BBH Draft Preview 2011 - Running Backs
The talent available
While there is plenty of depth, there aren’t many who look like they will be heavy duty ball carriers at the next level. I have one RB rated in my top 20 but no others in my top 32 and only two more in my top 64. However, there are 5 more in my top 100.
What do I think the Giants should do?
On the surface things are fine but closer inspection shows free agent to be Ahmad Bradshaw paired with an aging, discontented and expensive for what he offers Brandon Jacobs. Some see it as a cinch that Bradshaw is given a new contract but his fumbling problems haven’t gone away despite the Giants teaching him to keep the ball ‘high & tight’ and he has worn down over the course of each season. Jacobs’ best days are ahead of him - as a boxing promoter - but on a football field he’s clearly ‘lost a step’. DJ Ware offers promise in training camp each year but has never delivered on the field when the real games start. 161 yards rushing in 3 years and a long injury history says it all.
How will things play out on draft day?
In recent years there are very few RB’s that are selected in the 1st round and this year will be no exception. At most one will be selected in the 1st round with teams hoping to find ‘value’ in later rounds.
Teams in need of RB’s this year include San Francisco, Washington, Miami, New England & New Orleans.
The top prospects
Mark Ingram jr (Alabama) has a compact and powerful build at 5'9 1/8”, 215lb’s with 4.58 speed, Junior entry and two year starter. Has good bloodlines - son of former Giants WR Mark. Comparisons’ to Emmitt Smith’s size and running style are legit in every way. Immensely productive at the college level and excellent in the red zone and on short yardage - generated 3,261 career rushing yards including 42 TD’s. Not renowned as a breakaway threat but averaged 5.7 yards per carry for his career and has scored from long distance on several occasions. Has just 3 career fumbles despite a heavy workload at the highest level of competition. Excellent receiver in the screen game (53-616 and 4 TD’s the past two years). Willing and very capable blocker in pass protection. Won the Heisman Trophy in ’09 as the nation’s top player. Had a knee injury that required surgery prior to last season and missed the first two games then wasn’t nearly as explosive on his return (though he still made some massive plays). Also lost some playing time to his very talented back-up. Quality all-around prospect who will have an immediate impact for whoever drafts him. If his knee isn’t a problem he will be an NFL star. The Giants have shown some interest in him. Rates in my top 20 overall but could drop without a clean bill of health.
Mikel LeShoure (Illinois) is 5'11 5/8”, 227lb’s with 4.59 speed. Only a full-time starter for one year and entered the draft as a junior. Had an outstanding productive junior season - 1,697 yards rushing at 6.0 yards per carry and 17 TD’s. Wears down opposing defenses and can carry a heavy load. Has a burst to the outside and in the open field. Breaks a ton of tackles and can punish defenders. Very good runner between the tackles with quick feet. Not heavily utilized as a receiver - just 37 career receptions - but shows good hands. Developing but very willing pass blocker. Doesn’t have the change of direction skills to make things happen on his own when blocking breaks down. Not quite as good a prospect as former teammate Rashad Mendenhall was a few years back. Has had some OTF concerns - jaw broken in a fight with a teammate in ’08, suspended by his Coach for a game in ’09 for violating team rules - but may be maturing now. Giants were at his Pro Day and if they have a real interest sending DC Perry Fewell to check him out was the perfect cover! Rates in my top 64
Ryan Williams (Virginia Tech) is pretty much a carbon copy of Ingram in terms of his size and speed (5'9 3/8”, 212lb’s with 4.61 speed). Entered the draft as a junior despite having an injury hit season. Was terrific in ’09 (1,655 yards and 21 TD’s rushing at 5.6 yards per carry). Explosive through the hole and has great vision. Offers great cutting ability and burst. Can change direction in an instant and make plays cutting back against the grain. Punishes defenders at the end of his runs. Not used much as a receiver - just 26 career receptions - but has good hands. Inexperienced and poor pass protector. Needs to do a better job holding onto the ball (5 fumbles in ’09). Durability may be an issue - suffered a partial tear to his right hamstring and missed four games in ’10 and had problems with his ankle and knee the two years prior to that. The fact that Hokies RB’s never seem to make it big in the NFL is another worry. The Giants have shown some interest in him. Rates in my top 64.
Shane Vereen (California) is 5'10 1/4”, 210lb’s with 4.50 speed and the frame to add a little more bulk. Is another junior entry. Operated out of a spread offense and has been very productive throughout his career, improving each season and finishing his career with 2834 yards rushing at a 5.1 yards per carry average with 29 TD’s. Previously worked in tandem with Jahvid Best (Lions, 30th overall pick in ’10) but carried a much heavier workload this year. Very good receiver (74 career receptions for 674 yards and 6 TD’s). Was used as a kick returner as a sophomore and was productive but not explosive (22.9 average per return on 24 attempts). Experienced and solid pass protector. Durable - has never missed a game through injury. Needs to cover the ball up better at the end of runs. Not really used as an outside runner due to the system he played in and isn’t used to having a FB lead the way so won’t fit every offense. Top 100 pick.
Kendall Hunter (Oklahoma St.) is 5'7 1/4”, 199lb’s with 4.53 speed. One of the few seniors amongst the top ranked RB’s this year. Three year starter. Has had durability issues - broke his ankle in High School and had a high ankle sprain that destroyed his junior season. In between those injuries he turned in a pair of 1,500 yards rushing seasons as a starter and added 32 TD’s. Has good quickness and elusiveness running between the tackles. Isn’t very powerful and doesn’t break many tackles. Hasn’t been heavily utilized as a receiver out of the backfield but can catch (64 career receptions) Wasn’t really asked to block in college and wasn’t aggressive when he did but showed a willingness to learn how to do so in the Senior Bowl practices. Top 100 pick.
Daniel Thomas (Kansas St.) is 6'0 1/4”, 230lb’s with 4.61 speed. Was a two year starter after transferring from a JUCO. Former QB who played that role often in the ‘wildcat’ formation. Has good vision and balance and rarely seems to go down to the first hit. Hasn’t got breakaway speed in the open field but has been able to bounce the ball outside and turn the corner anyway. Is not the bruiser his size suggests he is - actually better running outside by design than between the tackles. Very productive throughout his career against top competition. Has major fumbling problems (7 last year!) as he holds the ball away from his body. Has an upright running style which makes him susceptible to big hits and may lead to durability issues in the pro ranks. Top 100 pick.
DeMarco Murray (Oklahoma) 5'11 5/8”, 213lb’s with 4.41 speed. Is the other top rated Senior bck in this draft class. Offers great versatility - is the Sooners all-purpose yardage career leader. Best receiver out of the backfield in the entire draft - has made 157 career receptions for 1571 yards and 13 TD’s. Explosive kick returner (27.6 career average on 53 returns with 2 TD’s). Has rushed for 3,685 yards and scored 50 TD’s but his career 4.8 yards per carry average is reflective of the fact he runs high and doesn’t have great vision. Needs to learn to stay on his feet and stop ducking his head in pass protection but does a decent job getting in the way. Is a risk because he seems to get injured every year and miss some time (dislocated kneecap, ruptured left hamstring, sprained left ankle, bruised ribs) but simply offers too much to be overlooked for too long. Could easily step in and make a huge impact as a 3rd down back/kick returner even if he doesn’t start. Top 100 pick.
Notable mid-round scatbacks
Jacquizz Rodgers (Oregon St.) is far shorter than ideal but stockily built at 5'5 7/8”, 196lb’s. 3 year starter who left after his junior season. Difficult for defenders to find let alone lay a big hit on due to his lateral stop-start quickness and burst through the hole or around the edge - hasn’t missed any playing time since his freshman season despite a very heavy workload. Has racked up 3,877 yards rushing and a further 1,056 yards receiving. Hard to find behind his line and immensely productive in the red zone (46 career rushing TD’s) as he can go under defenders. Doesn’t have breakaway speed. Willing blocker who has a chip on his shoulder and takes on defenders with great aggression. Has just one career fumble. If I had to describe him in one word it would be ‘tough’. Much better player than his 40 yard dash time suggests. Underrated. Rates in my top 100 but I think he’ll last longer than some of those I rank behind him due to his lack of timed speed.
Jordan Todman (Connecticut) is 5'8 7/8”, 203lb’s with 4.40 speed. Too over from Colts RB Donald Brown and racked up 2879 rushing yards and scored 28 TDs at just under 5.1 yards per carry in his two years as a starter. Is a good cutback runner with a burst of speed to the outside who finishes his runs but doesn’t break many tackles and isn’t overly elusive. Not particularly effective in short yardage. Better running outside than between the tackles. Experienced kick returner. Not great as a pass protector. Was named the Big East player of the year before he entered the draft. Looks like a change of pace back at the next level though he may be able to carry a heavy load in that regard.
Dion Lewis (Pittsburgh) 5'6 5/8”, 193lb’s with 4.59 speed. Entered the draft as a redshirt sophomore after starting for two years. Has been very productive throughout his career - 2860 rushing yards at 5.3 yards per carry with 30 TD’s - breaking the school records set previously by LeSean McCoy and the legendary Tony Dorsett in the process. Is hard to find because of his height and also very shifty to and through the hole. Left after a ‘down’ season following the dismissal of Coach Wannstadt. Good receiver out of the backfield - 52 career receptions - but isn’t dynamic in space. Gets trampled in pass protection so doesn’t project as a third-down back. Has had too many fumbles (10 in two years). Though he carried the workload at Pitt he’s more likely to be a change of pace back at the next level.
Taiwan Jones (Eastern Washington) is a thin framed 6', 194lbs with legitimate 4.35 speed. Former CB. Dominated at a much lower level of play when switched to RB prior to his sophomore season - amassed 2,532 rushing yards at 7.7 yards per carry and scored 27TD’s in 2 yrs as a starter. Excellent receiver (64-903 and 7 TD’s). Also can return kicks but hasn’t been explosive in that regard (22.9 yards per return career average). Snippets of him available on the internet show sublime big play ability but his lack of durability is a legitimate problem (broke his leg as a high School senior, did it again in ‘08, sports hernia surgery in ’09, broke his left foot in ’10). However, compared to his inability to hold onto the ball - 17 fumbles the past two years - those problems seems minor! Has had a lot of recent hype following his Pro Day workout but with his WR build and lack of strength he looks the type who will be on IR by mid-season every year.
Notable mid-round power backs
Delone Carter (Syracuse) is short but very stockily built at 5'8 5/8”, 222lb’s. Not very elusive but breaks a lot of tackles and punishes defenders at the end of his runs. Has decent speed (4.56) but isn’t quick to or through the hole and isn’t a breakaway threat. Not a good receiver (just 28 career receptions) or pass protector. Missed the entire ’07 season with a dislocated hip. Really only effective carrying the ball straight ahead between the tackles. Overrated.
Stevan Ridley (L.S.U) is 5'11 1/4”, 225lb’s with pedestrian speed (4.66). Entered as a junior after only starting for one year and had a productive season (1,147 yards rushing, 15 TD’s). Lacks a breakaway burst but is a very strong interior runner with good vision who consistently moves the chains. Breaks a lot of tackles and makes his own holes - which he had to do as the LSU line this year was not particularly good. Not used much as a receiver (17 career receptions). Doesn’t have the speed to run outside consistently or run away from defenders in the open field. Good blocker in pass protection. Was effective on Special Teams coverage when buried on the depth chart his first two years. Voted a team Captain which considerinhg he hadn’t even started at that point suggests he’s a really good kid. Underrated.
Allen Bradford (USC) is 5'10 7/8”, 242lb’s with 4.58 speed. Between the tackles bruiser with a surprising breakaway burst in the open field - has averaged 6.5 yards on 225 carries and scored 13 TD‘s the last two years. Has had some huge games despite not being a regular starter. Not used as a receiver (just 14 career receptions) so unknown whether he has bricks for hands or simply wasn’t used in that capacity. Needs to hold onto the ball better when taking on defenders head on (6 fumbles, 3 lost last year). Had some hip problems earlier in his career that required surgery. Good team player - excels on Special Teams and has also played some FB. Underrated.
I’m sure it would be an unpopular pick with many but I can see Ingram being the ‘best player available’ when the Giants are on the clock with the 19th overall pick and were that the case I’d hope they select him if they are sure his knee is healthy. He’s head and shoulders above every other back in this draft.
Looking for a back in the 2nd round if either of Leshore and Williams were available they would offer good ‘value’ with the 52nd overall pick though both carry an element of risk. Vereen and Murray are a pair of good options in the 3rd round - the former as a potential starter, the latter because of his versatility. Rodgers really appeals too, especially if he lasts into the 4th round.
Looking for a bigger back, I would hope the Giants strongly consider Ridley in the 4th round as he’d fit nicely as a short yardage runner and pounder to replace Jacobs in tandem with Bradshaw. He hasn’t got much mileage on his clock either. Bradford also appeals in the 4th round as a potential like-for-like replacement for Jacobs. He could be this year’s version of LeGarrette Blount (but minus the attitude problems).