure to have a lot of talent is running back.  From a one-time Heisman Trophy winner to backs that flew under the radar, this year's running back class is very deep.

    Some might go on to become the next Emmitt Smith, while others may take longer to develop like current San Diego Chargers back Ryan Mathews (pictured at left). 

    Here are 11 runners that should garner a lot of attention at the combine.

No 11: Evan Royster, Penn State

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    On paper, Evan Royster is a good college running back.  He finished his senior season as the Nittany Lions' all-time leading rusher, and has good size at 6'1" and 228 pounds.

    Still, there's cause for concern regarding Royster.  From his sophomore season up through his senior year, his total yards dropped as did his yards per carry.  Against elite defenses, he seemed to struggle.

    Yet, that isn't to say that Royster is a bad running back.  Put him on a team with a good running game and a veteran who can help mold and develop him, and he has the potential to be a good power back.

No. 10: Ryan Williams, Virginia Tech

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    Ryan Williams's sophomore season with the Hokies was less than average.  Due to injuries, he only amassed 477 rushing yards and nine touchdowns (down from 1,655 and 21 his freshman year).  Still, this young man is worth a look.

    At 5'10" and 202 pounds, Williams may seem undersized.  Still, the man is fast.  He could be a good fit on special teams for any NFL team.  Think Dexter McCluster, but with more of a burst at running back.

    Like Royster, the key to the success of Ryan Williams is mentorship.  He needs to be on a team with a good veteran presence in the running game.  With that, there is no doubt that he can be turned into a premier back.

No. 9: Roy Helu Jr., Nebraska

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    Roy Helu Jr. is a prime example of a player that coaches love to have on their team.  Each of his four years with the Cornhuskers, Helu's production improved in every offensive category.  His willingness to learn and be coached is impeccable.

    He has average size for a running back at 6'0" and 220 pounds, and he has good speed with a 40-yard run clocked at 4.5 seconds.  Still, some have voiced concern over his lack of experience against top defenses.

    However, don't write him off just because of that.  He protects the ball well, has good speed, and his good hands make him a threat in the passing game as well.  Look for him to be drafted by a team needing depth at running back and to see limited action for his first couple of seasons.  At that point, he will be ready to shoulder most of the carries in the NFL.

No. 8: Dion Lewis, Pittsburgh

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    After a superb freshman season, Dion Lewis had a sophomore slump after the Panthers' offense stumbled out of the starting gate and never fully recovered.  As a result, head coach Dave Wannstedt resigned under pressure and Lewis declared for the draft with the running game's future uncertain.

    Lewis is undersized at 5'8" and 195 pounds, but some time in the weight room can fix that.  He has good speed that could translate well to special teams and would be a good fit on a team with a veteran running back.  Scouts have described him as playing with a chip on his shoulder, so a veteran's influence is key in his development.

    Also, don't be surprised to see him move to receiver.  He has great hands!

No. 7: Delone Carter, Syracuse

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    In 2010, Delone Carter was one of a few bright spots on a Syracuse football team looking to return to prominence.  As the Orange went 7-5, he ran for 1,233 yards and nine touchdowns.

    His size is average at 5'10" and 215 pounds and his speed isn't fascinating, but Carter will still be attractive to many teams.  Why?  Because he goes out and gives 100 percent every game regardless of circumstance.  The team may be getting blown out, but he still plays to win.

    He won't be the Chris Johnson-type of runner who finds the hole in the defense and then puts on a burst of electrifying speed, but coaches can count on him to do his job well whenever called upon.  Look for him to make his mark on a team as a power or goal-line runner.

No 6: John Clay, Wisconsin

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    John Clay has the potential to be an elite NFL running back.  He has great size at 6'1" and a rock solid 255 pounds, and has proven that he can put up good numbers against an elite defense.

    He chose to enter the draft a year early, probably because he missed the last couple of weeks of the season with a sprained knee.  Either way, Clay is ready for the NFL.  He doesn't have the speed of Roy Helu or the finesse of a Mark Ingram, but his size will only benefit him in his career.

    A team in the market for a tough power back would be a good fit for Clay.  He might not be a first year starter and his knee may or may not be cause for concern, but look for him to be a force in the NFL in the near future.

No. 5: Daniel Thomas, Kansas State

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    On size alone, Daniel Thomas is an amazing running back.  He's 6'2", weighs 228 pounds and had an amazing senior season with the Kansas State Wildcats.

    He doesn't have that burst of speed most scouts desire from a running back, but his size more than compensates for it.  The fact is, Thomas is a tough physical power back with loads of potential.  Give him a good running backs coach plus a strong offensive line, and he should be a good fit on any team.

No. 4: Kendall Hunter, Oklahoma State

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    After missing much of his junior year with an injury, Kendall Hunter had an amazing final season.  He ran for for 1,548 yards and 16 touchdowns in a year that made scouts turn their heads.

    Like some of the other men on this list, Hunter's downside is that he hasn't really been tested against top defenses.  Plus, he may be considered undersized at 5'8" and 197 pounds.  Still, the man has been compared to Brian Westbrook and has the speed to make a big impact in the NFL.

    Hunter would be a good fit on a team looking for a young finesse back with some power.  If he has the right coach and mentor, his future is bright.

No. 3: Mikel Leshoure, Illinois

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    The University of Illinois football team is coached by Ron Zook.  Translation: a team with a lot of good young talent that ultimately underachieves.  His team may come up short, but Mikel Leshoure will be a stud in the NFL.

    He has great size for a running back at 6'1" and 230, and with the size comes amazing speed.  On top of that, his intangibles are just unbelievable.  He protects the ball well, is a good receiver and a good blocker when called upon.

    Teams looking for an immediate impact at running back should not hesitate on Leshoure.  This young man is NFL ready and with the right coach, will be a perennial Pro-Bowler.

No. 2: DeMarco Murray, Oklahoma

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    The Oklahoma Sooners' last great running back was Adrian Peterson.  Then, along came DeMarco Murray.

    This young man has so much potential, I'm surprised he hasn't gotten more attention.  His skills on the field are simply astounding.  He can run the ball well, and is just as deadly a receiver.  Think Marshall Faulk 2.0

    At this point, I'd pick Murray to be a top 10 pick come draft time.  He can be a valuable weapon for a team in need of a top runner who does it all.  He has speed, size and a great personality.  All in all, a future top back.

No. 1: Mark Ingram, Alabama

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    After winning the Heisman Trophy his sophomore year, Mark Ingram slightly regressed at the start of his junior year.  He missed the first two weeks of the season with what was classified as "minor knee surgery," and his overall numbers were down from last year.  Still, this man has a bright future in the NFL.

    Ingram has average size for a running back at 5'10" and 215 pounds, but also has explosive speed to go with great hands.  He had a great coach in Nick Saban in college, so you know he's mentally ready for the pros.  Plus, his father was once a receiver for the New York Giants.  What's not to like?

    He may not be an immediate starter, but Mark Ingram has a shot at being a future Pro Football Hall of Famer.  Put him on the right team, and he'll work wonders.