NFL Draft 2011: Grading the Top 15 Running Backs

Brian Shannon@bshannon15Correspondent IApril 25, 2011

NFL Draft 2011: Grading the Top 15 Running Backs

0 of 15

    TUSCALOOSA, AL - OCTOBER 02:  Mark Ingram #22 of the Alabama Crimson Tide breaks a tackle by Ahmad Black #35 of the Florida Gators at Bryant-Denny Stadium on October 2, 2010 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    This year's running back class is not a particularly good one in terms of elite talent but there are still plenty of options for teams looking to upgrade at the position.

    Mark Ingram is the unquestioned leader of this group and he should be able to shoulder the load from day one of his NFL career, but many of the other backs should start their career as productive third down backs.

    Ryan Williams and Daniel Thomas should be attractive options to other teams who are looking for a potential starter or someone who can share the load on their squad.

    Here is a look at the top 15 running backs in this year's draft.

15. Bilal Powell (Louisville)

1 of 15

    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 has a solid frame at 5'10" and 207 lbs. but he is not going to run by many NFL defenders with his 4.58 speed he displayed at the combine in the 40.

    Powell was productive during his time at Louisville, rushing for 6.1 yards per carry on 229 attempts.

    The 22-year-old's biggest asset is his vision and his toughness; he fights for extra yards and falls forward on most of his runs.

    Powell does have some fumble concerns but he would offer good value for a team looking for a running back in the fourth or fifth round.

14. Delone Carter (Syracuse)

2 of 15

    SEATTLE - SEPTEMBER 11:  Running back Delone Carter #3 of the Syracuse Orange rushes against the Washington Huskies on September 11, 2010 at Husky Stadium in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    Cater is built like a ton of bricks at 5'8" and 225 lbs., and he runs like it. Power is Carter's biggest asset since he runs low to the ground but he does not have great speed.

    Carter is not a big help in the passing game as a receiver since he caught just eight passes during his senior season at Syracuse. However, Carter is very good in pass protection and he could be valuable on third down because of that.

    The 23-year-old should go in sometime around the fourth round because of his powerful running style and he would be a good value for a team looking to take some of the load off of its starter.

13. Alex Green (Hawaii)

3 of 15

    Alex Green could end up being not only one of the biggest steals at running back, but also one of the biggest steals of the entire draft with his speed and size.

    Green is a well built back at 225 lbs. and he ran a 4.45 in the 40-yard dash at the combine.

    Green averaged 8.2 yards per carry at Hawaii and he scored on 18 of his 146 carries last season. Since he played at Hawaii he has excellent experience in the passing game and he is a very reliable pass-catcher.

    The former Hawaii star's biggest weakness is holding onto the football as he was prone to fumbles the past two seasons.

    If Green can hold onto the ball better at the next level he should become a very valuable contributor at running back.

12. Jacquizz Rodgers (Oregon State)

4 of 15

    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

    At just 5'6" Rodgers is hoping to be the next successful little back in the Darren Sproles mold of runner.

    Rodgers does not have elite speed (4.59) and he is not big enough to consistently run defenders over but he is a tough back who gives it his all on the field.

    The 21-year-old was extremely productive during his three seasons at Oregon State and he is another of the many backs in this draft that is valuable on third down.

    Rodgers should go sometime in the third or fourth round, potentially as a third down back to start his career.

11. Jordan Todman (Connecticut)

5 of 15

    GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 01:  Jordan Todman #23 of the Connecticut Huskies stiff arms Jamell Fleming #32 of the Oklahoma Sooners in the second quarter during the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl at the Universtity of Phoenix Stadium on January 1, 2011 in Glendale, Ariz
    Tom Pennington/Getty Images

    Todman ran very well at the combine, posting a time of 4.40 in the 40, and his 25 reps on the bench was also one of the best numbers posted at the running back position.

    Todman was a workhorse at UConn, carrying the ball 302 times this past season for 1,574 yards and 14 touchdowns. The one thing that could hold the 21-year-old back right now is the fact that he is not much of a threat on third down and he often came off the field for the Huskies during such situations.

    Todman does a good job getting behind his blockers and churning out yardage so he should be a productive back for a team looking to split their carries.

    The Massachusetts native will most likely come off the board near the fourth round.

10. Shane Vereen (California)

6 of 15

    BERKELEY, CA - NOVEMBER 20:  Shane Vereen #34 of the California Golden Bears in action against the Stanford Cardinal at California Memorial Stadium on November 20, 2010 in Berkeley, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Vereen was a very hard-worker during his time at Cal and he is a player with strong character who should see success at the next level.

    The 22-year-old ran for 1,167 yards and 13 touchdowns on 231 carries this past season for the Golden Bears.

    Vereen will likely never be an overpowering runner but he does have above-average speed (4.49) and he is very good in the passing game where he is accustomed to playing in many different positions such as the slot and out-wide.

    Vereen will likely go to a team in the third or fourth round who is looking for a third-down running back.

9. Dion Lewis (Pittsburgh)

7 of 15

    CINCINNATI, OH - DECEMBER 04:  Dion Lewis #28 of the Pittsburgh Panthers runs for a touchdown during the Big East Conference game against the Cincinnati Bearcats at Nippert Stadium on December 4, 2010 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  Pittsburgh won 28-10.  (Photo by
    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Lewis is an all-around solid back that could best be described as a "gamer." The guy gets it done on game day one way or another and he showed during his time at Pitt that he can be a workhorse.

    Lewis carried the ball 325 times in 2009 and another 219 times this past season.

    It is likely that Lewis will go in the third or fourth round as more teams begin to split carries amongst their runners.

8. DeMarco Murray (Oklahoma)

8 of 15

    GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 01:  DeMarco Murray #7 of the Oklahoma Sooners runs the football to score a touchdown in the first quarter against the Connecticut Huskies during the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl at the Universtity of Phoenix Stadium on January 1, 2011 in G
    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Murray is another potential third down back in this draft whose biggest strength lies in the passing game. Murray is an experienced receiver out of the backfield having caught 71 passes this past season.

    The 23-year-old doesn't do anything exceptionally well when it comes to running the football but he does everything good enough to see some carries at the next level.

    The Las Vegas native ran very well at the combine (4.37) and he should be attractive to a team in the latter part of the third round.

7. Taiwan Jones (Eastern Washington)

9 of 15

    Jones has come out of virtually nowhere to become one of the hottest names at the running back position in the draft.

    The 194 lb. back helped Eastern Washington to the NCAA Division I Football Championship this past season but he was unable to play in the team's final two games due to a broken foot.

    Durability is a major concern for the FCS All-American, as he missed time in each of the past three seasons.

    Jones should be a solid value in the third round with his blazing speed (4.33) and third down capabilities.

6. Johnny White (North Carolina)

10 of 15

    NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - SEPTEMBER 25: Brandon Bing #23 of the Rutgers Scarlet Knights is unable to tackle Johnny White #34 of the North Carolina Tar Heels during the second quarter at Rutgers Stadium on September 25, 2010 in New Brunswick, New Jersey.  (Photo
    Andrew Burton/Getty Images

    White has good speed (4.50) for his size (209 lbs.) and he plays even faster than his 40 time suggests.

    White is an extremely hard worker who was voted as UNC's MVP of the offseason strength and conditioning program prior to last season.

    White is one of the more underrated runners in this draft and he gives excellent effort in all aspects of the game so he should hear his name called sometime during day two of the draft.

5. Kendall Hunter (Oklahoma State)

11 of 15

    LAWRENCE, KS - NOVEMBER 20:  Running back Kendall Hunter #24 of the Oklahoma State Cowboys carries the ball during the game against the Kansas Jayhawks on November 20, 2010 at Memorial Stadium in Lawrence, Kansas.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    Hunter is another all-around solid back in this year's draft and with his exceptional speed (4.46) he should come off of the board fairly early in the selection process.

    The 22-year-old was very productive during his time at Oklahoma State, running for over 1,500 yards in 2008 and 2010.

    Hunter has some ability in the passing game but he will need to continue improving in that area as well as others to get an increased role in the NFL.

    You can expect Hunter to be taken in the latter part of the second round or early in the third.

4. Daniel Thomas (Kansas State)

12 of 15

    BOULDER, CO - NOVEMBER 20:  Daniel Thomas #8 of the Kansas State Wildcats rushes with the ball against the Colorado Buffaloes at Folsom Field on November 20, 2010 in Boulder, Colorado. Colorado defeated Kansas State 44-36.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty
    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    Thomas came into this past season as one of the top runners in the country and he lived up to the lofty expectations, running for 1,585 yards and 19 touchdowns on 298 carries.

    Thomas is a very tough runner and at 230 lbs., he is a load to bring down. The 23-year-old needs to improve his ball security as he fumbled the ball far too many times in college but he is still one of the most talented runners in this draft class.

    The Florida native should hear his name called during the second or third round of the draft.

3. Mikel Leshoure (Illinois)

13 of 15

    CHICAGO - NOVEMBER 20: Mikel Leshoure #5 of the Illinois Fighting Illini runs on his way to a 339 yard rushing performance against the Northwestern Wildcats during a game played at Wrigley Field on November 20, 2010 in Chicago, Illinois. Illinois defeated
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Leshoure is one of the top rated backs in this draft after breaking out in a big way this past season for the Illini.

    The 21-year-old ran for 1,697 yards and 17 touchdowns on 281 carries during the 2010 season while displaying a significant amount of power at times.

    Leshoure appears to be ready to take on a starting role in the NFL but it will depend on what situation he ends up in. You can expect him to definitely go in the 2nd round of the draft to a team looking for someone who can carry a large part of their running back load.

2. Ryan Williams (Virginia Tech)

14 of 15

    MIAMI - NOVEMBER 20:  Ryan Williams #34 of the Virginia Tech Hokies runs for a touchdown during a game against the Miami Hurricanes at Sun Life Stadium on November 20, 2010 in Miami, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    Williams suffered a hamstring injury during this past season and he missed four and a half games which may have hurt his draft stock to a degree.

    Williams did not have a great 40 time (4.59) at the combine but he runs very hard and is able to make up for his lack of elite speed in other ways.

    The New York native is rated as the No. 2 running back on many analysts boards and he should find himself going early in the second round and potentially at the end of the first.

1. Mark Ingram (Alabama)

15 of 15

    TUSCALOOSA, AL - OCTOBER 02:  Mark Ingram #22 of the Alabama Crimson Tide against the Florida Gators at Bryant-Denny Stadium on October 2, 2010 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    The 2009 Heisman winner was obviously productive during his time at Alabama and he finds himself as the No. 1 running back entering this draft.

    Ingram is very well-built at 5'9" and 215 lbs., and while he is not going to run away from many NFL defenders (4.62), he hits the hole very hard and he displays excellent vision.

    The 21-year-old will be able to come in and start from day one for the team that drafts him and it is expected that he will have good success doing so.

    Ingram should be the first running back off of the board come draft night and likely the only one to go in the first round.