2012 NFL Draft - The Running Backs
Miami RB Lamar Miller
Miami RB Lamar Miller
Posted Apr 19, 2012

From a college football perspective, the analysis of the top running back prospects.

2012 NFL Draft Position Rankings

Running Backs

By Pete Fiutak

- 2012 NFL Running Back Rankings - No. 11-25

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2011 NFL Prospect Rankings & Breakdowns
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2011 NFL Post-Combine Draft Rankings
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2010 CFN Talent Rankings
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2010 CFN Position Rankings & Analysis

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This Class Is … Unnecessary. Call this the culmination of years of NFL offenses putting more and more emphasis on the passing game. There are plenty of good, solid running backs to choose from, but there isn’t a need to invest heavily and a running back anymore. More than ever it’s a buyer’s market with several good prospects almost certain to be drafted a round or two lower than they would have five years ago.

Schemes matter. Quarterbacks matter. Offensive lines matter. At this point in the NFL, running backs don’t matter. Adrian Peterson is going to the Hall of Fame, and Minnesota is picking third. The New York Giants finished dead last in the NFL in rushing last year and won the Super Bowl.

So is it worth it to take Trent Richardson in the first round, much less somewhere in the top ten? Going by the recent history, no. The top six running backs in 2011 were taken after the first round, and only four running backs - Steven Jackson, Ryan Mathews, Chris Johnson, and Beanie Wells – ran for 1,000 yards for the team that drafted him.

Since the 2001 draft, 31 running backs were taken in the first round. Just eight ran for more yards for the team that drafted him than the 660 Tim Tebow cranked out.

So while Richardson is by far the best running back prospect, going by the numbers no team needs to take him, or any back, in the first round to get production.

The Best Value Pick Will Be … Isaiah Pead, Cincinnati
Most Underrated … Tauren Poole, Tennessee
Most Overrated … Bernard Pierce, Temple
The Deep, Deep Sleeper Is … Bryce Brown, Kansas State

1. Trent Richardson, Alabama (Jr.) 5-9, 228
It’s not a question of whether or not Richardson is a great talent; it’s a question of whether or not he’ll be worth a high draft pick in today’s day and age of interchangeable running backs.

Very quick, freakishly strong, and rocked up in perfect shape, he has all the tools. He might be a little shorter than some might like, and there’s no room to get any bigger, and he always seems to have a ding of some sort, but it’s all there to be a franchise back, and yes, if there’s any one back who might be worth a high pick, Richardson could be it.

He’s a natural, creative runner who can both flash to the outside and move and can crank out tough plays on the inside. While he’s not afraid of contact, that’s more of a problem at times because he takes a beating with knee problems a major concern for his shelf life. Anyone taking him high, though, will have to do its homework on exactly who he was great against with most of his stats coming against the mediocre. Of his 21 rushing scores last year, 14 came against teams that didn’t go bowling. However, he has all the skills to be an even better pro than a collegian with the talent to be used in a variety of ways including as a nice outlet receiver.

With the right attitude and character he’s not a diva and will do all the dirty work needed to get better, and he’ll love the idea of being a workhorse as long as he can hold up. Fine, so he’ll be overdrafted considering the position doesn’t matter like it did ten years ago, but that doesn't mean he won't produce.
CFN Projection: First Round

2. Doug Martin, Boise State 5-9, 219
Martin never got the credit he deserved for being one of the superstars in an Boise State offense that featured Kellen Moore and the passing game. Tough as nails, he’s unstoppable around the goal line and he’s extremely physical for his size, and he has the quickness to zip in and out of the hole when needed. Fast, he has breakaways speed hovering around the 4.5 mark, but his biggest strength is the ability to deliver the big hit needed to get the hard yard. Rocked up, he came up with 28 reps on the bench at the Combine while showing off his quicks in the short drills; he can do it all. But how long can he last? His style can be almost Marion Barber-like at times and he might have a very, very short shelf life. Can he hang on to the ball? Ball security is a huge question mark if he’s going to be a workhorse. Overall, though, he’ll be a great value to where Trent Richardson will be drafted and will be an instant factor in any attack.
CFN Projection: Second Round

3. Lamar Miller, Miami (Jr.) 5-11, 212
Fast, fast, fast, he was expected to be a 4.4 speedster before the offseason workouts, and then he ripped off a 4.36 in a workout to cement his place as one of the fastest of all the top backs. With good size, the right frame, and excellent athleticism, he looks the part of a franchise back. It’s all there, including the quickness to be a devastating kickoff returner if he’s looking to find a role right away outside of the offense. While he was a good collegian, he was underutilized and could be just scratching the surface and could be a whale of a value at some point in the middle of the second round. Can he stay healthy? Part of the reason he didn’t get the ball enough was because he couldn’t handle the load. He won’t power over anyone and he doesn’t play nearly as fast or as quick as he times. Even so, all the tools are there to become a terrific piece of a puzzle, especially if he’s a part of a good rotation.
CFN Projection: Second Round

4. David Wilson, Virginia Tech (Jr.) 5-10, 206
Really fast and tremendously athletic, the 41.5” vertical was the best among the backs at the Combine and his 11-foot broad jump was the best at the position by far. Explosive, extremely quick, and great at bouncing off tacklers, he’s always making people miss and he’s always able to make things happen in the open field. But is he a better athlete and a collegian than a pro prospect? He needs to have better instincts, has fumbling problems, and he’s not a power runner in any way – he could stand to be a bit better when it comes to the finer points of being a running back. Fortunately, he’ll do all the things he needs to with a great work ethic and tremendous character – the Virginia Tech coaching staff loves him and he’ll be a favorite in the locker room. A returner and a dangerous 15-touch-a-game back, he’ll be productive whenever he touches the ball.
CFN Projection: Second Round

5. Isaiah Pead, Cincinnati 5-10, 197
He’s too small, too slight, and too thin, but he’s a pure football player who’s better than he looks with phenomenal speed and a nice all-around game. Extremely quick with all the raw tools, he might not be a workhorse but he has the potential to be a devastating 15-touch back in the right system. The Big East Player of the Year, he carried the Cincinnati offense and has been extremely productive whenever he has had a chance. Able to be used as a returner if he’s not a top runner right away, he also has the hands to be a playmaker as a third down receiver. The base and the frame just aren’t there, and he’ll never pound through the line, but if he can put it all together from a work standpoint, he could have a long career in a niche role if he’s not a No. 1 back.
CFN Projection: Third Round

6. Chris Polk, Washington (Jr.) 5-11, 215
A good college player, he dropped some weight to be quicker and it showed this offseason. Known more for being a strong and powerful back, he showed enough speed in workouts to go along with 24 reps on the bench in Indy to be a complete back. Of all the top backs outside of Trent Richardson, Polk might be the best workhorse with the right toughness, smarts, and work ethic to want to be great. There isn’t anything fancy about his game with the vision and decisiveness to see hole, hit hole, and crank out big plays when he gets the chance. With a ton of tread worn off the tires, the big question mark will be whether or not he can hold up with a running style that almost ensures a short but productive career.
CFN Projection: Second Round

7. LaMichael James, Oregon (Jr.) 5-8, 194
A devastating producer, he tore off a sub-4.4 in offseason workouts to go along with all the elite quickness and athleticism expected. However, he’s really, really small and won’t come up with any power whatsoever. No one will expect him to blast through the line, though, and he could carve out a very nice career as a Darren Sproles type who can be a top third down playmaker and a change of pace back. No one will touch him in the open field and he’ll hit enough home runs to get everyone out of their seats when he gets on the move. But is he a function of the Chip Kelly offense? Maybe, and he was erased by the good defenses that were able to key on him, but that doesn’t take away from his raw skills. He might not be able to last a full 16-game season, and there will always be question marks about his character after a few big controversies, but some offensive coordinator is going to love the different ways to play around with the options.
CFN Projection: Second Round

8. Cyrus Gray, Texas A&M 5-10, 206
A good pure running back, he was productive when he was able to stay on the field and has the size, mid-4.4 speed, and strength to do it all. He does it all with great vision and instincts, and a willingness to block and hit when he has to. Throw in his hands for the passing game and his immense upside as a kickoff returner, and he has the potential to be a do-it-all swing player who’ll become very valuable very fast. Staying healthy has been a problem, and he’ll never handle a large workload, but a coaching staff will love his attitude along with his versatility. No, he’s not a No. 1 feature back, and no one will expect him to be. He’ll be a good producer on a winning football team.
CFN Projection: Fourth Round

9. Terrance Ganaway, Baylor 5-11, 239
One of the most intriguing of the top backs, he’s the biggest of the best runners and is shockingly athletic for his size. He might not have any straight-line speed, coming in at the mid-4.6s, but he plays fast and he hits the hole hard. Even though he didn’t need to provide too much power in the Baylor offense, he has the strength to blast away for the hard yard when needed and can be a nice ying to a speedy yang in an attack. Even with his style there’s still plenty of tread left on the tires considering he only really produced big for one year – there’s a lot of football in him left to play. A perfect fit for any locker room, he’s a good character guy with intriguing skills and upside after a little bit of work to polish his game.
CFN Projection: Fourth Round

10. Robert Turbin, Utah State (Jr.) 5-10, 222
Well past the problems from a torn ACL – healed up after sitting out a full season – he showed all the flash and speed he had before the injury with a terrific 2011. Extremely fast, athletic, and strong with 28 reps on the bench, he has the look of a featured NFL runner. A home run hitter, working in the Utah State spread offense he was always seemingly able to crank out the big plays needed to make the offense go. He has to be in the right system, and his numbers are a bit inflated because of the Aggie offense, but he could be a huge steal by someone like Washington or Houston who needs a back to make one cut and go. If he can stay healthy he’ll be a productive part of a rotation.
CFN Projection: Fourth Round

- 2012 NFL Running Back Rankings - No. 11-25