2012 NFL Draft: Which RB Sleepers Will Be This Year's DeMarco Murray?
At this point, we know who the marquee names are going into the 2012 NFL Draft. Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Morris Claiborne are the elite of the elite.
But lest we forget, there is still a lot of draft left to go after the first rounders have been announced and handed their jerseys.
What NFL teams hope for, search tirelessly for, is talent that others looked over. There is a great deal of value to be had in players that come out in the mid to late rounds of the draft, and last year it was DeMarco Murray who best demonstrated this fact.
As a rookie runner for the Dallas Cowboys, Murray rose from the third running back spot on the depth chart to earn a starting role in place of Felix Jones and Tashard Choice. Murray proved his value by rushing for 897 yards and adding another 183 yards receiving.
All in all, not too shabby for a guy taken in the third round.
Here are five sleeper running back prospects who could produce similar results in 2012.
Mark Tyler, RB (USC)
Tyler had what many would consider an inconsistent season in 2011.
After being suspended for the season opener, Tyler dislocated his shoulder a few weeks later against Cal, which caused him to miss another pair of games.
In all, Tyler totaled 568 yards and four touchdowns for the season. The numbers are somewhat pedestrian but Tyler's biggest asset is his size. He also has good speed given his size and could be able to step in as an extra receiving option out of the backfield.
At 5'11" and 230 pounds, Tyler has the size to help him stand apart from some of the smaller scat-back type players in the draft. The growing belief is that the NFL is turning into a big running back's game, and Tyler certainly has the requisite build to fill in nicely on someone's roster as a second or third down option.
Look for Tyler to be a fifth or sixth round selection.
Lance Dunbar, RB (North Texas)
North Texas certainly didn't demand a whole lot of respect this year, which is more than likely the reason Lance Dunbar's name hasn't been heard circulating all that often.
Dunbar was the focal point of the Eagles' offense in 2011, and thus defenses were out to get him. Yet he still managed considerable numbers to the tune of 1,115 yards and 10 touchdowns. In 2010, Dunbar was sixth in the FBS in rushing yards (1,553), which helps explain why opposing defenses sought him out the way they did.
At 5'9", 203 pounds, Lance Dunbar has decent size but he also possesses a quick burst and stacks up as a versatile runner who can do a number of things coming out of the backfield.
Dunbar is the kind of guy who could really sneak up on someone coming out of the late rounds. Any team that gets him needs to develop him and work him hard as he has great potential coming from a mid-major like North Texas.
Chris Rainey, RB (Florida)
Of all the draft prospects on this list, Chris Rainey might have the biggest question mark next to his name.
At Florida, Rainey was a Swiss Army knife-type player. He ran, received and returned on special teams and tallied well over 1,000 all-purpose yards in 2011. He fits the mold of a Jacquizz Rodgers or a Noel Devine almost to a T. At 5'8", 178 pounds, Rainey isn't scaring defenses with his size.
He is with his speed, though.
While Rainey can burn you with his speed, his size may prove a detriment to his ability to make an immediate impact at the next level.
That's not to say it can't or won't happen, though, and any team in need of a quick, change-of-pace back that can line up in the slot would be hard-pressed to find a better guy than Rainey.
If Rainey can keep his act together and prove he's willing to work at putting on a little extra weight, then he might make someone very happy coming out of rounds five or six.
Doug Martin, RB (Boise State)
It's hard to look past the legacy that Kellen Moore built during his time out on the smurf-turf. So I don't feel bad in reminding people that he had some quality talent out there aiding his air-born conquest.
Doug Martin was certainly one of Moore's best weapons at Boise over the past few seasons. During his senior year, Martin collected 1,299 yards on the ground and another 263 yards receiving. Martin also set up deep to return kicks and thus made his presence felt virtually all over the field.
Known for his quick burst and being able to pick up yards after contact, Martin proved to be a handful in the open field.
While he doesn't have the pedigree of, say, a Trent Richardson or a LaMichael James, he's a quality grab regardless and will be a great contributor for a team searching for a good option on third down or a spark plug on special teams.
Look for Martin to get picked up in the third round a la DeMarco Murray.
Isaiah Pead, RB (Cincinnati)
While this writer still takes issue with Pead grabbing the Big East POY award in 2011 (cough...Geno Smith...cough), Pead was far and away the most dynamic rushing threat that the league had to offer.
In his senior campaign, Pead amassed 1,259 yards and 12 touchdowns as well as 319 yards receiving. Pead is a balanced, open-field runner. He is not only quick but also very good in a straight line. While he had some issues with ball security, Pead was otherwise a model of consistency.
Despite the numbers and the ability, he's still overshadowed by bigger names that I've previously mentioned. You might say he and Doug Martin have a similar problem heading into the draft. Whether it's the colors he wore or the conference he represented, Pead is still a shade under top-tier and likely won't get picked up until the fourth or fifth round.
However, Pead's ability to block and run crisp routes out of the backfield, coupled with his athleticism, grants him arguably the best odds of any running back in the draft to emerge as an impact player in his rookie season at the pro level.