Unlike what I have been saying about the spread game changing positions like QB or TE, I think the life of a professional RB is what has changed this position. NFL teams and front offices know this is a position that simply does not have a long professional shelf-life and is also a position that you can find solid players at in the later rounds. Because of the short period of time a RB lasts in the NFL world, I think this has pushed the value of this position down greatly, as you can pick a first round DE who will last for ten years as opposed to the RB who will last maybe five to six.
And true to the above, this is a position where there is good depth and a few players who I think will make a huge impact right away.
Mark Ingram made the right choice to come out early. The former Heisman Trophy winner missed the early part of the season after recovering from minor knee surgery, but he still showed everything I loved about him last year when he came back. His balance is perhaps the best I have seen since Barry Sanders or Emmitt Smith. You just cannot bring him down unless you really wrap him up, as he can shift his weight, stay under control, and break away for a long gain. He’s got very good hands as well, so in my opinion, he’s as close to a can’t miss prospect at this position as you will find. Even with this in mind, I could easily see him slipping to the 15-25 range in the first round because of the shelf-life issue. The team that gets him though will be extremely pleased, and I would be shocked to see the Patriots pass up on him. He’s exactly the kind of RB they need to complete that offense.
Mikel LeShoure really broke onto the scene in a big way this season for the Illini. He made the smart move by coming out early as well, as I think he’s the second best RB behind Ingram, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he snuck into the late first round. He’s a big back with good enough speed, and has low mileage on his legs, so he should hold up well at the next level.
The remainder of the group consists of players who have some very good potential, but will go no higher then the mid second round. Again, I think that the real value will be the players who slip to the third round and later who will fill a specific niche with a team looking for a compliment back.
Guys with the ability to potentially be feature backs are Ryan Williams of Va Tech and Daniel Thomas of Kansas St. I also like what I saw from Jordan Todman of UConn this season, as I have no notes on him from the previous years. His solid combine moves him up as well. These three guys are the best suited to the run game at the next level as they have the size and speed to hold up.
The rest of the bunch is guys who fit specific needs. I have made no bones about how much I like DeMarco Murray of Oklahoma. I think the negatives about him that have been there continue to be there: runs too upright, too narrow in his base, skinny legs. But it’s his ability to contribute on third downs that makes him special. He’s got home run speed, and hands like a WR. He’s also a very good pass blocker that understands this part of the game, which is rare to find in a young RB coming in to the league. A team like St. Louis would be smart to grab him in the third as a compliment to the battering ram style of Steven Jackson.
Shane Vareen of Cal and Dion Lewis of Pitt both took a step back this season, and both are undersized guys with very good shiftiness in their running styles. Neither has the size to hold up as an every-down back, but for a zone-blocking team like the Redskins or Colts, they’d be fantastic second to third day picks.
Two other very good college players who I think just may be too small to be anything other than return men or situational backs are Jaquizz Rodgers of Oregon St and Kendall Hunter of Oklahoma St. I like both these guys, as they have some likeness to Darren Sproles in my opinion, but I don’t see the thicker lower body like Sproles has in these two. And even with that Sproles’ shown he has had trouble staying healthy at the next level with much bigger guys coming at them.
Overall it’s one of the better position groups in this draft, and I think you can get a really good contributor in the 4th -7th rounds.