The running back class in the 2011 NFL Draft is very deep, but there are a couple of guys at the top that look like franchise changers.
The shelf life of a running back is not long, so teams are always looking to get younger at the position via the draft (you listening, Tiki Barber?).
In the second part of this series, I will take a look at the guys who I believe are the best five guys at the position. This is NOT an article predicting the order they will be drafted in, although it could turn out that way.
You'll probably be underwhelmed by the order I'm placing these guys, but this is my opinion, and if you disagree, feel free to comment below—I love spirited debates.
Daniel Thomas, Kansas State: I don't like that Thomas can run high at times, and he doesn't have great speed. He will be a good player at the next level, but I'm not sure he is better than the five I have listed.
His high running style opens up his body for fumbling and makes it easier for guys to tackle him by going after his legs. He did have a great year at K-State last season, but I'm not sure he makes an immediate impact in the NFL.
He looked awful at his Pro Day, and his stock dropped as a result.
While Jordan Todman is not the tallest of the bunch, his is a fantastic running back. He followed first round pick Donald Brown at UConn, and the Huskies' rushing attack did not miss a beat.
Todman finished the 2010 season with 334 carries, 1,695 yards, 14 touchdowns and 5.05 yards per carry. He was second in the NCAA in yards per game, had two straight 1,000 yard, 14 TD seasons as a sophomore and junior and finished his career with the third most yards in school history in just three years.
The 334 carries doesn't worry me at all; it makes me realize he has the capability to handle being an every down back in the NFL.
Not many people like him as anything more than just a third down back, and maybe that will be his immediate future, but he is a special player and should get a starting position in the near future.
Shane Vereen is yet another running back coming out of Cal with a lot of promise. He may be one of the more complete backs at the top with his ability to catch passes out of the backfield and also help in the return game.
Cal has produced many current NFL backs (J.J. Arrington, Jahvid Best, Marshawn Lynch, Justin Forsett), and Vereen is expected to come in and be just as good of an impact player as those before him.
He finished his junior year with 1,167 yards, 13 TDs and 5.05 ypc. He also hauled in 22 catches for 209 yards and three touchdowns.
He not only has great elusiveness in the open field, but he is surprisingly efficient in between the tackles and runs hard and low in short yardage opportunities. Despite weighing in at only 210 lbs., he has terrific power and will take on linebackers with no hesitation.
One thing that stood out to me was the fact that he did 31 reps on the bench press, competing with the fullbacks and even many of the offensive linemen with that number.
Vereen is a second round pick, maybe early third rounder, depending on how the draft goes.
Ryan Williams was originally my fourth or fifth running back because of his slower than expected 40 time at the combine and the fact that he dealt with injuries for all of the 2010 season. However, he had a terrific showing at his Pro Day and trimmed his 40 from 4.55 to 4.45 and looked great in the drills.
He missed four games in the 2010 season, but got healthier as the season progressed. He had a 14 carry, 142 yard performance in a very important game at Miami late in the year and had double digit carries in three of his final five games.
He shared time with two other running backs as well, so his stat line is not very indicative of his potential production at the next level.
In 2009, when he was the main ball carrier, he shined. As a red shirt freshman, he had 1,655 yards, 21 touchdowns and 5.6 yards per carry. He was one of the best backs in the country that year, and it was a pity he had to suffer through injury and less playing time this season.
That said, teams shouldn't shy away from him because his hamstring injury. He proved that it is behind him at his Pro Day.
Many people felt like if Leshoure outshined a certain Alabama running back at the combine that he would be the first off the board, but an underwhelming 40 time didn't help matters, and he remains the second best of the class.
However, for his size, he looks like he could end up being the better in this class. He is 6'0'', 232 lbs. and runs with absolute power.
He reminds me a lot of Steven Jackson of the Rams, who has a similar build (6'2, 236) and running style. LeShoure has a tremendous ability to run between the tackles, find holes and bounce off would be tacklers, but he can also bounce it outside and surprise people with his quickness.
He finished the 2010 season with 1,697 yards, 17 touchdowns and an amazing 6.0 yards per carry average and All-American honors. One thing that stands out with LeShoure—he did not put the ball on the ground all season long.
He will be drafted by a team looking for production right away late in the first round or early in the second.
The consensus best back in the 2011 NFL Draft is Mark Ingram, 2009 Heisman Trophy winner. Although his junior season took a bit of a hit with him missing the first two games because of a knee injury, as well as sharing more carries with Trent Richardson (my favorite for 2011 Heisman), he still looks like he can affect an offense straight away.
He came back from his injury with a vengeance in his first two games, but leveled off as the season progressed. In his two seasons as the starter, he tallied 2,533 yards and 30 touchdowns.
What set Ingram apart from the other running backs at the combine was his 10-yard split, which was the fastest among them all. What this means he that he has a fast first step and explosive initial burst through the hole on inside runs.
He also possesses superior vision and patience; he often makes cut back runs or bounces a play to the outside. While he does not have elite speed, he did improve his 40 time to 4.53 from 4.58 at Alabama's Pro Day.
Ingram is a top 20 pick for sure. As a Giants fan, I can tell you I'm pretty sure he won't get past them at No. 19. Although they have more dire needs, they wouldn't pass up taking Ingram.