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2011 NFL Draft: Ranking the Top 10 Running Backs Before the Combine

Mack BonnerCorrespondent IFebruary 15, 2011

2011 NFL Draft: Ranking the Top 10 Running Backs Before the Combine

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Well folks, it's that time of year again. It's time to put the young talent through their paces. Among the talent is the running back position, which happens to be one of the most fun positions to evaluate.

    Everyone has their favorite runner and their idea of what the prototypical back should look like. Some prefer speedy backs, some power backs, and some prefer backs that can catch out of the backfield.

    I prefer power backs, but most of all I prefer backs that will give me production and keep the chains moving. Let's take a look at some of the guys I think can get the job done at the NFL level.

1. Mark Ingram: 5'9" 215lbs Alabama

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    It's been said by a few that Ingram is not really that impressive, and to them I would say...you're correct. Ingram won't post the fastest time at the combine, nor does he have the most physical imposing stature of all the backs. He also doesn't catch a lot of passes out of the backfield.

    So what makes him special? He has impeccable vision, patience and running power. He has a low center of gravity at 5'10", which gives him great balance and, paired with his strength, makes him extremely difficult to bring down.

    He also weighs in at 215 pounds, which means he brings a load with him when he hits the hole. Another thing that is a plus for Ingram is that he was not overused at Alabama.

    In three years at Alabama he compiled 12, 17 and 13 touchdowns respectively, which means he also has a nose for the end zone.

    He finished his collegiate career with 572 attempts for 3,261 yards and 42 touchdowns with a 5.7 yard per carry average.

2. Mikel Leshoure: 5'11" 230lbs Illinois

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    Another back with amazing power, Leshoure absolutely destroyed all competition he came up against in the Big Ten. In fact, he had five games where he averaged over seven yards per carry last year and was only held under 100 yards four times.

    He has great speed for a back over six feet tall and could end up being a better back than Ingram. He needs to have a little more patience in following blockers and fight off the instinct to bounce outside. He reminds me of a slightly faster Deuce McAllister.

3. Kendall Hunter: 5'8" 197lbs Oklahoma State

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    If you like running backs in the mold of a Maurice Jones-Drew, then you'll love this guy. He's got that short, bowling-ball-type frame at 5'8" and 197 pounds that makes him extremely hard to bring down.

    He's also a very consistent back that has had two 1,500-yard seasons. If you're thinking he did it against inferior competition, you'd be wrong. He averaged 7.7 yards per carry for 201 yards against Nebraska, over 100 yards against Texas and a 4.2 yard per carry average against Oklahoma.

    He's also a Tyler, Texas native, and everyone knows the kind of talent that comes out of Texas.

4. Daniel Thomas: 6'0" 228lbs Kansas State

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    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    A lot of people have said that Thomas is a little overrated. However, he runs with good power, and at 6'2", 228, he should prove a load to bring down. Mike Mayock likes the guy so much he had him ranked as the second best back in the draft until recently.

    The 2.9 yard per carry performance against Nebraska is a bit worrisome, but having two seasons over 1,200 yards definitely helps his stock. Since he has a tall frame, scouts will be watching his change of direction ability very closely at the combine.

    He has to get the nod here due to Ryan Williams' injury concerns.

5. Ryan Williams: 5'10" 202lbs Virginia Tech

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    No doubt Williams was one of the best backs on the college level in 2009, finishing the season with over 1,600 yards and a whopping 21 touchdowns.

    However, he missed four games this year due to injury and made a slow comeback after. He was losing carries to Darren Evans late in the year and really only had two decent games post-injury.

    He could slip even further down the board if he shows any signs of a hampering injury slowing him down. Guys will be watching for that very closely at the combine.

6. Shane Vereen: 5'10" 204lbs Cal

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    I think a few people may be overlooking Vereen just a bit. I think a lot of people would have liked to see more production out of him, but he did manage to average at least five yards per carry all three years at Cal.

    He's got great NFL size at 5'10", 204 pounds and has good hands out of the backfield. He's another guy I actually like due to the fact he wasn't overused. He should come into the league healthy and with fresh legs. Expect a fast start out of him in the NFL.

7. Jordan Todman: 5'9" 193 UCONN

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    Todman had a very successful career at Connecticut, rushing for 1,695 yards in his senior season. It was his second year in a row rushing for over 1,000 yards while averaging 5.1 yards per carry. He has a very quick burst to get into the open field and will probably show a fast 40 time at the combine.

    He is very skilled in setting up his blocks and knowing where the hole is. Most quick runners like to overrun the hole in college, but that doesn't seem to be a problem with Todman. He finds the hole and uses his quick burst to get yardage.

    However, he seems to peak after 40 yards (probably due to his short stature) and allows guys to run him down from behind. This is not a huge problem, as taking chunks of 40 to 50-yard runs is very impressive and really all you can ask for. He can also be used as a dual threat with his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. Someone gets a nice grab with this kid.

8. Dion Lewis: 5'8" 195lbs Pittsburgh

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    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    When you talk about guys with great balance that keep their legs moving, you could use Lewis as a model. He's another guy that is in the MJD mold at 5'8" and 195 pounds.

    He exploded onto the scene in college, rushing for 1,799 yards with a 5.5 yard per carry average and 17 touchdowns as a freshman. He followed that up with another 1,000-yard season as a sophomore that included 13 touchdowns.

    He's very good at finding the hole and hitting it with that quick burst. It will be very interesting to see just where this guy places in all the running back drills at the combine.

9. Delone Carter: 5'10" 215lbs Syracuse

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    Don't sleep on this guy. One thing I noticed when watching Carter run the ball is his patience. He's very patient in setting up his blockers and keeps his eyes downfield.

    I'm very interested to see if he has an explosive burst, but with patience like his, it's not crucial. The combine will be very important for Carter in order to show he has top-notch skills. If he can produce some good numbers at the combine, he should have no problem moving up draft boards.

10. Stevan Ridley: 6'0" 223lbs LSU

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    If I didn't see this Ridley play so many times this year, I wouldn't have him ranked this high. However, let me be the first to tell you that anything Ridley did at LSU, he made happen all on his own.

    His offensive line was horrible, and often Ridley would just plow over defenders for extra yards.

    He's another guy that won't blow people away at the combine. He's not extra fast, and he won't make the quickest cuts, but if you're looking for a guy that can keep the chains moving, then Ridley is your man.

    He'll give you a consistent four yards per carry and can be crucial in short yardage situations.

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