Tuesday, April 3, 2012

2012 NFL Draft Prospectus: Running Backs

As we continue to bring you our 2012 NF Draft Prospectus, we now post our RB section. As always, you can view the Prospectus in its entirety at www.powerratedsports.com, as we have profiled over 600 players who are eligible for this season's draft.

Running Backs

Much like the QB class, there is limited value with this group as a whole, but there are some gems, and some multi-faceted ones at that. The best value that could be found in this class will likely not be found early on, but in the middle rounds and especially late. You may also get lucky with some quality rookie free agents from this class that could provide depth, flexibility, and value on special teams. If you are looking for a franchise maker in this lot, you may not find what you seek.

Top Prospects

#1 Trent Richardson, Alabama
Richardson was a Heisman finalist and was one of the best backs in the country. He had huge numbers in 2011, but there are questions with him as there are to every single RB in this class. How far can this guy go? He is a hit/miss prospect with huge upside, but also has the ability to slide downward on the next level, where he won't be playing on a dominant team. Questions abound with Richardson.
Pros: Richardson can produce and got NFL caliber coaching from the staff at Alabama. He has intense drive and his productivity was extremely high. He rushed for 1679 yards and 21 TDs last season as a junior, and decided to forego his senior season. Rushed for over 3000 yards at Alabama, at least half of which came as a backup. Has a solid build at 224 lbs and can run between the tackles with the best of them. He is an every down back that can play in almost any set on any down without much worry. He is a capable home run threat on any given down and is always a threat to break tackles and make his own yardage due to his bowling ball build. He played against top shelf competition his entire career, and is patient. Waited two seasons to become the primary back for the Tide.
Cons: Does not look as big as he is listed. For his size, he seeks out too much contact and does not avoid big hits. Has some minor injury issues with a knee that required minor surgery. In his two biggest contests against LSU in 2011, he was nullified, leading to doubts about him being a big game talent. A lack of succesful backs in the NFL out of Alabama in the last 20 years has to concern a team. He started only one season, and was a reserve the other two seasons, so really has only one real season as being a full time primary back. Three of his five best performances in 2011 came against weak defenses, losing teams, or FCS opponents. Although he had a great season overall, still at times did not live fully up to expectations, which may have been elevated in the first place.
Overview: Here's the deal. Richardson is a very good back with tremendous upside, but like every back in this class, he comes with multiple questions. His experience is ok, but not great. His speed is ok, but not great. His size is ok, but not great. His production is solid, but not spectacular. You are not getting a star quality back on the next level without some coaching up involved, and he should not be considered as a starter from day one. His contact on contact running style will leave him vulnerable to injury, and he must be coached out of that mentality. The team drafting him must be selective in how they use him, and must draft him in a spot of value, or else risk over reaching.

#2 LaMichael James, Oregon
You get two things in abundance with a player like James...guts and speed. James came into prominence at Oregon after the suspension of LaGarett Blount in 2009, and he took off like a rocket, making Oregon essentially his team the last three seasons. James was a huge reason for the success of the Duck program the last three seasons, and even though he missed time with injury here and there, he was still the driving force on offense. He rushed for 5384 yards the last three seasons and scored 53 times on the ground alone (added 5 more combined receiving and returns). That being the case, he comes with issues all his own. Let's take a look.
Pros: As I said, the speed is insane with James. Forget about 40 times, as that's all track and field, straight line crap. Look at the way he runs in terms of game speed. When James hits a hole, he is gone. You don't catch him after the point of attack, and if you do, he's burned you for more than his fair share. The productivity is incredible, as he has been a national leader for two seasons, and has outplayed just about anyone in this class on the field with his overall numbers. He is a gamer, as he played with injuries to both elbows in 2011, including a dislocation that came against Cal, forcing him to wear a bulky elbow brace. He is able to take the ball outside, but despite great size, he is not afraid to pound the ball up the middle. Think Warrick Dunn with more skill, and a bit more size.
Cons: Well, we do have to address the size issue. He is only 5-9 and weighs under 200 lbs, and you know that those numbers are probably generous, as most media guides are. He has had some injury issues, and the elbow injury was enough to worry about. Most think that he is totally healed, but elbow dislocations are rarely ever healed totally without surgery, so there is something to think about. He is a fast track player, as he is used to playing on the very slick and fast turf at Autzen Stadium. He'd probably fare better in a dome city, or at very least a fast artificial turf stadium. He played in a very college specific offense, and may have trouble switching to a straight forward offense without all of the gimmickry that the Ducks use on offense. He is not an accomplished receiver, and most of his scores came on the ground. Has not had a ton of experience as a return man where his speed could be of value. Many scouts have stated that they see him mainly as a 3rd down specialist due to his lack of great size, and speed alone only gets you so far.
Overview: I love LaMichael James and his skill set, but will be the first to say that he is not for everyone. I love his ability, I love his productivity, and would take him in the 3rd round, but any earlier could be scary. The offense that Oregon uses does not translate to the NFL on many levels, so there could be a major learning curve with James. I want him to succeed, and I am pulling for him to succeed, but there is much work to be done here, and he may have to work harder than others in his class on the next level because of preconceived doubts.

#3 Ronnie Hillman, San Diego State
Hillman is a fascinating back with much upside, and was by far the best back to come out of SDSU since Marshall Faulk. He is also an interesting case because he comes into the NFL as having just finished his redshirt sophomore season. He did a ton of damage in a very short time for the Aztecs, as he rushed for 3243 yards in two years with 36 TDs on the ground. He collected 4 TDs in a game 3 times during his days with the Aztecs, and rushed for 150 or more yards 12 times. Again, like many backs in this draft, there are some major questions that one must ask of themselves when it comes to drafting Hillman.
Pros: For starters, he put the Aztecs on his shoulders and became a true team leader in what was a reclamation project when he got to San Diego State. The Aztecs were adrift as a program, and Hillman helped give this team an identity. While he was not a great receiver, or at least was not a huge part of the passing game in 2010, he worked hard to become a better receiver as SDSU lost all of their top receivers after 2010, and caught 24 passes in 2011, 15 more than in 2010. He was a hard core rush threat in what was primarily a passing offense, giving the passing game more room to open up and get the ball down the field due to his presence coming out of the backfield. He is a worker who learned very quickly, and could very well deliver long term potential as a star. He has a huge motor, and is not afraid to take charge in games. He carried the ball 49 more times in 2011 than in 2010, which means that he was counted on more to deliver, and he certainly did most days.
Cons: Hillman did not exactly play against top flight competition at San Diego State, having played against just three power conference opponents in two seasons. SDSU finished just 1-2 in those games. That being said, in those three games, Hillman rushed for a combined 553 yards and 6 TDs. His career at SDSU was not long, and considering that he bolted after just two seasons on the field, I have to wonder about his dedication to the greater team picture over himself. He was injured against Boise State in 2011, and finished that game with just 8 yards on 3 carries, and was a mess in the bowl game loss to UL-Lafayette to finish his career with just 55 yards on 20 carries, failing to score in that game. In two games against TCU, he failed to rush for more than 55 yards in either of those two games. Like James, he has some size issues, as he is just 5-10 and 190 lbs, and that's his listed size, probably not actual. He certainly looks small on film. Not a great receiver, so would be more of a situational back, taking some value down a peg, and is not a return man whatsoever, taking away special teams value.
Overview: Hillman has some obstacles to overcome, and I worry that his short career as an Aztec may actually work against him on the next level. You cannot ignore his productivity and his role in resurrecting what was a dead SDSU program, but he was not committed beyond two years on the field, and that just rubs me the wrong way. His biggest chances to have big games came with mixed results, and you have to look at what he did in those games, and looking at those numbers, he is all or nothing. He has huge upside, but is a big risk for a big investment. Buyer beware.

#4 Bobby Rainey, Western Kentucky
If you have never heard of Rainey, you have been hiding under a rock. Rainey is one of the most productive backs in the last two seasons nationally, and played well against everyone. A diminutive back at best, Rainey feared no defense in his WKU career, and was a star on a few bad football teams before this season, when WKU got a bit screwed out of a bowl game. Rainey is a little dude with huge talent who rushed for just under 3540 yards in what amounted to three full seasons. Rainey played his biggest games on stages against FBS competition, and rushed for 155 yards against Nebraska in Lincoln in 2010. He rushed for 35 TDs and was a full time starter for two seasons, with a third season as a major contributor to the offense.
Pros: Huge guts and huge spirit on this guy. He has the heart of a winner, and played through some hard times on some terrible football teams before Willie Taggert came in and helped to start turning the program around by putting the football in Rainey's hands. Rainey played huge against huge competition as well as Sun Belt cupcakes, and was a shining example of being a selfless player. He could probably have left after 2010, but stuck it out one more season to help continue the rebuilding project and get more exposure, showing strong commitment principles. In four games against BCS competition during the last two seasons, he rushed for over 100 yards in all four games, collecting a total of 559 yards and 5 TDs. He does not have great height (5-8), but is built like a wrecking ball (205 lbs) which give him leverage through holes and makes him a smaller target to hit. Absolutely no fear, and works like an animal to hone his game. Quality receiver out of the backfield as well, as he has caught 55 passes the last two seasons. Scored 4 TDs as a receiver in 2011.
Cons: Size is an issue as well as a credit. One has to wonder how his smaller size will add up on the next level, and will that make him vulnerable. Does he have the strength to pull off his high wire act on the next level? The jury is out. OK, let's bring up the competition level, as I know most of you will. True, he did have an opportunity to pick up big nimbers against crappy Sun Belt teams. I'll give you that. However, remember his work against higher level BCS teams as well. That being said, the higher level of competition that he will face in the NFL may take some getting used to. Will his size prevent him from being an every down back, or will he be better off as a specialist, like Kevin Faulk of the Patriots? He has extremely limited experience on special teams, taking a bit of value away there. Rarely ever got a chance to play on a winning team, and winning is a learned trait.
Overview: Rainey has been an underdog his entire career by default. He is not the biggest, the fastest, or the most recognizable back in the bunch, but you would be unwise not to consider what he can bring to the table. He is a workhorse back who is not afraid to get his hands dirty in any task that you give him, and he will beat the bigger, more agile teams that look him over. I really like this guy, and I believe him to be the darkhorse back in this class, who may shock a few folks when it all comes down to it. Easy to underestimate, but he'll kill you if you do.

#5 Bernard Pierce, Temple
It's very easy to fall in love with this guys skill set. Pierce, like Rainey, is a small program back with huge talent, and like Hillman, brought a team back from oblivion to the bigger stage. Pierce is a monster back, a punishing figure who puts the ball down your throat while he crushes your windpipe with his cleats. He's not afraid to run over or through you and keep on going. He rushed for over 35 TDs in three years, and came back from an injury plagued 2010 season to score 27 TDs in 2011, making the choice easy for him to leave. He helped take Temple to 2 bowls in 3 seasons, when they had not been to a bowl since 1979. Pierce was a star piece, and the one season that Temple failed to go bowling was the season that he was injured. Go figure.
Pros: He is the kind of power back that NFL coaches seem to love. He played in cold weather, making him perfectly suited to well over half of the teams in the league. He rushed for multiple TDs in a game 7 times in 2011, making him the primary meat and potato figure of Temple's offense. If Pierce was not the go to guy, Temple faltered. He never did rush the ball even close to 300 times in any one season, making him fresher for the next level, as he was never overworked. He rushed for 53 TDs in three seasons. He has solid size, and looks bigger than he is listed on film. He's a power back that has solid speed, and punishes tacklers with a hard and low rushing style. He was really beat up in 2010, but came back much stronger in 2011, missing only one game late in the season. As beat up as he was in 2010, he still only missed one game as he tried to work through his issues.
Cons: He probably should have been shelved more in 2010 than he was, and was largely ineffective that season as he tried to work his way through a myriad of physical problems. He came back strong last fall, but still has some injury history and concerns. Like Richardson, he runs at people and not around, which could contribute more to the injury issues. He only played against 5 power conference teams in 3 seasons, and the results were extremely mixed. Played through a coaching change in 2011, as Al Golden had left for Miami, and will be working in his third offense in as many years in the NFL in 2012, which could be a problem. He is lacking in the passing game as a receiver, and has a ton to learn about pass blocking, as Temple was a run first team. Good, but not burning speed.
Overview: Scouts will either love him or hate him. Like almost every back in this class, he is loaded with work to do before he can truly be a star on the next level. If he can stay healthy, Pierce can be a guy, that after some major work, can sneak up and become a starter with a solid work ethic and provide value, but he has some major learning to do as a blocker and a receiver, and he gives you no special teams value just now. A project with upside, but health is the key here.

#6 David Wilson, Virginia Tech
Wilson came out after his junior season to enter the draft after a season that saw solid production. With that said, I have some issues with what he brings to the table. He was a star for the Hokies this season as he rushed for 1709 yards and 9 scores in what was his only season as the full time primary back for the Hokies. He rushed for over 100 yards in every game but three in 2011 and finished 8th in the country after averaging 122.07 yards rushing per game.
Pros: Piled up a load of yardage for the Hokies and forced Frank Beamer into using a primary back instead of the committee that he has used for years. Adds solid value on special teams as he collected 415 yards on kick returns. He has good enough speed to hit the burner in the secondary, and is not afraid to hit the trenches running. Knows how to find the holes, but has shown some ability to make his own yardage when necessary. He can move a pile, and is great at picking up yardage after 1st hits.
Cons: His experience is limited despite was he was able to do in 2011. He left after his junior year when we were just starting to see the kind of back he could be, when he absolutely could have used another season to develop. He will not be a full time starter anytime soon, and is poor as a blocker. When the Hokies needed him most at the end of the season in 2011, he simply faded away, leading me to believe that he cannot keep the motor going over a 16 game season plus playoffs, and is not a clutch performer. Was held to just 32 yards in the ACC title game against Clemson, and his team was routed when they were probably the better of the two teams. He only had one season of overall solid production. Failed to score in double figures in 2011, which is not the sign of a truly great back.
Overview: Wilson has some talent and some speed, which is good, but lack of experience, and his fading down the stretch worries the hell out of me. Definitely not a first day draft talent, and is more suitable for mid rounds. Brings more value as a kick return man than as an every down type of back. Good as a pass receiver, but not great, but Tech was not a great passing team, so I give him a break there. Again...MID ROUND TALENT. Don't go crazy and draft him early because of desperation at RB.

#7 Terrence Gannaway, Baylor
Gannaway is another guy who had very nice production in 2011, but is lacking in overall experience and time as a primary back. He did, however, show up as a pleasant surprise on the landscape in 2011 as a nice balance piece to Robert Griffin in the Bears backfield. Gannaway looks like a nice player who may be just getting started, and if used in the right situations, could be a sleeper stock in the 2012 NFL draft.
Pros: He absolutely blew up in 2011, rushing for 1566 yards and 21 TDs after playing in the shadows the previous two seasons. He is huge at 240 lbs, but does not run like it and has surprising speed. Punishes, but is more likely to avoid hits than take them, making injuries of moot point. He is a patient player, who earns his time rather than demands it. He can hammer the ball up the middle, but has the speed to burn it to the outside. Rushed for the yardage that he totalled despite Griffin being the star in the passing game. He averaged 6.2 yards per carry, making him dangerous past the point of initial contact. Was part of a huge reclamation project at Baylor, and knows what it takes to go from losing to winning.
Cons: Despite playing in a passing offense, was rarely used as a receiver, and adds no value on kick returns. He is more of a graceful back than a power back, and you would expect more physicality out of a back of his size. He is hit and miss, as he has a huge game one week, and disappears the next, making consistency with him a huge issue. He needs some development in the passing game, as Baylor was a quick hitch passing team, keeping the back moving out rather than using him as pocket protection. Still has some work to do.
Overview: He's another back who should not be an early pick, but is sneaky good, and picked in the right place could bring some real value. There is no doubt that he has work to do, but again, he is patient and seems to have some solid work ethic. Gannaway could go either way at this point, but if he works hard, and gets solid coaching, he could be a guy to reckon with in a couple of seasons. The skill is there, but he needs some development time.

#8 Robert Turbin, Utah State
If you haven't heard of him, you are not flying solo. Turbin is not coming out of a football hotbed at Utah State, but is quietly becoming one of the fastest risers in this class at RB, and has some pretty nice skills to bring to the next level. The guy you never heard of is about to bust onto the scene, and you may be getting to know him a great deal very quickly. He rushed for 3374 yards in three full seasons at USU, and scored 40 TDs on the ground as well while playing for mostly very bad football teams, keeping his exposure low.
Pros: Came back strong from a torn ACL that cost him the 2011 season. Not the tallest kid in class at  5-9 listed, but weighs in at 220 lbs, and pushes the stack forward while the motor never gives in. He adds significant value out of the backfield as a solid pass receiver, as he has caught over 60 passes in his career in Logan. Finished with 144 all-purpose yards against Auburn in a near upset on the road to start the 2011 season, a game that the Aggies virtually gave away in the closing minutes. Has very little in the way of fear, and runs hard every week.
Cons: Even though he looked great in 2011, you still have to worry about that ACL injury. He does not have great speed, and may never be more than a committee back. He played against mostly bottom barrel opponents in the WAC, and has had very little exposure on a higher level. He may get swallowed up on a bigger stage, and may have been a big fish in a small pond at Utah State. Despite solid production, still managed to disappear some weeks, as his numbers were very up and down.
Overview: His productivity overall, and his versatility make him too much to not look at in the scheme of things. This being a weaker class than usual may play to his benefit, but again, don't get too crazy with where you pick him. He is a solid mid-round value, and must be used as a situational back to get maximum ability out of him. If pidgeon holed into a certain role, he may fall flat. He needs to be coached up, and in the right situation, could flourish on the next level. Be careful with this one.

#9 Lamar Miller, Miami
If you have only one season to base things on, Miller had a big 2011. He was a guy like Hillman who only spent two seasons on the field at Miami, and unlike Hillman, was the primary back for only one of those seasons. In his only season as a starter, Miller rushed for 1272 yards and 9 scores, which are solid numbers, but didn't have me jumping up and down. In his redshirt freshman season, he rushed for only 646 yards on just 108 carries. Some people are very high on him, but there is limited info to scout him on.
Pros: Miller has quality size for an every down back, as his listed weight is 215 lbs. He has solid speed out of the backfield and has a second gear once in the open. He averaged 5.6 yards per carry once he was a primary back for the Hurricances. Decent receiver who caught 17 passes out of the backfield, Adds some value on kick returns, and limited value as a punt return man.
Cons: Like Hillman, leaving after his redshirt sophomore season rubs me the wrong way. Commitment could be an issue. He started only one full season and it was a bit hit and miss. Is not a great scorer, rushing for only 15 TDs in two seasons. Runs a bit upright, and can be hit. Disappeared in several games where he became a non-issue. In 5 of his final 7 games, failed to hit 100 yards. Failed to score in 3 of his final 5 games. Is not the kind of back that often makes his own yardage. Takes basically what is given. Not overly creative. Never played on a winner, so may not know how to win. Will be on his 3rd coach in 3 seasons in 2012.
Overview: There is not much to go on with Miller, as he started only one season. He has a limited at best resume, and in my opinion, is a major project. He has speed, and some knack for making big runs, but lacks any of the consistency that you need if you are about to make a major investment in him. In a stronger class, he wouldn't be much of a factor, but since this is a very weak class overall, he gets more attention than he is probably due. I am not a big fan, and I urge strong caution if drafting this guy.

#10 Chris Polk, Washington
Polk was a three year starter at Washington, where he busted loose for 1000 yards or more in all three of those seasons. He rushed for over 4000 yards in those three seasons as a starter, but also comes with injury concerns, as he was dinged up quite a bit. He rushed for 1488 yards and 12 TDs in 2011, 1415 yards and 9 scores in 2010, and 1113 yards and 5 scores in 2009, which was his first season as a starter.
Pros: He can certainly run, and is a creative back who is disciplined. He follows his blocks and creates off of them, which is rare in today's college backs who want to create without following the rules of nature when running the football. He does not outrun his blocking, and is creative in the open field. Plays faster than he really is, and looks quicker on film than he probably really is. Great size, as he is listed at 225 lbs. Yardage productivity in his three seasons as a starter shows solid consistency. He's a guy who, with some really good coaching, could be a better pro than a collegian. Very nice receiver, having caught 78 passes in three years.
Cons: Disappears for large stretches of time. He had seven games in 2011 where he failed to reach 100 yards. Had 8 games where he failed to receive 20 carries, meaning that durability could be a huge concern on the next level. Failed to reach 20 carries 7 times in 2010 as well. Dislocated a shoulder as a freshman, causing him to miss most of that season. Running style leaves him vulnerable to big hits, raising injury concerns. Not a great scorer, as he rushed for multiple scores only once all year in 2011. Rushed for only 26 scores in 3 seasons, way behind the better backs in this class. We kept on waiting to get more from him during his career, and while solid, he was never as great as he was expected to be for the Huskies.
Overview: He'll never be a full time back in the NFL with his seeming inability to run the ball hard for 4 quarters, but he has quality if you want him for a second or third back. With a lot of work on the next level, he could turn into a very nice back for someone with patience, but he is going to need to get used to being able to run the ball more to be a big time threat at the next level. I am not sure that he has the ability to break it big in the NFL, and he needs a great deal of coaching up, but he has the mentality to compete. Draft him in the mid-rounds or late, and you may get some serious value for your buck. Again, use caution with this guy.

To view the rest of the 2012 RB class, including small school prospects, please visit www.powerratedsports.com/NDFDraft2012_RB.

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