Power Ranking the Top 25 College Running Backs and Their 2011 NFL Draft Status

Michael PintoSenior Writer INovember 12, 2010

Power Ranking the Top 25 College Running Backs and Their 2011 NFL Draft Status

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    COLUMBIA, SC - OCTOBER 9: Running back Mark Ingram #22 of the Alabama Crimson Tide rushes upfield against the South Carolina Gamecocks October 9, 2010 at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, South Carolina.  (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
    Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

    As we did for the top 25 quarterbacks list earlier this week, we'll be taking a look at the NFL prospects for all of the top 25 running backs from the 2010 season. 

    The rankings are based on production this season, not on a player's NFL potential. A great college career and success in the NFL are two very different things, we all know that. 

    Here are this season's top 25 college running backs and their potential in the pros.

25. Ryan Williams, Virginia Tech

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    ATLANTA - SEPTEMBER 05:  Ryan Williams #34 of the Virginia Tech Hokies against the Alabama Crimson Tide during the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game at Georgia Dome on September 5, 2009 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Williams has been plagued by injury for most of the season, missing four games and essentially being reduced to a non-factor in his return due to limited touches. But we give him an honorary placement in the top 25. 

    There's no denying the talent he has and we anticipate him having a strong finish this season.

    While he's eligible for the 2011 draft, Williams is only a sophomore and we aren't convinced it would be in his best interest to bolt now. He'd likely be no higher than a mid-second round pick. 

24. Ronnie Hillman, San Diego State

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    While freshman backs like Michael Dyer and Marcus Lattimore have made the biggest impression, Hillman has actually been the most productive freshman running back in the country. 

    His 1,044 rushing yards account for the ninth-highest total in the nation. But he's a long way away from the 2013 or 2014 NFL draft, though he might be the best back out of San Diego State since Marshall Faulk. 

23. Roy Helu, Jr., Nebraska

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    LINCOLN, NE - OCTOBER 30: Running back Roy Helu Jr. #10 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers break a long run against the Missouri Tigers during second half action of their game at Memorial Stadium on October 30, 2010 in Lincoln, Nebraska. Nebraska Defeated Missou
    Eric Francis/Getty Images

    After his monster 300-yard game against Missouri a couple of weeks ago, Helu reminded us just how good he can be. But as far as draft prospects go, scouts still see him as an average talent.

    He's a top 15 back in the 2011 class and he actually does a lot of things well.

    He runs with purpose, he has good vision and better than advertised burst through the hole, but the upside is limited and Helu is at best a middle round pick. 

22. Bobby Rainey, Western Kentucky

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    Rainey has been solid this season, with six games over 100 yards rushing, including a 155-yard performance against Nebraska. 

    He's about all Western Kentucky's offense has going for it, but the major drawback toward Rainey at the next level is his height.

    At 5'7" and 195 lbs, he's got a small frame and doesn't project well. But there's plenty of time until the 2012 draft for that to change. 

21. Bilal Powell, Louisville

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    LOUISVILLE, KY - OCTOBER 15:  Bilal Powell #15 of  the Louisville Cardinals runs with the ball during the Big East Conference game against the Cincinnati Bearcats at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium on October 15, 2010 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy
    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Powell emerged essentially out of nowhere this season to crack the top 10 in rushing and warrant the type of draft discussion that was nonexistent before the season. 

    He runs strong and has a knack for ripping off yards in bunches, though the level of competition he's faced deems him a somewhat suspect prospect. 

20. Jordan Todman, Connecticut

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    SOUTH BEND, IN - NOVEMBER 21: Jordan Todman #23 of the Univeristy of Connecticut Huskies runs with the ball against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Notre Dame Stadium on November 21, 2009 in South Bend, Indiana. Connecticut defeated Notre Dame 33-30 in o
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Todman has been held under 100 yards just once this season, ranking 15th in the nation in rushing yards with 954. 

    He's one of the highest-rated backs of the 2012 draft and he has the makings of a late-first, early-second round pick as long as he isn't derailed by injuries.

19. Andre Ellington, Clemson

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    AUBURN, AL - SEPTEMBER 18:  Andre Ellington #23 of the Clemson Tigers against the Auburn Tigers at Jordan-Hare Stadium on September 18, 2010 in Auburn, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Ellington had some big shoes to fill at Clemson this season. He quickly developed into the team's best offensive player, though a turf toe injury look like it might limit him for the remainder of the season.

    He's got incredible speed and home run ability and he really reminds us a lot of his predecessor, C.J. Spiller.

    Ellington could become a very hot commodity come the 2013 draft. He's got a ton of potential. 

18. Adam Robinson, Iowa

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    IOWA CITY, IA - OCTOBER 23- Defensive back Niles Brinkley #29 of the Wisconsin Badgers puts pressure on running back Adam Robinson #32 of the University of Iowa Hawkeyes as he rushes for yards during the second half of play at Kinnick Stadium on October 2
    David Purdy/Getty Images

    Robinson proved this year that he was capable of carrying over his late-season success from 2009 into the 2010 season. Other than a recent concussion that knocked him out of the Michigan State game, he's been very productive. 

    The sophomore added another wrinkle to his game with a much improved presence in the passing game, which makes him a dangerous all-around back.

    There's still doubt whether his playing style can translate to the NFL and, at the moment, that makes him no more than a mid-round choice for 2012 or 2013. 

17. Mikel LeShoure, Illinois

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    ANN ARBOR, MI - NOVEMBER 06:  Mikel Leshoure #5 of the Illinios Fighting Illini celebrates a fourth quarter touchdown reception while playing the Michigan Wolverines at Michigan Stadium on November 6, 2010 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Michigan won the game 67-
    Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    LeShoure has drawn constant comparisons to Rashard Mendenhall, his predecessor at Illinois. If you're talking NFL draft, the question is whether LeShoure will forgo his senior season as Mendenhall did.

    It may very well be the case, especially considering how well he's been playing.

    LeShoure is 21st in the nation in rushing, but he's no Mendenhall and you'd be hard pressed to find someone who considers him better than a mid-to-late round pick. 

16. Noel Devine, West Virginia

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    BATON ROUGE, LA - SEPTEMBER 25:  Noel Devine #7 of the West Virginia Mountaineers avoids a tackle by Brandon Taylor #15 of the Louisiana State Univeristy Tigers at Tiger Stadium on September 25, 2010 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  The Tigers defeated the Mou
    Chris Graythen/Getty Images

    Devine probably did himself a disservice by choosing to stay at West Virginia for his senior season rather than heading for the 2010 draft. 

    He had a chance to be one of the top backs selected a year ago, but a sub-par senior season has hurt his draft stock. Concerns about his size and durability, as well as his hesitancy to make moves at the line, will likely limit him to a third or fourth round selection.  

15. Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina

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    AUBURN, AL - SEPTEMBER 25:  Marcus Lattimore #21 of the South Carolina Gamecocks against the Auburn Tigers at Jordan-Hare Stadium on September 25, 2010 in Auburn, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Lattimore has been inconsistent this season. As the year goes on, we're favoring Michael Dyer more and more as the top freshman back in the nation.

    Lattimore's still an incredible talent who has proven capable of being a workhorse with an unrelenting style.

    Even if the yards aren't there, Lattimore pushes it hard. He and Dyer are on course to compete as the top running back prospects of the 2013 or 2014 draft. But there are a lot of games to be played still. 

14. Michael Dyer, Auburn

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    AUBURN, AL - OCTOBER 23:  Michael Dyer #5 of the Auburn Tigers against the LSU Tigers at Jordan-Hare Stadium on October 23, 2010 in Auburn, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Dyer has proved throughout his first season that, if you feed him the ball, he can be a very productive back. He's built like a rock, he has great vision and he can take the ball between the tackles or cut it outside if the opportunity is there.

    If he continues at this pace, he'll be one of the top backs selected in the 2013 draft. We find it hard to believe that he'll be at Auburn for more than three seasons with this much potential at the next level. 

13. Edwin Baker, Michigan State

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    EVANSTON, IL - OCTOBER 23: Edwin Baker #4 of the Michigan State Spartans breaks away from Brian Peters #10 of the Northwestern Wildcats at Ryan Field on October 23, 2010 in Evanston, Illinois. Michigan State defeated Northwestern 35-27.  (Photo by Jonatha
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Baker really came into his own this season after seeing limited reps as a freshman. He's been a huge part of Michigan State's success and he is only getting better as the year progresses. 

    With a compact frame, he's undersized, but plays with a lot of power and elusiveness.

    Look for him to continue to roll this year and take that right into next season, when he'll likely be considered one of the top running-back prospects in the nation.  

12. Ed Wesley, TCU

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    SALT LAKE CITY, UT - NOVEMBER 6: Ed Wesley #34 of the TCU Horned Frogs cuts back during a game against the Utah Utes during the first half of an NCAA football game November 6, 2010 at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo by George Frey/Gett
    George Frey/Getty Images

    Wesley, like Michael Dyer and Trent Richardson, has proven that all he needs is a few extra carries to be one of the top backs in the nation. He's averaging 6.6 yards per carry this season. While many of his games have been against weaker competition, he's torched some good defenses as well. 

    The sophomore's stock has risen a ton throughout the season and we expect it to rise even more as he tacks on a couple more years to his belt.

    He has a great natural frame and runs low to the ground with solid balance. There's a chance he heads for the NFL after next season and gets picked up in the second or third round. 

11. Vai Taua, Nevada

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    LAS VEGAS - OCTOBER 02:  Vai Taua #34 of the Nevada Reno Wolf Pack celebrates after scoring a touchdown against the UNLV Rebels in the second quarter of their game at Sam Boyd Stadium October 2, 2010 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Nevada Reno won 44-26.  (Photo by
    Ethan Miller/Getty Images

    Playing for Nevada isn't helpful for NFL scouts, as it's tough to judge how well Taua would perform against stiffer competition on a regular basis. 

    He's been one of the biggest contributors to a potent offense for the last couple of years, and he has an uncanny ability to rip of huge runs when it doesn't look like there's any space.

    Taua is the type of prospect that will benefit greatly from the draft microscope in the offseason, and he has the potential to be a solid pickup in the mid-rounds. 

10. Shane Vereen, California

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    BERKELEY, CA - OCTOBER 09:  Shane Vereen #34 of the California Golden Bears runs against the UCLA Bruins in the first half at California Memorial Stadium on October 9, 2010 in Berkeley, California.  (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
    Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

    A year ago, Vereen actually had a better season than teammate Jahvid Best, and many feel that he's the superior talent. Based on the way he's played this season, the logic behind that argument isn't crazy. 

    He's a top 10 prospect for the 2011 draft, though we anticipate him sticking around Cal for another year and aiming for the first round of the 2012 draft. 

9. DeMarco Murray, Oklahoma

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    DALLAS - OCTOBER 02:  Running back Demarco Murray #7 of the Oklahoma Sooners runs for a touchdown against the Texas Longhorns in the first quarter at the Cotton Bowl on October 2, 2010 in Dallas, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Murray has been good for Oklahoma this season, but not great. He's shown that his vision as a runner is limited. While he's able to find his holes and hit them when they're open, he isn't quick to create his own space on cutbacks.

    He possesses a great combination of size, speed and power and, with a very polished receiving game, his ceiling is high if he can learn to read the field a little bit better.

    He's a fringe top-five back for the 2011 class and he has the potential to be a late-second, early-third round selection. 

8. Jacquizz Rodgers, Oregon State

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    TUCSON, AZ - OCTOBER 09:  Runningback Jacquizz Rodgers #1 of the Oregon State Beavers runs with the football during the college football game against the Arizona Wildcats at Arizona Stadium on October 9, 2010 in Tucson, Arizona. The Beavers defeated the W
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Rodgers is one of the most athletic and polished all-around backs in the nation. But as an NFL prospect, the red flags go up when it comes to his size. 

    He's a tiny back at 5'7" and 170 lbs, which raises serious concerns about his durability. But in terms of production and abilities, Rodgers is lightning in a bottle just waiting to go off.

    It's unclear whether or not he'll declare early. But if he does, expect someone to take a flier on him around the third round. 

7. Trent Richardson, Alabama

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    KNOXVILLE, TN - OCTOBER 23:  Trent Richardson #3 of the Alabama Crimson Tide runs for a touchdown during the SEC game against the Tennessee Volunteers at Neyland Stadium on October 23, 2010 in Knoxville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Richardson is the prime example of a back who would be a star in any other situation, but his time will come next season once Mark Ingram departs. 

    Many inside Alabama's camp believe that Richardson is the superior talent. But at the end of the day, both of them are elite NFL prospects that have a ton of potential at the next level.

    Give Richardson one season as the starting back at Alabama and he'll be a top 15 pick in the 2012 draft. 

6. Montel Harris, Boston College

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    CHESTNUT HILL, MA - SEPTEMBER 25:  Montel Harris #2 of the Boston College Eagles carries the ball and tries to manuever around Davon Morgan #2 of the Virginia Tech Hokies on September 25, 2010 at Alumni Stadium in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts.  (Photo by
    Elsa/Getty Images

    After hitting a rough patch earlier this season, Harris is playing about as well as any back in the country right now and he looks to be in the best form of his career. 

    He's got a great all-around game at the college level, but he doesn't have elite speed. For an undersized back, he lacks the power to be as effective between the tackles on the next level.

    He may opt for the draft after this season, but we expect him to stick around at BC for another year to improve his stock. 

5. Daniel Thomas, Kansas State

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    LAWRENCE, KS - OCTOBER 14:  Daniel Thomas #8 of the Kansas State Wildcats carries the ball as Olaitan Oguntodu #44 of the Kansas Jayhawks defends during the game on October 14, 2010 at Memorial Stadium in Lawrence, Kansas.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Im
    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    Thomas is a top three running back prospect for the 2011 draft and he has the potential to be a star at the next level. 

    He's got great size and solid top-end speed, but it's his ability to be quick in space and an elite burst at the line that makes him really intriguing.

    He runs low with great pad level, reads his blocks very quickly and he is a natural at identifying cutback lanes. Thomas will be off the boards by the late first-or-second rounds. 

4. Mark Ingram, Alabama

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    BATON ROUGE, LA - NOVEMBER 06:  Mark Ingram #22 of the Alabama Crimson Tide is tackled by Eric Reid #1 and Ryan Baker #22 of the Louisiana State University Tigers at Tiger Stadium on November 6, 2010 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  The Tigers defeated the Cri
    Chris Graythen/Getty Images

    Ingram hasn't been nearly as productive this season as he was a year ago, but Alabama in general just hasn't been the same.

    That hardly effects his draft prospects though, as Ingram is the clear favorite to be the top back selected in 2011, making it very, very unlikely he sticks around for his senior season. 

3. John Clay, Wisconsin

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    MADISON, WI - OCTOBER 16: John Clay #32 of the Wisconsin Badgers runs against the Ohio State Buckeyes at Camp Randall Stadium on October 16, 2010 in Madison, Wisconsin. Wisconsin defeated Ohio State 31-18. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Clay suffered a sprained MCL last week and, when you've already been tagged as an injury prone prospect, that isn't a good sign. 

    Clay is a Ron Dayne-type bruiser with great size, but he lacks speed and agility. He makes up for it with a patient-yet-powerful running style. He's a downhill runner who doesn't dance at the line, but bulldozes through it.

    But the concerns over his health are troubling and that will limit him to the late-second, early-third round if he declares. 

2. Kendall Hunter, Oklahoma State

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    Hunter has been incredible this season. After missing most of 2009 with injuries, he's back in top form and moving steadily up draft boards. 

    For an undersized prospect, he lacks elite speed or lateral movement. But he can make things happen in the open field and he has great initial burst as well as excellent short, choppy steps.

    Regardless of his drawbacks, Hunter is a top-five prospect at the position. A good combine could make him a very hot commodity come draft day. 

1. LaMichael James, Oregon

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    EUGENE, OR - NOVEMBER 06: Running back LaMichael James #21 of the Oregon Ducks runs with the ball in the third quarter of the game against the Washington Huskies at Autzen Stadium on November 6, 2010 in Eugene, Oregon. The Ducks won the game 53-16. (Photo
    Steve Dykes/Getty Images

    James has given no indication that he'll declare for the 2011 draft, but you can bet everyone in the Pac-10 is hoping he does.

    While there's a general stigma to playing the spread offense, as well as being an undersized back that probably can't be an everydown player at the next level, James is one of the most intriging prospects in the country.

    He's insanely productive as a runner and receiver, and he would never make it out of the first round were he to declare.