2012 NFL Draft: Who's Hot, Who's Not at the RB Position

Michael WillhoftContributor IIINovember 18, 2011

2012 NFL Draft: Who's Hot, Who's Not at the RB Position

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    The 2012 NFL draft likely won’t be heavy with potential franchise running backs. What's more, most teams won't care since the league has shifted toward a passing-centric style of offense in recent years.

    Regardless, football is still about overpowering the opponent, and the best way for a team to establish its dominance is with a strong running game.

    With that in mind, there are some big-name collegiate running backs pushing hard to impress the scouts and make an impact in the NFL. There are also a few backs with a lot of hype, but not necessarily the level of performance to match.

    If you’re an NFL draft junkie looking to prepare for next year’s edition already, this should give you at least part of your daily fix.

    Here’s whose stock is rising and whose is falling when it comes to NFL prospects at the running back position.

HOT: Trent Richardson, Alabama

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    Like it was any question that this list would start off with—arguably—college football’s most valuable player.

    Alabama running back Trent Richardson has the hype and the production of an NFL-ready prospect at his position. Richardson’s season stats (so far) are clear indicators that he’s the real deal when it comes to running the football: 204 carries, 1205 rushing yards and 18 rushing touchdowns.

    I’ll add on his receiving stats for good measure: 25 receptions, 318 receiving yards and one touchdown.

    Scouts Inc. has Richardson rated as the No. 3 overall prospect and No. 1 in terms of running backs. No argument here: Richardson will be cashing checks in the NFL in 2012, and with good reason.

NOT: Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina

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    It’s not really his fault that he’s on this list for the wrong reason, but it’s a fact that South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore can no longer be considered a top running back prospect in the upcoming NFL draft class.

    A season-ending knee injury has sidelined Lattimore’s Heisman Trophy hopes and his dream of going to the NFL in 2012.

    Prior to the injury, Lattimore was a force at running back. He amassed 818 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns in just over six games for South Carolina, and he was on his way to the draft.

    Unfortunately for Lattimore, he’ll have to wait another year before getting his shot at the league.

HOT: LaMichael James, Oregon

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    For those who thought he was done when he went down with that gruesome elbow injury—I’ll admit it, I was one of them—Oregon running back LaMichael James is out to prove he’s still as explosive as ever.

    James boosted his standing in NFL circles with a monster game on national television against Pac-12 front-runner Stanford. As James went, so went the Ducks offense.

    James ran for 146 yards en route to his three touchdowns against the Cardinal, once again injecting his name into the conversation about NFL prospects at running back.

    Scouts Inc. lists James as the No. 6 running back in the draft class, but another performance like the one he put together against Stanford and James could see his name move up even higher.

NOT: Chris Rainey, Florida

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    This is more of a pick for Florida running back Chris Rainey’s teammate—fellow running back Jeff Demps—than a pick against Rainey.

    But I’m getting ahead of myself.

    Purely from a rushing standpoint, Rainey has had a decent season so far (658 rushing yards and two touchdowns). But his recent ankle injury might be cause for concern.

    Injury-prone is not a phrase that players want associated with their names when it comes to the NFL draft.

    Rainey sat out against Vanderbilt and had to reestablish himself as the speed back in the game against South Carolina. Despite the 132 rushing yards against the Gamecocks, Rainey is still rated lower than Demps in the 2012 NFL draft class according to Scouts Inc.

HOT: Jeff Demps, Florida

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    Florida running back Jeff Demps has certainly made his presence felt on the field this season, even going so far as to eclipse his teammate Chris Rainey in the backfield.

    Demps is averaging 6.7 yards per carry—almost 1.5 more yards per carry than Rainey—this season, and he has six rushing touchdowns to go with his 527 yards on the ground.

    He also proved he could carry the load as the feature back in the game against Vanderbilt (when Rainey was out with the ankle injury).

    Although Demps is only slightly better according to Scouts Inc.—he’s the seventh-rated running back to Rainey’s 12—his stock has been on the rise lately, which separates him from his teammate.

NOT: Tauren Poole, Tennessee

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    Judging by how Tennessee’s season has gone so far, running back Tauren Poole isn’t deserving of the title of college football’s biggest bust. The fact that he’s put together some respectable numbers in the midst of a lost season is a credit to his character.

    Unfortunately, character is only a small piece of the typical NFL scout’s player evaluation file.

    Poole had a great start to the season, putting up games of 98, 101 and 101 rushing yards in three of his first four games. After that, it went downhill.

    The senior running back hasn’t recorded more than 70 rushing yards in any of his last six games, which isn’t doing wonders for his draft status. Poole will have to finish the season strong against in-state rival Vanderbilt and northern neighbor Kentucky if he wants to prove he’s still a top-10 running back prospect.

HOT: David Wilson, Virginia Tech

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    As college football’s leading rusher and Scouts Inc.’s fourth-rated running back prospect, Virginia Tech’s David Wilson certainly has a lot going for him.

    Wilson has compiled 1442 rushing yards so far this season, putting him within reach of his lofty personal goal of breaking the 1500-yard mark for the year. Wilson has totaled at least 123 rushing yards in all but two of Virginia Tech’s game this season.

    Despite Tech’s relatively low profile this year, Wilson should still garner plenty of attention from NFL scouts before next year’s draft.

NOT: Doug Martin, Boise State

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    Once again, the perils of playing in a non-BCS conference have come back to bite the Boise State Broncos—more specifically, running back Doug Martin.

    Martin will have the fight the bias that often accompanies the statistics put up by Boise State players—whether it’s wins or rushing yards—if he wants to gain the respect of NFL scouts.

    And while 756 rushing yards and nine rushing touchdowns are respectable totals at this point in the season, Martin hasn’t cracked the list of college football’s top forty rushers by yardage.

    I’m not saying Martin won’t get some looks from NFL teams, but they won’t be as many as he’d get while playing in a major conference.

HOT: Montee Ball, Wisconsin

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    It’s safe to say that Wisconsin running back Montee Ball is having a solid season.

    Ball has 1242 rushing yards, 23 rushing touchdowns, 14 receptions—for 234 yards—and four receiving touchdowns on the year.

    If you do the math—I had to use a calculator once I ran out of fingers and toes to count—you’ll realize that he also set the Big Ten single-season touchdown record with 27. And he still has two regular-season games, a possible Big Ten Championship game and a bowl game to rack up some more scores.

    All the press that Ball has been getting lately is sure to improve his 2012 NFL draft status. Any team would be happy to have a touchdown machine, especially when he comes from a big-name football program like Wisconsin.

NOT: Vick Ballard, Mississippi State

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    Mississippi State running back Vick Ballard has NFL size, but he’ll have to earn the respect of NFL scouts for his play.

    Ballard’s stats can be misleading: Of his 811 rushing yards this season, 166 of them came against Memphis. In fact, he’s only broken 100 rushing yards in games against Memphis, Auburn, UAB and UT-Martin this year.

    The Scouts Inc. profile for Ballard rates him as average in key categories—vision/patience, agility/acceleration, competitiveness—which won’t set him apart from the rest of the running back prospects.

    For an offense predicated on running the football, Mississippi State hasn’t done much to improve Ballard’s perception as a tough runner.