by Russ Bliss (4/19/11)


2011 NFL Draft Preview: Running Backs

This is not a great RB class as it lacks a truly dynamic rusher who possess the complete skill set to be considered a can't miss feature talent. It is deep though with quality guys who could succeed with so many teams preferring to go with a committee rushing attack. While many like Mark Ingram as the top RB, I like to swing for the fences and think Mikel Leshoure offers up the best potential to become a feature RB in the NFL. Depending on where he ends up, I think our fantasy football draft analyzer will have Leshoure as the top rookie RB in the rankings.

1) Mikel Leshoure, Illinois, 6'0", 227 lbs

Leshoure moves past Mark Ingram as the top RB in this draft class for a couple of reasons. First, he is better sized for a feature RB role. Second are health concerns about Ingram's knee. Leshoure is a strong RB who is hard to bring down and while lacking big time speed (4.59 in the 40 yard dash) he has quick feet and good balance. Probably needs work as a pass catcher but has shown some ability catching the ball. Leshoure has the best combination of size and skills to be a feature RB at the NFL level.

Draft Projection: Late 1st or early 2nd round

2) Mark Ingram, Alabama, 5'9", 215 lbs

Ingram isn't special in any aspect of his game, but he is solid all the way around and does everything well. He isn't that fast, but has above average power and good hands. He's also a good blocker and with 46 TD's in 3 seasons at Alabama he shows a knack for getting into the end zone. Probably won't excel as a feature RB in the NFL, but could definitely be solid in a platoon.

Draft Projection: Early 2nd round

3) Ryan Williams, Virginia Tech, 5'9", 211 lbs

After a spectacular 2009 season, Williams struggled with a hamstring injury in 2010. Shows good vision and shiftiness. Although not a large body of work catching the ball, it is believed he has good hands and can excel as an outlet in the passing game. More powerful a runner than his size indicates, Williams has the mindset of a bigger RB, but may not be able to withstand the punishment of taking on a feature role.

Draft Projection: Early to mid 2nd round

4) Kendall Hunter, Oklahoma State, 5'7", 199 lbs

Put up great numbers in 2008 and 2010 when he was healthy rushing for a combined 3,103 yards and 33 total touchdowns. 2009 was a lost season due to an ankle injury. With a low center of gravity, and better power than you'd expect in a RB less than 200 lbs, Hunter also has good speed (4.43 in the 40 yard dash) and is hard to bring down. A decent pass catcher with an explosive burst, he draws comparisons to a bigger version of Kansas City Chiefs running back Dexter McCluster.

Draft Projection: Mid to late 2nd round

5) Daniel Thomas, Kansas State, 6'0", 230 lbs

An inability to shake off a troublesome hamstring injury has Thomas's draft stock falling. But if he can get over the injury, he is one of the better big RB's in this draft. Thomas lacks speed, but has great power and is a load to bring down. He also catches the ball really well for a bigger RB. The biggest problem with his running style is that he runs in an upright style instead of keeping his head and shoulders down.

Draft Projection: 3rd or 4th round only because of the lingering hamstring issue

6) Taiwan Jones, Eastern Washington, 6'1", 196 lbs

Exceptionally speedy RB who dominated at the small school level and is a danger whenever he has the ball in space. Jones catches the ball well and is very elusive with good running instincts. Injury concerns come with him though as he is a bit high cut at 6'1" and he has struggled with injuries in college. Not a tackle breaker, but a player who just flat out blows by people. While he isn't big enough to withstand the pounding of being a primary RB, he could be a superb complimentary RB in a tandem situation.

Draft Projection: Mid to late 2nd round

7) DeMarco Murray, Oklahoma, 6'0", 214 lbs

Murray has excellent speed and great hands and could excel as a 3rd down RB in the NFL. Despite having good size, Murray does not project to be a feature RB as he comes with considerable durability issues due to a litany of nagging injuries that prevented him from reaching full potential at the college level. Despite having injury issues, Murray produced when on the field to the tune of 5,256 combined rush/receive yards and 63 TD's in 4 years. Murray also is a very good return specialist and will provide help in that area as well.

Draft Projection: 3rd round

8) Jordan Todman, Connecticut, 5'9", 203 lbs

While not possessing superior size, Todman is an agile, hard runner who fights for extra yards after initial contact. He also has excellent timed speed but doesn't always play up to it and he lacks the strength to push the pile. A capable receiver, Todman is more like a jack of all trades than a guy who wows in any specific skill.

Draft Projection: 3rd round

9) Jacquizz Rodgers, Oregon State, 5'6", 196 lbs

Small RB with a lot of heart and determination. Lacks big time speed for a smaller RB though and while he has a strong lower body, he isn't likely to be able to handle working between the tackles at the NFL level. An excellent pass catcher, Rodgers projects nicely as a 3rd down RB and sometimes change of pace but his lack of size will prevent him from earning a feature role.

Draft Projection: 3rd or 4th round

10) Shane Vereen, California, 5'10", 211 lbs

Another RB who has a lot to like about him, but doesn't wow you in any one phase of his game. Good speed and hands, but not a burner and not as powerful running between the tackles. Shows good body control but also goes down too easily on contact.

Draft Projection: 4th round


Check out Russ's 2011 NFL Draft Preview for the Quarterback position

Check out Russ's 2011 NFL Draft Preview for Wide Receivers