Second in a series exploring the April 26-28 NFL draft. Next: Tight ends.
There is not an abundance of elite running back talent in the draft, but there is some decent depth. That plays into the trend of teams finding backs later in the draft. Look for running backs to be popular picks after the opening round.
Trent Richardson, Alabama, 5-9, 228: He is one of the best prospects in the draft at any position. Richardson is a powerful, explosive runner with excellent quickness. He runs low, and his huge thighs make it difficult to bring him down. He can make tacklers miss or bowl them over, and he can break long runs too. He is a hard worker who doesn't mind the dirty jobs. His pass protection is excellent, and he can catch. He also returns kicks.
2. Doug Martin, Boise State, 5-9, 223: A one-cut runner who goes north and south, Martin runs hard. He has an all-around game and runs with a low center of gravity to find the hole. His strength and toughness come out in his blocking and inside running. He is not the most elusive runner and does not have special speed.
3. David Wilson, Virginia Tech, 5-9, 206: An underclassman, he probably won't be a workhorse because of his size. Wilson can be a very effective for a team that uses multiple backs. He is powerful for his size and he runs with great determination. He will add a dynamic dimension on third downs. His 4.38 40-yard dash at the combine showed he can run away from defenders. He needs to improve his receiving skills. Wilson's personality is considered a plus.
4. LaMichael James, Oregon, 5-8, 194: Size is a problem but James displayed some special skills as he helped Oregon win a lot of games. As a change-of-pace back, this underclassman can make an impact. He has speed, quickness, instincts and vision. He has been injured some and his durability is an issue. James is comparable to Darren Sproles.
5. Lamar Miller, Miami, 5-10, 212: He has all-around running skills and can gain yards between the tackles or on the outside. Miller's speed is enticing, but he doesn't always hit the hole hard. He has decent hands. Miller was a one-year starter, left college early and is not a finished product. He probably will need some time to develop. At the least, he should be a good kick returner as a rookie.
6. Bernard Pierce, Temple, 6-0, 218. A combination of size, speed and running skill give Pierce a chance to develop into a lead back. He was very productive for the Owls with a good feel in short yardage. Pierce left school early and has yet to scratch the surface of his ability. If he can become more consistent and more intense, he can be a fine pro.
7. Chris Polk, Washington, 5-10, 215: A productive one-cut slasher, Polk will fit in well in a downhill, zone scheme. He is physical and can gain yards between the tackles. Polk shows decent speed but won't break too many long runs. He has the ability to develop as a receiver.
8. Isaiah Pead, Cincinnati, 5-10, 197: A combination of speed and determination make him a good pro prospect. He has a nice burst through the line of scrimmage. Pead has been productive, but he might not be big enough to be an every-down back. He can catch and block, so a third-down role is an option. Returning kicks also is a possibility.
9. Robert Turbin, Utah State, 5-10, 222: A big bruiser who runs low to the ground and has quick feet, Turbin is a downhill, one-cut runner. He hits the hole hard. He ran a 4.42 40-yard dash at the combine, but hasn't played quite that fast. He has an injury history that could affect his draft stock.
10. Davin Meggett, Maryland, 5-8, 211: Meggett is short like his father, former Giants running back Dave Meggett. But he has a good feel for running the ball and is elusive like his father too. A one-year starter, he was not overly productive. Davin runs hard but does not have top-end speed. His receiving skills are pretty good.
11. Chris Rainey, Florida, 5-8, 180: His size is an issue, but his speed is going to be a concern for opponents. He can make hard cuts that leave defenders grasping at air. Rainey could become a multipurpose offensive player who also takes snaps at wide receiver. He also has the ability to be a special teams standout.
12. Cyrus Gray, Texas A&M, 5-10, 206: His vision, feel, balance and intensity will give Gray a chance. He has a good "runner's lean," and is sudden in and out of cuts. His hands will give him another dimension. Gray lacks top-end speed and great size.
13. Edwin "Rock" Baker, Michigan State, 5-8, 204: He is a solid all-around back with production in the Big Ten. His burst helps him get through the line, but his overall speed is average. He needs work on his blocking. An underclassman, he has been a little inconsistent, but he could develop.
14. Dan Herron, Ohio State, 5-10, 213: Herron could be a decent No. 2 running back in the NFL. He is pretty good at everything, including running between the tackles, bouncing it outside, making defenders miss and receiving. He runs hard but does not have exceptional power. His speed is ordinary.
15. Vick Ballard, Mississippi State, 5-10, 219. He has adequate vision, size, strength and speed, but Ballard doesn't have one trait that stands out. He was a productive college player but probably is an NFL backup. He does not break many tackles or make defenders miss very often. Ballard needs to improve his receiving.
16. Ronnie Hillman, San Diego State, 5-8, 200: He gained a lot of yards before leaving school early. Hillman is a small but dynamic player who can reel off long runs. He is not going to be very effective as an inside runner, but he can be very dangerous in space. Hillman catches pretty well. His lack of bulk hurts him in blitz pickup.
17. Bryce Brown, Kansas State, 6-0, 223: His combination of height, weight and speed makes him a legitimate prospect. The Tennessee transfer was a top recruit but did not have a great career before leaving Kansas State early. He quit the team after three games last season and NFL teams have questions about his football character. Some team will take a chance on him.
18. Tauren Poole, Tennessee, 5-10, 205: Poole runs low to the ground and usually gets positive yards. He is tough and physical. He is not coming off a great year. Poole could be more patient and follow his blocks better. He does not have dynamic run skills.
19. Brandon Bolden, Mississippi, 5-11, 222: He has a good build for a running back. Though Bolden lacks breakaway speed, he can move the chains with good eyes, short bursts and shiftiness. He can catch and block. Bolden played last season with a hairline fracture in his ankle and his production was down.
20. Lennon Creer, Louisiana Tech, 5-11, 219: Creer sees the field well and follows his blocks. He has quick feet and he runs hard. A 4.71 40-yard dash at the combine did not help his case, but he is a tough, aggressive back who could find a role in the NFL.
21. Mike Ball, Nevada, 5-8, 206: He was kicked off his college team for violating team rules and subsequently left school a year early. Ball was a productive player, however. He is a solid inside runner who lacks a special trait and is smaller than ideal. He is a fine return man, and also can pitch in with receiving.
22. Ryan Houston, North Carolina, 6-2, 245: He is a big back who plays like a smaller one. Houston has quick feet but does not always stay low, so he subsequently does not always run with power. He lacks a second gear. Houston shows good hands out of the backfield. He is not a consistent blocker. Injuries could affect his draft stock.
23. Terrance Ganaway, Baylor, 5-11, 239: He is a thick, one cut runner who has some quickness but not much speed. Ganaway doesn't run with as much power as his frame would suggest. He was not a consistent performer in college, but the package of skills and size is intriguing.
23. Michael Smith, Utah State.
24. Daryl Richardson, Abilene Christian
25. Adonis Thomas, Toledo
26. Alvester Alexander, Wyoming.
27. Jewel Hampton, Southern Illinois.
28. Darrell Scott, South Florida.
29. Jonas Gray, Notre Dame.
30. Marc Tyler, Southern Cal.
31. Alfred Morris, Florida Atlantic.
32. Jason Ford, Illinois.
33. Jasmin Hopkins, Northern Illinois.
34. Bobby Rainey, Western Kentucky.
Assuming the Bears can make Matt Forte happy, this is not a position of need. The Bears covered themselves in free agency with the signing of Michael Bush. They also will bring back Kahlil Bell, who finished 2011 strong. It's possible the team could take a late-round flier on a player who would compete with Bell and fortify special teams, but barring an unforeseen development with Forte, the Bears won't be looking early in the draft.
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