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Athlon previews the 2013 NFL Draft by telling you who to watch this college football season.
It is never too early to begin looking ahead to next year’s NFL Draft. Each year a unique set of prospects enters the professional ranks with a chance to make an immediate impact on the country’s most powerful sport. The 2013 NFL Draft won’t be any different.
Today, we rank college football best running back prospects:
1. Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina (6-0, 220, Jr.)
He appears to be fully recovered from his torn ACL in 2011. He still might be a bit tentative but he is rounding into form. He is big, physical, never goes down on first contact, is a tremendous receiver and works hard off the field. He is the most talented, most complete runner in the nation. For his career (26 games), he is averaging 126.6 yards from scrimmage per game and has scored 39 touchdowns. He might be the only back taken in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft. Comparison: Adrian Peterson
2. Stepfan Taylor, Stanford (5-11, 215, Sr.)
Few players have as complete a game as the Cardinal ball-carrier. He is the workhorse back for a program that uses a physical, pro-style attack based around Taylor’s ability. He is thickly built, has a tremendous work ethic, plays smart football, can catch passes and runs hard every game. His workload in college could be his only negative, as he will be over 800 touches from scrimmage by the time his career is over. Comparison: Frank Gore
3. Giovani Bernard, North Carolina (5-10, 205, rSo.)
This tough little runner came to UNC from St. Thomas Aquinas H.S., a storied South Florida program that prepares football talents for the next level. And as a redshirt freshman, Bernard exploded onto the scene with 239 carries for 1,253 yards, along with 45 receptions for another 362 yards and a total of 14 touchdowns. He has missed some time in 2012 but also delivered a huge performance in a win over one of the best defenses in the country (262 yards against Virginia Tech, Week 6). He is a bit smaller than a proto-type back but has speed to burn and the talent to play all three downs. In addition, as a redshirt sophomore, Bernard will have the most “tread left on the tires” of any back in the class. Comparison: LeSean McCoy
4. Le’Veon Bell, Michigan State (6-1, 240, Jr.)
Bell has some negatives — average shiftiness, straight line speed and work ethic — but also has the biggest, most powerful frame of anyone in the class. He is accustomed to power-I formations and can carry the load if needed (see games of 44, 36 and 37 carries in 2012). He is right at home in a play-action style offense and will be a huge asset around the goal line. If he can stay focused on keeping his weight down and works hard, he could be a future feature back. Comparison: Steven Jackson
5. Joseph Randle, Oklahoma St (6-0, 205, Jr.)
Production hasn’t been an issue for Randle after a school-record 26 touchdowns in 2011. He has been outstanding as the leader of the revamped Pokes offense this fall and brings breakaway speed to the edge, power up the middle and will play a big role in the passing game. Randle is taller than most ideal backs who aren’t 230 pounds, but he has plenty of big-play ability. Comparison: DeMarco Murray
6. Montee Ball, Wisconsin (5-11, 210, Sr.)
Scouts cannot argue the production for a guy who has a chance to finish his career with more rushing touchdowns than anyone in the history of the sport (73). He dropped weight before his junior season and it helped with quickness and burst. Yet, he lacks the top-end skills of the NFL’s elite. However, he is a tough player who consistently produces and has fumbled one time in his entire career. Comparison: Ahmad Bradshaw
7. Andre Ellington, Clemson (5-9, 190, Sr.)
The only real knock on Ellington is his durability, which stems from his overall lack of size. His frame isn’t ideal and he has been banged up throughout his Tigers career. That said, he will finish with over 4,000 yards from scrimmage and more than 30 touchdowns in his career. He has the raw ability to do everything an NFL back is asked to do, but can he be a true workhorse on Sundays? Comparison: Donald Brown
8. Rex Burkhead, Nebraska (5-11, 210, Sr.)
He won’t wow scouts at the combine with his average measurables, but he makes up for it with things that simply cannot be tracked with a stop watch: intangibles, leadership, blitz pick-ups, toughness and heart. He is one of the most complete players in the nation and will be a welcome addition to any NFL locker room. He will be a late-round steal and could be very productive for many years — even if he is never a star. Comparison: Matt Forte
9. Silas Redd, USC (5-10, 210, Jr.)
Redd was the only star for an average Penn State team (1,241 yards, 7 TD as a sophomore) before heading out West to USC for his junior season. He is a pro-style runner who has the skills to be a three-down back should he get a little bigger. He runs with power and has adequate speed. Should he develop his skills, he could be a sneaky good player on Sundays. Comparison: Rashard Mendenhall
10. Mike Gillislee, Florida (5-11, 210, Sr.)
This Gator tailback was a late bloomer — 920 yards and 10 TDs in his first three seasons — but developed into an SEC Player of the Year candidate with hard running and toughness throughout a brutal conference schedule in 2012. He was miscast in Urban Meyer’s scheme and fits much better into the pro-style attack Will Muschamp brought to Gainesville. Look for Gillislee to continue to move up draft boards with his excellent play this fall. Comparison: Cedric Benson
11. Eddie Lacy, Alabama (6-1, 220, Jr.)
All the physical talent in the world, but can never stay healthy.
12. Jonathan Franklin, UCLA (5-11, 195, Sr.)
Long track record of success but could be limited physically on the next elevel.
13. Ray Graham, Pitt (5-9, 195, Sr.)
Has NFL ability but is still regaining form after torn ACL. Size could be an issue as well.
14. Knile Davis, Arkansas (6-0, 225, Sr.)
Not the same back as he was before suffering a major ankle injury in 2011.
15. Christine Michael, Texas A&M (5-11, 220, Sr.)
Much like Davis and Lacy, he has the talent... and the long track record of injuries.
16. Cierre Wood, Notre Dame (6-0, 215, Jr.)
Off the field focus issues have knocked him down a peg, but coming on strong.
17. DJ Harper, Boise State (5-9, 205, Sr.)
This should be a sneaky draft day value for someone. Can do a little bit of everything.
18. Kenjon Barner, Oregon (5-11, 192, Sr.)
Tremendous talent, but has been banged up and scouts will question scheme and size.
19. Spencer Ware/Michael Ford/Alfred Blue, LSU (5-11, 225/5-10, 215/6-2, 220, Jr.)
Three burly backs who are tremendously physical. Each could be a steal on draft day.
20. Zac Stacy, Vanderbilt (5-9, 210, Sr.)
Short, stocky player with lots of potential and is accustomed to high level of competition.
Curtis McNeal, USC (5-7, 190, Sr.)
Chris Thompson, Florida State (5-8, 190, Sr.)
Onterio McCalebb, Auburn (5-11, 175, Sr.)
Perry Jones, Virginia (5-8, 187, Sr.)
Dennis Johnson, Arkansas (5-8, 212, Sr.)
Other Names to Watch:
Michael Dyer, Ark. Baptist (5-8, 210, Sr.)
Orwin Smith, Georgia Tech (6-0, 205, Sr.)
Cameron Marshall, Arizona St (5-11, 220, Sr.)
Miguel Maysonet, Stony Brook (5-9, 205, Sr.)
John White, Utah (5-8, 190, Sr.)
Matthew Tucker, TCU (6-0, 225, Sr.)
Dominique Whaley, Oklahoma (5-11, 205, Sr.)
Mike James, Miami (5-11, 220, Sr.)
Ronnie Wingo, Arkansas (6-2, 230, Sr.)
- by Braden Gall
Related NFL Draft Rankings By Position:
2013 NFL Draft: Running Backs
2013 NFL Draft: Tight Ends
2013 NFL Draft: Safeties
2013 NFL Draft: Defensive Tackles
2013 NFL Draft: Wide Receivers
2013 NFL Draft: Offensive Tackles
2013 NFL Draft: Inside Linebackers