2011 NFL Draft Preview: Taking a Look at a Crowded Running Back Class

Chris MaierCorrespondent IApril 4, 2011

ORLANDO, FL - JANUARY 01:  Mark Ingram #22 of the Alabama Crimson Tide celebrates after rushing for a touchdown during the Capitol One Bowl against the Michigan State Spartans at the Florida Citrus Bowl on January 1, 2011 in Orlando, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

In a draft where a middling collection of quarterbacks have draftniks a-twitter and A.J. Green and Julio Jones battle for top wideout supremacy (Green's the better prospect and it's not close), the running back class has hardly been able to generate a pulse of debate. 

The position is generically described as Mark Ingram (who is boringly mocked to Miami in nearly every mock) and everyone else.  The only consensus regarding the number two back is they will not be selected until round two.

Despite the relative anonymity of this year's running back class, it stacks up as one of the deepest positions in the 2011 NFL Draft.  While the strength may not be at the top, the middle is packed with both quantity and variety. 

This depth is due largely to an influx of 12 underclass runners.  Considering just 12 running backs were selected in the 2010 draft, there is a strong likelihood of a name player going undrafted.

Here is a deeper look at the 2010 running back class:


Top Five Backs

1. Mark Ingram, Alabama— He holds a consensus number one back in the class.  He is not a breakaway back, but has the power to move the chains and the vision to find holes.  He is also an underrated receiver.

2. Ryan Williams, Virginia Tech— Coming off an injury-plagued season, he may have the highest ceiling of any back in the draft.  He is dynamic playmaker who with acceleration, power and the innate ability to make defenders miss.

3. Jordan Todman, Connecticut— He is compact back with excellent speed, acceleration and change of direction. He is also excellent vision and agility allows him to run better than expected between the tackles. 

4. Daniel Thomas. Kansas State— He is a powerful north-south runner with the size and skill set to be a three down back.  Surprisingly agile for his size, he is an underrated receiver out of the backfield.

5. Dion Lewis, Pittsburgh— He is a quick scat-back who possesses an innate ability to make people miss.  He is also an instinctive runner who uses his low center of gravity and tremendous agility to make cuts at full speed.     

(complete NFLDraft101 RB rankings)


Not Buying the Hype

Mikel LeShoure, Illinois— He has drawn comparisons to fellow Illini running back Rashard Mendenhall, but is not as powerful as you expect for a 230-pound back and has a tendency to bounce plays outside rather than run through traffic. 

DeMarco Murray, Oklahoma— He is an elite receiver out of the backfield, Murray does not play like the three down back his size would suggest.  He is not a strong interior runner as he is indecisive to the hole at times.  Best fit would be in a Reggie Bush-like role in a wide open scheme.


Mid-Round Values

Bilal Powell, Louisville— He is a one-year wonder who exploded on the scene with 1,405 yards rushing in 2010.  Has the work ethic and skill set to develop into an every-down back.

Delone Carter, Syracuse— There is nothing sexy about Carter's game but he is one of the draft's toughest interior runners.  He is not a factor in the passing game, but is a two down back capable of pushing the pile and wearing down defenses.

Taiwan Jones, Eastern Washington— He is a home run threat out of the backfield with elite combination of acceleration, speed and elusiveness.  He has drawn comparisons to Chris Johnson in some quarters.  Injuries have kept him from making his splash on the post season all-star game, combine and pro day circuit.  His ability to prove he his healthy at his April 14 pro day looms large.

Jacquizz Rodgers, Oregon State— He is an undersized, but tough as nails, Rodgers is an elite receiver out of the backfield, who excels at finding creases and making defenders miss.  A 4.6-plus 40 was a big blow for a small back, but team's should be careful not to underestimate him.



Derrick Locke, Kentucky— He is a mighty mite (5'8") with the speed, agility and receiving skill to make an impact as a third-down back and returner.

Anthony Allen, Georgia Tech— He is a hard-charging power back who emerged in 2010 with 1,316 rushing yards.  Skeptics say his stats were product of the system but he also performed well in limited action under Bobby Petrino at Louisville in 2008 (including 21 catches). 

Alex Green, Hawaii— He is a powerful back with rare combination of size, speed and receiving ability.  He is not overly elusive, but could be a good fit in a one-cut zone blocking scheme.


Chris Maier is Senior Editor for NFLDraft101.com.  He can be reached at cmaier@nfldraft101.com.  Follow me on Twitter: nfldraft101.