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, held April 25-27, won’t be any different. The running back position has become one of the easiest to find in the middle and late rounds each year. For every Adrian Peterson taken in the first round, there has been a Ray Rice, LeSean McCoy, Arian Foster, Maurice Jones-Drew and Frank Gore. Running backs can be found deep in the draft, and in that sense, this is an excellent running back class.
Measurables: Height, Weight, 40-time, 225 reps, shuttle
1. Giovani Bernard, North Carolina (rSo.)
Measurables: 5-8, 202, 4.53, 19, 4.32
Final Stats: 23 GP, 423 att., 2,481 yds, 25 TD, 92 rec., 852 yds, 6 TD, 1,115 ret. yds, 8 TD
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 missed some time in 2012, but delivered another huge year, including marquee performances against Virginia Tech and NC State. He is a bit smaller than a prototypical back but has speed to burn and the talent to play all three downs. In addition, as just a redshirt sophomore, Bernard will have the most “tread left on the tires” of any back in the class and his eight (6 kick, 2 punt) return touchdowns make him a dynamic return option as well.
2. Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina (Jr.)
Measurables: 5-11, 221, N/A
Final Stats: 29 GP, 555 att., 2,677 yds, 38 TD, 74 rec., 767 yds, 3 TD
Just as he was beginning to appear fully recovered from a torn ACL sustained mid-2011, the most talented back in the class suffered another horrific knee injury. When healthy, he is big, physical runner who never goes down on first contact, a tremendous receiver and a guy who works hard off the field. His 41 touchdowns in 29 career games prove his production is no fluke. He is extremely driven and is working hard to be ready to play at the start of 2013 season. He is a risky selection anywhere in the draft but he has the talent to be another Willis McGahee.
3. Stepfan Taylor, Stanford (Sr.)
Measurables: 5-9, 214, 4.76, 17, 4.50
Final Stats: 53 GP, 843 att., 4,300 yds, 40 TD, 97 rec., 778 yds, 5 TD
Few players have as complete a game as the former Cardinal ball carrier. He was the workhorse back for a program that used 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 touched the ball 940 times in his college career. He isn't overtly fast either, but his toughness and intelligence make him a sure-fire contributor on the next level.
4. Eddie Lacy, Alabama (Jr.)
Measurables: 5-11, 231, N/A
Final Stats: 37, 355 att., 2,465 yds, 30 TD, 35 rec., 338 yds, 2 TD
Lacy has all the physical ability of any back in the class minus possibly a healthy Lattimore. And like the South Carolina back, his biggest issue is his health. He has proven to be a physical, dominant presence on the field and, frankly, didn't receive a heavy workload of carries during his time at Alabama. He played possessed football against Notre Dame in January's national title game and won the MVP honors because of it. Then he promptly got hurt again. With multiple health issues in every college season, Lacy comes with a large red flag. When healthy, he might be the best back in the class.
5. Le’Veon Bell, Michigan State (Jr.)
Measurables: 6-1, 230, 4.60, 24, 4.24
Final Stats: 40 GP, 671 att., 3,346 yds, 33 TD, 78 rec., 531 yds, TD
Bell has some negatives — average shiftiness 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. He also showed better than expected speed at the combine which will likely push him up draft boards. If he can stay focused on keeping his weight down and works hard, he could be a future feature back in the NFL.
Related: Athlon's 2013 NFL Mock Draft 2.0
6. Joseph Randle, Oklahoma St (Jr.)
Measurables: 6-0, 204, 4.63, N/A
Final Stats: 39 GP, 564 att., 3,085 yds, 40 TD, 108 rec., 917 yds, 3 TD
Production hasn’t been an issue for Randle after a school-record 26 touchdowns in 2011. He was 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.
7. Montee Ball, Wisconsin (Sr.)
Measurables: 5-10, 214, 4.66, 15, 4.40
Final Stats: 49 GP, 924 att., 5,140 yds, 77 TD, 59 rec., 598 yds, 6 TD
Scouts cannot argue the production of a guy who scored more touchdowns than any player in the history of college football — both rushing and total. 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 produced and fumbled once in his entire collegiate career. His heavy workload will be a small concern.
8. Andre Ellington, Clemson (Sr.)
Measurables: 5-9, 199, 4.61, N/A
Final Stats: 49 GP, 621 att., 3,535 yds, 33 TD, 59 rec., 505 yds, 2 TD, 642 ret. yds, TD
The only real knock on Ellington is his durability, which stems from his overall lack of size. His frame isn’t ideal and he was banged up throughout his Tigers career. That said, he finished with over 4,000 yards from scrimmage and more than 30 touchdowns while at Clemson. He has the raw ability to do everything an NFL back is asked to do, but can he be a true workhorse on Sundays?
9. Zac Stacy, Vanderbilt (Sr.)
Measurables: 5-8, 216, 4.55, 27, 4.17
Final Stats: 45 GP, 581 att., 3,143 yds, 30 TD, 46 rec., 415 yds
Stacy is Vanderbilt's all-time leading rusher and arguably the most talented runner in school history. He is extremely compact, posted more than adequate speed and quickness numbers at the combine and has a powerful running style. He is similar to Ray Rice or Maurice Jones-Drew in his thick lower body. The only issue is he was slightly prone to injury during his collegiate years. He will undoubtedly be a contributor on the next level.
10. Mike Gillislee, Florida (Sr.)
Measurables: 5-11, 208, 4.56, 15, 4.40
Final Stats: 49 GP, 389 att., 2,072 yds, 20 TD, 23 rec., 182 yds, 2 TD
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-type runner as a senior. He was miscast in Urban Meyer’s scheme and fit much better into the pro-style attack Will Muschamp brought to Gainesville. He is physical and is at his best deep into games and between the tackles. He isn't flashy or explosive but has a good chance to find work on first and second downs on the next level.
11. Jonathan Franklin, UCLA (Sr.)
Measurables: 5-10, 205, 4.49, 18, 4.31
Final Stats: 53 GP, 788 att., 4,403 yds, 31 TD, 58 rec., 517 yds, 3 TD
The UCLA runner showed extremely well at the combine in terms of speed and quickness. He is a smart prospect who looks to lead by example. He has a solid frame and would be best served by adding some bulk to handle the rigors of the NFL. He was extremely productive in his time as the starter for the Bruins.
12. Kenjon Barner, Oregon (Sr.)
Measurables: 5-9, 196, 4.52, 20, 4.20
Final Stats: 49 GP, 582 att., 3,623 yds, 41 TD, 54 rec., 591 yds, 7 TD, 1,371 ret. yds, TD
He is much bigger than his former backfield mate LaMichael James and could be more of an every down back if that is the case. He tossed up 20 reps at 225 as one of the stronger backs in this class and his speed and quickness ranks near the top of this board. His durability is really the only concern because the spread scheme he played in at Oregon is much less of hindrance than it once was in the NFL.
13. Knile Davis, Arkansas (Sr.)
Measurables: 5-10, 227, 4.37, 31, 4.38
Final Stats: 36 GP, 349 att., 1,972 yds, 19 TD, 32 rec., 297 yds, 2 TD
Few players were more disappointing in 2012 than Davis. However, he only matched the rest of the Arkansas Razorbacks once Bobby Petrino left town. He showed elite talents at the combine and should have plenty of tread left on the tires. However, he has experienced major injuries and was effective for just an eight-game stretch two seasons ago. He was elite during that span but has done little else before or after SEC play in 2011.
14. Christine Michael, Texas A&M (Sr.)
Measurables: 5-10, 220, 4.54, 27, 4.02
Final Stats: 40 GP, 529 att., 2,883 yds, 34 TD, 44 rec., 323 yds, TD
Much like Davis and Lacy, he has the talent and the long track record of injuries. He posted elite shuttle times and more than adequate straight-line speed to be considered a future star on the next level. Michael was an elite recruit who blossomed early and then dealt with some bad injuries. However, if healthy, he has elite upside and the ability to contribute on all three downs —between the tackles, on the edge, in the passing game and as a blocker.
15. Rex Burkhead, Nebraska (Sr.)
Measurables: 5-10, 214, 4.73, 21, 4.09
Final Stats: 44 GP, 635 att., 3,329 yds, 30 TD, 60 rec., 507 yds, 5 TD
He didn’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 stopwatch: intangibles, leadership, blitz pickups, 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.
16. Juwan Jamison, Rutgers (Jr.)
Measurables: 5-7, 203, 4.68, 20
Final Stats: 26 GP, 486 att., 1,972 yds, 13 TD, 36 rec., 385 yds, 2 TD
Has a workhorse mentality and good size-strength combination. Lacks elite speed and burst.
17. Ray Graham, Pitt (Sr.)
Measurables: 5-9, 199, 4.80, 19, 4.32
Final Stats: 46 GP, 595 att., 3,271 yds, 32 TD, 98 rec., 799 yds, 4 TD, 873 ret. yds
Has NFL ability but is still regaining form after torn ACL. Size could be an issue as well.
18. Cierre Wood, Notre Dame (Jr.)
Measurables: 5-11, 213, 4.56, 16
Final Stats: 37 GP, 450 att., 2,447 yds, 16 TD, 52 rec., 384 yds, 2 TD
Off-the-field focus issues have knocked him down a peg, but coming on strong.
19. DJ Harper, Boise State (Sr.)
Measurables: 5-9, 211, 4.52, 23, 4.35
Final Stats: 54 GP, 547 att., 2,792 yds, 39 TD, 54 rec., 559 yds, 2 TD
He should be a sneaky draft day value for someone. Can do a little bit of everything.
20. Zach Line, SMU (Sr.)
Measurables: 6-0, 232, 4.77, 26
Final Stats: 50 GP, 778 att., 4,185 yds, 47 TD, 75 rec., 599 yds
He should be a sneaky draft day value for someone. Can do a little bit of everything.
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:
Stephon Jefferson, Nevada (5-10, 213, Jr.)
Zach Boren, Ohio State (5-11, 238, Sr.)
Robbie Rouse, Fresno State (5-6, 190, Sr.)
Spencer Ware/Michael Ford, LSU
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.)
2013 NFL Draft Positional Rankings:
NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Quarterbacks
NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Running Backs
NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Wide Receivers
NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Tight Ends
NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Offensive Tackles
NFL Draft Rankings 2013: Guards and Centers