NFL Draft 2011 Preview: Back Attack

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NFL Draft 2011 Preview: Back Attack
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

This may be one of the weakest running back classes in recent years. Mark Ingram is the only back who carries a first-round grade (Scouts, Inc.) While there are several ‘backs who may have long successful NFL careers, this class lacks the elite talent like C.J Spiller, Ryan Matthews, or Knowshon Moreno.

I think there will be at least four and maybe as many as eight running backs drafted in rounds two and three. As we look at this years draft lets take a closer look at the top seven running backs and where they might land.

 

  1. Mark Ingram

  2. Ryan Williams

  3. Mikel Leshoure

  4. Kendall Hunter

  5. Demarco Murray

  6. Daniel Thomas

  7. Johnny White

 

Mark Ingram:

5’10” 215 lbs. Ingram is the only running back who has a first-round grade from Scouts, Inc. Ingram has a successful background as both a pass catcher, and runner. He is the 2009 Heisman award winner, and despite a subpar 2010 campaign, was one of the better running backs. Ingram has the size to be a primary back in the NFL. There is some concern because of the 2009 hip injury and the small nagging injuries that limited him in 2010. He also lacks the top-end speed of runners like Spiller and Jahvid Best, but is much more balanced.

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Most mock drafts I’ve seen have Ingram going at No. 15 to the Miami Dolphins. This makes a lot of sense as the Dolphins are in need of a lead RB, and while Ingram’s draft grade is probably closer to the early twenties, he will address a big need. However, if the Dolphins decide one of the QB’s is the long term answer Ingram could fall a long ways.

If the Dolphins don’t grab him the New England Patriots might be the most likely to draft him at 17. The Giants at 19 will certainly take a look at him if he is still available, but might decide on filling the positional need at OT instead. Indianapolis at 22, Seattle at 25, and New England again at 28. All those teams could address other needs, but might view Ingram as to good a value to pass up.

I don’t think Ingram drops out of the first round. I’d bet Ingram goes to Miami, and if not then New England at 17.

 

Ryan Williams:

5’9” 212 lbs. Williams is a pretty balanced back, good both receiving and running. He was slowed in 2010 by a hamstring injury that teams will want to make sure has healed. Williams has the size and had an impressive 2009 season rushing for over 1,600 yards. One of the positives of the 2010 season for Williams was the reduction in fumbles from five in ‘09 to one in ‘10.

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Williams lacks the history Ingram has and there are questions as to how soon he’ll be ready to be a feature back in the NFL. Williams has about the same speed level as Ingram, but may have been slowed a little at the combine as the left hamstring still wasn’t fully 100 percent. He’s a competitive runner willing fight for the extra yards at the end of the carry. Admittedly Williams needs to improve his pass protections, but that should be something he is able to do if he puts in the time.

The competition will be between Williams, Mikel LeShoure and fast-riser Demarco Murray for second back off the board. The style a given team runs will ultimately be the determining factor in who goes first.

The San Francisco 49ers are a team early in the second round who might be looking to compliment and look for the eventual replacement for Frank Gore. Washington is also a possibility as Mike Shanahan has a history of drafting running backs and they could use some young blood there. The Giants and Patriots are also possibilities if they don’t draft Ingram. New Orleans, Miami, Detroit, Cincinnati and St. Louis could all be looking for depth, though it may be to early for some and Miami doesn’t have a second-round pick.

I think Williams ends up a second-round pick. I think the Giants would make the most sense. If not the Giants then I think the Patriots are the next best bet. They both could use an infusion of youth in their running game, and have veteran backs who can still share the load and provide some mentoring which Williams needs.

 

Mikel LeShoure:

5’11” 227 lbs. LeShoure has the size to be a power back at the NFL level. His college coach said he matured during his time in school which is good for teams thinking about drafting him. Like most of the running backs in this class LeShoure will benefit from sharing the load and having a veteran to mentor him.

LeShoure has adequate acceleration and speed, but won’t outrun defenses in the NFL. He works hard for yards after contact, but will sometimes spend to much in the backfield trying to find room for a big play. He will lower head at times and miss open lanes. He is very raw in his receiving game and pass protection, so he will need some work in that area once he is drafted.

LeShoure compares some to Pittsburgh RB Rashard Mendenhall, however he lacks the straight-line speed Mendenhall has. LeShoure certainly has the potential to be an impact rookie in the second round. Like the other second round backs, scheme will play a central role as to how soon he comes off the board.

The 49ers, Redskins, Giants, Patriots, Saints, Dolphins, Lions, Bengals, and Rams are all possible landing spots for LeShoure. LeShoure fits especially well with the 49ers and Redskins. I think the 49ers are the most likely at this point as he appears to be able to handle the carrying load if Frank Gore misses time with injury. LeShoure has to much talent to slip out of the second round.

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

 

Kendall Hunter:

5’7” 199 lbs. The biggest knock against Hunter is his size. However, he runs with better strength and power than would be expected. He also is a solid receiver with good hands and route running ability. He has above average top-end speed, and is a classic overachiever. He is active in the community and is a good teammate. Hunter needs to improve his pass protection and is not big enough to be the primary back in the NFL.

Hunter could turn out to be a lot like a Darren Sproles or Dexter McCluster. However, in order to be successful the NFL team will need to have another back who is big enough to pick up the third-and-short and at the goal line.

The 49ers, Redskins, Giants, Patriots, Saints, Dolphins, Lions, Bengals, and Rams are all possible landing spots for Hunter. The teams that make the most sense are the Bengals and the Redskins. The Bengals might be the better fit, either trading up into the bottom of the second round, or picking him at the top of the third round.

 

Demarco Murray:

5’11” 213 lbs. Murray has good size and speed for the position. He is a good student of the game and is mentally and physically tough. Almost always finishes runs falling forward and is not afraid of contact. Murray is the best pass-catching running back in this class. Doesn’t an excellent job catching the ball and getting up field for yards after the catch. Murray is a runner who is effective both between the tackles and getting to the outside.

The biggest knock on Murray and the reason I have him fifth is the injury history. He has suffered a number of hamstring injuries including one that required surgery, a dislocated knee cap, and an ankle injury last year. Murray would probably be a fringe first round back if he had been healthy throughout his college career.

He has enough upside to warrant the risk of a third-round pick, although I wouldn’t be too surprised if someone likes him enough to draft him in the second round. A team like New Orleans who has some depth at running back might be a fit. As would Miami if they don’t grab a back in the first round. The Lions are another team who might take a risk like Murray if they believe he is past his injuries. Right now I’m going to guess Murray goes to the Saints near the bottom of round two.

 

Daniel Thomas:

6’0” 230lbs. Thomas has the size to be a between the tackles runner in the NFL. He possess good speed for his height and weight. He hasn’t missed any games due to injury, but didn’t compete at the combine due to hamstring tightness. He’s a solid receiver who has lined up at split end. Thomas has good intangibles and became a team leader despite being a transfer athlete.

Thomas needs to improve his pass protection as he has the size and strength, but needs to show dedication. He’s not a breakaway type runner, but does have a long stride when he gets into space. Sometimes seems to shy away from contact rather than looking to deliver a hit. Usually falls forward and is very good in short yardage type situations.

Thomas grades out as a mid to late third round type prospect. Teams who already have a speed type back will probably be more interested in him. Those teams would include Detroit, St. Louis, New England, Kansas City, and Buffalo. Detroit could be a good fit if they are looking for a compliment back to last years first round pick Jahvid Best. New England would be in the same boat looking to compliment Danny Woodhead. Right now I’m going to guess Thomas goes mid third round to the Patriots at 74 or the Lions at 75.

 

Johnny White:

5’10” 209 lbs. White is a shifty running back who is very explosive through the hole. His size is average and his speed is above average. White brings a lot of versatility to whatever team drafts him. He is a team player and always plays hard. He has played multiple positions at UNC, including a special teams contributor.

White is solid in the passing game and aggressive in blocking. He is not an overpowering back, so he will be best suited in a situation where his speed and catching ability will be maximized. White is a third-round type back who could turn out to be a very solid starter in the NFL.

Teams who have a workhorse type back are more likely to look at White as a change-of-pace back. The 49ers, Packers (end of round two, or if he were to drop), Rams, and Miami would all make sense. I would think right now if neither the 49ers nor Rams have drafted a running back by round three, then they make a lot of sense. Both teams have veteran backs who are capable of carrying the load. However, both of those vets have had some nagging injuries. White would provide depth, and security if either Gore or Jackson respectively get hurt. My guess is he goes 76 to San Francisco or 78 to St. Louis.

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