SEC Football: Ranking the Conference's 5 Best Running Backs as NFL Prospects

Jeremy HillmanContributor ISeptember 24, 2011

SEC Football: Ranking the Conference's 5 Best Running Backs as NFL Prospects

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    With six running backs averaging over 100 yards per game, 2011 is looking to be the year of the running back in the SEC.

    Very talented runners like Georgia freshman back Isaiah Crowell, LSU's Mike Ford and Spencer Ware (who share carries), Zac Stacy of Vanderbilt and the speedy Ronnie Wingo, Jr. of Arkansas aren't even counted in the six mentioned above.

    The conference is literally loaded with dynamic runners.

    If you play an SEC team this year, you better be able to stop the run or you could be in trouble.

    As all of this unfolds, NFL scouts are licking their chops and excited about the backs in the Southeastern Conference this season.

    Which backs are going to be the top NFL prospects?

    See the following slideshow for my power ranking of the top five NFL running backs prospects in the SEC...

5. Vick Ballard, Mississippi State

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    Draft Positives: Ballard is a big, bruising back that could stand the constant pounding backs get in the NFL. He scored 20 touchdowns in 2010 and already has four in 2011. Scouts love his size and his nose for the end zone.

    Draft Negatives: Ballard has disappeared in a couple games in his college career. Last week was an example of that, as he ran for just 38 yards on 10 carries against the tough LSU defense. That will raise some eyebrows across the scouts.  

    Perfect fit: Baltimore (learning from big Ray Rice as a backup until he is ready to take the lead role).

4. Michael Dyer, Auburn

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    Draft Positives: The talented sophomore is young, but he performs well in big games. He was the MVP of the BCS National Championship game last season as a freshman. Scouts love players that step up in the spotlight. Dyer has also been productive over time and durable, too. He is averaging 119 yards per game in 2011 and looks to be primed for a huge season.  

    Draft Negatives: He hasn't been given a huge number of carries consistently. He shares carries with Onterio McCalleb this season and shared them with Cam Newton last year as well.  Scouts will question whether he can carry a big load week after week until he shows he can.

    Perfect fit: Arizona Cardinals (another prolific spread-type offense).

3. Trent Richardson, Alabama

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    Draft Positives: Richardson is a powerful runner that finds holes and blasts through them. Scouts will love his vision and strength. He is averaging 6.3 yards per carry and already has eight touchdowns in just three games in 2011. If Richardson can stay healthy as the primary back, no longer sharing carries with Mark Ingram, he will rocket up draft boards.

    Draft Negatives: Being behind Heisman trophy winner Mark Ingram the previous two seasons has limited Richardson's carries, and Scouts haven't seen him a whole season as "the guy." That question will linger until he delivers the answer.

     Perfect fit: Miami Dolphins (a replacement for departed Ronnie Brown if this year's Dolphin backs don't deliver).

2. Chris Rainey, Florida

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    Draft Positives: He can run (306 yards and two touchdowns in 2011). He can catch (214 yards and two touchdowns this season). He can make big plays (huge punt block in the Tennessee win). Scouts love versatility, speed and results, and Rainey gives them all three.

    Draft Negatives: There have been questions about Rainey's maturity and his ability to stay healthy. A full season of success in 2011 could help erase those worries. However, he has to do it first.  

    Perfect fit: Seattle Seahawks (for coach Pete Carroll to use like he used Reggie Bush at USC).

1. Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina

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    Draft Positives: Lattimore is arguably the very best running back in the nation. He has shown he can handle a heavy carry load (leads the SEC with 87 carries in the first three games), which scouts love, and that he can gain tough yards (534 rush yards in just three games this season) and find the end zone (he already has seven touchdowns in 2011). Lattimore is the total package and could go as high as No. 1 overall in the draft.

    Draft Negatives: Can the young sophomore stay healthy with all of these carries? He had some minor injuries a year ago and that cost him playing time in 2010. That could worry scouts. If he makes it through 2011 without getting hurt, his stock will rise even higher (if that is even possible).  

    Perfect fit: Cincinnati Bengals (with the Bengals' Cedric Benson having off-the-field issues and the team struggling, it may be a good fit by the time Lattimore is ready to go pro).