Miami Dolphins' Early Round Draft Targets: Running Backs

Luke TaylorCorrespondent IIMarch 7, 2011

With the NFL Draft taking place in April, teams have shifted their focus to those players leaving college having declared for the draft.

Over the next few weeks, I will be publishing a series of these articles looking at the potential prospects available for the Miami Dolphins to select. The focus will be on positions of need for the Dolphins, and will not look at those areas where there is already good depth.

The aim of this article is to look at the strengths and weaknesses of players declaring for the draft, and analyse whether they are a potential fit for the Dolphins.

The following players are running backs available for selection in the early rounds of the draft.

Mark Ingram, Alabama (First Round) – 5’10’’ (height), 215lbs (weight); 4.62 (40-yard dash)

Any player who draws comparisons to Emmett Smith must have something about him, and former Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram is not seen as the number one running back in the draft for no reason. With the perfect size, he has a great burst to break through the line of scrimmage. He runs low and hard, which makes him very difficult to bring down, and must be wrapped up if defenders plan on bringing him down.

He has good lateral movement, and has excellent burst and vision when coming out of a cut. However, he isn’t the fastest back in the draft, and lacks the explosiveness that Miami need. He does have enough speed to break free for long gains, but might not be the exciting, speedy back that the Dolphins are searching for.

His disappointing 40-yard dash at the Combine would be a red flag for a team like Miami looking for speed. However, this should not hurt his draft stock, as his game has never been about explosive speed. Despite this, he is a good receiver out of the backfield, and a willing blocker, and those aspects will appeal to Miami.

His quality ball security is a big plus, with just two fumbles in his career, and last season he managed 1,658 yards and 17 touchdowns for the Crimson Tide. However, there are questions over his durability, and he is quite comparable to Ronnie Brown in many aspects of his game. This might count against him as Miami look for more speed, although any player of his quality deserves consideration with Miami’s first-round pick.

Another potential obstacle is the quality of running backs in later rounds though. Ingram, despite having the quality to become an elite running back, may not offer the best value for the Dolphins as a first round pick due to the success of running backs chosen in later rounds of the draft. As a result, you might see Miami go a different direction to the former Heisman winner.

Mikel LeShoure, Illinois (First - Second Round) – six feet tall, 230lbs, 4.59

LeShoure has the ability to become a three-down back, and plays with the sort of intensity and heart that the Dolphins’ Front Office love. He is a big, powerful back, with good vision and smooth cuts, and possesses excellent burst if to head into the secondary if he the offensive line open up a hole for him.

His power makes him difficult to bring down, and he can run over tacklers. Although he is not the most elusive back, he has patience, and will wait to find a running lane. He also has good speed when running to the outside, which can open up big gains, and he likes to stay in-bounds to fight for extra yardage.

LeShoure is a willing blocker, although he doesn’t have great technique, but he is effective picking up the blitz. His receiving is not technically sound, but he can create mismatches lining up outside. One concern is his attitude, which in the past has been a problem. He was suspended for a game in 2009 for violating team rules, and broke his jaw in a fight with teammate Jeff Cumberland in 2008. Since then he is seen to have matured, eating well and working out more, making himself lighter and stronger.

LeShoure is a power runner that Miami would have loved in the past decade, but with them apparently moving towards a faster, more elusive offense, he might not be such a great fit today. He would definitely command attention in the second round if Miami regains a pick, but it would be a surprise if the Dolphins took him in the first round. Still, LeShoure would welcome the opportunity for a reunion with Cumberland (now with the Jets) twice a year if he became a Dolphin.

Ryan Williams, Virginia Tech (Second Round) – 5’10’’, 205lbs, 4.61

Despite possessing the speed and elusiveness that Miami would like in a runner, Williams’ durability concerns might be too much for a team who have struggled with injured running backs over the last few seasons. However, he has good vision and burst, and excellent acceleration once he finds a gap. He can break off big gains when finding a small hole, and can make players miss.

Although he doesn’t have elite speed, he is also physical like the Ingram and LeShoure and looks to make extra yards after contact, which teams will like, but in the process can put ball security at risk. His disappointing 40-yard dash at the combine might hurt his stock, as he looked slower than before his injury, but the rest of his workout was impressive.

His blocking is not great and his is working hard to improve this, but he is a quality receiver, with soft hands and the ability to keep up his speed when making a catch. He will be a threat receiving out of the backfield.

However, while Williams is an option for Miami, it would be a surprise to see them take an injury-prone running back after Ronnie Brown’s injury struggles. To take a rookie who already has injury problems is a real risk, and judging by the frequency that running backs get injured, it would be wise for the Dolphins to pass on Williams in the second round. A third round pick would offer more value, although the injury issues will remain a big concern which might prevent Miami from pulling the trigger.

DeMarco Murray, Oklahoma (Second - Third Round)—6’0’’, 214lbs, 4.41 

A versatile talent, Murray impressed at the Senior Bowl practices, where many scouts earmarked him as a three-down back. He is particularly dangerous out in the passing game, where he can line up in the slot and create mismatches. However, some teams will see his real value as a dynamic, receiving back, arguing that he does not have the balance or running style to make a lot of yards after contact, and this will limit his effectiveness in the NFL.

While he has good acceleration, can outrun linebackers, and is capable of getting round the corner of them, he does not have great vision in traffic, and struggles to make gains when under pressure. He runs high, giving defenders a big target to tackle, and due to that running style, does not have great balance. His very impressive 40-yard dash will have boosted his stock too, and he looks like someone who may continue to rise up draft boards.

Despite this, Murray is capable of hitting a hole when he sees it open, and his acceleration allows him to get through the open hole quickly. Some scouts will love Murray for his versatility, as he can fill several areas of need on a team as a running back, receiver, and also kick returner. Others will argue that his style will limit him in the pro-game, and he may not be as effective as he was in the college game.

As a result, Murray has been ranked as far apart as a first, or third, round talent. Miami may consider him in the first two rounds following his good combine performance, but if he was still on the board in the third, he brings enough to the table to definitely warrant consideration. If he can be taught to run low, and make more yards after contact, he would be a big steal due to his threat as a backfield receiver.

Kendall Hunter, Oklahoma State (Second – Third Round) – 5’7’’, 192lbs, 4.53

Despite an injury-filled 2009, Hunter rebounded nicely in 2010 to maintain his projection a day-two draft pick. He ran a solid time in the 40-yard dash, and has the speed that Miami would consider in the position. His acceleration is excellent, and he is capable of getting up to full speed very quickly, particularly following cut moves.

Hunter has great awareness and good vision on the field. He finds running lanes, and knows where to go when he has the ball. He has the speed and vision to get round the outside, and is a home-run threat when he touches the ball. He also feels pressure well, which helps him evade defenders. Despite his relatively small size, his speed and elusiveness make him a good prospect in the NFL, although injury concerns will be a worry for NFL scouts.

While he is a decent receiver out of the backfield, he wasn’t often used in this manner at college, but could do a good job for a team in this respect too. As a result, he is the sort of player that Miami are looking for. However, with plenty of backs in his size and mould, Miami’s front office may prefer to select one of them who has not got a history of injury troubles, and that might work against Hunter.

Jordan Todman, Connecticut (Third Round) – 5’9’’, 195lbs, 4.40

Ranked as a two-star cornerback prospect going to college, Todman was on the field as a freshman running back in Connecticut when he averaged 6.1 yards per carry. He has not received a lot of press, but due to his speed and explosiveness he could be a top talent, and a great pick in the third round.

He is a long strider in open field, but has the burst and speed to escape defenders in pursuit, and has great vision in the backfield. He is hard to bring down, and elusive, but is not as big a receiving threat as other running backs in the draft as he proved at the combine. He drops too many passes, but is still improving, and his natural ability makes you believe that the more he is used in the passing game, the more he will improve.

Todman has drawn comparisons to Ray Rice, and having seen the impact that Rice has had on the NFL first hand (he was a thorn in Miami’s side this season), the Dolphins might look to add their own player in Rice’s mold. Todman might need to add a few more pounds to make the hard yards in the NFL, but his work ethic suggests he will have no problem working towards this.

His very impressive 40-yard dash might see him rise up some team’s draft boards, and that speed will certainly entice a team like Miami into giving serious consideration to Todman. He is looking like a real candidate for Miami to consider in the third, or even as high as the second, and could turn out to be a great pick if selected.

Daniel Thomas, Kansas State (Third Round) – 6’2’’, 228lbs, 4.63

Thomas is a tall, strong runner, but he does lack the breakaway speed that Miami are looking for. He does not have elite elusiveness, although he has enough to get by in the NFL, and his long arms means it is easier for defenders to strip him of the ball. His lack of great speed means he won’t be a great threat running to the outside, but his long legs mean once in the open field he is difficult to catch.

His vision isn’t great either, but he has a good cut move which often allows him to make a big play, but his size allows him to run through arm tackles. He will fight for the extra yard and is hard to bring down in the open field, but his size does mean his balance is not great.

Thomas has real potential in the pass game, but while his blocking technique is sound, he often fails to put in the effort to keep pass-rushers at bay. However, due to his size, NFL coaches could make this a strong part of his game. Another good area is his receiving, where he can create mismatches, but he will need to improve his route running to avoid coverage, even though he has good hands.

He gives good effort, and is a team leader who has played through injuries. However, he struggled academically at Kansas State, so there are concerns over whether he can learn a complex NFL offense. Regardless, it would be a real surprise if Thomas was the Dolphins’ pick at running back, as he lacks the speed or elusiveness that Miami are looking for.

Jacquizz Rodgers, Oregon State (Third – Fourth Round) – 5’7’’, 192lbs, 4.64

One back that certainly fits the mold Miami are searching for is the diminutive Quizz Rodgers. He has explosive speed, runs with power, and has excellent burst when hitting the hole, making him a threat whenever he touches the ball. As a result, he is more than capable of breaking off big gains, and taking it to the house from anywhere on the field. However, his very disappointing 40-yard dash at the combine might hurt his stock. He ran a 4.64, when many expected him to run in the mid-4.40s at least,

He has very quick feet, making the first man miss frequently, and has outstanding agility. Despite his small size, he is also quite powerful, and cannot be brought down with an arm tackle. However, his size is a concern, but with the Dolphins potentially moving away from size to search for speed, this may not be a red flag as it would have been in the Parcells Era. Rodgers is an average receiver in the backfield, and could use some work to improve that area of his game, but he is believed to have a great character, and will work on areas of his game that need improvement.

Ball security is a big plus with Rodgers too, as he does not turn the ball over often. Furthermore, he has experience in wildcat packages (Oregon State ran the “Wildbeaver”), and has even thrown a touchdown pass from it, and if Miami choose to keep the wildcat, and use it sparingly, then Rodgers could be a threat from the formation.

On the whole, Rodgers is a player who would interest Miami. His speed and explosiveness is exactly what the Dolphins are looking for, and if on the board in the third, Miami would likely have a good look at him. He will need a decent pro-day though to help them forget the disappointing 40 at the combine. Rodgers would certainly fit the Dolphins’ needs, and if Miami have a shot at taking him, it wouldn’t surprise many people to see him wearing aqua and orange next year.

Shane Vereen, California (Third – Fourth Round), – 5’10’’, 205lbs, 4.50

Possessing the perfect build for a running back, Vereen’s elusiveness will certainly appeal to the Dolphins. He is also an efficient runner when hitting the line of scrimmage as he has good burst and vision, which allows him to get into the secondary. His acceleration allows him to hit gaps in the line, and he is not afraid to fight for extra yardage.

He is a powerful runner with good speed, and keeps fighting for extra yards meaning that he is difficult to bring down. His vision in the secondary is good, and he finds cutback lanes, but he often allows the ball to get away from him in this area as he tries to elude tackles. His failure to wrap up the ball is a worry, and does result in fumbles, and this is something NFL coaches will immediately look to put right.

He is a good blocker, and willing to take on blitzing linebackers, and has good technique and power in pass protection. Furthermore, he has soft hands and is a good receiver out of the backfield on a variety of routes. However, he did operate out of the spread offense, so will need to adapt to an NFL offense that may not focus so heavily on his assets. His size and bulk may also prevent him from being an every-down back in the pro-game, although he may be able to change this with hard work in the weights room.

Vereen will certainly warrant consideration in the third round, and would be very hard to pass on in the fourth if he falls that far. He would be the type of back that would interest Miami, as his acceleration and elusiveness would allow him to break off big gains. In addition to that, he is an experienced and productive kick returner, and this could help his standing with the Dolphins’ front office too. If Miami wait until the third to draft a running back, this man is a possibility to end up in aqua and orange.

Delone Carter, Syracuse (Third – Fourth Round) – 5’9’’, 226lbs, 4.56

A two-year starter at Syracuse, Carter carried the offense at times, and his strong running style makes him a good prospect. With good vision, and excellent running style, Carter projects as a power back in the NFL, but this might put the Dolphins off, as they search for speed.

Regardless, Carter is not a slow running back, but he does lack explosiveness and the breakaway speed that Miami might be looking for. However, he accelerates through the hole in the line, and his patience allows him to follow his blockers. He is also willing to make hard yards, and will fight for the extra yardage, and that will appeal to Miami (particularly if Brown departs).

However, he is not the most elusive back, and will not make people miss. In addition, despite his power, he does not break many tackles. Furthermore, he is ineffective in the passing game, as he struggles to pick up blitzes, and has just 19 receptions in two years. With Miami looking for someone to be a danger from anywhere on the field, Carter might not be this man.

An arrest for assault in April 2010 will not help his cause either, so it would be a surprise to see him end up a Dolphin, but if he falls into the fourth round and Ronnie Brown does leave in free agency, then perhaps Carter could be a surprise selection for Miami. However, it would be quite a shock if he is plying his trade in Miami next season.

Next Article: Dolphins Late Round Targets: Running Backs


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