2012 NFL Draft is right around the corner. Here are the names you need to know about…
1. Trent Richardson*, Alabama, RB (5-11, 224): Talented runner with a pro-ready game, Richardson excels at grinding out tough yardage between the tackles, while also providing explosive plays on perimeter runs. Richardson is also regarded as an exceptional receiver, which makes him an ideal feature back. With several evaluators viewing Richardson as a better prospect than his predecessor (Mark Ingram), he is the undisputed choice as the top runner in college football.
2. David Wilson*, Virginia Tech, RB (5-10, 205): Wilson is an explosive playmaker built in the mold of Ray Rice. He possesses the speed and quickness to scare defenders in space, but is also rugged enough to effectively run in tight quarters. Although his size leads to questions about his ability to carry the load, the fact that he finished 2011 with nine games with 20-plus carries suggests he is more than capable of being a workhorse.
3. Lamar Miller*, Miami (Fla.), RB (5-11, 212): Miller is a smooth runner with deceptive speed and quickness. He displays exceptional vision and awareness finding creases on the backside, and his surprising toughness on inside runs draws comparisons to former Hurricane Clinton Portis. While his dramatic drop in production during the final half of the season (only two 100-yard rushing games over final seven weeks) leads to questions about his ability to handle a heavy workload, his superior talent will make him hard to bypass as a potential franchise back.
4. LaMichael James*, Oregon, RB (5-9, 195): James is the dynamic playmaker that most offensive coordinators covet as a change-of-pace back in the backfield. He possesses a combination of speed, quickness and agility that makes him a threat to score from anywhere on the field. He shines as a runner/receiver in the Ducks’ spread system. While there are certainly questions about whether James’ remarkable production is a byproduct of playing in a wide-open scheme, he has potential to thrive as a Darren Sproles-like weapon for a creative playcaller.
5. Chris Polk*, Washington, RB (5-11, 222): As a hard-nosed runner with a crafty running style, Polk is one of college football’s best runners between the tackles. He bounces through traffic and consistently finds a way to get to the second level. While he lacks elite speed, his combination of footwork and power allows him to thrive within the 15-yard box, which is key to being a productive pro runner.
6. Bernard Pierce*, Temple, RB (6-0, 218): After spearheading the Owls’ resurgence with his hard-nosed running style and robust production, Pierce is unquestionably one of the top workhorses in college football. He is at his best grinding between the tackles on a series of power runs, but also flashes the burst to get around the corner. Although the inferior level of competition he has faced might factor into the equation when assessing his ability, Pierce is a legitimate runner.
7. Isaiah Pead, Cincinnati, RB (5-10, 200): Pead is an explosive jitterbug with the speed and quickness to be an effective change of pace back as a pro. He attacks the line of scrimmage with a burst, but also possesses the balance and body control to run through tackles at the second level. His dangerous open-field running skills also make him an effective playmaker in the passing game. Pead routinely turns screens into big plays, and his versatility will make him a coveted prospect in several war rooms across the league.
8. Cyrus Gray, Texas A&M, RB (5-10, 212): Gray is a blue-collar runner with vision, quickness and cutback skills. His decisive, “one-cut” running style leads to few negative runs and is ideally suited to the zone-based scheme predominantly used in the pro game. He might lack the big-play potential of others on this list, but his combination of athleticism and toughness makes him an enticing prospect for teams looking for an undervalued player.
9. Montee Ball, Wisconsin, RB (5-11, 212): Ball is the most productive runner in college football with 32 rushing touchdowns in 275 carries. His penchant for finding the paint is admirable, but scouts are more concerned with his ability to elude and avoid defenders in traffic. He doesn’t appear to possess elite speed or quickness, and the Badgers’ talented offensive line routinely springs him to the second level unimpeded. Ball is certainly talented, but he lacks some of the blue-chip traits of his counterparts.
10. Doug Martin, Boise State, RB (5-9, 210): Martin isn’t as flashy as some runners on this list, but his game is built for the pros. He is a rugged inside runner with underrated power, and he has a knack for falling forward at the end of runs. His ability to finish is one of his biggest traits, and coaches will appreciate his steady game as a finisher in a four-minute situation. Martin isn’t a workhorse runner to build an offense around, but he is a solid complementary player as part of a rotation.